Scientists Doing Dangerous Virus Research Cry Victim To Avoid Public Accountability
Afraid of transparency, suspect virus researchers shamelessly exploit actual threat to Chinese researchers.
6 minute read
Last week, The Intercept published a new tranche of government documents showing that, even as Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health sought to publicly dismiss the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic started from a Wuhan lab leak, they were simultaneously dealing with an investigation by the FBI into research by Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance. For almost 15 years, Daszak has collaborated with and sometimes funded research led by Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Along with many allied virologists and NIH leaders, Daszak has also sought to dismiss any possibility of a Wuhan lab accident as a “conspiracy theory.”
If the FBI was worried about Daszak’s NIH funded research and collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, shouldn’t Collins and Fauci have informed Congress and the public of this, instead of dismissing such concerns as “conspiracy” thinking?
But buried within the released emails was an even more enlightening revelation.
Anxious about exposure of their misdeeds, virologists are now exploiting the real victimization of Chinese scientists to avoid public transparency. Pleading that a release of documents might lead to Daszak’s personal harm, Daszak’s lawyers tried to halt release of information from the NIH. Lawyers at the University of Sydney and University of Edinburgh have also begun to cite potential harm to scientists when refusing to release document requested though the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Yet, the actual researchers who have been harmed during the pandemic have been Chinese researchers speaking up against the Chinese government for their handling of the outbreak.
“More than five million people have died of Covid-19, but we still do not know where it came from,” wrote US Right to Know Executive Director Gary Ruskin, in an email to The DisInformation Chronicle. “The public interest in documents related to the origins of Covid-19 should be perfectly obvious, and agencies and universities across the planet should do everything they can to make relevant documents available to the public.”
Daszak keeps getting caught trying to hide deceit
In January 2021, Daszak’s lawyer Matthew Torsiello, emailed Lauren Bartok with the NIH’s Freedom of Information Act Office, to request that a FOIA request for EcoHealth Alliance’s grant documents be denied. In the email, Daszak’s lawyer writes that he is aware that the FBI is investigating the Wuhan Institute of Virology where Daszak’s colleague Shi Zhengli works.
As reported by The Intercept:
The lawyer’s email went on to make a tenuous argument. “As demonstrated by the recent attack on the US Capital [sic] fueled by disinformation and conspiracy theories, the need to protect the privacy of EcoHealth Alliance’s employees and affiliates is more important than ever.” The email did not offer further explanation, but Daszak had previously argued to the press and in the pages of the medical journal The Lancet that the notion that the pandemic could have a lab origin was a conspiracy theory.
Despite the histrionics by his lawyer, what Daszak really feared was further exposure of deceitful actions. A month prior to the lawyer’s request for a FOIA denial, US Right to Know published emails showing that Daszak orchestrated a letter in The Lancet to label people as “conspiracy theorists” if they questioned whether the pandemic started in a Wuhan lab.
In an email rounding up signatories for The Lancet, Daszak wrote, “Please note that this statement will not have EcoHealth Alliance logo on it and will not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person, the idea is to have this as a community supporting our colleagues.”
And as reported by The Intercept and Vanity Fair, the NIH grant documents that Daszak’s lawyer requested to keep hidden show that he was engaged in studies that many experts label as risky “gain-of-function” research. They also proved that Daszak had been collecting bat viruses in Laos.
When French scientists published a preprint last September showing that the closest related virus to COVID-19 comes from a bat in a Laos cave, science writers at Nature, Science, and the New York Times quickly deployed the preprint to denigrate the idea that the pandemic could have started in Wuhan. But Daszak’s own grant and a paper published by Wuhan scientists show that Wuhan researchers were collecting viruses from Laos for the past five to six years.
So yes. Daszak is worried about his documents and emails becoming public. But this is because Daszak’s emails and documents expose him for putting out disinformation and conspiring to dismiss critics as “conspiracy theorists.” That’s why the Washington Post editorial board called for Daszak to testify before Congress and explain what he knew and when he knew it:
Mr. Daszak must answer these questions before Congress. His grants were federal funds, and it is entirely appropriate for Congress to insist on accountability and transparency. He might also help the world understand what really happened in Wuhan.
Plus, we know which researchers have been put at risk for their work on the pandemic, and it isn’t people like Daszak and other virologists in the West. It’s researchers in autocratic China.
Shortly after the virus behind COVID-19 began to spread, Agence France Press reported in January 2020 that police from Wuhan “had punished eight people for ‘publishing or forwarding false information on the internet without verification.’” Some weeks later, the New York Times reported that Beijing was silencing critics who spoke up about the coronavirus outbreak and “punishes those who veer from the official line, with potentially damaging consequences.”
Then, in February 2020, reporters at British outlets noted that China’s autocratic government silenced Wuhan physician Li Wenliang, who warned students about people getting sick from a virus, and “summoned him to a police station to sign a statement denouncing his ‘misdemeanour’ in spreading false rumors.” After returning to his hospital, Dr. Li Wenliang contracted the virus from a patient and died. China later sentenced a former lawyer and citizen journalist to four years in jail for writing about the coronavirus response in Wuhan.
Science versus secrecy
Despite history showing transparency’s importance in uncovering deceit in pandemic science, other researchers are now repeating Daszak’s claims that public requests, for public records, of public science, put researchers at risk.
Recently, US Right to Know sent a FOIA request to the University of Edinburgh to see documents from Professor Andrew Rambaut regarding his work on a paper published in Nature Medicine that sought to deny the possibility that the pandemic started from a lab accident. From other FOIA requests, we know that the paper’s lead author, Kristian Andersen from the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, had told the NIH’s Anthony Fauci that the virus looked like it might have been engineered in a lab. But when Andersen later published the paper along with Andrew Rambaut and Australian researcher Edward Holmes, the paper dismissed these concerns.
Trying to get more information on why Andersen, Rambaut, and Holmes altered their thinking in their Nature Medicine opinion after this discussion with Fauci, US Right to Know FOIA’d their discussions. But citing a news article in Nature, the university said releasing information about Rambaut’s publication in Nature Medicine could bring him harm:
Additionally, we are aware of threatening behaviour directed against several academics in this field and should this information exist it is likely that individuals would be targeted. For examples of this, please see news feature ‘I hope you die’: how the COVID pandemic unleashed attacks on scientists published in Nature, 14 October 2021. In this case, the University considers that the public interest in withholding whether or not we hold this information outweighs the public interest in releasing it.
The same matter came up in a FOIA denial from the University of Sydney, where Edward Holmes works. Well … where Holmes works part of the time. When he published the paper in Nature Medicine along with Andersen and Rambaut, Edward Holmes did not disclose that he also has appointments with the Chinese government.
But here’s how the University of Sydney responded:
Given serious harassment and intimidation is already occurring and is likely to increase with any additional information release, I am therefore satisfied that the release of the University’s information may reasonably be expected to expose a person or persons to intimidation or harassment that is weighty or grave and not trifling or transient.
This last summer, Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs published an essay calling for more transparency in research to figure out how the pandemic started in order to prevent the next one. Sachs led a taskforce investigating the pandemic’s origin that he shut down this fall over risk of bias from involvement with Peter Daszak and EcoHealth Alliance.
Calling for more science and less secrecy, as well as a public accounting of funded research, Sachs wrote, “More transparency and clarity on the debate could help to resolve the source of the virus and also head off future pandemics.”
Unfortunately for the public, virus researchers do not agree and are hell bent on hiding from any public accounting.
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