The Daily Dose: Time for some honesty about SARS-CoV-2’s origins.

It’s been roughly a year since SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in China, at least according to publicly available timelines. Since then, COVID-19 has ravaged the world. One of the first and most important steps Epidemiology 101 instructs students to take is to identify the source of the pathogen. Until now, very little concrete information has been reported about the virus’s origin, though there’s been no shortage of speculation. An opinion piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes the case that the mystery needs to be solved while discussing the two general possibilities — it came from a laboratory (without malintent) or there was a spillover even in nature. According to the author, “A more complete understanding of the origins of COVID-19 clearly serves the interests of every person in every country on this planet. It will limit further recriminations and diminish the likelihood of conflict; it will lead to more effective responses to this pandemic, as well as efforts to anticipate and prevent the next one. It will also advance our discussions about risky science. And it will do something else: Delineating COVID-19’s origin story will help elucidate the nature of our very precarious coexistence within the biosphere.” Transparency and honesty are essential. To date, efforts have been politicized and opaque.

Europe is teetering on a precipice they never thought they’d be facing again after recovering from COVID-19’s first wave. Per the Associated Press, “Intensive care is the last line of defense for severely ill coronavirus patients and Europe is running out — of beds and the doctors and nurses to staff them… In country after country, the intensive care burden of COVID-19 patients is nearing and sometimes surpassing levels seen at last spring’s peak. Health officials, many advocating a return to stricter lockdowns, warn that adding beds will do no good because there aren’t enough doctors and nurses trained to staff them.” Winter hasn’t even arrived.

The election of president-elect John Biden has instilled a sense of optimism among most members of the scientific community. For nearly four years, they have seen the foundations of science attacked with carelessness and blatant disingenuousness. The Editors at Nature have penned an op-ed about the steps needed to restore American science to its pre-Trump state. “These values must also underlie the incoming administration’s relationships with other countries. The United States is a powerful nation whose influence extends well beyond its borders, both for good and for ill. The Trump administration’s policies on climate, the coronavirus and immigration have been a calamitous example of the latter. Biden and Harris have an opportunity to reverse course, rebuild relations with the international community and make the United States into a force for good.” What’s scary is that a peaceful turnover of power in January looks less possible by the hour.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration appears to be taking steps at ensuring many of its nefarious policies continue by installing like minded individuals into important government positions. Science has pointed out that Jason Richwine, an independent public policy analyst, has been appointed as deputy undersecretary of commerce for standards and technology at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It’s a cynical move. Science provides some background as to why RIchwine is such a controversial appointment. “In 2013 he authored a study claiming immigrants are a massive drain on the U.S. economy. The report was widely criticized, and Richwine lost his job. The controversy was fueled by media coverage of his 2009 doctoral thesis, which maintained that Mexican and Hispanic immigrants have IQs below those of white people and that ‘the difference is likely to persist over several generations,’ suggesting a genetic component to those lower scores. He asserted that selecting high-IQ immigrants would prevent what he termed ‘underclass behavior … while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.’” While there may be light at the end of the tunnel, the darkness of the past four years continues to overwhelm.

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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