Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Non-Apology Apology

Recently Megan McArdle libeled Francis Collins, the head of the NIH. We were and are amazed that a prominent C-list journalist would libel a public official and not suffer any repercussions but this is a cold and cruel, not to mention unfair, world.


The Free Market Fairy was bought by billionaires and is now under their control. She refuses to punish bad journalists with unemployment, rewarding sycophantic behavior that glorifies greed instead. Intelligent, erudite and urbane writers are not rewarded appropriately.  Telling the truth is punished.  McArdle does not need to retract when she is criticized for her sycophancy and willful ignorance so she does not. Instead, she attempts to back-pedal just enough to avoid lawsuits while insisting she is right.


(It has recently dawned on the sycophancy class that there are only so many billionaires and there are many, many pundits. Due to pundit inequality, McArdle and her friends are experiencing a shortfall in their wealth expectations. We will discuss this in a later post, for it has led to an interesting flurry of posts hither and yon about how we all need to provide more media outlets for the "right-of-center.")


In the mean time:
You Can't Cure Ebola With Money
The subject was Ebola vaccines, not curing Ebola. McArdle says she does not write her headlines but evidently she does not read them either. Ebola will be cured or eliminate eventually and money will make it happen because money is necessary to create drugs, a fact that Megan McArdle mentioned oh, about every day while trying to claim that lower drug prices in the US will destroy pharmaceutical companies and therefore all of health care for all time. It is nonsensical to now deny that a fundamental requirement for a cure is the money needed to carry out the project and as soon as we start reading McArdle's post we see that her first paragraph contradicts the title of her post.


Eventually, however, McArdle arrives at her point: that nobody can do anything ever if it costs her money.
Last week, when I was somewhat disparaging about the claim by Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, that if only his agency budget hadn’t been slashed, we would have a vaccine for Ebola.
This sentence is why McArdle is a Killer of Souls. She was not "somewhat disparaging," she implied he lied. Mr. Collins said they were a year or two away from a vaccine and without budget cuts they probably could have had one by now. McArdle said there was no way he could be telling the truth, and that he was not telling the truth because he was a sponger who just wanted to beg more money from the government. She implied he lied without giving any evidence to support her claim whatsoever, and ignored her professional duty to research her claim.
A number of people responded with outraged indignation that I, a libertarian journalist, could malign a lovely, brilliant, noble government scientist.
Another unsubstantiated claim; perhaps McArdle does not like to name the people she impugns unless she can damage their career in some way. Or perhaps Collins is a socialist who wants to eradicate religion and substitute government for faith and family?
Francis Collins, a medical doctor, is director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and passionate about science. But the self-described Bible-believing Christian is just as passionate about his faith, which he came to after reading C.S. Lewis and seeing how religion sustained his gravely ill patients. Collins recently spoke with Beliefnet about his best-selling book The Language of God.
Oops. But he is nothing but a "government scientist."
Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science. Collins also has written a number of books on science, medicine, and spirituality, including the New York Times bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.  
After leaving the helm of NHGRI and before becoming director of the NIH, he founded and served as president of The BioLogos Foundation, which promotes discourse on the relationship between science and religion and advocates the perspective that belief in Christianity can be reconciled with acceptance of evolution and science, especially though the advancement of evolutionary creation.[1] In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Collins to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
In other words, just some schnorrer. But better soften the accusation or someone's silly lawyers might get upset.
Well, fair enough. But Michael Eisen, a biologist at Berkeley and investigator at the the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, says basically the same thing, at greater length:
The HHMI is:
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is a United States non-profit medical research organization based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.[1][2] It was founded by the American businessman Howard Hughes in 1953. It is one of the largest private funding organizations for biological and medical research in the United States. HHMI spends about $1 million per HHMI Investigator per year, which amounts to annual investment in biomedical research of about $825 million. The institute has an endowment of $16.9 billion, making it the second-wealthiest philanthropic organization in the United States and the second best endowed medical research foundation in the world.[3]<  
It was not until after Hughes' death in 1976 that the Institute's profile increased from an annual budget of $4 million in 1975 to $15 million by 1978. In this period it focused its mission on genetics, immunology and the rapidly growing field of molecular biology.
Unlike Mr. Collins, Mr. Eisen obviously has nothing to gain. So what did this utterly disinterested party have to say?
I read this testimony at the time, and was taken aback by this statement, but I was a bit reluctant to undermine efforts to increase NIH funding, no matter how cynical they might be. It was, after all, Congressional testimony, and one can forgive a bit of exaggeration in pursuit of remedying the horrible financial situation the NIH (and, thus its grantees and would be grantees). But now Collins has gone public with this claim, in an article in the Huffington Post, and so it’s time to call this for what it is: complete [Expletive Deleted].  
First, let’s deal with the most immediate assertion – that if there had been more funds there would be an Ebola vaccine today. Collins argues we’d be a few years ahead of where they are today, and that, instead of preparing to enter phase 1 trials today, they’d have done this two years ago. But last time I checked, there was a reason we do clinical trials, which is to determine if therapies are safe and effective. And, crucially, many of these fail (how many times have we heard about HIV vaccines that were effective in animals). Thus, even if you believe the only thing holding up development of the Ebola vaccine was funds, it’s still false to argue that with more money we’d have an Ebola vaccine. Vaccine and drug development just simply doesn’t work this way. There are long lists of projects, in both the public and private sector that have been very well-funded, and still failed.  
It is a gross overtrivialization of even the directed scientific process involved in developing vaccines to suggest that simply by spending more money on something you are guaranteed a product. And, if I were in Congress, frankly I’d be sick of hearing this kind of baloney, and would respond with a long list of things I’d been promised by previous NIH Directors if only we’d spend more money on them.  
Second, let’s assume Collins is right. That the only reason we don’t have an Ebola vaccine today was that the project wasn’t properly funded. If this is true, than one should rightly ask why this wasn’t given a higher priority. The potential for a serious Ebola outbreak has been there for a long time. And while money is tight at the NIH, they still manage to find funds to do a lot of stuff I would not have prioritized over an Ebola research program if it was really on the crux of delivering a vaccine. So there is an element of choice here too that Collins is downplaying.
Eisen says the vaccine claim is bogus because sometimes trials fail and you can't guarantee success. But if the vaccine did end up succeeding the delay was the fault of the NIH's liberal priorities, not the Republicans' budget-cutting. Eisen has different priorities for Collins:
But what really bothers me the most about this is that, rather than trying to exploit the current hysteria about Ebola by offering a quid-pro-quo “Give me more money and I’ll deliver and Ebola vaccine”, Collins should be out there pointing out that the reason we’re even in a position to develop an Ebola vaccine is because of our long-standing investment in basic research, and that the real threat we face is not Ebola, but the fact that, by having slashed the NIH budget and made it increasingly difficult to have a stable career in science, we’re making it less and less likely that we’ll be equipped to handle all of the future challenges to public health that we’re going to be face in the future.
The NIH also funds universities and those funds are being slashed. But Eisen's argument is sufficient for McArdle; propagandists only need to be plausible, not accurate.
Derek Lowe adds that the NIH budget hasn’t exactly been slashed to the bone.
He says it is down 10% from its 2004 peak. The NIH says it's down 22.4% since 2003. And it doesn't have to be slashed to the bone to delay vaccines or cures.
I support government spending on basic research.
Yes, Megan McArdle is all for anything that benefits her personally.
But I really do not support the wrongheaded idea that medical research is like ordering groceries from Peapod: Just dial up what you want, and if you’re willing to pay the cost, you can have the goodies. In fact, it’s more like a lottery: if you don’t play, you can’t win, but at best, you still lose an awful lot. An Ebola vaccine is entering trials right now, and if it succeeds, that will be incredible news. But it could fail in many ways, and acting as if it’s a guarantee is grossly irresponsible.
McArdle did not acknowledge the Ebola vaccine in her earlier posts because she did not know about it or because it would undercut her implication that Collins lied about a nearly-ready vaccine. McArdle could have accused Collins of exaggerating the nearness of the success of the vaccine but she has learned that she can get away with lying, impugning and libeling more easily if she leaves herself room for plausible deniability, as this latest post shows. And the less she knows, the more plausible her deniability.
Francis Collins is smarter than I am, and he has dedicated his life to furthering the advancement of human knowledge, one of the noblest causes there is. He’s also a Washington bureaucrat, and while he’s wearing that hat, his job is to get more money for his agency. I suspect he let his good judgment get a bit carried away in the zealous pursuit of that mission. Raising unreasonable expectations very likely to be dashed is bad for public policy, and ultimately, bad for the scientific research that Collins has done so much to promote.
So after a bit of back-peddling, McArdle has now smeared enough vague over her earlier libels to continue libeling, insulting, obfuscating and lying about her ideological enemies and their efforts. "I suspect" and "get a bit carried" and "raising unreasonable expectations" should do the trick, and now McArdle can go on her merry way, cashing her billionaires' checks and watching her possessions accumulate into emotionally satisfying heaps of electronic cash, stocks, bonds, property, and paper towels.

5 comments:

tony in san diego said...

God, I hate her rhetorical style, that whiny "little old me and my little old opinions" and her passive aggressive suggestion that everyone but her and her friends are blind fools with personal agendas (unlike herself and her friends).

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Furthermore:

The Ebola Vaccine: How Drugs Can Be Developed Without Patents

Let Megan and her glibbertarian friends put that in their pieholes.
~

Susan of Texas said...

McArdle is a public servant, everyone else is a schnorrer.

But America is different!

KWillow said...

Someone should tell Arglebargle that the wonderful big bucks she's paid to peddle her poo to the stupid/faithful is nothing more nor less than the Kock's spittle. Yes, Arglebargle & chums are professional lickspittles. And proud of it.

KWillow said...

Arglebargle: Oh dear, I'm so terribly teddibly sorry that you were offended by my innocuous observations.