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

posted: February 5, 2022

tl;dr: Collins flunks Outsourcing 101 and treats Fridman like a child when he first brings up gain-of-function...

(continued from part two):

Collins has no idea how to properly and safely outsource work to China

Take it from someone who has outsourced work to China, as described in this four-part series of posts Collins has no idea how to properly and safely do so.

To do so, you first need to understand what China is, and what the CCP’s goals and strategy are. Fifteen years ago, after I first started traveling to China, I would tell people that “China is a giant Kinko’s you send them one thing, and they will make a million copies of it.” China has built best-in-world infrastructure and in-country supply chains to become the factory of the world. They accomplished this primarily by importing and copying existing technology originally developed elsewhere. The goal of the CCP has always been to import this expertise and technology to modernize the industrial and technological base of the country, with the aim of improving living standards. Eventually, the CCP would obviate this reliance on outsiders in order to be fully self-sufficient and on-par with the capabilities of any other country.

I knew this going into China, as did every other executive and board member at my employer. So we never gave our Chinese partners access to any of the critical technology in our products. For us, that meant letting the Chinese focus solely on manufacturing the hardware devices that ran our software. There was nothing particularly proprietary about the hardware at that time: the technology was basically “gluing” or soldering chips to boards, a process that the Chinese had long ago mastered. It’s also a relatively safe process, unlike the process of engineering pathogenic viruses.

The Chinese knew, and we knew, that the key value-add was in the software. We never gave the Chinese our software source code. We never gave them the key specs which would allow them to write their own software. We politely declined when they showed us software and other devices that they had developed, which they were happy to sell to us to completely replace our products. We knew that they would eventually find another partner who would take their products to our customers and attempt to displace us, but we didn’t want to make it any easier for them to eliminate us.

My employer and I were incredibly careful with what information we shared with China. I personally reviewed documents passed to our Chinese partners. We knew there was no practical recourse if something went wrong and we got into a dispute with our Chinese partners. An American company is not going to be able to sue a Chinese company in the CCP justice system and win. Unlike Collins, we correctly answered the question “what could possibly go wrong?”

Collins and the international scientific community, by contrast, were incredibly cavalier with giving away state-of-the-art virus engineering technology. One of the most shocking stories in Viral is the one about how the CCP bamboozled the French government into building a BSL-4 lab at WIV. Since the French walked away from the project before completion, after realizing they had been played for fools, the job was finished by scientists at the University of Texas’s Galveston National Lab, which provided the training of WIV lab personnel. Then Collins and Fauci stepped in with funding for WIV.

Collins states he was willing to let CCP scientists perform dangerous virus experiments because of China’s contributions to the human genome project. Yet there is a huge difference between the human genome project, which is unlikely to be harmful to humans, and collecting and experimenting upon novel coronaviruses, including gain-of-function experiments. It’s like saying “China did their part in a multinational project to determine the exact chemical composition of the world’s best cheesecake, so now we’re going to build a lab for them and fund their experiments with highly poisonous chemicals that could potentially kill millions. We’ll expect them to be equally open to sharing information, should something go wrong.” Collins and the international scientific community moved too far too fast with the technology that they gave to the CCP.

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

When Fridman first brings up gain-of-function virus research, Collins treats him like a child and launches into another deception

There’s an illustrative example of Collins’s arrogance when Fridman, at the 4:26 mark, brings up the topic of gain-of-function virus research, which Collins and Fauci publicly advocated. Fridman starts with a direct question: “Can you argue the pros and cons of gain-of-function research with viruses?”

Collins shifts into friendly, know-it-all grandpa mode and lectures Fridman like a child in his response: “As you know, in science, we’re doing gain-of-function experiments all the time...[in reference to boosting the immune system to fight cancer] that’s gain of function, and you gave that patient a gain in their immune function that may have saved their life...I have a gain-of-function because I’m wearing these eyeglasses.”

Yet there’s more than arrogance at work in Collins response, I believe. Collins is attempting to confuse all listeners by drawing a false equivalence between gain-of-function research in pathogenic viruses and all cases of humans trying to improve the lives of themselves and others, which comprises most of human activity. By working out in the gym, are we not attempting to gain additional strength and function? By going to school, are kids not attempting to gain additional function in subjects such as math and language? By eating food, are we not attempting to gain the function provided by that food’s energy and nutrients? To be human is to pursue gain-of-function, right? This is the insidious argument that Collins is making.

I give Fridman credit for having the restraint to not treat Collins as rudely as Collins treated him. I would have responded to Collins this way: “Look buddy, we’re not here today because you advocated for and funded gain-of-function research to help amputees regain the ability to walk. We’re here because you advocated for gain-of-function research in pathogenic viruses that can kill millions of people, and lo and behold, a novel coronavirus has arisen in a city with a lab that you funded that was performing gain-of-function research on viruses, and that virus has killed millions of people.”


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