By Bill King for Real Clear Politics
I fear the investigations promised by Republicans in the House next year will be little more than another round of toxic partisanship. But there is one investigation that Congress must undertake, and that is the so-called “benefit of operations” investigation.
Before the pandemic, I suspect that most of you, like me, had never heard of earnings-function research. What we learned during pandemics is that scientists around the world routinely tinker with the genome of viruses to see how induced changes affect the virus’s replication (infectiousness) and the effects it has on its host (lethal).
Such research has apparently been going on for decades and is routinely funded by governments, including our own.
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Within weeks of the emergence of the COVID-19 virus in China near the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), many began to question whether the virus had been created by gain-of-function research and had somehow escaped WIV’s labs. Recently analyzed Chinese records from the beginning of the epidemic suggest that the virus may have come from WIV. To many, the assertion that the novel coronavirus occurred naturally within a few hundred yards of a WIV facility seems too coincidental.
But in February 2020, just three months after the virus’s genome was sequenced, 27 scientists signed a statement in the medical journal The Lancet, declaring unequivocally that the virus occurred naturally and that any suggestion to the contrary was quackery and a conspiracy theory. His statement is accepted orthodoxy for much of the world’s scientific community and virtually all of the mainstream media.
However, as time passed, circumstances came under scrutiny as to the origin of that statement. In a 2021 Vanity Fair article, investigative journalist Catherine Ebon revealed that the claim was orchestrated by a scientist named Peter Daszak. That statement concluded with a declaration by the signed scientists, “We have no competing interests.” However, Ebon reports that Daszak is the director of the EcoHealth Alliance, which received a $3.7 million grant from the NIH in 2014 and a sub-grant for $600,000 to WIV. .
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I wrote to the email address reserved for the statement in The Lancet Post, asking several questions about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the letter and the “competing interests” statement. I reached out to two scientists who signed a letter requesting an interview regarding the statement. I did not receive any responses.
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Questions about gain-of-function research predate Covid. Indeed, there has been robust debate about the potential risks and benefits since at least 2011. In 2014, a group of 300 leading scientists led by Harvard’s highly respected epidemiologist Mark Lipsich signed a statement warning of the dangers. Related to Earning-Function Research.
The academic controversy led the Obama administration to issue a ban on gain-of-function research, but it included a general exemption for studies “urgently needed to protect public health or national security.” According to Ebon’s report, the exemption quickly became a glaring loophole that essentially rendered the rule useless: controversial research continued largely unhindered.
The Trump administration scrapped the ban in favor of a complex review process. But while that process was largely conducted outside the public eye or significant peer review, many critics, including Lipsich, were still wary.
The debate over the origin of Covid continues to rage today and is unfortunately politicized, with Democrats and Republicans often lining up behind natural and lab-leakage theories respectively. In August 2021, the National Intelligence Council issued an unclassified report in response to President Biden’s order to investigate the origin of the virus. The report said the intelligence community could not reach a conclusion and that the source would never be known without further cooperation from the Chinese government. Of course, the more time passes, the less likely it is that the mystery will ever be solved.
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We all want to know how the epidemic started, that’s just the truth may be This makes it imperative to conduct a detailed investigation into the risks and potential benefits of this type of research. Of all the things we control, surely tinkering with viruses to make them more infectious and more deadly should be at the top of the list. Congress needs to pass laws that closely regulate what Rutgers professor Richard Ebright described to Catherine Ebon as “looking for gas leaks with a lighted match,” and not leave it to executive orders.
Congress should investigate what appears to be a concerted effort to deflect any inquiry into legitimate questions about the origins of Covid in the early days of the pandemic. For example, the Lancet should subpoena the signatories of the statement and question at least one of the signatories about their false certification of “no competing interests.” (Criticisms about potential conflicts of interest are not coming from force: uber-progressive Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs disbanded a group he founded to study the origins of Covid, citing conflicts of interest. Interestingly, Daszak was part of the group. Sachs was disbanded.)
I don’t know if House Republicans can hold such hearings without turning them into a carnival sideshow. But hopefully he will rise above partisan bias and give the American people the answers they so desperately need.
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
Bill King is a businessman and attorney and former opinion columnist and editorial board member at the Houston Chronicle. He has served in several appointed and elected positions, including mayor of his hometown. He writes on a wide range of public policy and political topics. Bill is the author of “Unapologetically Moderate” and currently serves as co-chair of the Forward Party of Texas.
The views expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of political insiders.