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Why is Florida's Ron DeSantis listening to Scott Atlas?

When Atlas finally exited the White House, there was relief in some circles that he might finally stop giving bad advice. Ron DeSantis had other ideas.
Image:  Trump coronavirus disease advisor Dr. Scott Atlas walks outside the White House in Washington
Dr Scott Atlas talks to a reporter outside the White House on Nov. 3, 2020.Tom Brenner / Reuters

Nearly six months ago, with COVID-19 cases starting to spike in the United States for the third time, a libertarian think tank unveiled a plan urging most Americans to "resume life as normal." The extraordinarily dangerous blueprint was authored by Drs. Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta, and Jay Bhattacharya, who collectively declined to say how many would die as a result of their approach to "herd immunity."

It was against this backdrop that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) held a roundtable discussion last week with speakers who endorsed the governor's pandemic response. DeSantis' panel featured ... wait for it ... Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta, and Jay Bhattacharya.

The governor was criticized for "cherry-picking experts who would back his views and sidelining Florida's mainstream scientists." That's probably because the Florida Republican appears to have cherry-picked experts who backed his views and sidelined Florida's mainstream scientists.

But there was one other familiar face rounding out DeSantis' roundtable discussion. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis assembled a group of scientists who backed his COVID policies at a Thursday roundtable, where they assured him he was taking the right steps on the disease. The group included Dr. Scott Atlas, the Stanford radiologist whose skepticism on the value of masks and optimistic forecasts on the pandemic won him a job as COVID adviser to President Trump.

Atlas, true to form, questioned the efficacy of wearing masks to limit the spread of the virus, with remarks that "conflicted with the views of most infectious disease specialists."

As regular readers may recall, at an NBC News townhall last fall, Samantha Guthrie reminded Donald 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 then-president, unfazed, described Atlas as "one of the great experts of the world."

The assessment was, and remains, bizarre. 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. During his strange White House tenure, Atlas argued against masks and increased testing, sidelined actual experts, and advocated an indefensible approach to "herd immunity," in which officials allowed 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.

Describing Atlas and his role in the Trump White House last fall, MSNBC's Chris Hayes characterized the radiologist as "one of the most destructive, deadly policy advisors in recent American history." When Atlas finally exited the White House, there was a relief in some circles that he might finally stop giving bad advice.

And yet, in Florida last week, we find Atlas, at the invitation of Ron DeSantis, speaking as if his credibility remains intact.

It does not.