Parsing Francis Collins’s comments on what happened in Wuhan, part two

posted: January 29, 2022

tl;dr: Collins incorrectly sees science as above politics, and is therefore naïve about politics in China...

(continued from part one):

Collins sees science as above politics, countries, and the citizenry, even though he ran the National Institutes of Health

When Fridman brings up the topic of politics, Collins immediately waxes eloquent on how he and many other scientists see themselves as citizens of the world, not citizens of any particular country. At the 3:29 mark Collins states: “Pasteur said ‘science knows no one country’. He was right about that. My whole career, in genetics especially, has depended upon international collaboration between scientists…Scientists by their nature like to be involved in international collaborations. The human genome project…2,400 scientists in 6 countries working together, not worrying who was going to get the credit, giving all the data away…it was a wonderful experience. And that included China, that was sort of their first real entry into a big international, big science kind of project, and they did their part. It’s very different now.”

This attitude is widespread among scientists: it is why there is an organization named “Doctors Without Borders/Medicins Sans Frontieres”. Scientists move between countries quite often: Albert Einstein was born in Germany, worked in the Swiss patent office, taught at a university in Prague, traveled extensively around the world, and eventually moved to the United States and became an American citizen to escape the Nazi persection of the Jews.

The last part of that sentence actually reveals the truth about the relationship between science and politics: science is subservient to politics, where politics in this context means “the expressed will of the people”. Another illuminating episode would be the nuclear bombs that Einstein and other scientists created during the Manhattan Project in World War II. The bombs were turned over to the politicians to decide if, when, and how to use them; that control has remained with politicians ever since, and the same system has spread to other countries. Furthermore, this is how it should be. Science can do some pretty awful things, such as create bombs that destroy cities, or a deadly virus that causes a pandemic that kills millions of people. There needs to be oversight and control by the people, expressed through their political leaders. Hopefully those political leaders are decent human beings.

Collins is not a humble public servant, beholden to the citizens who funded his organization and paycheck via the taxes they paid. Just the opposite: he’s going to take taxpayer money, spend it on whatever he thinks is best for science on a global basis, including sending U.S. taxpayer money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), and then lecture the citizens on how unscientific and nationalistic they are if they object to anything he does.

Francis Collins in a suit and tie, seated in front of a microphone, with an expression on his face which indicates he'd prefer to be discussing something else

Former Director of the National Institutes of Health Francis Collins being interviewed by Lex Fridman

Collins is completely naïve about the CCP

Science is not the only area of human activity that is subservient to politics in China: absolutely everything is subservient to the CCP. The word “communist” does not mean what it used to in China: it’s not as though the CCP is faithfully implementing each plank in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The main thing that the word “communist” means in China is that there is a political party that calls itself the “Chinese Communist Party”, which will do whatever it takes to remain in control of the country. If the CCP’s leaders think, to prevent a backlash and potential uprising against the party, that they need to control activities at the WIV and the release of information about the experiments done there and the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, then that’s exactly what they will do. This should be no surprise to anyone who has done business in China.

Collins makes several statements in which he expresses surprise that the CCP is not openly sharing pertinent information and adhering to the generally accepted principles of collaborative international science projects. At the 2:04 mark he says “I wish we had more ability to be able to ask questions of the Chinese government and learn more about what kind of records might have been in the lab that we’ve never been able to see.” At the 2:54 mark: “With SARS-CoV-2 there’s been some looking [for an intermediate host], but especially now, with everything really tense between the US and China, if there’s looking going on, we’re not getting told about it.”

Furthermore, as documented in the book Viral and elsewhere, WIV is a dual-purpose lab performing both civilian and military experiments. Did Collins expect that WIV would give away the results of the experiments they performed for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the military arm of the CCP? Did he expect that, if and when something bad ever happened at WIV, the CCP would freely disclose all relevant information and data, and allow external parties access to WIV to assess the situation? Collins should have been smart enough to ask the question “what could possibly go wrong?” in advance of sending funding for potentially dangerous research to WIV. The fact that he didn’t, or that he failed to correctly answer this question, is one of his gravest, most egregiously stupid errors.


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