Fallacious Fauci strikes again

Anthony Fauci is the long-time director of the NIAID at the National Institutes of Health. He now serves as chief medical advisor to our animatronic president. In the Trump administration he played a fateful role on the Coronavirus Task Force. His current NIAID profile is posted here.

Given his contradictory pronouncements during the epidemic and my weakness for alliteration, I have dubbed him “the fallacious Dr. Fauci.” Yesterday he appeared before the Senate Health Committee and Senator Paul took up the question of NIH funding of gain-of-function research in China’s notorious Wuhan Institute of Virology (video below). John Hinderaker put Fauci’s denial under the microscope here yesterday.

Marc Thiessen provided useful background in his May 28 Washington Post column on “The media’s big mistake on the COVID-19 ‘lab leak’ theory” (the link goes to the accessible version of the column on AEI’s site; Thiessen returned to the issue in his June 4 column).

Thiessen explained that “the lab leak hypothesis threatens to ensnare the media’s anointed hero, Anthony S. Fauci. It turns out that Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded a grant for studying bat coronavirus to the US-based EcoHealth Alliance, which then subcontracted the research to the Wuhan lab.” Thiessen continued:

Fauci admits this, but insists that the money did not support gain of function research. But as [Nicholas] Wade points out, that is exactly what the Wuhan institute was doing. Indeed, the grant proposals from Shi Zhengli — the “Bat Woman” at the Wuhan lab — which are a matter of public record specified that she planned to use the money for gain-of-function research. Fauci is on record supporting such research. And the NIAID was supporting research in Wuhan even though the US government had placed a moratorium on gain of function research.

As Wade puts it, “if the SARS2 virus did indeed escape from the Wuhan institute, then the NIH will find itself in the terrible position of having funded a disastrous experiment that led to the death of more than 3 million worldwide, including more than half a million of its own citizens.” At a bare minimum, NIAID was funding dangerous research at a lab using minimal safety precautions. Fauci has yet to respond to a letter from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) demanding answers. “We need to declassify all the intelligence, we need all the email traffic related to these grants,” Gallagher tells me.

The US public health bureaucracy has no interest in following a trail that could lead back to itself….

Not surprisingly, Fauci quickly seized on the opportunity to change the subject yesterday. On the gain-of-function funding question, however, Fauci responded with an argument I find fallacious and misleading. Fauci was arguing that, although the research appears to fall squarely within the definition of “gain of function,” the bureaucrats up to and including Fauci himself had determined otherwise before committing the funds. QED.

Senator Paul’s question, however, homes in on the correctness of the determination. The determination is not itself proof. It simply reframes the question. Fauci’s response embodies a variant of begging the question. In this case he begged the question with an argument from authority — in this case, essentially his own authority.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin made this point in his own way on Twitter yesterday. Rogin is the author of Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century. He takes up Coronavirus and the origin of the epidemic in the book. He is not wowed by the performance of his media colleagues in connection with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

I found Rogin’s comment on the Paul-Fauci exchange yesterday helpful.

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