Thursday, 18 November 2021

My disappointment in Francis Collins: this time on Covid issues

Click screenshot above to go to the video
I first heard about the famous scientist Francis Collins in 2006 when he published “The Language of Godwhich had the enticing (to me) subtitle of: a scientist presents evidence for belief”. 

I’m an atheist. Have been since the age of nine. I remember thinking, wow! Here’s a bona fide "famous scientist" and he says he has evidence for belief. Evidence. Not just faith. 

So I bought me a copy. It’s now sitting in my “Disappointing Books” section of my library, together with "The Koran”, Edward Said’s “Orientalism” and  “Watching Paint Dry II: The Second Coat”.
Not only did he not present compelling evidence. He produced no evidence at all for a God. From a famous scientist.... I remain an atheist.

And here is Collins again, above, talking to Lex Fridman, who I love and respect. But Lex dropped a real dud. Collins is again evidence-free, or simply wrong, about heaps of what he says on Covid. 

Example: at the beginning Collins says “... with SARS it was 14 years before we figured out it was the civet cat” -- and so, by implication, we shouldnt expect to have discovered the natural, animal, source of the virus in “just two years”.

But thats wrong. I recall early on that we suspected and had some strong evidence that the Palm-civet cat was a reservoir for the SARS virus. I was here in Hong Kong at the time, running a business, having to take measures against the virus, so was very tuned in to what was going on. I remember being told, early on, that the civet cat was the likely source. Thatnot the case with Covid.

What Collins done here is repeat something at a Wikipedia entry that says it took 14 years to find the source. But that was only to fine-tune what we already knew. From Chinese studies and from studies right here in Hong Kong [All in US Journals] we knew that the sources had been identified as early as May 2003, just three months after China notified it to the WHO.

The reason this is important is that China is wanting to keep on with the theory that the origin is natural (zoonotic) and not a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. So far, after testing over 80,000 animals in Southern China not a one has been found to be a reservoir of anything like the SARS-coV-2. Why not? Well “remember that it took 14 years to find the source of the 2003-04 SARS” is one answer. Give it time. If, OTOH, the source of SARS had been found in just months, then why have we found nothing on the new one, giving us Covid, in two years??

Here are clear references to the fact that the SARS origin was traced early on, in just months, back in 2003:
In late May 2003, studies from samples of wild animals sold as food in the local market in Guangdong, China, found a strain of SARS coronavirus could be isolated from masked palm civets (Paguma sp.), but the animals did not always show clinical signs. The preliminary conclusion was the SARS virus crossed the xenographic barrier from palm civet to humans, and more than 10,000 masked palm civets were killed in Guangdong Province. The virus was also later found in raccoon dogs (Nyctereuteus sp.),[20] ferret badgers (Melogale spp.), and domestic cats. In 2005, two studies identified a number of SARS-like coronaviruses in Chinese bats.[21][22] Although the bat SARS virus did not replicate in cell culture, in 2008, American researchers[23] altered the genetic structure of bat SARS virus with the human receptor binding domain both in the bat virus and in the mice which demonstrated how zoonosis might occur in evolution.[24] Phylogenetic analysis of these viruses indicated a high probability that SARS coronavirus originated in bats and spread to humans either directly or through animals held in Chinese markets. The bats did not show any visible signs of disease, but are the likely natural reservoirs of SARS-like coronaviruses. In 2004, scientists from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong and the Guangzhou Centre for Disease Control and Prevention established a genetic link between the SARS coronavirus appearing in civets and humans, confirming claims that the virus had jumped across species. [Source]

I’ve no dog in this fight. I just want us to find out where this horrid virus originated. It matters. Because (A) If it’s Lab Leak then the protocols for experiments need to be tightened. And (B) If it’s natural, then we need to shut down places that are potential sources of future pandemics. 

I’ve just bought Viral, a book by Alina Chan a Canadian molecular biologist specializing in gene therapy and cell engineering at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; and Matt Ridley a writer of numerous science books. It tells the story.

TL;DR: there’s smoke galore around the Lab Leak theory. There’s only clear skies -- no smoke at all -- around the Zoonotic origin theory. Here’s an hour’s podcast on Viral, Chan and Ridley talking with Demitri Kofinas
ADDED: @39’ Chan says “It’s problematic that the WIV investigated itself; that people with the most to lose if it were shown that it was a Lab Leak, are the ones doing the investigation”. People like Peter Daszak of the Eco-Health Alliance through which US funding for gain-of-function research was channelled, was the lead investigator. So that when he asked WIV “was there a lab leak”, and WIV answered “No”, he said “Ok, our job is done”. For the world this seemed (seems?) to have been enough. Though the WHO seems to have developed some spine and be asking for more investigations. 

ADDED: Alexandros Marinos gives Lex a huge serve in this Thread for more infelicities, errors and duplicity by our “famous scientist”. I begin to think that Collins is in the positions he’s been in because he’s a good bureaucrat, not for his science.