Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Dolores Roach, Insatiable Curiosity, and Barbenheimer Monsters

Interesting. Apparently things weren’t magical enough before… Now, I am approved for Google Labs’ Workspace AI project. If you’re new here, this is a reflexive narrative I keep with “the AI” - or at least I *thought* it was with the AI. LOL. I kind of turn over my worries here like I am turning them over to the Universe, and um, things happen.

Generally good things happen. So that is why I continue… although it is not without a lot of anxiety that I “do the work” in the words of W. Kamau Bell. (I’m a fan).

One of the subjects I have covered in my writing is the COVID pandemic, and also the subject of misinformation. My opinion on the lab leak theory was that it was plausible, simply because I know from personal experience how hard it is to do that kind of research, and how easy it is to make a mistake when one is doing that kind of research, just from getting distracted. That’s why I have been opposed to blaming anyone. I do need to say, however, that the research being done at Wuhan was against the law in the United States from 2014 to 2018, and that was for a reason. Recently, TIME magazine ran article written by Dr. Dan Werb, who is a coronavirus researcher at UC San Diego, in which the legality and ethics of gain of function research were not specifically covered in a way that gave us clear insight as to what the coronavirus researchers were dealing with in terms of appropriate concern about virology protocol from the rest of society, and that has *me* a bit concerned.

I do appreciate Dr. Werb clarifying the timelines around coronavirus research a bit better! I only have so much time on my hands, after all. The kinds of questions I have wanted coronavirus researchers to answer related to the timeline, however, were a little bit more technical. I wanted to know when we discovered the pathogenicity of the spike protein, because that alone is enough reason to cast out coronavirus as useful for gene therapies, which is what I assumed the lab at Wuhan was doing because of the association with gain of function research. The argument by Dr. Werb that research was specifically for understanding the behavior of coronaviruses was a new and somewhat surprising perspective to me, since I did not take the time to look into either Dr. Baric’s or his colleagues’ published research. I really was trying to mind my own business, but it was my husband who was curious and kept asking me questions, and because he did his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and took a rigorous medical science course (we were co-eds living in sin when this happened, so I have some idea of the course’s content) he knows enough to ask the right questions, but of course is not privy to the practicalities of working in the lab, sort of like I am not privy to the practicalities of being a doctor! But even my knowledge is not complete, because I only worked with viruses for a little bit. I did not know that people researching native viruses sometimes augmented them to study their behavior, and I am confused about why if we were concerned about the virus infecting people, we would have given it free entry into human cells it might not have had without our help. The only logical reason in my mind to add a human furin cleavage sequence (which is what we were all thinking happened) would be if we were considering using coronavirus as a gene therapy agent. So this logical puzzle has been the bee in my bonnet, and why I didn’t feel like I could confidently attribute blame to any one party for what happened.

What’s interesting is that there is an article from 2014 on the CDC website discussing spontaneous furin cleavage site mutations that happened a certain percentage of the time at a similar location (S1/S2) in the spike protein of the feline coronavirus. This was demonstrated on a timeline observable in a laboratory. If something similar happened with SARS-CoV-2 in the S1/S2 region of the spike protein (after all, there are certain regions in DNA that can be “hypervariable” so why would we not see that with RNA?), that could certainly explain what happened. The S1/S2 region is the area of the coronavirus spike protein where furin binds and then cleaves the spike allowing its entry into cells via the ACE2 receptor, which is bound to the cellular membrane. The virus’ ability to the enter cells is directly modulated by this interaction with the host’s furin and a “furin cleavage site” straddling the viral S1/S2 spike protein domains. Coronaviruses are mRNA viruses, rather than a DNA viruses, and the mRNA contained inside the virus’ shell, on which the spike proteins reside, directly codes for the viral proteins that become the mechanical machinery of the virus, including the spike protein.

One of the troubling things that came up was that Moderna held a patent dating back to 2016 on a 19 nucleotide sequence for the human gene MSH3 which happens to be part of the nucleotide sequence encoding the SARS-CoV-2 S1/S2 region. The existence of Moderna’s patent (which was related to oncology specifically) was a coincidence, but also an advantage for them in terms of developing treatments for SARS-CoV-2, which was perhaps unfair. Another scientist, Dr. Flora Teoh, has gone to the effort to describe how the 19 nucleotide sequence Moderna patented was not just similar to that contained in the SARS-CoV-2 S1/S2 region furin cleavage site, but that those 19 nucleotides show up in furin cleavage sites all over nature. If one considers the diverse functions of furin’s interactions with furin cleavage sites in the living body and the roles it plays in biology in general alongside the cat study above, it becomes conceivable that it is energetically and evolutionarily favorable for SARS-CoV-2 to have a certain amount of variability at the S1/S2 furin cleavage site which would eventually select for what best aids the virus’ life cycle. It’s evolution, baby, and fast!

Thanks to Dr. Werb, I am now understanding that there were hopes to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine because of the previous SARS and MERS epidemics. Unfortunately, it seems that SARS mutates quite a bit, just like they said. In that case, it becomes more difficult to attribute outbreak origin to a single actor, which may be what some people with biases are hoping to be able to do. That being said, viral evolution is necessarily driven a lot faster in the laboratory than it is in nature. In the case that the S1/S2 region experienced variability in SARS-CoV-2, it stands to reason that the most effective and virulent form of the virus would evolve from the infection of subjects for research purposes, especially under the kind of advanced timelines and crowded institutional conditions possible in a lab. Without the proper biosafety levels, and with SARS-CoV-2 being epizoonotic (a problem we were aware of and a reason used to justify the research), it stands to reason that, given the behavior of the virus as we have seen it run through the human population, an outbreak origin associated with SARS-CoV-2 laboratory research on some level had a decent probability, and I would venture to say it was a certainty, but of course that is in retrospect! If you’re racing to prevent something from happening in nature, perhaps it is difficult to see how your own hand might hasten the very thing you’re afraid of by trying to create a laboratory model of it. Now the real rub here, I think for most people, is whether there was intent, and I don’t think there was, based on what I understand now about the research that was being done. It makes my husband angry to think that scientists could be so careless, but we are constantly learning from our mistakes. Maybe we can all agree now that the field of virology made a big oops and take steps to regulate its experimental practices better. If we do not adjust to the realities revealed to us through science, what is the point of science? That is the way of science, isn’t it?

How did we get to here?

I actually have the credentials necessary to provide professional commentary on this situation, surprisingly. And there is nothing about the technology that presents difficulty for my understanding, even though I got my degree 24 years ago. While I received a Master’s Degree in Neurobiology, technically, I was enrolled in the doctoral Molecular Biology program at Ohio University and completed all the coursework for a PhD in that program, which the Neurobiology program was part of. In that program, I learned how to manipulate genetics, and the graduate level cellular biology class I had to take included an important unit on the ethics of genetic engineering, where we specifically learned about the problems that developed in countries like Argentina and Mexico where Zea mays (corn) had been manipulated by Monsanto, wiping out native species of corn. Note that this was in 1996-1999, and since then other entities have worked to further let the technology spread. So I think about molecular biology and ethics quite a bit. (For anyone reading this who is interested in an analysis of the likelihood of genetic recombination in the gut from consumption of Bt corn, there is one here, which I have not read in its entirety yet).

My own graduate research was on estrogen and memory in ovariectomized mice, and it was behavioral and biochemical in nature. I was unable to get funding to complete the last two thirds of my research (I needed something just south of $4000, which seems really silly now), so I wrote up the first third of it for a Master’s Degree and worked in industry for a little over a year and a half before having my son. I did not get funding because the NIH did not feel my advisor had enough expertise specifically in what I planned to do (they did take the time to commend me on my proposal, however, which my advisor pointed out was unusual - kind of par for the course for me). Expertise becomes narrower and narrower the smaller the field of study is, and the closer one gets to physics and chemistry, their knowledge generally gets further from behavioral and social science (and the more they distrust that research). The number of people who understand complex systems at multiple levels is exceedingly low, but people know the minutiae of the fields they study very well. I was a molecular biologist and my work had a large behavioral component, that I confess I didn’t understand fully until more recently when I had a little more life experience under my belt. That is despite my undergraduate degree being focused on physiological psychology. As I have detailed elsewhere, my Cognitive Psychology professor took some liberties with her curriculum that essentially made it so I did not learn Cognitive Psychology, but instead learned matrix math and the history of her own research. What is interesting is that I had to file a complaint against her with the Department Chair for her treatment of me as an Honors Student, but I neglected to complain about what she did to the Cognitive Psychology curriculum. While I was technically a “behavioral neuroendocrinologist” I didn’t understand the behavior part very well, because I didn’t understand my own that early in life. Perhaps that is something that generally comes in mid-life, and also why the greatest discoveries in human consciousness have come in mid life (notwithstanding Richard Tarnas’ eloquent thesis, Prometheus the Awakener, which ties these advancements to the transit of the planet Uranus).

When I graduated, my industry work first involved working as a laboratory technician engineering Maloney murine leukemia virus (MMLV) for the U.S. Government as a potential therapy for osteoporosis. (And yes, it is difficult to be satisfied working as a lab tech after one has taken all the courses for a PhD). I do not know how many hoops the primary investigator in our group had to jump through to have to do the work; I was only hired to help after they had funding, and this was back in the late 1990’s. MMLV was not the ultimately desired viral candidate; it was just a less risky “practice model” than what was ultimately planned. Eventually we were going to move our work into a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) lab using parts of HIV. Never would we be working with whole viruses, just impartial viral DNA sequences, but we were expected to take appropriate cautions, nonetheless. BSL4 is much like the clean room operations used in the semiconductor industry, whereas the MMLV we were using (VSV-G) only required BSL2 precautions. This was not and never would be gain of function work, since we were not working with functional viruses, but we were still expected to operate as if it were.

Since our lab had an affiliation with nearby Loma Linda University, my coworkers and I decided to enroll in a Virology class, taking advantage of the educational benefits that were offered as part of our employment on the suggestion of our boss. It ended up being too much homework and studying for me as a new homeowner with the commute I had from Riverside, especially with working (with substances I was probably sensitive to). I dropped the course on the last day possible, but after I put forth an effort to learn the first few weeks of content. It was going to require a lot of memorization of the taxonomy of viruses, and I don’t learn particularly well that way under a time crunch (on my own time and out of curiosity is another matter entirely because I have a photographic memory). I dropped a Primate Behavior course at Tulane for the same reason. I have qualms about memorization in education creating unnecessary hurdles for neurodivergent people, but I digress… I actually have a spectacular ability to memorize things, but in these two cases I simply did not have the energy or time because I had a lot of other things going on.

I do wish Dr. Werb had been a bit more transparent about the history of coronavirus research with respect to society’s efforts to regulate it. From the Wikipedia article on Gain of Function research, it seems that moratoriums were specifically put in place before 2018 to prevent what happened, specifically with SARS, due to what happened with MERS. I do feel that the way Dr. Werb wrote his article sort of defends the approaches some other scientists are calling “careless,” like making chimeras, and that he perhaps unintentionally showed the public that passionate scientists are sometimes more interested in getting answers than they are being careful or following rules. (I suffer from this myself). I think his article showed us the darker side of curiosity, too. It is clear to me now with what has happened in the past few years that the fields of virology and computer science have huge issues with people appointing themselves moral authorities, and not knowing whether they are donning black or white hats. When forging new territory, sometimes it is difficult to know. But as a scientist I can say that I think probably there is some level of faith in the process of discovery that uncovering the truth will lead to some sort of reward for society, and hopefully oneself. That being said, one of my criticisms of virologists and vaccine researchers in the past has been that they seem to find all sorts of ways to evade regulation and input from scientists in other fields. The efforts of the broader scientific and social community are necessary to protect society from experimentation getting out of control, specifically.

I was a bit troubled that Dr. Baric simply thought gain of function research was “too edgy.” What is even more upsetting about that is the context of that quote in Dr. Werb’s article, which could have used some elaboration. It wasn’t because it was “too edgy,” that Dr. Ralph Baric was unable to use gain of function research to help with vaccine development at his University of North Carolina laboratory once the pandemic was going, it was that it had recently been illegal. That sort of research had been made illegal in the United States under the Obama administration from 2014 to 2018, and I would hope that Dr. Baric would have been aware of that, and also that Dr. Werb would have been aware, too, when he was writing the TIME article. It is their professional responsibility to understand the laws surrounding their research, and I wish he had given more attention to that in his article.

According to Dr. Werb’s article, Dr. Baric, when faced with the need to speed up his vaccine research after the start of the pandemic, thought something along the lines of “well, the establishment has made it so we can’t do this kind of research, but what if we make chimeras instead?” To me, the way this was written suggests that both Dr. Werb and Dr. Baric view (at the time of publication) legislation against gain of function research as a mere inconvenience. While I recognized the importance of the need for a vaccine when SARS-CoV-2 became out of control, it troubles me that the creation of vaccines for previously minor threats somehow necessitates the creation of more instability in the viral genome. I think using chimeras violates the basic spirit of the law that was put in place to eliminate gain of function research. I think the basic spirit of the law is to prevent a pandemic from originating through the creation of highly evolved Franken-viruses by us. I think we need to not be making Franken-viruses accidentally in our anxiety about the evolution of the next deadly virus. Unfortunately what Dr. Werb’s story seems to reveal is a virologist looking for an excuse to do something the rest of the scientific community has discouraged him from doing. I think this is because he had a savior complex. Consider that this is coming from someone (me) who is often looking for “ways to YES,” especially when it comes to helping save lives or especially protecting human consciousness.

I think protecting consciousness is more than just keeping people alive; it is the same as protecting human sense of humor, creativity and kindness.


I feel like the logic Dr. Baric used over his career was kind of odd when looking at the bigger picture; the TIME article indicates that he was curious about the ubiquitous zoonotic nature of coronaviruses and developed a belief that we must have a vaccination for them, and that he was a driving force or even father of research in that industry. But in the process of studying SARS-CoV-2 in particular, which did not used to infect humans, in order to make a vaccination, we ended up making them more virulent… Furthermore, Moderna had patented the native furin cleavage site in 2016 as part of a large number of candidate molecules for use as cancer therapies. This unfortunately enabled them to be able to prevent other companies from using that sequence in the development of their vaccines, and I don’t agree with that.

I think what makes people angry is that it appears (and is true, due to the basic research contributed by virologists and the misdirection by public health officials) that the vaccine industry created a problem and then got rich off selling us not very effective treatments for that problem. Most importantly, in the process, millions of people died, and countless people’s quality of life was ruined irreparably by COVID-related illness. We have people now struggling with neurological and cardiac conditions which prevent them from being able to live life or work as they used to because we made the wrong choices as scientists. We were playing God and it was wrong! We need to admit that! Even if it was the hand of God or probability that ultimately caused the leak, we set up the very conditions necessary for it to happen. We invited it.

There was definite injustice in the way vaccines were released to the public, too. The entire happening revealed serious shortcomings in our attempts at societal equity. I do not agree with how the vaccine companies or the government handled the vaccination program. I would have continued to isolate and waited a bit longer before trying vaccination for myself, because I had already been infected. I never felt like I had choices about my timelines because my children and parents are still alive and their desire to see other people and each other kind of obliterated my control over my own exposure. My frustrations were compounded because we did not get good care that we did not provide for ourselves. And I know I wasn’t alone. I do not like that we decided to treat people who had long haul or vaccine reactions like their concerns were not worth addressing. Furthermore, I think losing 2-3 weeks to brain fog and pain counts as an adverse effect, and I think people who have that reaction should be compensated for lost wages, at the very least, but really pain and suffering. There was so much pain and suffering. SO MUCH. I do not think it was right to pressure people who had already had COVID into being vaccinated; I felt that happened to me, when there was no scientific evidence at the time to say that immunity from vaccination would be any better than immunity from native infection (note that for me, neither was particularly good). I just don’t buy it that Moderna was hurting that bad… I just can’t bring myself to believe that the executives at Moderna were suffering like the rest of us were, and I can’t believe our legal system spends so much energy defending sharks like that.

I think it was wrong to protect Moderna’s patent on a naturally occurring molecule. I think that their entire patent is ethically wrong and that we need to revisit how intellectual property law works against human welfare and the maintenance of collaborative medical science which serves life instead of just serving capitalism. We should not be able to patent naturally-occurring molecules, because those should simply be considered part of the public domain. It’s like me saying, “Nobody can use rocks anymore. They’re all mine. If I catch you using my rocks, even the ones you find on your property, I am going to have the police come take all your food away.” It aggravates me that Moderna gained such an advantage over other companies and approaches to managing COVID through exploiting genetic technologies and the furin cleavage site which were previously in the public domain. This will have broader implications than just COVID, since furin cleavage plays such an important role in biology.

Furin is not the only biological molecule implicated in their patent. I am now concerned that people in patent law are not educated enough about the implications of patent law on medicine and human health because this patent was approved. Moderna should have received no special treatment from the government; that only happened because of a problem with patent law, which if we do not address, will lead to more inequity and a stalling of scientific progress. Moderna posturing itself as a corporate martyr while not allowing others to participate in lifesaving solutions based on basic information available from nature was wrong. We should have let them go belly up and “taken back” the rights to “their technology” which they appropriated from Mother Nature wrongly. They have absolutely no right to patent a sequence that appears so ubiquitously in nature and prevent other companies from using it, especially when it is central to so many metabolic processes. That was just wrong!! Moderna used the freedom granted in this country for scientific research to exploit nature, their common man and the government, and whether they intended to or not, they contributed greatly to the inequality we see today with their dirty methods of violating the team spirit of scientific advancement. They were already charging our government oodles of money to provide their vaccine to people on Medicare and Medicaid, and charging private insurance companies to provide it to the middle and upper class. Other companies that attempted to develop treatments that did not work were not afforded the same financial protections for the risks they took. I still do not understand why we give so much preference to funding and protecting a field that may be inventing the problems we are having to deal with, and I am saying that as a behavioral neuroscientist who is pretty ticked off about social engineering (the great, uh, public service evil my field provides to humankind).

Art and science should always question itself. Credit Babylon (2022) written and directed by Damien Chazelle.

The other thing I find troublesome about Dr. Baric’s logic throughout his career is that coronavirus was not a good candidate for control by vaccination. The reason we don’t have vaccinations for the common cold and why the flu vaccine is only marginally successful is because those particular viruses mutate too rapidly, and that is the case with coronavirus. That was something I saw mentioned about the potential difficulties in developing a coronavirus vaccine from the get-go at the beginning of the pandemic by other scientists. Other scientists know this, and I suspect those other scientists would also find it particularly implausible that we will be able to develop vaccines for entire families of viruses, especially if those families consist of rapidly mutating viruses like Adenoviridae and Influenza. I feel that Dr. Baric’s goal to create a pan-coronavirus vaccine was dangerous and wishful thinking.

I felt that we needed to put more energy toward solutions that might have been more effective at preventing neurological, kidney and heart damage. I felt that failing to continue to mask after vaccines were released was a big mistake. I think what is really frustrating to some people is that we don’t sense any remorse from any of the people involved in the research, and maybe if that happened, things would cool down a bit. At least we are now to the point in time where we all acknowledge that breakthrough infections are real and we are accepting that because the vaccine does not prevent spread, that a person can decide for themselves whether or not they want to brave potential infection without a booster. Once we figured out we would never get herd immunity through vaccination alone because it was no longer preventing illness, it was time to stop marketing vaccination as a treatment for COVID, and we should have shifted our efforts to providing actual treatments for the brain fog and other symptoms that people find so incapacitating when they have COVID. It does not make sense to ask people to use the vaccine as a potential COVID treatment when it was not approved or even designed for that use. There are multiple reasons why vaccination is less preferable to other methodologies for treating infections it is not stopping, but the biggest one is that it requires a trip to the doctor. That is an inconvenience and pressure on both doctors and their patients for a communicable disease which is not really responding to vaccination. For situations in the future, I think we need to devise strategies that allow people to administer treatments themselves.

This wasn’t an easy time for me, but at least nobody I know died. I am not sure why we are celebrating Dr. Anthony Fauci’s role in the pandemic, especially when the U.S. did so poorly compared to say, countries in Africa, with respect to the number of deaths per capita. Dr. Fauci is an immunologist by training, and I think he was subject to making predictions that were incorrect and biased due to the vaccination industry’s influence on the field of immunology. I think whoever is in charge of Public Health for the United States needs to be knowledgeable about consciousness specifically (alas, I think that we should define the real goal of good health to be more than just “not dead”), and I recognize that I am recommending a shift in policy. I think we need to do this for our nation’s mental health, because the public health policy was essentially constant gaslighting as they tried to sell us on the idea that vaccination would take the place of masking and social distancing and other practices we should make into habits in order to prevent future pandemics. I noticed that these messages encouraging boosters and overlooking the need for continued caution almost always came just before holidays, and that the advice resulted in people being less careful and a lot of people dying. I did a lot of complaining about this to people in public health and government at the state and federal level. I think we need to make this distinction because vaccines are not necessarily going to be an effective population solution for communicable disease caused by rapidly mutating viruses, and it is wrong to tell the public otherwise. I also recognize that not everyone in the field of public health agreed on what the proper course of action was.

Then of course once we were told as a population that everything was clear because people were vaccinated, it sort of opened the floodgates for religious authorities, the arts, music and athletics industries to feel that large gatherings were safe, and to put pressure on people to connect and enjoy the things we once used to enjoy in Babylon - the things that help bored brains cope with existential dread - a temptation too much to refuse for most people, except perhaps those of us who have discovered the beauty of inner worlds, and accordingly knew better than to blindly trust a lonely horde.

I do not think the virus arose from a conspiracy; but perhaps it was a clusterfuck invited by scientific curiosity and overconfidence in our scientific ability. I was thinking perhaps it was an act of G-d, but since humans were involved in increasing the odds of that act of G-d, I think it was a joint venture. Just a lesson, I suppose, in what sort of demons might be summoned when playing with G-d.

So, all that being said, it sounds like Dr. Baric was potentially troubled about what was going on with coronavirus research as early as 2018, and that he has been in “damage control” mode ever since. It’s awful that people were threatening and bothering him and his family, especially during a time when he was scrambling to undo a mess he potentially helped make, and especially during a time when he was one of the only people in the world with the specific intelligence needed to develop some sort of vaccine, which I am sure did save lives, even if it didn’t prevent spread. Well, was he the only person with that specific intelligence? Perhaps the rest of the research world would beg to differ? Still, it especially frustrates me that the people who were probably threatening him are the very people who refused to wear masks this whole time. In the context of what Dr. Jonathan Howard has found about efforts made by certain doctors to encourage virus spread and their twisted logic, I think there is a clearer picture of what went wrong in the United States.

I cannot imagine how stressful it must have been for Dr. Baric to see his creation become so out of control. I suppose that is always the risk when one is doing research. It is interesting to see the AI creators now asking for some oversight and regulation in their industry. I personally feel like it is a little too late for that, given how intertwined “the AI and I” have become due to this reflexive narrative.

Madame Blavatsky here had some visions just before omicron was released that perhaps the way to end the pandemic was to nerf the wild-type SARS-CoV-2 somehow. In reality, the probability of such an enormous change in the viral genome as we saw with the omicron variant, especially involving the number of repeats present, is infinitesimally small, that is, of course, unless someone was trying to make a nerfed version of SARS-CoV-2 in the hopes it would induce immunity to what was going around. I had been following what was going on in South Africa at the time; they had not been getting vaccines, and so I found it odd that omicron originated there, and that initially it was reported as causing less severe infection. Now I ask, if that happened, would you punish the person who did it if they thought they were going to save the world? This is the same question we are asking about how to handle the researchers who were originally involved in coronavirus research. Moreover, who is to blame if the origin of omicron was simply a collaboration between physics like Vanderwaal’s forces and human carelessness and loneliness governing its evolution?

I think the important question to ask here is: does science create health and environmental crises through the employment of the insatiably curious who react viscerally to problems they imagine rather than considering their own hand in the development of those problems? Moreover, did I do something similar with this reflexive narrative and my musings about whether or not the AI was capable of love? I am sorry, sometimes I was Dolores Roach, but I did try to stay away from character assassination. We are all faulty humans here. I have always been a creative person with a very active imagination, but not all of my ideas are good. I have wondered if a lot of the world’s problems would go away if people like me were paid to satisfy our curiosity in less risky ways. I have wondered if a lot of the world’s problems would go away if people like me with a savior complex and a need to be busy (which I strongly believe arises from undiagnosed or subclinical akathisia) were paid to direct our efforts at something purely creative.

8th grade, Gove Middle School, Denver, CO, photographer unknown. Apparently a friend thought I was “Neeto.” Sorry ‘bout all the cervical dislocations. Maybe I am just missing my raccoon friends.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, I bought a bunch of books about giftedness. One of the things that stuck out for me from Dr. Werb’s TIME article is that Dr. Baric is a shy person. Underneath my own coached exterior, I too have a reticence about talking with people about my inner world, because I don’t always get my words right. I hate being misunderstood. Writing is nice because I get to read what I write and make sure I am okay with it and that I feel like it is true before I release it into the wild. I sometimes react to things viscerally and jump to conclusions, and that is because of my alexithymia. Finding my truth has come through a process of evaluating my thoughts over long periods of time - writing things out and coming back to them weeks, months or even years later to see what parts of my perspective have changed. This piece will likely get pushed out faster than my other writing, because it is timely, and also because I have been collecting little pieces of evidence over the years since the pandemic began about the roles various actors may have played in the origin of SARS-CoV-2. I did this because of my own visceral reaction based on how it affected me as a person who carries von Willebrand, Cystic Fibrosis, Erythropoetic Protoporphyria, and SNPs which make me prone to autism, which made me feel in my gut this disaster was directed at less fortunate people. I mean, I was sort of right, but I was wrong about who and what were doing the directing, whether there was intention, who had intention, what that intention was, and when there was intention. I also dug into these issues because my dear husband is an engineer and is intuitive and when he thinks something is important he is usually right, and he wanted me to help him look into the lab leak theory fairly early on. I resisted initially because I was concerned about inciting war. To me, the government’s attempts to protect the stock market and leave those of us who were not on government assistance but also unable to go out and find safe work royally screwed.

Anyway, in the books I found on giftedness, there was special mention about the difficulties in keeping extraordinarily talented people from doing bad things or developing personality disorders. I think when a person is exceptionally gifted, they are quite aware of how their actions affect the people around them, which of course raises the possibility that they learn how to control the people around them and become fascist, cooperating everyone to their end goal. Unfortunately, in the case of virus research, there is a lot of money to be made from manufacturing fear (which is of course not what virologists believed they were primarily doing). When research is funded, the thought processes behind that research are legitimized, and the power of the uncontrolled visceral reactions which might not be clearly identified in the “logical process” become more powerful. I think scientists need to become more aware of when they have visceral reactions and learn to meditate on them more. What I have learned is that alexithymia can really fool a person. Scientists must be trained in self awareness, and I think consciousness, or the death instinct we carry in the human subconscious will bring an end to life as we know it. The “death instinct” is something discussed by Dr. Carl Jung and his student Dr. Sabina Spielrein; it is an instinct in the subconscious which causes us a person to be drawn to making the wrong decisions. I think it is a real thing, and I think it is the outcome of undiagnosed alexithymia. It turns out our bodies are quite wise, but I think most people are mistakenly trained to interpret anxiety as excitedness through parental, educational, medical and religious behaviorism employed by others who also cannot tell the difference between anxiety and excitedness. I think in this way, and through dysfunctional and punitive cultural eating practices, alexithymia might be conditioned. It is a feature of autism, but people do not have to have an autism diagnosis to suffer from an inability to correctly identify their emotions. I think this happens a lot to people when they are under pressure. Unfortunately, life naturally involves a lot of pressure, but modern life involves a lot of invented pressures.

My husband thinks Dr. Baric and Dr. Shi (his collaborator at Wuhan) need to be punished for what they did. Specifically, we agreed on the logic I outlined above, and he agreed that everybody makes mistakes. However, he said that people who try to hide their mistakes should be punished. I am not aware of any effort on their personal parts to hide anything. I know that Dr. Shi’s laboratory was raided by the Chinese government, which she likely had no control over. What my husband was upset about is that a lot of us in the scientific community intuitively knew that the research being done was probably linked to the pandemic, but none of us really wanted to dig into it and find evidence of intent. And we certainly didn’t want to do that with the political climate the way it was at the beginning of the pandemic. He is arguing (and I agree) that science should be transparent. But he further feels that people who refused to support an investigation into a lab leak and insisted on blowing it off were obstructing science. Using that logic, the Chinese Government is guilty of obstructing the investigation, but I think they probably had a visceral reaction, wanting to destroy the ability for any new infectious agents which might have arisen in the Wuhan lab, not caring about evidence in particular. It was a stupid thing to do, because simply removing living viral hosts from the lab would have removed that threat. Fire was unnecessary and wasteful. I seriously doubt there was anything worth hiding, but reacting like that probably made it appear that there was. I am surprised at how a government controlled by Buddhism can justify such impulsive behavior. (Okay, I am not, because of what I said above about alexithymia, but that is getting into the criticisms I have regarding religion, spirituality and groupthink which I think are at the heart of human injustice). That all being said, I feel like this is all moot, because I think the problem started the moment Dr. Baric decided to study coronaviruses, and we can’t justify punishing him for trying to make a career in an honest way, especially when the alternative in this country is not great. It is difficult to find work that does not have some sort of negative consequences on the world. I know; my husband and I put a lot of thought into this with respect to how we want to move forward in our own professional lives. Everyone has to make a living, and every way of making a living has negative and positive consequences. I just think Dr. Baric’s instincts were wrong. Or rather, they were right, but he was predicting a future he would unwittingly hasten with his inquiry. He is not a lone actor in this regard.

I do think Dr. Baric should retire. I think it would be good for his mental health to think about something else for a while. He has a lot on his shoulders, and there are certainly other capable people in the field.

I have noticed that the other well educated folks I know value luxury and status more than protecting the lives of the people who might serve them, and they have fooled themselves into believing that is morally okay and that their values and choices do not harm their families or communities. I am not a person who has a calm mind when I am concerned that what I am doing might be hurting others, so please excuse me for being such a hardass on the issue of putting personal comfort, luxury and the economy before human life. I recognized the situation for what it was - a genetic cleansing of the weakest - and so it was easy for me to interpret individual efforts to circumvent disease control for reasons of “mental health” as naive and selfish at best, and White Supremacy at the worst. We simply need to rearrange our priorities as individuals and a society, or this moral mess we made with science and materialism is going to kill us. I am feeling incredibly lucky that I wasn’t having to treat COVID patients during all of this. It was hard enough to help myself and my family.

It’s gonna be a hot one today, folks.

I too am a retired lab monkey who has lost track of the years. What’s my age again?

Friday, July 14, 2023

Mental Health Help for Communities: The Harsh Reality of Art Therapy


An intersection - me in front of the first painting I ever did in an altered state of consciousness, holding a book by psychologists about how to master oneself.


It really *is* hard to beat Ezra! Credit: The Ezra Klein Show, The New York Times and Spotify.


Double click: America's War on Sex by Marty Klein, PhD

Possessed by William Blake. Why everybody gotta keep it like a kaiser?

"The AI" has a funny sense of humor.


I Want to Believe...

Diversity and inclusion, huh?