IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Image: Scott Atlas
White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas speaks at the White House on Oct. 12, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP file

Why Scott Atlas' resignation from the White House matters

Scott Atlas' departure from the White House is welcome news, but he's already done so much of what he set out to do.


Describing Dr. Scott Atlas and his role in Donald Trump's White House, MSNBC's Chris Hayes last night described the radiologist as "one of the most destructive, deadly policy advisors in recent American history." As of this morning, however, he's a former destructive policy advisor.

Dr. Scott Atlas, the controversial White House coronavirus adviser, is resigning.... Trump invited him to join the task force in August after having seen him on Fox News.

As regular readers may recall, at an NBC News townhall last month, Samantha Guthrie reminded Trump that Atlas is not an infectious disease expert, which made him a curious choice to help oversee the White House's response to a deadly pandemic. The president, unfazed, described Atlas as "one of the great experts of the world."

He's really not. Atlas has "no expertise in public health or infectious disease mitigation," hasn't practiced medicine in nearly a decade, and has demonstrated a habit of echoing unscientific claims. He's argued against masks and increased testing; he's sidelined actual experts; and he's advocated a crackpot pandemic strategy known as "herd immunity," in which officials allow the virus to spread and infect much of the population.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently explained, in reference to Atlas, "He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn't make any sense." Similarly, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was overheard saying in September that Atlas was spreading misinformation.

"Everything he says is false," Redfield was overheard saying by an NBC News reporter.

And with this in mind, Atlas' departure is obviously welcome news, at least insofar as he'll no longer be in a position to do further damage to the federal response to COVID-19. At Stanford University, where Atlas has worked at a conservative think tank affiliated with the school, there was relief in response to his resignation letter.

"Dr. Scott Atlas' resignation today is long overdue and underscores the triumph of science and truth over falsehoods and misinformation," scholars at Stanford University's medical school said in a statement last night.

I wish I took more comfort in the celebration. The fact remains that Atlas never should have been put in this position in the first place, and his departure has little to do with his failures and profound misjudgments. Fox News' report on the developments noted the radiologist's 130-day detail as a "special government employee" was set to expire this week, which apparently prompted his resignation.

It's heartening news, to be sure, but in the Trump White House, science and truth did not actually triumph over falsehoods and misinformation. Atlas, for all intents and purposes, got what he wanted: a federal response to a deadly pandemic in which the White House effectively stopped trying.

The administration's response has been disastrous, and Atlas bears a fair amount of responsibility for the tragedy.