Rand Paul And Fauci

Followup: I will temper this somewhat. I am extremely jetlagged and frustrated by the discussion on this topic so I overstated. Nearly everyone who is qualified to have informed opinions in the relevant fields agrees that this research can provide valuable information. Also, nearly everyone agrees that there is significant risk to this research and it must be conducted in tightly controlled conditions. Where the technical debates occur is in the balance of risk and payoff: how much can be learned versus how rigorous the controls should be.

The general point, that this is a narrow technical subject that is extremely ill served by uninformed lay debate, stands.

I regret the way I framed this discussion in my OP because it has, at least in part, led to all the digressions from what I really wanted to know. Despite several good-faith efforts of some posters, it’s still not clear to me how “take viruses which don’t infect human cells and make them able to infect human cells” is not

Even if this is an accurate summary:

I’m still struggling to see how this doesn’t fit the definition. It’s still taking viruses that can’t infect humans and giving them the ability to infect human cells, right?

I’m sorry if I’m being dense on this.

On the one hand, I think Sam has some questions that deserve clear answers, and the snark about QAnon is to say the least unhelpful.

On the other hand, Sam, I think you’re not understanding some of how scientists work.

When Fauci gives “lawyerly, tightly parsed responses,” my understanding is that those aren’t lawyerly, they’re sciency. If there’s any field that values tightly-parsed answers more than the law, it’s science. All his training is to answer questions exactly and to not deal in innuendo. Rand Paul, as a politician, has exactly the opposite training, which is why he’s so good at making Fauci sound sketchy, and so good at pissing Fauci off.

It’s 100% a mistake to take Fauci’s tightly parsed responses as a cause for suspicion. Be suspicious when a scientist stops making tightly parsed responses.

As for Fauci being “a big fan” of certain kinds of research, there’s an implication here that he has some sort of emotional or irrational response to that research, rather than being a person who has observed substantial scientific progress occurring through the use of that research. Is this an accurate reading of “a big fan”? If so, I’d like evidence that his support for GoF is significantly higher than the mainstream epidemiological community’s.

And it’s true that your phrasing about how “finding an intermediary to fund it [GoF research] which in turn would hire a Chinese lab to do the work strikes me as exactly how he would do it” isn’t the same as saying he’s deliberately funding a bioweapon: that’s a maliciously bad paraphrase. At the same time, what you’re saying looks a lot like malicious speculation. There’s no sign that Fauci has ever been so criminally cavalier in his epidemiological career, and to imagine how he would subvert the laws of his own nation for some incredibly ill-imagined purpose does not, I believe, serve much purpose.

Finally, I certainly don’t agree that “the lab leak and GoF are linked.” A lab that studies SARS might have many animals they’re studying, and the virus needed to mutate in exactly one animal in order to infect a human. It’s possible that there were no other animals that had the COVID-19 form other than the one that infected Patient Zero.

You’re speculating on Fauci’s motives. I wonder what you get when you speculate on Paul’s motives: why do you think he would demagogue about this issue?

WIV1 is a bat virus that already can infect human cells in culture. They took out the spike protein of WIV1 and replaced it with another bat virus’s spike protein. Then they tested whether these “hybrid” viruses could infect cells in tissue culture. By the way, these bat viruses do not infect human cells as well as SARS (or SARS-CoV-2) or some of the other coronaviruses in other mammals.

Once you take a spike protein out of WIV1, it can’t bind to human cells anymore. If another virus’s spike protein allows it to bind it once again, that is “rescuing” the ability to bind. So the only GOF is after you purposely made it lose the function. This is technically not the type of GOF research that was paused in the Obama administration. In fact, none of these viruses really have the level of function the existing human viruses have.

As an aside, I’m not sure why they didn’t just test each new whole virus without making a hybrid. Maybe they were having a hard time growing them in culture. Her objective is to show that bats are the reservoirs and may even be able to infect humans albeit less efficiently.

So the Wuhan lab didn’t start with viruses that couldn’t infect human cells, they started with viruses that could infect human cells, broke them so they couldn’t, then fixed them so they could again?

Therefore, it’s not adding any function to existing viruses.

Now that is an explanation I can understand. Does that hold true for all the research in question?

A couple of additional points:

A virus that acquires the ability to infect/propagate in human cells in tissue culture does not necessarily have the capability of infecting human beings in the wild. It would seem to be a necessary step, but there remain problems relating to cell type, evading immune surveillance etc.

Furthermore, there are viruses (for example, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis B and hepatitis C) which cannot be grown in cultured cells but are fully capable of infecting humans.

This is far too personal for P&E. Dial it back. Attack arguments, not the poster. No warning issued.


Let me add something to the discussion that might provide some additional background and useful context.

I first learned about gain-of-function research in around 2002 or 2003. My wife at the time was an epidemiologist, and got us an invite to a lecture on bioterrorism preparedness. This was in the wake of 9/11, obviously, when everyone was worried about what might be coming, so domestic security agencies were sending experts around with this presentation. The idea, apparently, was to talk to specialists, reassuring them about what was happening, educating them about the subject so they could be additional “eyes and ears” in the field, and, possibly, capture the interest of at least some people who would offer themselves for recruitment.

A lot of the details were above my head, but one of the things I was able to follow was on the challenge of rapid identification. It was assumed that terrorists wouldn’t announce the release of a biological agent ahead of time, or provide a guidebook as to its design. The defensive response would be purely reactive, recognizing an emerging crisis and figuring out how to contain it.

One of the major difficulties, they said, lay in identifying exactly what had been released, as quickly as possible. Something like anthrax is commonly found in soils, but weaponizing it takes work and transformation. This means there isn’t a single biological profile to be matched for any given agent; they can be modified in all sorts of ways, depending on the sophistication and intentions of the attacker.

So, one of the things they were doing was pre-emptively studying how these agents could be weaponized. This is, in other words, gain of function research. Their aim was to build a library of potential attack mechanisms, which could be used for rapid matching in the event of a suspected incident, thereby accelerating identification in order to launch the correct response. Some of what they described was theoretical, because the work was high risk with very bad potential outcomes, and they were trying to design changes that would test virulence and contagiousness without also ramping up lethality — or, ideally, reducing it, because the point of the research was to study efficient dispersal, as that was assumed to be a key aim in a hypothetical attack.

The point of this is that GoF research is well established and has lots of legitimate purposes in various areas of inquiry. The wild-eyed reaction of the public on the current revelations (“why would you make a virus more dangerous?!?!one?!”) comes from ignorance of how the science has worked for decades. There are good reasons to understand these mechanisms and to get out ahead of potential outbreaks. More knowledge is almost always better than less knowledge.

And the stoking of panic by irresponsible news organizations who leap directly to malevolent mad-scientist speculation in order to feed the xenophobic paranoia of their audience pisses me off.

Mod note: This is getting close to attacking the poster. Stick to refuting the post. Not a warning.

I recognize there are legitimate reasons to want to do gain-of-function research. That doesn’t necessarily mean all gain-of-function research is a good idea, but that’s a different discussion. It also doesn’t necessarily mean we want to fund a lab in China to do it, but that’s yet another discussion. I was just trying to see where the chain of dots Sen. Paul connected in this particular case broke down.

For sure.
As I say, this kind of research has been dangerously underfunded for decades, and now, thanks to stunts and misinformation like this, things could actually get worse following covid.

Now, it would be true to say that China has plenty of R&D money, so there’s no reason for the US to bankroll places like WIV. However, China remains a high risk area for new outbreaks so collaboration with China is essential. And, in any useful collaboration there is bound to be some movement of funds, at the very least “coin purse” figures like $600k.

Exactly. I looked back at her articles three years and noticed one other experiment with bat MERS-like viruses and the receptor they bind. The experiment was exactly the same as that with the bat SARS viruses. So no evidence of super MERS viruses.

She does do experiments with actual SARS-CoV-2 from patients. But so do a lot of other labs. Her major contribution is finding Bat viruses. And, like I said before, there are shitloads of bat viruses that can bind to human cells. They’re just not as good as the human SARS or MERS. If you look at any of her papers, you know how likely the zoonotic transmission can occur. The much harder thing is the human-to-human transmission that occurred with SARS-CoV-2. That usually requires mutation in a human that selects for transmission and immune system invasion. GOF experiments that would do what nature does would require working in animals known to mimic the human disease (or humans).

Her published research is nothing close to that, of course.

You have to explain it because by a clear reading the actual words you wrote, it sounds identical to what a conspiracy theory advocate might say.

Again to all: I never said Fauci was guilty of anything. I said I am agnostic because I haven’t followed this closely and I am not a doctor. My gut reaction watching them interact was that Paul was demagoguing and it looked like Fauci was being a little evasive. That’s it. But now I’m once again a crazy QAnon believer.

Here are a few other situations I can imagine (don’t know if they are real or not) that would involve 100% ethical efforts at gain of function research.

  1. I want to manufacture a vaccine, so I take my inactivated pathogen virus, and add in the ability to infect chicken eggs. That way I can manufacture it in scale in eggs rather than requiring huge amount of human plasma

  2. I have a bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, I want to find out why, so I transfer some of its code to another less lethal bacteria to see if it makes it also resistant. If I find that it does, then I experiment with that (since it is safer than the original bad bacteria) in order to find additional antibiotics that might work against it.

  3. I have a genetic therapy that I want to develop, I explore ways in which to design a virus that will best infect cells (in order to alter them in a way that corrects the genetic defect) and avoid generating an immune response.

To be fair, you used words like “suspicious” to describe your response to his “lawyerly, tightly parsed responses,” and speculated on how Fauci would commit specific criminal acts if he wanted to. That goes a bit beyond “agnostic,” in my eyes.

I’m agnostic on whether you’ve ever committed any crimes, as, I suspect, you are of me. But if I say I’m suspicious of you based on your words and speculate on specific crimes that you might have committed, it’d be peculiar for me to describe that as agnostic.

Seems like this is pertinent to the thread:

He’s supposed to know who and what he is funding as in the buck literally stops at his desk.

Also, why in the hell would the US give funds to a government that is actively adversarial to it and is rounding up it’s own people in concentration camps.

He’s also not supposed to lie about things like masks because he thinks he as a good reason to. That puts the blame on delays wearing masks on him.

The way that I would think about it would be you’ve got a team of thieves who want to rob a bank vault. But, to be able to do that, they need to have 1) a bag, 2) a getaway car, 3) sledgehammers, and 4) a thermal lance. At the moment, they have none of those things - not a single one.

If you start swapping out various hammer-like objects with the bandits, maybe they’ll end up getting a sledgehammer or even something better at some point. You’ve certainly made them more capable of breaking into the bank vault than if you hadn’t played around, giving them hammer-like objects. But, they’re still missing the other three things that they need before you really need to care about that. You’ve made them more capable but not capable. They can’t rob a bank with just a sledgehammer and they’re still far off from it even with what you’ve given them.

The NIH panel who oversees these things, as I understand it considers “gain of function” to mean creating things that could be dangerous, not just creating things that are closer to being dangerous but still harmless.

Are you serious???
Fauci lies about masks? Heh?
Cite, if you’d please.