I have worked with the federal government for 20 yrs. Spent a year at the CDC. Spent 3 yrs overseeing a team of Nobel prize winning academics.

1. Academics care about publishing and scoring points on their peers. Its opens financial doors. It opens doors to awards and accolades, many of which come with a lot of money. It gives them status among their peers. They can be, and often are, single minded and fail to consider the externalities or the ethics of what they are doing they only care about what is possible, not what SHOULD be done.

2. Never ever trust a government bureaucrat. They are like academics with tenure. They are constantly trying to justify their existence and protect their positions. They will do everything from hiding information to intentionally misleading watchdogs, congress or the media, to protect themselves or gain budgets and they very often have an eye toward what they will do in the private sector once their pension is set. They will work to please politicians and whichever industry is associated with what they oversee.

Expand full comment

I spent ten years as the chief of safety for the International Space Station, so I did a lot of risk analysis. Typically, when evaluating risk one begins by looking at likelihood vs. severity. In the case of a GOFROC/ePPP, the likelihood is obviously not as low as one would like (witness the litany of lab leaks) and the severity is off-scale high, beyond catastrophic. I would call this an apocalyptic hazard. SARS Covid-2 killed something like 7 million souls, with inestimable economic damage. This is a risk level that would be unacceptable in any other conceivable government or commercial application. The only possible way that such a risk could even be considered would be if the benefits to be gained were monumentally rewarding, which it would appear they are not.

Then there is the threat of human error. Systems can be designed to provide extremely high levels of fault tolerance, although only if they are used properly. But people make mistakes. It's inevitable. They are the most error prone parts of almost any system. No matter your training, no matter your dedication, no matter your focus, you will eventually make a mistake. The job will become routine. The risk mitigation procedures will become onerous. The desire to circumvent established protocols will creep in. And mistakes will happen.

Were I king for a day I would outlaw this research with the direction to find a way to do it only via computer simulation. Even this fails to eliminate the threat of bioterrorism, but at least it would eliminate the possibility of a physical leak. And I certainly wouldn't pay to have it done in a lab run by a government infamous for secrecy and deception.

Expand full comment
Mar 7, 2023Liked by David Zweig

This piece illustrates why I became a paid subscriber. I have never seen as clear an explanation as this. Thank you.

As Jon Stewart said (perhaps paraphrasing a bit): "Humanity's last words will be a scientist saying, 'Huh! It worked!'"

Expand full comment

"Has gain-of-function research of concern ever benefited humankind?"

No, but it's certainly benefited pharmakind and governmentkind.

Expand full comment

As dubious as this "research" seems to be, what bothers me the most is the way those responsible are bending over backwards to evade responsibility for it or to obfuscate the details of what they are doing. That, to me, is the most frightening part. If there is any good to come from gain-of-function, it's completely undone by the erosion of trust we now have in these institutions.

Throw American taxpayer dollars into mysterious, unaccountable Chinese laboratories (aren't we supposed to be hating on the Chinese now?), and you have a recipe at the very least for a new wave of terrible movies and at worst, a plague that makes the Plague look like a head cold.

Just gimme some truth, will ya?

Expand full comment

Terrifying - and this in the end may be our end. It used to be our scientists were our great hope for the future and curing diseases. Now it’s seems it’s money and hubris from our academic class of scientists. There is no cure for a virus so why on earth would we want to fund making any deadly virus more transmissible?!

Expand full comment
Mar 7, 2023·edited Mar 7, 2023

Gain of function research is akin to bioterrorism. I am a pathologist but I do participate in viral pathogenesis research. There is no justification ever to make a virus infectious to humans or to make a virus already infectious to humans more dangerous to study it. The natural viruses can be near fully understood in animal models that the natural host provide. We also have molecular tools that allow us to very rapidly sequence and evaluate within days any naturally occurring mutation event. I am sorry but what was done in the Wuhan lab was absolute evil and unforgivable. God will deal with them. Every veterinarian knows that coronaviruses and most RNA viruses have poor genetic stability and mutate regularly thus the escape vaccination. To make a coronavirus lethal to humans is genocide. Why are the Wuhan lab records, scientist and technical support staff all disappeared? The innocent do not hide. The records, if this was a natural virus would have exonerated the group.

Expand full comment

“ Vincent Racaniello is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, and a vocal proponent of GOFROC. He believes many of the opponents of this research are unreasonable.

“Almost like arguing with an anti-vaxxer,” Racaniello said.”

Anybody who flattens the debate in this manner instantly loses credibility with me. You either don’t have confidence in your argument, so you resort to back door ad hominem rhetoric, or you’re so desperate to protect your turf that even the slightest bit of engagement is too much risk to bear.

Expand full comment

GOFROC used to be known as bio-warfare research. Of course bio-warfare is illegals so they renamed it, obfuscated with arcane verbiage and continued course.

We discussed this in my college days though then it was bacterial manipulation. Even as undergrads we students recognized the dangers, especially the unknown unknowns.

Hubris will not end well.

Expand full comment

People worry that the threat of nuclear war is ratcheting up, but it’s far more likely some or all of us will meet our demise through something like this - whether an engineered bio weapon falling into the hands of a terrorist group, or a hostile state releasing a pathogen (maybe by floating some balloons over another country), or a researcher one day not observing the proper protocols in the "highest security level" bio labs.

But don’t worry, folks - your security is in the hands of USG bureaucrats, status seeking academics, gravy train addicted researchers (see, Peter Daszak), and the thoughtfulness and restraint of the Chinese government. What could possibly go wrong?

Expand full comment

Okay, so - why would Fauci and Collins want to fund research in a Chinese lab?

Simple - the same reason so many American firms make computers, sneakers, and drugs in China - to skirt American laws based on ethics and safety. Oh, and to save money and increase profits.

Look - until we bind companies that export things back to America to producing these things with American laws, this gray market will exist, to the detriment of all involved except for the profit-takers (including shareholders, market fund managers, and hedge fund managers).

Expand full comment

Gain-of-function research is absolutely insane, and I would bet my life it's how covid originated.


Expand full comment

The claims to better predicting pandemics and developing novel and effective vaccines or therapeutics are all blatant horseshit. Show me one.

The programs are giant money vacuums that show blatant disregard for safety and ethics, and they are obvious military bioweapon development programs working under the cover of "public health."

Everyone involved should be rounded up and tried for crimes against humanity and violations of international bioweapons treaties.

Expand full comment

It is beyond terrifying to know that decisions that could affect and even end the future of humankind are in the hands of our lying, incompetent government. Worse, they are in the hands of unelected bureaucrats with a financial stake in such dangerous experimentation. This all needs to be reined in. And reined in decisively. Senator Paul exposed Fauci as a liar and a fraud. And still this dangerously demented dwarf roams free and remains lionized and feted by the American left. Connection? You tell me.

Expand full comment

This research, along with the last 3 years of lies and manipulation by our government (the one we are in charge of) is proof enough that systematic change, reform, revolution--is needed. I taught Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for many years to high school seniors. Year after year, its relevance stunned me--and my students. In 2020, it was, in their vernacular, "too real." Dr. Fauci, Dr. Collins, Dr. Birx--and so many others, all must be called to account. It is time to sweep clean the NIH and the CDC and start again. Fire everyone, and start from scratch. Our very lives and the future of our children's lives, depend on it.

Expand full comment

I am a retired engineer, and wish to make the following comment. ALL safety protocols, in ANY discipline, are only as effective as the FALLIBLE human beings using them. Therefore, at the margins, they all are INEFFECTIVE. It only takes one careless individual to create a catastrophe.

Expand full comment