Former New York Times reporter and author Alex Berenson is accustomed to being the contrarian in the room. While most of his colleagues in the mainstream media were touting the unending benefits of marijuana, for instance, he was working on a book that focused on research showing that cannabis was not the miracle drug that so many believed it to be. In that book, “Tell Your Children The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence,” Berenson challenged many of the long-held assumptions about just how safe marijuana is, fighting against a tide that has grown nearly unstoppable.

And now he’s doing the same thing, except with a subject that may be even more important to America’s way of life: The coronavirus pandemic.

To be clear, Berenson is not a “truther.” He’s not someone prancing around on social media saying, “It’s just the flu, bro.” The former Times writer took the coronavirus seriously from the get-go, poring over the official models and worrying that a public health disaster was coming straight for the United States. But in a new interview with Fox News, Berenson said that it wasn’t long before his concerns about the virus morphed into concerns about the state of America’s economic future.

“The response we have taken has caused enormous societal devastation, I don’t think that’s too strong a word,” he told the network.

In a controversial tweet this week, Berenson wrote: “In February I was worried about the virus. By mid-March I was more scared about the economy. But now I’m starting to get genuinely nervous. This isn’t complicated. The models don’t work. The hospitals are empty. WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT INDEFINITE LOCKDOWNS?”

Berenson, of course, is not blind to the dire situation in New York City and other major hotspots around the country. However, he said, it was time to pivot away from the “one-size-fits-all” mentality that has driven many government leaders to recommend shutdowns that last for months. He said that even in New York and other well-tested areas, it was patently obvious that the coronavirus models have misled the public as well as government officials.

“Aside from New York, nationally there’s been no health system crisis. In fact, to be truly correct there has been a health system crisis, but the crisis is that the hospitals are empty,” he told Fox News. “This is true in Florida where the lockdown was late, this is true in southern California where the lockdown was early, it’s true in Oklahoma where there is no statewide lockdown. There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the lockdown and whether or not the epidemic has spread wide and fast.”

Leading health experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have explained the change in the official models by saying that social distancing efforts have worked as intended. However, Berenson said this explanation holds no water, since social distancing was “baked into” the models before they were revealed. Indeed, as Dr. Birx herself said, the projection of 200,000 deaths was based on the idea that the government “did everything perfectly.”

Berenson is now worried that public health experts and elected officials will be loath to change strategies, because it would be tantamount to admitting that they got it wrong.

“Now we’re in a bad spot because there’s clearly a dangerous political dynamic right now — the economy is in freefall, a lot of people are hurting. If we acknowledge what is clearly happening … the people who made these decisions, I think there’s going to be a lot of anger at them, so they don’t want to acknowledge it, so they say ‘oh it’s the lockdown that saved us,’” he said.

Well, we’re in a predicament, that much is certain. And Berenson is right that the models appear to have grossly overexaggerated the threat of the pandemic, though it’s not clear why or how that happened. Perhaps social distancing efforts worked much better than the models predicted. Perhaps there is some secret to this virus that experts haven’t discovered yet. That’s the problem with a disease that didn’t exist in the world five months ago; there’s just a ton that we don’t yet know about it.

Let’s hope we learn quickly, because one thing is certain: If this virus doesn’t kill the country, a catastrophic economic depression will. We need a smart way to thread that needle if we’re going to get to the other side of this crisis.