Scott Atlas

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Scott Atlas
Atlas looking to the camera
Atlas in 2020
Special Advisor to the President
In office
August 10, 2020 – December 1, 2020
PresidentDonald Trump
Personal details
Born (1955-07-05) July 5, 1955 (age 65)
Chicago, Illinois, US
EducationUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (BS)
University of Chicago (MD)
Scientific career
FieldsHealth care
InstitutionsHoover Institution

Scott William Atlas (born July 5, 1955)[1][2] is an American radiologist, political commentator, and health care policy advisor. He is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank. From 1998 to 2012 he was a professor and chief of neuroradiology at the Stanford University Medical Center.[3]

Atlas was selected by President Donald Trump in August 2020 to serve as an advisor on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.[4] In that role, Atlas spread misinformation about COVID-19,[5] including theories that face masks and social distancing were not effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.[6] His statements and influence on policies caused controversy on the task force.[7][8][9] Contrary to the recommendations of most of the scientific community,[10] Atlas pushed for establishing herd immunity through infection without mitigation[11] and a faster reopening of schools and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.[12][13] He advocated that states should not engage in COVID-19 testing of virus-exposed but asymptomatic individuals,[14] and encouraged residents to resist or "rise up" against state restrictions adopted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.[15] Atlas resigned from his position in the White House on November 30, 2020.[16]

Early life and education[edit]

Atlas received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and his MD from the Pritzker School of Medicine of the University of Chicago.[3]



From 1998 to 2012, Atlas was Professor and Chief of Neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center in California. He trained more than 100 neuroradiology fellows in his teaching career.[17] According to the American Board of Radiology, he is board certified in diagnostic radiology, while his certification in neuroradiology lapsed in 2017.[18]

He is the editor of Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, a 2,000-page illustrated textbook with 83 contributors.[19][20] He has also written four books on health care policy.[3]


Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative public policy think tank.[21][17] He joined the Hoover Institution in 2003.[21]

He served as a senior advisor for health care to the Republican presidential campaigns of Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.[22][23]

He has advocated eliminating the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with modified tax deductions and incentives. He has also called for changes to Medicare[24] and "aggressive reforms" to turn Medicaid "into a bridge to private insurance"[25] and encourage health savings accounts.[24] Atlas views the Medicaid expansion as "one of the most misguided parts" of the Affordable Care Act.[25] He opposes proposals to establish a public health insurance option[26] or single-payer healthcare.[27]

Trump administration[edit]

Appointment as Trump coronavirus advisor[edit]

On August 10, 2020, President Donald Trump announced that Atlas would join his administration as an advisor on COVID-19.[28] Atlas, a radiologist, is not a specialist in public health or infectious diseases.[29][30][31] He reportedly caught Trump's eye because of his frequent appearances on Fox News that summer.[32]

COVID-19 misinformation, controversial statements, and policy influence[edit]

Atlas has spread misinformation about COVID-19.[5] He is a proponent of the "herd immunity" theory that infection of low-risk people should be encouraged.[33] He claimed that children "have virtually zero risk of dying, and a very, very low risk of any serious illness from this disease" and "children almost never transmit the disease"[29][34] although children can carry, transmit, and in very rare cases be killed by the COVID-19 virus.[29] He argued that only symptomatic individuals should be tested for the coronavirus, and pushed for the August 24, 2020, change on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website saying that people who had been exposed to the virus but showed no symptoms should not be tested.[35][29] This position was opposed by many public health experts including CDC scientists, as 40% of people infected with the virus are asymptomatic but can still transmit the virus.[35] On September 18 it was reported that the change to the testing recommendation had been written by the White House coronavirus task force, and had been placed on the CDC website by political appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services without the knowledge of CDC scientists.[36] The original CDC recommendation — that anyone exposed to the virus should be tested whether or not they showed symptoms – was restored to the website the next day.[37]

Whilst many scientists believe face masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Atlas has expressed skepticism that they are effective "scientifically" to halt the spread of the virus.[35] In October 2020, Twitter removed a tweet by Atlas claiming that masks do not prevent the spread of coronavirus, which Twitter determined was not accurate. Later that day, HHS official Brett Giroir, the Assistant Secretary for Health, reaffirmed that masks do work to prevent transmission of the virus.[38] Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, was reported to be "relieved" by the removal of Atlas's tweet.[39]

Atlas has advocated for physical school reopening and resumption of college sports during the pandemic.[13][30][35][29][34] The Washington Post reported that Atlas was the leading proponent within the Trump administration for a "herd immunity" approach to the virus, which would kill hundreds of thousands more Americans.[35][7] Atlas denied later that he advocated for the herd immunity strategy,[40][41] said "there's never been a desire to have cases spread through the community," and said it "has never been the president's policy."[42][43] In October and November 2020, he touted the Great Barrington Declaration, an open letter that calls for encouraging herd immunity.[44][45]

Atlas quickly became influential within the administration, and Trump welcomed his recommendations such as faster reopening and less testing, which were in accord with Trump's own preferences.[12][29] Atlas was the only doctor to share the stage at Trump's pandemic briefings in the week after his appointment was announced,[30] and he also prepared Trump's briefing materials.[29] Trump publicly disagreed with or reduced the roles of other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, including Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci,[12][9] with whom Atlas repeatedly clashed.[5] Robert R. Redfield of the CDC was heard privately commenting on Atlas that "everything he says is false".[46] When Fauci was asked whether Atlas was providing misleading information to Trump, Fauci replied, without naming Atlas, that "sometimes there are things that are said that are really taken either out of context or actually incorrect".[47] Starting in August 2020, Birx avoided meetings where Atlas was present.[48][49] Fauci said of Atlas, "I have real problems with that guy. He's a smart guy who's talking about things that I believe he doesn't have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn't make any sense."[9] In mid-November 2020, it was reported that Atlas had not attended White House task force meetings in person since late September amid his clashes with Fauci and Birx.[5]

During stimulus negotiations in fall 2020, Atlas opposed funds for widespread COVID-19 testing; in an email to an economist, Atlas wrote that the push for testing was "a fundamental error of the public health people perpetrated on the world."[50] After Trump was diagnosed with coronavirus in early October 2020, Atlas appeared on Fox News to predict a "complete and full and rapid recovery" for Trump and to urge viewers not to panic.[51] On October 31, Atlas was interviewed for 26 minutes on a broadcast of the RT network (formerly Russia Today), a Russian state-controlled outlet classified by U.S. intelligence agencies as part of Russia's propaganda apparatus. The next day, Atlas apologized, writing: "I regret doing the interview and apologize for allowing myself to be taken advantage of."[52] On November 15, Atlas wrote a tweet urging Michigan residents to "rise up" against the state's newly announced COVID-19 restrictions, which included a requirement that high school and college classes must be conducted remotely and a three-week ban on many indoor activities including restaurant dining.[53] Atlas' tweet included the hashtags #FreedomMatters and #StepUp.[15]

Deborah Birx, the former White House coronavirus coordinator, said Trump was fed "parallel data" that she hadn't approved. Somebody had been creating graphics for Trump to present "that were not transparently utilized." Atlas was involved, she said.[54][55]

Response from experts and others[edit]

Atlas's influence on policy alarmed many doctors and health experts.[56][7][9] In September 2020, 78 of Atlas's former colleagues at the Stanford Medical School signed an open letter criticizing Atlas, writing that he had made "falsehoods and misrepresentations of science" that "run counter to established science" and "undermine public health authorities and the credible science that guides effective public health policy."[57][10] Atlas's lawyer Marc Kasowitz threatened to sue the researchers.[58][59]

Atlas's comment urging Michiganders to "rise up" against measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission was widely condemned by health professionals and by Stanford University, home of the Hoover Institute where Atlas is a senior fellow.[60][61] In November 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer denounced the tweet as "incredibly reckless"[60] and Fauci said: "I totally disagree with it, and I made no secret of that. ... I don't want to say anything against Dr. Atlas as a person but I totally disagree with the stand he takes. I just do, period."[5]

The same month, the Stanford University Faculty Senate, by an 85% vote, adopted a resolution condemning Atlas for his actions that "promote a view of COVID-19 that contradicts medical science." The resolution cited Atlas's statements and said they endangered the public.[62]


On November 30, 2020, Atlas posted a letter (dated for the following day) resigning his White House position, days before the end of the maximum 130-day period in which he could serve with "special Government employee" status.[16][63][64]

Selected works[edit]

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine (1990 1st ed.; 1996; 2002; 2008; 2016)[65][66]
  • Power to the Patient: Selected Health Care Issues and Policy Solutions (2005)
  • Reforming America’s Health Care System (2010)
  • In Excellent Health: Setting the Record Straight on America’s Health Care System (2011)[67]
  • Restoring Quality Health Care: A Six‐Point Plan for Comprehensive Reform at Lower Cost (2016 1st ed.; 2020)[25]


  1. ^ "Scott W. Atlas (Atlas, Scott W., 1955-)". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  2. ^ "Resume" (PDF). US House of Representatives. September 1, 2019. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Scott W. Atlas—Hoover Institution Biography". Hoover Institution.
  4. ^ Varadarajan, Tuunku (September 4, 2020). "Trump's Covid Adviser Gets a Washington Welcome". The Wall Street Journal.
  5. ^ a b c d e Alba, Monica; Lee, Carol E. "Atlas on the outs with coronavirus task force but still pushing Trump's pandemic claims". NBC News. Atlas, has not attended White House task force meetings in person since late September, according to two administration officials, as he continues to spread alleged misinformation about the worsening health crisis. ... The growing split between Atlas and task force leaders came after the group's leading medical experts — Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci — indicated that they did not appreciate Atlas' controversial input or contributions in the Situation Room gatherings. "That was done in deference to Fauci and Birx because they basically said they will not work with him," a senior administration official said about the adviser's absence at the meetings.
  6. ^ "Trump's den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges". The Washington Post. 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Abutaleb, Yasmeen; Rucker, Phillip; Dawsey, Josh; Costa, Robert (October 19, 2020). "Trump's den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
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  11. ^ Atlas, Scott (June 29, 2020). "Mixed messages: Corona deaths level off as cases surge". Tucker Carlson Tonight (Interview). Interviewed by Tucker Carlson. Fox News Channel. We like the fact that there's a lot of cases in low-risk populations because that's exactly how we're going to get herd immunity—population immunity—when low-risk people with no significant problem handling this virus, which is basically 99% of people, uh, get this, they become immune and they block the pathways of connectivity to contagiousness of older, sicker people.
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  19. ^ "Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, 4th ed., Vol. 1 and 2". American Journal of Neuroradiology. American Society of Neuroradiology. 30 (5): e76–e77. May 1, 2009. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A1553. ISSN 0195-6108.
  20. ^ Alexander, Joseph T.; Hair, Regis W. (October 1, 1997). "Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, Second Edition". Neurosurgery. 41 (4): 989–990. doi:10.1097/00006123-199710000-00053. ISSN 0148-396X.
  21. ^ a b Do, Huy M.; Quencer, Robert (September 1, 2003). "Scott W. Atlas Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution". American Journal of Neuroradiology. p. 1729.
  22. ^ "Romney's new health care adviser once attacked 'Romneycare'". CNN. March 23, 2012.
  23. ^ "Rudy Giuliani's health care proposal". PNHP.
  24. ^ a b Atlas, Scott (December 27, 2016). "Replace Obamacare with a system that cuts costs and values quality care". CNN. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  25. ^ a b c "Opinion: Medicaid fails the poor". Becker's Hospital Review.
  26. ^ Atlas, Scott W. (July 16, 2019). "Public Option Kills Private Insurance". Wall Street Journal.
  27. ^ Atlas, Scott W. (March 9, 2020). "The Dangers of Medicare for All". The New York Times.
  28. ^ Morrison, Cassidy (August 10, 2020). "Critic of coronavirus lockdowns and school closures made adviser to President Trump". Washington Examiner. Retrieved August 11, 2020.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g Weiland, Noah; Stolberg, Sheryl Gay; Shear, Michael D.; Tankersley, Jim (September 2, 2020). "A New Coronavirus Adviser Roils the White House With Unorthodox Ideas". The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  30. ^ a b c Colvin, Jill (August 16, 2020). "Trump makes call for new White House doctor's virus advice". Associated Press. Retrieved August 16, 2020.
  31. ^ Perez, Matt. "Who Is Dr. Scott Atlas? Trump's New Covid Health Adviser Seen As Counter To Fauci And Birx". Forbes. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  32. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (November 30, 2020). "Scott Atlas, a Trump Coronavirus Adviser, Resigns". The New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  33. ^ Abutaleb, Yasmeen; Dawsey, Josh (August 31, 2020). "New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial 'herd immunity' strategy, worrying public health officials". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  34. ^ a b "Dr. Scott Atlas pushes for reopening and asks, 'aren't schools an essential business?'". July 8, 2020.
  35. ^ a b c d e Abutaleb, Yasmeen; Dawsey, Josh (August 31, 2020). "New Trump pandemic adviser pushes controversial 'herd immunity' strategy, worrying public health officials". The Washington Post.
  36. ^ Mandavilli, Apoorva (September 17, 2020). "C.D.C. Testing Guidance Was Published Against Scientists' Objections". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  37. ^ "Controversial coronavirus testing guidance came from HHS and didn't go through CDC scientific review, sources say". CNN. September 18, 2020. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  38. ^ Smith, Allan (October 18, 2020). "Twitter removes tweet from top Trump Covid adviser saying masks don't work". NBC News. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  39. ^ Klein, Betsy (October 19, 2020). "Birx tells friends she was relieved after Trump adviser Scott Atlas' inaccurate mask tweet was removed". CNN. Archived from the original on November 21, 2020. Retrieved October 19, 2020.
  40. ^ Gander, Kashmira (September 1, 2020). "'Overt Lie': White House Adviser Scott Atlas Denies Herd Immunity Strategy Claims". Newsweek.
  41. ^ Stabile, Angelica (September 1, 2020). "Dr. Atlas blasts reports he backed 'herd immunity': 'I've never said that to the president'". Fox News.
  42. ^ "President Trump News Conference". C-SPAN. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  43. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (October 14, 2020). "White House embraces a declaration from scientists that opposes lockdowns and relies on 'herd immunity'". The New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2020.
  44. ^ Peltz, Madeline (November 16, 2020). "Scott Atlas pushes herd immunity on Fox after denying". Media Matter for America. Atlas touted the Great Barrington Declaration, an online movement backed by a libertarian think tank that calls for “herd immunity,” a policy of deliberately spreading the coronavirus as widely as possible, causing millions of unnecessary deaths in the process and straining our health care system.
  45. ^ Mandavilli, Apoorva; Stolberg, Sheryl Gay (October 19, 2020). "A Viral Theory Cited by Health Officials Draws Fire From Scientists". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  46. ^ Alba, Monica (September 28, 2020). "Redfield voices alarm over influence of Trump's new coronavirus task force adviser". NBC News. Retrieved September 28, 2020.
  47. ^ Weixel, Nathan (September 30, 2020). "Atlas, health officials feuds add to Trump coronavirus turmoil". The Hill. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  48. ^ Bennett, Kate; Cohen, Elizabeth. "Birx cedes White House turf to Atlas while hitting the road to spread her public health gospel". CNN. Retrieved November 6, 2020.
  49. ^ "Dr. Birx vows she won't sit with Trump-picked task force member". CNN. Retrieved November 6, 2020.
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  51. ^ "Controversial coronavirus tsar accused of playing down pandemic says 'no reason to panic' over Trump diagnosis". The Independent. October 2, 2020. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
  52. ^ Treisman, Rachel (November 1, 2020). "WH Adviser Scott Atlas Apologizes For Interview With Kremlin-Backed News Outlet". NPR. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  53. ^ Hutchinson, Derrick (November 15, 2020). "Here are 14 changes going into effect under Michigan's new COVID-19 restrictions". Click On Detroit. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
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  55. ^ Kelly Hooper (January 24, 2021). "Deborah Birx: 'Parallel set of data' on Covid-19 was delivered to Trump". Politico.
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  58. ^ Niedzwiadek, Nick. "Scott Atlas lawyer threatens defamation suit over critical Stanford open letter". Politico. Archived from the original on November 22, 2020. Retrieved September 18, 2020.
  59. ^ "Scott Atlas, White House adviser on coronavirus, threatens to sue colleagues back at Stanford". Retrieved October 27, 2020.
  60. ^ a b Cathey, Libby (November 16, 2020). "Dr. Scott Atlas under fire for telling Michigan to 'rise up' against COVID-19 restrictions". ABC News. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  61. ^ Williams, Michael (November 16, 2020). "Stanford rebukes Scott Atlas following his controversial rise up tweet". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  62. ^ Nietzel, Michael T. (November 21, 2020). "Stanford Faculty Senate Condemns Dr. Scott Atlas Over His Covid-19 Conduct". Forbes. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  63. ^ Scott Atlas resigns as special adviser to Trump on coronavirus, Reuters (November 30, 2020).
  64. ^ Scott Atlas, US Coronavirus advisor to Donald Trump resigns, Pro Magazine (December 01, 2020).
  65. ^ Mancuso, Anthony A. (November 1, 1991). "Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, First Edition". Magnetic Resonance in Medicine: 175. doi:10.1002/mrm.1910220119.
  66. ^ Liu, Charles Y. (November 1, 2002). "Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, Third Edition". Neurosurgery. 51 (5): 1316–1317. doi:10.1097/00006123-200211000-00037.
  67. ^ Miller, Thomas (August 1, 2012). "A Diagnosis At Odds With A Treatment Plan". Health Affairs. 31 (8): 1905–1907. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2012.0722. ISSN 0278-2715.