On the menu today: Newly released emails show that in the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, and other high-level government officials wanted to dispel the notion of a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology — and EcoHealth Alliance president Peter Daszak opposed the public release of Covid-19-related virus-sequence data gathered from China, warning that it would bring “very unwelcome attention.”
Is It the Job of a Scientist to Prioritize ‘International Harmony’?
On February 1, 2020, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Collins, and at least eleven other scientists convened a conference call to discuss COVID-19.7 It was on this conference call that Drs. Fauci and Collins were first warned that COVID-19 may have leaked from the [Wuhan Institute of Virology] and, further, may have been intentionally genetically manipulated. Again, it is unclear if either Dr. Fauci or Dr. Collins ever passed these warnings along to other government officials or if they simply ignored them.
Only three days later, on February 4, 2020, four participants of the conference call authored a paper entitled “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2” and sent a draft to Drs. Fauci and Collins.
Prior to final publication in Nature Medicine, the paper was sent to Dr. Fauci for editing and approval.
It is unclear what, if any, new evidence was presented or if the underlying science changed in that short period of time, but after speaking with Drs. Fauci and Collins, the authors abandoned their belief COVID-19 was the result of a laboratory leak. It is also unclear if Drs. Fauci or Collins edited the paper prior to publication.
On April 16, 2020, more than two months after the original conference call, Dr. Collins emailed Dr. Fauci expressing dismay that the Nature Medicine article — which they saw prior to publication and were given the opportunity to edit — did not squash the lab leak hypothesis and asks if the NIH can do more to “put down” the lab leak hypothesis.
The next day — after Dr. Collins explicitly asked for more public pressure — Dr. Fauci cited the Nature Medicine paper from the White House podium likely in an effort to further stifle the hypothesis COVID-19 leaked from the WIV.
The letter includes an image of an email from Dr. Francis Collins to Drs. Jeremy Farrar, Anthony Fauci, and Lawrence Tabak, Sunday, February 2, 2020:
Though the arguments from Ron Fouchier and Christian Drosten are presented with more forcefulness than necessary, I am coming around to the view that a natural origin is more likely. But I share your view that a swift convening of experts in a confidence inspiring framework (WHO seems really the only option) is needed, or the voices of conspiracy will quickly dominate, doing great potential harm to science and international harmony. . . .
At minimum, Collins must have known that the National Institutes of Health had given grants to EcoHealth Alliance to go out and collect samples of viruses in bats — in China, as well as in Laos and other countries — and send those samples to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for further study.
Collins also undoubtedly knew — despite Fauci’s really strict, arguably to-the-point-of-misleading definition of gain-of-function research while speaking before Congress — that what Chinese scientists were doing was likely to fit most people’s definition of “gain of function research” — they were taking existing viruses and making them either more virulent, more contagious, or both. Collins and Fauci may or may not have known that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had ties to the Chinese military, and that WIV scientists had collaborated with Chinese military scientists on past coronavirus research.
However, Collins may not have known what the U.S. State Department knew — which is that American officials who visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2017 reported back to the U.S. State Department that the labs suffered from “a serious shortage of the highly trained technicians and investigators required to safely operate a [Biosafety Level] 4 laboratory.”
Either way, it is easy to envision Collins, and perhaps other U.S. officials, not wanting the world looking too closely at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, because any thorough investigation would uncover U.S. funding for EcoHealth Alliance’s work with the WIV. Even if SARS-CoV-2 had a natural origin, that’s the sort of revelation that would generate substantial American public outrage. The world is dangerous enough without Chinese scientists, working in collaboration with the People’s Liberation Army, taking existing viruses and making them more threatening; learning that U.S. taxpayers helped pay for a portion of that work would add insult to injury.
Two years later, no such natural furin-cleavage-site insertion has yet turned up in the many wild SARS-like viruses found since then. But what has turned up is a grant proposal put to the US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2018 to fund experiments that would deliberately insert novel furin cleavage sites into novel SARS-like coronaviruses to help them grow in the lab. And who was party to that proposal? Why, the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Indeed, it had already done a similar experiment with the spike protein of a MERS-like virus a few years before. It’s not quite a smoking gun, because the proposal was turned down, but it’s an open secret in science that you sometimes put things into grant proposals that you have already started doing, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences was funding most of the work in the Wuhan Institute of Virology anyway.
The emails unveiled this week reveal no good scientific reason at all for why these leading virologists changed their minds and became deniers rather than believers in even the remote possibility of a lab leak, all in just a few days in February 2020. No new data, no new arguments. But they do very clearly reveal a blatant political reason for the volte-face. Speculating about a lab leak, said Ron Fouchier, a Dutch researcher, might ‘do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular’. Francis Collins was pithier, worrying about ‘doing great potential harm to science and international harmony’.
And we now know, from emails released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, that EcoHealth Alliance president Peter Daszak opposed the public release of Covid-19-related virus-sequence data gathered from China, warning that it would bring “very unwelcome attention”:
Daszak then wrote, “It’s extremely important we don’t have these sequences as part of our PREDICT release to Genbank at this point. As you may have heard, these were part of a grant just terminated by NIH.” He referred to an article in Politico, “Trump cuts U.S. research on bat-human virus transmission over China ties,” and urged holding off on public sharing of Chinese viral genomic data, even though the generation of the data was funded by U.S. taxpayers. “Having them as part of PREDICT will being [sic] very unwelcome attention to UC Davis, PREDICT and USAID,” Daszak wrote.
The world was facing its worst health crisis in a century, and seemingly every American involved in contagious-virus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology didn’t want the public to know what they had been doing. Does that reassure you? Does that make you feel like you can trust high-level U.S. officials to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Does that make you believe that these officials prioritize “SCIENCE” above all else, or does it make you think that their primary concerns are managing public opinion and protecting their own reputations?
Notice that House Republicans are the only faction in government still asking questions about how this pandemic started. President Biden hasn’t said a word about the topic since the intelligence community offered its “we don’t know” report. Congressional Democrats don’t seem to have nearly the same interest in this topic. What’s really fascinating is the number of Americans who still live with high levels of fear, worry, anxiety, and stress about the pandemic and the public-health threat that it presents . . . but who don’t seem all that motivated to learn how it began and what can be done to prevent the next pandemic.
President Biden: Hey, Did You See Those Great Inflation Numbers?
Yesterday, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics offered the latest update on inflation: “The all items index rose seven percent for the 12 months ending December, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending June 1982.”
Here’s how President Biden responded: “Today’s report — which shows a meaningful reduction in headline inflation over last month, with gas prices and food prices falling — demonstrates that we are making progress in slowing the rate of price increases.”
The argument that “Today’s terrible news is actually really good news” is a particularly bold maneuver. It’s also particularly stupid.
Yes, This Really Makes Omicron a Game-Changer
Here’s Charlie Cooke, drawing the logical conclusion from Dr. Fauci’s declaration that “just about everybody” will catch Omicron eventually: “If we really can’t stop this thing from infecting everyone — and if one’s vaccination status ultimately matters only to one’s own health — then all the tools we are deploying are mere theater. Mask mandates? Useless. Plexiglass screens? Useless. Vaccine passports? Why should anyone care? Go get vaccinated — or don’t; it’s your life — and we can all get back to normal.”
ADDENDUM: Incoming Virginia lieutenant governor Winsome Sears, Tuesday: “We are monitoring next week’s forecast. Yesterday I was briefed on the process for making sure Virginians are safe and the roads are cleared.”
Man, it’s a refreshing change to have a Virginia state official who bothers to check a weather forecast. I’d say after the I-95 debacle from earlier this month, outgoing governor Ralph Northam should hide his face in shame . . . but I suppose he’s always created more problems for himself when he covers his face.