Well, it’s happened again. A man at whose altar the press once worshipped has been sacrificed for ratings. For all the media’s sycophancy toward a man who essentially amounts to just another high-ranking government bureaucrat, they were all too happy to air his dirty laundry in the absence of the high ratings afforded to them by the Trump administration.
Thanks to BuzzFeed, The Washington Post and the Freedom of Information Act, the American public is now privy to conversations Dr. Anthony Fauci had with colleagues and others behind the scenes of his normal duties. Many are very boring. Others are very revealing. Some are merely Rorschach tests to be seen according to whatever preexisting political persuasion lies with the reader. This piece will focus on what I see as the two most important aspects of the email dump, because frankly, I couldn’t care less about Fauci’s movie ambitions or other nonsense. We’ll focus on what has had the biggest effect on our everyday lives and the most profound implications going forward.
The Lab Theory was never a far-flung conspiracy theory and Fauci knew it.
On January 31, 2020, virologist Kristian Anderson emailed Dr. Fauci that there were “unusual features” in the genome of the virus, which has just been decoded. While these unusual features comprised only a small part of the genome, when one looked closely, Anderson said, “they appeared to be engineered.”
This email not only shows that the so-called “Lab Leak Theory” was never considered outlandish, it was indeed the first impression of many of the virologists who’d been studying the genome. Andersen and her colleagues have since “overcome” that first impression but have never adequately detailed the specific evidence that led to their change of heart.
Since those early days, the evidence for engineering has only grown with continued study. When alluding to “unusual features,” Andersen was referring to something called a furin cleavage site. And no, it’s not nearly as awesome as it sounds. It is anomalous genetic insertion that could be a sign of laboratory manipulation. In layman’s terms, it’s a genetic sequence that one wouldn’t expect to find in nature and is therefore cause for further investigation. In recent weeks, a team of British and Norwegian scientists released a study showing a line of four positively charged amino acids within the genome, which should not happen naturally. Just as when the positive sides of magnets cause repulsion when pressed together, something similar should happen in nature. But it didn’t.
This is especially damning to Dr. Fauci because of the possible role he may have played in what is known as “gain of function research,” which is the process by which the virus could have been manipulated in the Wuhan lab. “Gain of function” refers to changing a sample of a virus, such as to make it more contagious or dangerous, in order to study a more effective response. In 2014, the National Institutes of Health put a pause on gain of function research, but lifted it in 2017.
On Feb. 1, 2020, Fauci wrote his deputy and fellow immunologist Hugh Auchincloss, saying:
It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on. I have a conference call with [Health and Human Services Secretary Alex] Azar. Read this paper, as well as the email I will forward you now. You will have tasks today that must be done.
That same day, Auchincloss replied, mentioning someone named Emily, apparently another colleague:
The paper you sent me says the experiments were performed before the gain of function pause, but have since been reviewed and approved by NIH. Not sure what that means since Emily is sure that no coronavirus has gone through [a] P3 framework. She will try to determine if we have any distant ties to this work abroad.
The term “P3 framework” refers to a public-private partnership, one of which the NIH announced in April 2020 to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine and treatment options.
Fauci has told a Senate panel that the United States did not fund any such research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which begs the question, what exactly was ‘paused’?
Like Fauci, Andersen and his virology team had much to lose from the Lab Leak Theory gaining traction. Gain-of-function research would almost certainly be defunded, which would mean labs all over the world being closed down and a stream of grants coming to a screeching halt. The immense self-interest in dismissing lab manipulation as a plausible hypothesis cannot be ignored. However, this story is far from over. The wonderful thing about science, especially the decentralized kind of science being practiced with the SARS-Cov-2 genome, is that there are plenty of eager minds ready and willing to prove the prevailing narrative wrong. Edwin Hubble broke Albert Einstein’s heart when he proved that the universe is expanding, and took great joy in doing it. To paraphrase Winston Churchill once again, the truth will eventually get its pants on.
In the meantime, we must get to the bottom of exactly what Fauci knew regarding gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab and when he knew it. It is neither credible nor plausible to believe that he was completely unaware of such research, especially when it has been proven that American dollars went to the lab via EcoAlliance, whom Fauci has worked with many times in the past. Did self-interest play a major role in Fauci’s hesitance to lend credence to the possibility of lab manipulation? Frankly, we’ll likely never know for certain, as mind-readers remain in short supply. But as facts come out, logical inferences will be made.
We’ll just have to “follow the science.”
To mask or not to mask?
In a year of very stupid debates, this debate has been among the most moronic. Due to political polarization, masks became tribal symbols and thus the two extremes of the spectrum reined. Many pro-maskers would wear them to bed if Lord Fauci advised them to. Anti-maskers wanted to heat their neighborhoods in winter with massive mask bonfires.
At the peril of angering my own political tribe, I am going to try to be objective and reasonable in reading the now-infamous “mask email” from Fauci. To be clear, it is noteworthy, hence why it’s in this piece. But perhaps not for the reason many believe.
In an email on February 5, 2020, Fauci advised against wearing masks and said that face masks bought in a store would not be effective at protecting against the virus. He was replying to queries from one Sylvia Burwell, former Secretary for Health and Human Services from 2014 to 2017.
“Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection,” Fauci wrote.
“The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”
“I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location,” he said.
This is precisely what I, regular old non-medical-degree-having Trey, have said for over a year, based on simple logic and the information available on how the disease is typically transmitted. We’ve known for a very long time that masks, to the extent they’re useful at all, are only of use in indoor situations in which people are in close quarters for a prolonged amount of time. Masks can help to intercept larger aerosol droplets, which can be helpful for decreasing viral load in the air and for the infected individual. Masks have never been a foolproof mitigation measure, not even close. They can be a small help in certain situations, nothing more or less. They’re especially useful for people with a sneeze or a cough. It’s very much common sense.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on mask-wearing in April 2020 and strongly recommended face coverings. Fauci’s email was sent before this advice and he backed the CDC recommendations once they were introduced, which again just goes to show his willingness to back narratives rather than leveling with people about the actual science. Perhaps he doesn’t trust the unwashed masses to process nuanced ideas. Perhaps he figured it had to be an all or nothing approach or no one would ever wear a mask for any reason. Whatever his reasoning, the emphasis he and the CDC placed on mask wearing was not warranted by the actual facts on the ground.
In my view, though, the controversy over this mask email obscures the true scandal regarding Fauci’s dishonesty about masks. In June of last year, Fauci admitted that the government lied about the utility of masks in order to ensure they weren’t hoarded from healthcare workers. He may have good intentions when lying to the American public, but the fact is someone in his position must never sacrifice their integrity regardless of intention. It was at that point that I stopped listening to anything he had to say and wondered why anyone would still give him an audience. Anthony Fauci is most definitely a bald-faced liar, but the most egregious example is not found in this email. He actually told the truth here. It was when he faced the American public that he lied, and that is the scandal.
I must confess, I’ve never been as annoyed with Dr. Fauci as I have with the infatuation with him. Somewhere along the way, he was put on a pedestal as some sort of omniscient health god, an old Wise Man who would see us through the uncertain waters of the novel coronavirus. While Fauci is certainly more qualified in his field than I will ever be, I never understood why so much weight was put into his opinions, be it from the Left or Right.
It seems to me that his outsized influence was a byproduct of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Democrats saw him as the scientifically literate antidote to Donald Trump, who many saw as a used car salesman trying to finesse his way through a crisis that didn’t lend itself to his marketing slogan style of leadership. Naturally, once the Left gravitated toward Fauci, the Right sought to take him down. The entire Fauci episode proved that not even medical science is immune to the tribalism of the day, as even virus mitigation measures themselves became markers of one’s tribal loyalty. It was stupid. And frankly, embarrassing for the entire country.
Be that as it may, Fauci became a political football in a time in which everything and everyone was considered part of the playing field. Despite living in an age in which even the most obscure information is available at the tip of one’s fingers, the most important source of information became Anthony Fauci, one doctor in a sea of many. The truth is, many doctors have been proven wrong on this or that issue over the past year. Many of those same doctors have been proved right on other issues. Many issues have yet to be resolved, and once they are, there will, again, be those who were right all along and vice versa. No one on this side of Heaven, regardless of their credentials, has been completely right or completely wrong since the onset of Covid. Life is not that simple, no matter how badly political hacks would like it to be.
For me, what matters most in a government official or influential medical voice is honesty. That includes having the integrity to say, “I don’t know.” It’s a perfectly fine statement that has become increasingly hard for either side of the political spectrum to utter, even in matters of life or death. Indeed, the surest mark of an educated mind is awareness of what one doesn’t know. Those who pretend to have all the answers typically have the most to learn. The acquisition of knowledge is a humbling experience to the intelligent brain, as it provides a glimpse of just how complex life and the universe can be — and the great distances still yet to travel before we have a firm grasp on either.
This, in my view, was Fauci’s greatest failure. There were so many questions he should have known were beyond our grasp to answer at the time. Yet he couldn’t muster the courage to acknowledge it. The lab leak theory is perhaps the most stark example. At a time when the genome was still being studied by scientists the world over, Fauci was quick to scoff at any explanation other than a purely zoological origin. This attitude was blatantly anti-scientific, but also something much worse for a person in a position of leadership. It was the path of least resistance. It was one less potentially massive problem on his hands that he was all too quick to bury in a pile of his own credentials. And the possibility of his own culpability in gain-of-function research certainly didn’t provide incentive to keep his integrity intact.
Perhaps Anthony Fauci is the caricature of Dr. Evil that many on the Right have made him out to be. There is certainly more evidence for that hypothesis than its negation, the divine image of St. Fauci the Infallible pushed by the Trump-deranged Left.
For my own money, I believe his problem to be cowardice. The one constant theme of the massive Fauci email dump is the path of least resistance, the answers that would make his life easier and himself less accountable, truth be damned. Dr. Fauci’s mission was to protect the health of the American public to the best of his ability. In the end, he did just the opposite. His legacy will be one of shameless self-preservation — or worse.
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