Did NIH Lie About Fauci's Cruel Beagle Experiments?
The academic journal that helped the media run defense for Fauci is edited by Fauci's own employee.
Last month, a story about a heinous scientific research project funded by Anthony Fauci’s National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases made the rounds online and in the media. Conducted in Tunisia, the research involved putting sedated beagles’ heads into mesh bags and allowing starved sand flies to feed on them. The experiment, which was uncovered by the White Coat Waste Project, appeared in stories in The New York Post, TMZ, The Hill, Fox News and other outlets. I wrote about it myself.
Within days of the story’s appearance, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote a column that purported to debunk it. “It turns out that this Tunisian study was erroneously attributed to NIAID,” Milbank claimed, chalking up the news reports to “the right-wing disinformation machine and its crusade against Fauci.” Even though the journal in which the experiment’s findings had been published had initially credited NIAID with its funding, Milbank had been told by the NIH and by the experiment’s lead scientist that the funding attribution was just an innocent mistake. NIAID had not in fact paid for the experiment, the scientist told him, and he had submitted a correction. Milbank took this explanation at face value.
Shortly after Milbank’s column ran, the journal ran the scientist’s “correction.” Where the article had initially acknowledged funding from NIAID, now it said that the NIH “did not provide any funding for this research and any such claim was made in error” (NIAID is an agency of the National Institutes of Health).
Within days, myriad “fact checking” websites followed Milbank’s lead and began publishing a cascade of posts casting doubt on the Fauci beagle abuse story. Politifact, USA Today, Snopes, FactCheck.org, Media Matters, Mic, and Vox’s Aaron Rupar all repeated Milbank’s claim, without skepticism or further investigation. “Right-wing media, conspiracy theorists, and foreign state-affiliated outlets portrayed Dr. Anthony Fauci as a maniacal ‘puppy’ killer due to a series of experiments conducted in Tunisia,” wrote Media Matters’ E. Rosalie Li, before quoting Milbank’s column as her only evidence. Many of these “fact checks” pointed to the journal’s correction as proof that the story was bunk.
None of those “fact checkers,” however, bothered to fact check Milbank’s column itself. If they had, they may have found ample reason to question it.
PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases is the scientific journal that published the controversial Tunisian experiment’s findings in July of this year. It was in that journal that the researchers who conducted the study had initially attributed funding of the experiment to NIAID, and it was in that journal that the “correction” retracting that attribution was published.
One of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases’ Editors-in-Chief is a scientist named Shaden Kamhawi. Per her curriculum vitae, Kamhawi is an expert in Leishmania infantum, which happens to be the very disease that the researchers who conducted the Tunisian experiment were studying. She is also a “world expert” on sand flies, which is what the researchers in Tunisia had allowed to feed on the sedated beagles. In fact, in her own work, Kamhawi uses sand flies to infect dogs with the disease, just like the researchers on the Tunisia experiment did. In a paper published just last month, she and her colleagues wrote, “we allowed sand flies to feed on a group of vertically infected dogs at varying stages of VL disease severity and measured sand fly parasite uptake.”
In fact, Kamhawi’s own research has been exposed and publicized by the White Coat Waste Project, the same group that uncovered the Tunisia experiment. In 2016, Kamhawi co-authored a paper on an experiment in which she and her colleagues “infected 8 beagles through multiple experimental vector transmissions with Leishmania infantum–infected Lutzomyia longipalpis.” A few weeks ago, White Coat Waste wrote critically about that precise NIAID-funded experiment on its website.
The Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal that issued that crucial “correction,” in other words, does precisely the same kind of experimentation as the researchers whose work had brought so much negative publicity to NIH and NIAID. The researchers who conducted the Tunisia experiment are, in fact, literally her colleagues and collaborators. Just last year, Kamhawi co-authored a paper with Ohio State University’s Abhay R. Satoskar, who was the principal investigator of the Tunisian study that attracted so much attention. It was Satoskar who had assured Milbank that the funding attribution was a mistake and that he had submitted a correction. So as it turns out, Satoskar likely submitted that correction to Kamhawi, a close colleague with whom he had just recently co-published. He might as well have been asking himself.
And if that doesn’t complicate Kamhawi’s interests enough, she is also an employee of NIAID. Her boss is none other than Anthony Fauci.
To summarize, one of the editors-in-chief of the journal in which the controversial Tunisian beagle experiment’s results were published — a journal that, by issuing its “correction” played a critical role in “debunking” a story that embarrassed Anthony Fauci — is:
• an employee of Anthony Fauci
• an academic collaborator of the researcher who conducted the experiment that’s at the heart of the Fauci controversy
• has had her own work exposed by the group that uncovered the controversial experiment in question
• does experimentation that’s virtually identical to the controversial experiment
And that’s not the end of it. At NIAID, Kamhawi serves on the Animal Care and Use Committee, which is responsible for “reviewing and approving requests to use animals in research.” That implicates her personally in the charges of NIAID-funded animal abuse that White Coat Waste has been making. Kamhawi thus has a strong personal and professional interest in attacking the credibility of the White Coat Waste Project, which is exactly what the correction her journal ran enabled Milbank and the fact checkers to do.
Granted, none of this proves that NIAID had in fact funded the Tunisia experiment, and then revised its own history to deny that it had done so, as I believe to be the case. But it certainly paints a picture that makes that explanation very easy to imagine.
What I believe happened is this: NIAID funded a research project aimed at developing a vaccine for Leishmania infantum. As part of that project, the NIAID-funded researchers conducted the infamous experiment in Tunisia in which beagles were sedated and fed to sand flies that carried the parasite that conveyed L. infantum. At the time, and all the way up to last month, everyone involved — the scientists who conducted the research, NIAID, and the editors of the journal that published the article — took for granted that that experiment was part of the larger, NIH-funded project on an L. infantum vaccine. The NIAID-approved funding proposal, after all, specifically mentioned infecting dogs in Tunisia with L. infantum.
That’s why the article that reported the experiment’s results explicitly cited NIAID funding. It wasn’t a “mistake.”
White Coat Waste exposed the story, embarrassing Fauci and NIAID. So NIAID took a second look at the experiment, and noticed that while the funding proposal it had approved was called “A live attenuated vaccine for leishmaniasis,” this specific experiment’s description didn’t include the word “vaccine” in it. NIAID then seized upon that discrepancy to pretend, ex post facto, that the experiment in fact fell outside of the scope of their funding. That seems, at least, to be precisely what they told Dana Milbank. In other words, NIAID found a flimsy loophole, which was more than adequate for willfully credulous reporters and “fact checkers” who were already looking for a way to vindicate Anthony Fauci.
After feeding this line to Milbank and other journalists, NIAID then contacted the researchers who had conducted the experiment and the editors at PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases to suggest that they revise the article to disclaim NIAID’s funding of the experiment. The researchers themselves, who depend on NIAID for future funding, had no reason to push back on that request, and one of the editors-in-chief, Shaden Kamhawi, who works for NIAID, had every incentive in the world to grant it. Those incentives included protecting her boss, killing a story that embarrassed her colleagues, and thwarting an organization that had gone after her own work in the recent past and whose allegations touched on her specific role on NIAID’s Animal Care and Use Committee.
Unfortunately, Kamhawi has not responded to a list of detailed questions I sent her, which could shed some light on the situation, so we’re left to speculate. I’m the first to admit that there’s nothing dispositive about my interpretation of events. But weigh its likelihood against the whoopsie daisy hypothesis that Milbank and the “fact checkers” have simply taken at face value, and consider which one sounds like you’re being fed a line.
You might ask why you should even care about all these obscure details regarding who funded what experiment when. It’s a reasonable question. If, like me, you care about animal welfare on principle, the answer is pretty straightforward: it’s important to know who’s responsible for the wanton torture of dogs. But even if animals are not high on your list of moral concerns, there’s another vital issue at stake.
If the reality is closer to my version of events than to Dana Milbank’s, then NIAID and the NIH are, at best, misleading the public; others might call it lying. Those technocratic agencies, along with the CDC and local and state public health officials, have been vested with enormous power over our daily lives as a result of the pandemic emergency, with little in the way of formal checks against that authority; we can’t vote Fauci out, after all. When it comes to social stability — which feels more precarious by the year — their credibility counts for everything. Yet the NIH and Fauci himself have already prevaricated about the lab leak hypothesis, gain-of-function research, and, depending on who you ask, the efficacy of masking. And now Fauci, who routinely postures as the very incarnation of “science” to elevate himself above his ostensibly petty, vindictive political critics, is likely lying about NIAID funding this unconscionable experiment, and for the most ignoble reason: to save himself from political embarrassment.