Wingnut Disinformation Kills US Coronavirus Research, Great Job Guys
CBS's "60 Minutes" decided to do some actual reporting (instead of a puff piece on a (pardoned but not exonerated) war criminal), and it was pretty good! We should encourage them when they don't suck, so let's pat Scott Pelley and team on the head and give them a cookie. The story looks at the work of Peter Daszak, a US researcher who works in one of the scarier fields in health science: viruses that originate in animals, particularly bats, that can be transmitted to humans. (That's called zoonotic transmission, nerds.) Daszak was the focus of a 2003 "60 Minutes" story about his work as a disease detective, in which he warned — as many infectious disease experts have also been saying forever — that what really worried him was the possibility that
we are going to miss the next emerging disease, that we're suddenly going to find a SARS virus that moves from one part of the planet to another, wiping out people as it moves along.
So there's your framing for what's happening now, ominous cello soundtrack optional.
Now that we're in the middle of exactly such a pandemic, you might think Daszak's expertise would be in high demand, and you'd be right! Daszak is president of a research group called the "EcoHealth Alliance" and has partnered with researchers in China at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has identified and studied "hundreds of bat viruses, research that is critical right now."
Naturally, because the research was in China, rightwing operatives took to lying about it, and as a result, Daszak's funding from the National Institutes of Health was suddenly withdrawn after Donald Trump saw Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) lying about it on Fox News. So nope, no more coronavirus work for Peter Daszak, at least not with the federal funding he'd had for decades.
Here, watch the video, or at least read the transcript if you wanna [Update: video now only available if you have "CBS All Access," because the internet sucks now; transcript is still there.]
Once again, let's truth sandwich this: Daszak's EcoHealth Alliance had a grant from the NIH to do disease research and prevention in multiple countries around the world. As part of that work, the group cooperated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but at no point did did US taxpayers fund the Chinese lab. China funds it pretty well! "60 Minutes" points out that just last year, the Trump administration actually increased the amount of funding for Daszak's group. But yes, Daszak did use part of his grant for the collaboration, to cover his group's work in China. Let us go to the transcript:
Daszak had been spending about $100,000 a year collaborating with the Wuhan lab.
Peter Daszak: I can't just show up in China and say, "Hi, I wanna work on your viruses." I have to do this through the correct channels. So, what we do is we talk to NIH, and they approve the people we can work with in China. And that happened. And our collaboration with Wuhan was preapproved by NIH.
Also too, while the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, haven't been conclusively discovered, it's nearly certain it originated in nature; as the "60 Minutes" piece details, it has none of the genetic markers you'd find in a bioweapon, and it's also extremely unlikely the virus accidentally "escaped" the lab. Daszak notes that neither the Wuhan Institute nor any other lab in the world had isolated SARS-CoV-2 prior to the pandemic. The simplest explanation, he says, is that
There is a huge amount of evidence that these viruses repeatedly emerge into people from wild animals in rural areas through things like hunting and eating wildlife. There is zero evidence that this virus came out of a lab in China.
And now comes the lying! On the April 14 edition of the Tucker Carlson Smile-Time White Power Variety Hour, Gaetz said the Wuhan lab had "birthed a monster" and demanded to know why the USA American goodpeople taxpayers were funding the Chinese lab that wingnuts really want to believe was the source of the novel coronavirus. (Again: No, the US wasn't funding the lab, and no, the virus almost certainly didn't come from there.) Carlson even had a scary photo of a bat to help emphasize the point.
Gaetz lied, lyingly,
The NIH gives this $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, they then advertise that they need coronavirus researchers. Following that, coronavirus erupts in Wuhan.
Again, that is a lie. And here let us also add some value: A USA Today fact-check reports the story about the nonexistent grant appears to have originated with a false Daily Mail story April 11, and that Gaetz had repeated the lie in an April 13 tweet before going on Fox News to promote it. The rightwing bullshit machine revved up, and at Donald Trump's April 17 campaign rally "press conference," a NewsMax reporter asked him about the grant, which, again, actually went to Daszak's EcoHealth Alliance, which is a US-based organization.
Reporter: There's also another report that the NIH, under the Obama administration, in 2015 gave that lab $3.7 million in a grant. Why would the US give a grant like that to China?
Trump: The Obama administration gave them a grant of $3.7 million? I've been hearing about that. And we've instructed that if any grants are going to that area – we're looking at it, literally, about an hour ago, and also early in the morning. We will end that grant very quickly.
One week later, EcoHealth's entire NIH grant was cancelled, so hooray, "the Chinese" have been punished (the Chinese were not punished) and an important source of international research into one of the most concerning disease vectors has been cut off. Daszak is still in shock over the sudden loss of a grant that had formerly been considered one of NIH's top priorities. EcoHealth's researchers are now facing layoffs, and valuable research that could lead to a coronavirus treatment — or prevention of the next outbreak, and there will always be one — has gone down the toilet. Says Daszak,
This politicization of science is really damaging. You know, the conspiracy theories out there have essentially closed down communication between scientists in China and scientists in the US. We need that communication in an outbreak to learn from them how they control it so we can control it better. It's sad to say, but it will probably cost lives. By sort of narrow-mindedly focusing in on ourselves, or on labs, or on certain cultural politics, we miss the real enemy.
A noseless Donald Trump then proclaimed his face had definitely been taught a lesson it wouldn't soon forget. No wait, he didn't say that; he accused CBS News of covering up for China.
Yep, the bad guy here is definitely the report that showed how rightwing bullshit is bad for science. But 'GIIIIINAA!
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.