Pride and the Fall of Anthony Fauci

The ancient Greeks, whose admonitions seem evergreen, warned us that excess pride and ambition would lead those guilty of it to ruin. I think that is true of Anthony Fauci.

First, a confession. I thought little of his handling years ago of the AIDS disease and even less of him as he flip-flopped through so many adoring media interviews on COVID-19. (So many, indeed, that one wonders if he ever had time to read the research on COVID-19, its spread, and its treatments). Moreover, twice now my family members have made plans to travel far to spend some time with my 102-year-old mother -- now rapidly failing in an intensive care facility -- only to have those plans dashed.

The first cancellation was caused by a COVID-19 quarantine in Hawaii where they live. This week it’s because my mother had come into contact with someone who may have contracted COVID. Naturally, I’m really angry at anyone who helped create and disseminate the virus and cover up its origins. 

Of course, my personal anguish at the ravages of COVID is minor compared to those who lost loved ones (often without a possibility of providing comfort in their final hours), had to shutter their businesses, lost income, suffered painful illness, and more. And then there’s the loss of treasury.

The government’s COVID relief programs have cost $5.2 trillion, more than World War II, which cost $4.7 trillion. Those mountains of money will cause inflation, raise interest rates and reduce in stock prices.

On a human level, the death toll from COVID has surpassed that of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Naturally, we want to know the origins of the disease and assess some measure of culpability for this worldwide disaster, and it has become increasingly clear that the virus originated in the Wuhan Chinese virology lab, and that media darling Fauci bears some significant responsibility for funding the research that made the virus, once confined to bats, transmissible to humans. Moreover, he has played a major role in covering up the source, the NIH funding for the research, and his role in providing the funding.

This week, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Washington Post have come around to conceding that the virus originated in the Wuhan Lab, a notion that just a year ago was “dangerous misinformation” and a wild “conspiracy theory.”

An increasing number of senior administration officials engaged in a probe of the virus are now backing the theory that the virus could have emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to a CNN report.

Although officials still remain divided on whether the virus emerged from nature, passing from animals to humans, the acknowledgment marks a shift from the scorn that was heaped on former President Trump and a group of European scientists who first brought up the lab-leak theory during the height of the pandemic last year.

The virus has infected nearly 190 million people around the world and resulted in more than 3.5 million deaths, according to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The World Health Organization’s director general also engaged in an about-face this week when he acknowledged that the virus could have leaked from a lab. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus now wants China to be “transparent, open and cooperate” and hand over the “raw data” that the WHO asked for at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.

This week as well, Senator Rand Paul engaged in a heated exchange with Fauci, accusing him of lying to Congress when he denied NIH had funded gain of function research at the Wuhan lab. 

He referred the matter of Fauci’s testimony to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation. To some extent -- even aside from the department’s unlikelihood of seeking a perjury prosecution of Fauci -- perjury before Congress is almost impossible to prove given the format, imprecise questioning by a series of interrogators, and the method of preparing the transcripts of such testimony. (Without my greater detailing it here, congressional hearings are not run or recorded in the same manner and with the degree of precision as court proceedings.)

Following this exchange, Josh Rogan, Washington Post columnist was, to my recollection, the first in this paper to question Fauci’s probity.

Paul, who believes the evidence points to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the world’s leading bat coronavirus lab, as the source of the outbreak, pressed Fauci about a scientific paper by WIV’s head bat researcher, Shi Zhengli. Arguing that her work modifying viruses to make them more transmissible to humans constitutes “gain of function research,” he accused Fauci of lying to Congress, a federal crime.

Fauci insisted that it “was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain of function.” He was using a specific definition crafted by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 when the Obama administration’s pause on gain of function research was lifted. “And Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly,” Fauci added. [snip]

…many scientists think Paul actually does know what he’s talking about. One of them is Rutgers University microbiologist and biosafety expert Richard Ebright, whom Paul quoted as saying this research “matches, indeed epitomizes the definition of gain of function research.”

Other scientists, even those who believe the lab leak theory likely, argue that Fauci is technically correct, although they note that the official definition is so narrow it enables anyone to avoid the review process Fauci himself helped to establish. In other words, if the oversight system for reviewing risky research is almost never used, what good is it?

But it doesn’t matter which “gain of function” definition you prefer. What everyone can now see clearly is that NIH was collaborating on risky research with a Chinese lab that has zero transparency and zero accountability during a crisis [snip]

Fauci also told Paul there’s no possibility the research in the paper Paul cited directly led to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but Paul correctly called this out as a straw man. That specific project was only one element of the U.S. government multiagency effort that for years pumped U.S. money and know-how into these Wuhan lab…

In an editorial, the Washington Post followed up, attacking the Chinese deceptions on the origin of the virus and slipping in a brief mention of NIH’s role.

The institute was carrying out experiments using chimeric viruses with modified spike proteins, tested on mice with respiratory cells genetically altered to resemble those of humans. The goal was to see which were more infective. These experiments were written into grant applications, including for U.S. funds; the research began in 2014-2015 and was underway at the institute through 2019. The work was not done in the highest biosecurity level laboratory. The institute had collected bat coronavirus samples from a mine in southern China and stored genomic sequences of a number of them. The outgoing Trump administration alleged in a Jan. 15 statement that Wuhan institute workers had become ill “with symptoms consistent with both covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses.” China has refused to allow further investigation into these and other unresolved questions, while pointing instead to potential virus origins beyond its borders, and spreading disinformation that it came from a U.S. military laboratory.

Suspiciously, everywhere China looks, it comes up empty-handed. China reported to the WHO that more than 80,000 wildlife, livestock and poultry samples were checked for the virus before and after the outbreak, and none tested positive. In search of human health records, China checked 233 institutions with 76,253 records of respiratory conditions between October and November 2019 and identified 92 that might be SARS-CoV-2, but then said none were. China took offline a key database in September 2019 saying it was because of cybersecurity. When eight Chinese doctors expressed concern about a new sickness in Wuhan in December 2019, they were reprimanded for spreading rumors, and the Chinese leadership for weeks hid the truth about the transmissibility of the novel coronavirus from the WHO and the Chinese people.

In the namby-pamby way of media editorials, it offers up this:

“Taken together, China’s answers add up to a pattern of denial, diversion and deception. Nevertheless, to prepare for future pandemics and to better understand this one, the origins investigation must go on, either by WHO or others -- or both.”

It doesn’t mention what to me is the most significant point: Fauci’s NIH grant-making needs a thorough independent review and he is certainly to be faulted for dancing around the gain of function issue and the matter of his own deficient oversight of the Wuhan Lab’s activities and Chinese deception. This is something we have greater power to do than getting anyone to break through the wall of  Chinese disinformation about Wuhan.

China and Biden Try to Shift Blame

Just as China tried to deceive by suggesting the virus originated in U.S. military labs, the administration tried to shift the blame for mistrust of the vaccines onto social media. Neither Powerline’s John Hinderaker nor the Wall Street Journal fell for this.

Powerline reminds us that while President Trump was still in office both Kamala Harris and Joe Biden “were themselves the most prominent of anti-vaxxers, and if some people took their skepticism too seriously, they have only themselves to blame.” Have you seen them express any remorse for discouraging people to vaccinate? Neither Hinderaker nor I have.

Facebook fought back against President Biden’s claim that false information on Facebook was the reason for vaccine resistance, noting  “The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against Covid-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”

The Journal quoted Biden last September assailing President Trump for “playing politics with a potential coronavirus vaccine” accusing Trump of rushing out a vaccine for electoral gain (when of course it was Biden attacking the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for his own electoral gain). 

Playing politics with public health -- as Biden, Harris, and Fauci have -- did more to undermine confidence in our public health apparatus and functionaries than any social media “misinformation,” “misinformation” which, in any event, often turns out to be as true, as was Trump’s claim the virus was created in the Wuhan lab. 

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