Fauci goes on offense: You're inciting crazies to try to kill me, Rand Paul!

Fauci goes on offense: You're inciting crazies to try to kill me, Rand Paul!

Quite a display of DARVO by old Dr. Tony at the end of the clip below.

Maybe he learned something from studying his former boss, Donald Trump, for four years.

His exchanges with Paul during Senate testimony reliably generate more heat than light and this is no exception, but there is one accusation Paul makes against him that I want to address. Watch, then read on. (Skip to the last two minutes if you’re interested in only the most contentious part.)

It’s unfair of Fauci to blame Paul for wackjobs getting worked up enough to want to kill him. Paul’s been a target of political violence himself; he hasn’t called for anyone to hurt Fauci. It is fair of Fauci to accuse Paul of demagogic opportunism. (“You are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain!”) The fundraising widget on Paul’s website is an unusually crass illustration of the incentive Republicans have to attack Fauci when face to face with him, whether for meritorious reasons or not. It’s a free campaign commercial when they do.

And sometimes it is meritorious. Paul had the better of their exchanges last year about NIH funding dangerous research in Wuhan, with Fauci’s defense boiling down to hairsplitting over the definition of “gain of function.” I think Fauci has the better of today’s exchange about the emails he and Francis Collins exchanged in October 2020 about the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration. To hear Paul tell it, the two conspired to discredit the authors of the GBD with personal smears, even going so far as to plant pieces in magazines like Wired attacking them.

But reading through the emails themselves, I don’t see it. The closest thing to a personal attack is Collins calling the authors of the GBD “fringe epidemiologists” and calling for a “quick and devastating published take down” — but not a take down of them personally, a take down of the “premises” of the GBD. As I read it, he thought the scientific logic of the GBD was flawed and feared that it would gain influence in public opinion if it wasn’t rebutted immediately.

“Fringe” is a snide way to dismiss the three authors given how well-credentialed they are, as Paul notes, but from what I’ve seen the GBD *is* a minority view among scientists. I don’t know of any poll of experts that would verify that, but consult your own experience over the past 21 months. The rap on the expert class is that they’re consistently overcautious about protecting people from COVID, sometimes egregiously so. That doesn’t make the authors of the GBD “fringe” but it may mean that the GBD is in fact a “fringe” position among virologists and epidemiologists.

And I don’t know where Paul’s getting the idea that Fauci commissioned a piece in Wired to take down the GBD. The article he emailed to Francis Collins was titled “There Is No ‘Scientific Divide’ Over Herd Immunity.” That piece is dated October 7, 2020. The email exchange between Collins and Fauci happened on October 8. All Fauci was doing as far as I can tell was pointing out to Collins that rebuttals of the GBD had already begun appearing in popular media. There’s no evidence that he commissioned the Wired piece or another one that ran soon after in The Nation. After all, it’s not as if liberal pundits and scientific experts needed to be lobbied by NIH to attack a high-profile argument against lockdowns.

Paul’s free to believe the scientific positions that support his personal policy preferences, as we all are. But for what it’s worth, one of the three main authors of the GBD, Jay Bhattacharya, co-wrote an op-ed in Indian media a year ago arguing that a majority of Indians already had natural immunity and therefore there was no need to vaccinate them. Four months later, Delta obliterated the country, likely producing the single largest death toll any nation has experienced during the pandemic. (That wasn’t the first time Bhattacharya appeared to have badly overestimated a population’s immunity from COVID either.) Being catastrophically wrong about India doesn’t mean he’s wrong about the GBD, but it’s a reminder that it’s not just the other team’s experts who’ve had big misses during the pandemic and therefore can’t be trusted.

Here’s Fauci being used as a punching bag by another Republican today, Roger Marshall. He was heard calling Marshall a “moron” during a hot mic moment later.

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