Gaining depth on gain of function: Josh Rogin’s view

I cited the judgment of Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin in “Fallacious Fauci strikes again.” In my post I relied on Rogin’s brief tweets. Today Rogin expands on his judgment in the column “What the fight between Anthony Fauci and Rand Paul is really about.” Here is the heart of his analysis of the issue between Fauci and Paul:

Both men were playing to the cameras, but 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 — and no one in a position of power addressed that risk. Fauci is arguing the system worked. It didn’t. Even if the lab leak theory isn’t true, what’s clear is that we need more oversight of this risky research, both in the United States and in China.

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 labs, via the EcoHealth Alliance, including NIH, USAID and the Pentagon. According to an intelligence fact sheet released by the Trump administration and partially confirmed by the Biden administration, the WIV took our help and used it to build another, secret part of the lab, where they worked with the Chinese military.

Rogin concludes: “This is ultimately not about Fauci or Paul or even gain of function research. This is about getting to the truth of how this pandemic started so we can adjust our policies to prevent the next one. That means avoiding politics, not quibbling over semantics and pushing forward without bias or pre-conclusions. This is an urgent issue for our national security and public health.”

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