“In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic?” Anthony Fauci penned these words in a 2012 paper, long before the COVID-19 outbreak, about gain of function research. “Scientists working in this field might say — as indeed I have said — that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks.”
The benefits outweigh the risks. For research involving scientists extracting viruses from the wild and engineering them to infect humans in order to study potential therapeutics, Fauci determined the high risk was worth the potential benefit. Whether Fauci was right or wrong — although hindsight and mass casualties have certainly teamed up to condemn him — all the doctor did was perform a cost-benefit analysis.
It’s something you do every day. You do it when you decide whether the benefit of nine extra minutes of sleep is worth the cost of forgoing your pre-work coffee stop (or, more realistically, worth scrambling into the office nine minutes late). You do it when you decide whether getting rid of the umbrella weight in your purse is worth the chance of getting caught in the rain.
Should I ride my bike without a helmet? Is the taste of this donut worth the calories? Some of our cost-benefit calculations, of course, are far less breezy. Should I endure cancer treatment again? What if I convert? Do I need this insurance?
Thanks to a trove of Fauci’s emails made public by the Washington Post and BuzzFeed last week, and a year of his decisions being made in the public eye, we’re aware of many more of his similar calculations, and it’s worth examining them within the cost-benefit framework.
Fauci’s Cost-Benefit Analysis
Remember the infamous “60 Minutes” clip of Fauci insisting there was “no reason to be walking around with a mask,” which coincided with the surgeon general tweeting “seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” in March of 2020? Fauci later claimed that guidance was actually an attempt to ration masks for health-care workers.
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