Canada’s outstanding work to invent one of the world’s most promising vaccines against Ebola perfectly epitomizes both the promise of public research, and the perverse incentives of the for-profit industry. Early this century Health Canada recognized the need for an Ebola vaccine, and assigned scientists with the Public Health Agency of Canada to find one. Almost a decade ago they patented a vaccine that prevents Ebola in monkeys. Canadian researchers should have been hailed as heroes.
Unfortunately, the government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by handing over this important invention to the private sector – for a pittance. In 2010 Ottawa licensed the Ebola vaccine to a small U.S. firm called NewLink Genetics. I’ve been asking Health Canada to explain how the licensing was negotiated, and how much Canada was paid; I have yet to receive an answer. NewLink’s financial filings report it paid Canada an initial patent and signing fee, and a “milestone” payment of up to $205,000; “low single-digit” royalty fees will be payable on future commercial sales. Most distressingly, guided by the profit-maximizing calculations of NewLink’s executives, the promising vaccine languished for years with no human testing – until this year’s outbreak.
NewLink has suddenly rediscovered a sense of urgency, and is now accelerating human tests: but too late for thousands whose lives could have been saved if a vaccine was ready now. Even with the licence, Ottawa could have forced NewLink to move more quickly (or else revoke the licence altogether), but chose not to interfere. In the words of the University of Ottawa’s Amir Attaran, an expert on drug policy and public health, “This could have been a heroic Banting and Best moment for Canadian science, but instead it is a black comedy.”See also.
When McArdle finally found out that several Ebola vaccines were in the works she merely said:
I support government spending on basic research. 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.Why did McArdle work so hard to avoid knowledge, research, facts and a revisitation of her argument? Because she thinks government=socialism, or at least she plays someone who thinks that on tv.
I keep saying this: It is absolutely incredible that someone can be deliberately wrong so often and yet is able to successfully pass herself off as an expert and deep thinker.
Why not, though? McArdle's posts are quickly and easily written and still gets paid no matter how bad she is at her job. Why work hard when you can squeeze out the bare minimum number of posts, stretching out your weekends, paid holidays and vacations as long as you dare? Some people might have too much pride to be so wrong and so ignorant time after time, but McArdle always was a special snowflake. And when you work for billionaires, you can make a hefty profit off of your carefully cultivated ignorance.