Fauci: Rand Paul slandered me

This is the second time in three days that he’s been indignant about Paul’s accusations without explaining what makes them so outrageous. Given that the 2017 study cited by Paul described NIH funding for the development of chimeric viruses that were tested on ACE2 receptors found in humans, how is that not “gain of function” research?

And if it is, why has Fauci claimed repeatedly under oath that it isn’t?

Instead of defending his position, he’s resorting to how-dare-you filibustering about his integrity. Which is unconvincing, if not suspicious.

Did NIH fund GOF research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, yes or no? I don’t know medicine but I do know a little law, so I can tell Fauci that the success of his slander suit will depend — a lot — on whether Paul’s characterization of the study was true. Was it?

WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler tried to tease out the crux of the dispute here a few months ago by digging into what constitutes “gain of function” research, precisely. If Wuhan scientists were splicing together viruses and testing the chimeric result on ACE2 receptors to see if it would bind to human cells, isn’t that by definition a case of GOF? They’ve brought a new virus into being that’s dangerous to people.

Robert Kessler, a spokesman for EcoHealth Alliance, disputed that in an email to Glenn Kessler. EcoHealth is of course the Peter-Daszak-led group that received a grant from NIH and then redirected some of the money to the Wuhan lab:

“The NIH has not funded gain-of-function work,” Kessler said in email exchanges. “EcoHealth Alliance was funded by the NIH to conduct study of coronavirus diversity in China. From that award, we subcontracted work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to help with sampling and lab capacity.” He said the citation in the paper was mainly the result of researchers’ desire to cite any possible research that contributed to the findings, with much of the funding coming from the National Natural Science Foundation of China. (Another funder listed was USAID’s Predict program, which helped collect animal viruses and also funded EcoHealth.)

“As described in the paper, all but two of the viruses cultured in the lab failed to even replicate,” he said. “None of them had been manipulated in order to increase their ability to spread, all the researchers did was insert S [spike] proteins in order to gauge their ability to infect human cells.”

In other words, the EcoHealth money funded the lab (the collection of viral samples from bats in the wild, specifically) but it didn’t fund any GOF research that might have been going on. And even if the money had been used to create and study the chimeric viruses, true GOF involves increasing a virus’s transmissibility, not merely testing whether it’s transmissible. It’s right there in the name, “gain” of function.

But … didn’t creating the chimera necessarily “increase” its transmissibility to humans by bringing it into being in the first place?

Virologist Stuart Neil also thinks Fauci’s getting a bad rap. Read his entire thread, as it predictably veers into technicalities to which I can’t do justice, but here’s the gist:

If I follow him, he’s saying that the Wuhan scientists wanted to test whether the spike proteins on some new bat viruses they harvested in the wild could potentially bind to human cells. So they took those proteins, spliced them to a virus which they already knew could replicate in human cells, and tested them on ACE2 receptors to see if they would still bind. No function was “gained.”

But … wasn’t there a risk that it could have been? What if the preexisting virus combined with the newly harvested spike proteins to produce a super-contagious new hybrid? Neil allows that what the scientists were up to is a “grey area.” But he’s indignant on Fauci’s behalf that Paul would insinuate that one of those hybrids might have caused SARS-CoV-2.

Paul has been careful to say that he’s not claiming the 2017 work produced COVID but he’s also smart enough to know that a lot of people paying attention to his dispute with Fauci will draw that conclusion. Consumers of righty media are especially primed to distrust the doctor:

Some of that is due to very conservative sources trending conspiratorial in their coverage of Fauci and the pandemic. (The same study shows that “In the presence of statistical controls, the more ideologically conservative that people described themselves as, the less likely they are to believe that it is true that it is safer to get the Covid-19 vaccine than to get Covid-19.”) But it’s also due to mainstream media sources reliably and relentlessly giving Fauci the kid-gloves treatment, to the point where 68 percent of the overall public believes he’s providing trustworthy advice, unchanged from nearly a year ago. I’ll leave you with Hot Air alum Mary Katharine Ham calling out the wider press, which includes her own network, for glossing over Fauci’s various credibility-shaking moments. He’s not blameless for his credibility deficiency on the right.