COVID damages memory of grant dismissal protestors, but the Internet never forgets
Paul D. Thacker is an award-winning investigative reporter. His article below tells how the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) finally cancelled a grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for the dangerous virus gain-of-function research that could have been the cause of the pandemic, and how this major news story has been virtually ignored by the mainstream media and science writers, as he shows.
Thacker’s article also shows how the abject failure of science writers to check glaring conflicts of interest has allowed them to be played like puppets. And now, where their failure to do basic journalism is in danger of being exposed, they're choosing silence over reporting.
We thought this article was important, not only in terms of what it tells us about the reporting of the debate over the origins of the pandemic, but also about the problems more widely with the coverage of contentious areas of science and technology – a problem we have repeatedly highlighted. So we asked Paul Thacker if we could republish part of it and he agreed. The full article can be read here, with all the links to sources.
The veteran science writer and professor of journalism Michael Balter commented on Thacker's piece in a Twitter thread: "The failure so far of ALL mainstream legacy and science media to report on NIH cutting of funds to the Wuhan lab is journalistic malpractice in the extreme."
Balter added, "Read it [Thacker's article] and weep. The mainstream media will NOT print news about the Covid-19 origins debate that does not fit its preconceived narrative that the lab-leak hypothesis is a racist 'conspiracy theory'. Then we are preached to by SciComm writers about the scientific method."
Balter also referred to Peter Daszak's EcoHealth Alliance, which funnelled NIH funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for its risky research, only for Daszak subsequently to coordinate a letter to the Lancet branding the lab leak hypothesis a conspiracy theory – while concealing the extent of his own role in coordinating the letter and in the funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Balter tweeted the question: "Was the Feb 2020 letter @TheLancet [to The Lancet] branding the lab-leak hypothesis a 'conspiracy theory' a false-flag deflection from Daszak's own suspicions that the Wuhan lab had gone ahead to perform the SARS-virus genetic engineering EcoHealth Alliance had tried to get money for?"
Silence from science community as NIH cancels grant to Wuhan Institute of Virology
Paul D. Thacker
The Disinformation Chronicle, 30 Aug 2022
* COVID damages memory of grant dismissal protestors, but the Internet never forgets
The National Institutes of Health terminated part of a grant last week that funded dangerous virus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, through a nonprofit called the EcoHealth Alliance. But you probably already read this at Politico, Science Magazine, NPR, CNN, New York Times, and Nature Magazine, right?
Oh, I forgot. These outlets forgot to do a journalism!
The only venue that found this grant termination newsworthy was a small outlet devoted to warning about the dangers fraught from misuse of modern science: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Here’s how the Bulletin reported it:
"The termination notice comes after the NIH chided EcoHealth last fall for not immediately notifying the agency after its experiments showed modified coronaviruses replicated at a faster rate in experimental mice than an unmodified virus. The agency then asked for lab notebooks and other files pertaining to the experiments, and EcoHealth reported that it would relay the request to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. According to the new NIH letters, the Wuhan institute never delivered."
After the EcoHealth Alliance’s grant with the Wuhan Institute of Virology first came to national attention two years back, it created a media firestorm when the Trump administration suspended it, and various outlets reported that the scrutiny was driven by “conspiracy theories.” But now … crickets.
New studies find that COVID-19 damages people’s thinking, which may explain why science writers at NPR don’t remember that they reported removing this grant “sets a dangerous precedent by interfering in the conduct of science.” Luckily, the Internet never forgets.
A look back at reporting on this grant.
The first to report on the grant’s suspension and possible termination was Sarah Owermohle with Politico, in April 2020. “The Wuhan lab is at the center of conspiracy theories alleging that the coronavirus outbreak began when the virus escaped the facility,” Owermohle reported at the time.
Dismissing the possibility of a Wuhan lab leak as a “conspiracy theory” has long been a popular media meme. However, emails came out in late 2020 showing that this labeling had been orchestrated by Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, who placed an essay in the Lancet making the “conspiracy” claim without disclosing his financial ties to Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Daszak was aided in this endeavor by virologists who placed another essay in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections (EMI), that made the same “conspiracy” claim, without disclosing that the authors secretly gave the “conspiracy” essay to Shi Zhengli for editing and approval.
Bouncing off Politico’s reporting, Science writers Meredith Wadman and Jon Cohen came up with a second report on the subject that attempted to call into question the legitimacy of the NIH’s grant suspension:
"The termination, which some analysts believe might violate regulations governing NIH, also came 7 days after President Donald Trump, asked about the project at a press conference, said: 'We will end that grant very quickly.'"
In retrospect, much of the reporting in this article was nonsense and rife with “experts” who had undisclosed conflicts of interest. The NIH has the right to end grants when it wants, but science writers at Science Magazine were just trying to gin up a fake controversy by floating the idea that canceling this grant might be illegal. And Science Magazine failed to disclose the financial relationships of the experts coming to Daszak’s aid: Gerald Keusch and Dennis Carrol.
Keusch told Science that canceling the grant “is the most counterproductive thing I could imagine," while Carroll told the writing duo, “There's a culture of attacking really critical science for cheap political gain.”
Well, there’s also a culture at Science Magazine of failing to do basic journalism.
Gerald Keusch was a co-investigator with Peter Daszak on the grant in question. Plus, he had helped Daszak orchestrate the now discredited letter in The Lancet. As for Dennis Carroll, at the time Science Magazine interviewed him, he was working behind the scenes with Peter Daszak to start the Global Virome Project, an organization set up with hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled away from a USAID project that Carroll oversaw called Predict.
Dennis Carroll now heads up the Global Virome Project, and Peter Daszak serves on the board.
“It would appear that Dennis Carrol violated federal law that prohibits the use of official resources for private gain or for that of persons or organizations with which he is associated personally,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen when shown emails about the funding for the Global Virome Project. “The Inspector General’s office should investigate whether the law was broken and, upon finding probable cause, refer the case to the Department of Justice for prosecution.”
NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel also tripped over himself to defend Daszak’s grant by casting doubt on the theory that pandemic could have started in the Wuhan lab of Daszak’s collaborator Shi Zhengli.
"But after corresponding with 10 leading scientists who collect samples of viruses from animals in the wild, study virus genomes and understand how lab accidents canhappen, NPR found that an accidental release would have required a remarkable series of coincidences and deviations from well-established experimental protocols.
"'All of the evidence points to this not being a laboratory accident,' says Jonna Mazet, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Davis and director of a global project to watch for emerging viruses called PREDICT."
Like the science writers at Science Magazine, Brumfiel replicated the same mistake of failing to report the sizeable conflict of interest of his chosen expert: Jonna Mazet.
At the time Brumfiel reported this story, Mazet was working behind the scenes with Peter Daszak and Dennis Carroll to funnel money from USAID to set up the Global Virome Project. Alongside Daszak and Carroll, Mazet now serves as a board member.
Read the rest of this article here.