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Columbia University-linked researcher faces criticism for failing to disclose ties to Wuhan Institute of Virology

He is part of a team investigating coronavirus investigations

A Columbia University-linked researcher is part of a World Health Organization team in China that is investigating the origins of the coronavirus.

However the researcher, Peter Daszak, previously organized a February 2020 letter in The Lancet downplaying theories that the virus started in a lab. Daszak is a member of Columbia’s Center for Infection and Immunity.

The research center’s administrative director, Richard Smith, did not respond to emailed requests for comment from The College Fix about Daszak and conflicts of interest in the past week.

The WIV has faced criticism for its experiments with coronavirus strains.

Government watchdog group U.S. Right to Know reported that millions of dollars have flowed to EcoHealth Alliance from the federal government. Some of this money helped fund a 2017 Chinese study involving the Wuhan Institute of Virology that studied how to manipulate SARS-related coronavirus.

Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, said the numerous conflicts should disqualify Daszak from investigating the Chinese lab.

Daszak and his organization, EcoHealth Alliance, have disqualifying conflicts of interests with the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Ebright told The College Fix via email. “Daszak and EcoHealth were the contractors responsible for funding the high-risk research on SARS-related bat coronaviruses at WIV (with subcontracts from $200 million in USAID funding and $7 million in NIH funding.”

He said “these appointments suggest the WHO and Lancet reviews are not intended to be impartial and independent inquiries.” It sends the message that the investigation intends to “whitewash the WIV laboratory, the WIV project, and their funders.”

Daszak has helped direct federal money to the lab through his EcoHealth Alliance. The February 2020 Lancet letter has been cited by media outlets to downplay the possibility that the Wuhan Institute of Virology created the coronavirus. One of its members, Shi Zhengli, has received money from Daszak’s organization.

The Chinese Communist Party also pushed out the letter to dispel rumors. For example, its consulate in Australia published a link to it on its website. People’s Daily, a propaganda publication of the CCP, also includes a link to it in a list that allegedly debunks rumors about coronavirus.

Daszak did not respond to two emailed requests for comment in the past week from The Fix. He did not respond to questions about if he regretted publishing the letter and if he believed he had any conflicts of interest because of his relationship with Shi.

He has previously praised the Chinese Party leadership for sharing his letter.

Lancet spokesperson Jessica Kleyn told The Fix on January 27 that she would provide a comment but did not respond as of February 1.

“Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus,” the letter warned.

“We are public health scientists who have closely followed the emergence of 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and are deeply concerned about its impact on global health and wellbeing,” the letter said.  The signers said the public health community in China “worked diligently and effectively to rapidly identify the pathogen behind this outbreak.”

The signers praised the Chinese officials for a “remarkable” effort.

“We sign this statement in solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China who continue to save lives and protect global health during the challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the supporters said.

MORE: Former Ohio-based researcher pleads guilty to selling American medical secrets to China

IMAGE: Poco a poco/Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Ashley Carnahan is a senior at the University of California Berkeley majoring in business administration with a minor in Russian. She writes for Campus Reform. She is a member of Berkeley's Turning Point USA chapter.

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