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Did Anthony Fauci have a “conflict of interest” because his wife is Chief of Bioethics at NIH?

While Orac was off last week, Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk resurrected an antivax conspiracy theory that Anthony Fauci’s wife was “supposed to make sure” that he “behaves ethically.”

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how antivaxxers and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists project their view of how the world works on Anthony Fauci and the NIH by falsely portraying the NIH grant funding process like the way a mob boss doles out favors to those who support him the most strongly and withholds them from those who are insufficiently loyal. As I put it at the time, Anthony Fauci is not akin to Michael Corleone taking tribute and loyalty at the end of The Godfather; there’s a process governed by law and scores of regulations to rank grant applications based on scientific merit. In the case of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), from which Dr. Fauci retired at the end of last year after a tenure lasting nearly four decades. Basically, for longstanding grant funding mechanisms, Institute and Center directors (like Anthony Fauci) don’t have a lot of input into which applications are funded, although they do sign off on the funding decisions and are on the final committee that evaluates the highest scored grants.

Which brings us to Elon Musk.

If you’re active on Twitter, as I have been for around a decade on and off, you know that two months ago Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter. The details of how he made an offer, tried to back out of completing the sale, and ultimately decided to go through with it aren’t important for my discussion, nor is his tumultuous tenure as owner and CEO of Twitter that has seen him not just gut Twitter’s already insufficient ability to combat disinformation on its platform—or his recently allowing some of the worst of the worst antivaxxers back onto the platform. Nor is his having drafted useful idiots like Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss to go through Twitter company emails, Slack discussions, and documents in order to cherry pick bits that he’s used to amplify conspiracy theories that Twitter somehow “suppressed free speech” and promoted an establishment narrative about COVID-19, the 2020 elections, the January 6 insurrection and more. (Actually, all of that matters, but it’s not the main topic that I want to write about today.)

Less than a week ago, Musk Tweeted this:

“Almost no one”? That’s hilarious, because this is a conspiracy theory that’s been popular in COVID-19 minimizing circles for a long time, particularly in concert with the claims that Fauci somehow personally greenlit “gain of function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The idea is, of course, pure projection, in which Fauci is portrayed has having personally funded such research, I’m not going to delve into whether the research was truly “gain-of-function” here (maybe another time), but I am going to point out that the grants used to fund whatever research was going on in Wuhan was funded through a grant awarded using the usual funding mechanisms of study sections scoring grants.

The point for purposes of this post is that, if you don’t know how the NIH works, the claim amplified by Elon Musk that there is a huge conflict of interest because Anthony Fauci’s wife Dr. Christine Grady is the chief of bioethics at NIH might seem convincing—or at the very least, odd—but this concept is based on a misunderstanding of what the NIH Department of Bioethics does and what Grady and Fauci’s roles are in the NIH. There’s also more than a hint of misogyny there in that the idea that Dr. Grady would be a rubber stamp for her husband is also tinged with the assumption that her career is somehow dependent on that of her husband, when in fact she has authored or co-authored over 170 papers in her own right as well as edited numerous book chapters. She was also elected to the National Academy of Medicine, which is a BFD, as few physicians and scientists are considered eminent and accomplished enough to be elected to this body.

According to the NIH Department of Bioethics website:

The NIH Clinical Center is the world’s largest research hospital and has been the primary site of NIH clinical research since the 1950s. Bioethics is integral to the mission and activities of the CC and the NIH, as ethical questions and challenges are inherent in the conduct of scientific research and in the translation and application of scientific and technological advances to the clinic and the laboratory. The Department of Bioethics, launched in late 1996 and built on a pre-existing foundation of bioethics activities at NIH, marked a major commitment to bioethics by the Clinical Center, and especially by its director, Dr. John Gallin. Dr. Gallins goal was to create a premier center for bioethics to complement and inform the NIH’s cutting-edge program of biomedical research. In this stimulating environment of scientific discovery and burgeoning new technologies, the Department of Bioethics has flourished, wrestling with major policy issues, offering educational and clinical services, and developing numerous research projects to help advance and inform clinical practice and clinical research as well as public policy debate.

The Department of Bioethics is a center for research, training, and service related to bioethical issues. The Department conducts conceptual, empirical, and policy-related research into bioethical issues; offers comprehensive training to future bioethicists and educational programs for biomedical researchers and clinical providers; and provides high quality ethics consultation services to clinicians, patients, and families of the NIH’s Clinical Center and advice to the NIH IRBs, investigators, and others on the ethical conduct of research.

The Department of Bioethics run by Dr. Fauci’s wife Dr. Grady also runs a consult service offering bioethics consults to doctors and investigators at the NIH Clinical Center:

The Department of Bioethics provides a Bioethics Consultation Service, the goal of which is to provide analysis and facilitate discussion about a range of ethical issues that can arise in caring for patient subjects or during the course of research conducted at the Clinical Center. The Consultation Service is open to anyone with an ethical question or concern, including investigators, subjects, families, physicians, nurses, administrators, social workers, and pastoral care providers. Anyone who works at the NIH or participates in research at the NIH Clinical Center can request a consult. Consultations are usually performed by a small consult team comprised of members of the Department of Bioethics and members of the Clinical Center Ethics Committee and (on exceptional occasions) by the full Ethics Committee. Since the Clinical Center is a research hospital, many of our consults focus on research ethics questions (e.g. enrolling research participants, balancing research and clinical care, research with vulnerable populations, etc.).

The department also runs a fellowship program that offers two-year postbaccalaureate and postdoctoral research fellowships.

Unfortunately, because Musk made this claim about how Fauci’s wife is supposedly responsible for making sure that he behaves ethically, rebuttals other than on Twitter were somewhat slow. Bruce Y. Lee published a discussion of Musk’s claim, although it was days later:

Lee notes:

The NIH Clinical Center is separate from NIAID. Instead, an institutional review board (IRB) has to review every study that uses human subject for any ethical concerns and then offer approval before the study can commence. Such IRBs typically are situated at the institutions where the research is going to be conducted. Thus, once again, Grady is “NOT the person who makes sure Dr Fauci acts ethically,” as Alastair McAlpine, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver in Canada, tweet-responded to Musk

What amuses me, though, is that Musk was so off-base that even Fox News published a rebuttal to his misinformation, Here’s what Anthony Fauci’s wife actually does at NIH. In the article, reporter Thomas Catenacci also notes something that I hadn’t been entirely clear on, even as I knew that Dr. Grady was not responsible for overseeing Dr. Fauci from a bioethics standpoint:

In addition, Grady’s office conducts bioethics research, not internal ethics investigations. The HHS has an independent inspector general which conducts internal investigations into operations at the NIH and its many institutes and centers.

“Dr. Grady is the Chief of Bioethics at the NIH Clinical Center and a member of the NIH research community,” the NIH told Fox News Digital in a statement. “To be clear, the Department of Bioethics is distinct from the NIH Ethics Program. The NIH Department of Bioethics in the NIH Clinical Center is a center for research, training, and services related to bioethical medical and research issues.”

It makes sense that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would have its own inspector general to investigate potential ethics violations, as the NIH is part of HHS. After all, the regulatory machinery behind the Common Rule, which is the term that describes the set of regulations governing human subjects research and the ethical framework around all such research, is overseen by the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), which is part of the HHS, not the NIH. (Specifically, OHRP is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health in the Office of the Secretary of HHS and is responsible for regulatory oversight of all federally-funded biomedical research.)

This is not the worst disinformation that Elon Musk has promoted since taking over Twitter, but it grated at me nonetheless. It’s red meat to the conspiracy crowd, which is already prone to believe that during his career Dr. Fauci used to give out grant funding as rewards for “toeing the line” with respect to the “NIH-approved” narrative about science since the pandemic hit. However, it also seems just plausible enough to those who aren’t down the conspiracy rabbit hole and don’t understand that the Department of Bioethics and the NIAID are separate entities under the umbrella of the NIH and that the Department of Bioethics is an advisory, training, and research department, not a regulatory or enforcement agency.

Again, it comes to a standard belief common to conspiracy theorists that everything is transactional, that no one does anything that isn’t some sort of quid pro quo. This is a trait to which businessmen like Elon Musk are also prone, given that successful business dealings are the very definition of quid pro quo in that both parties to a transaction expect to get something for what they give, but conspiracy theorists crank up the idea to 11 and assume that everything is quid pro quo. It’s one reason why antivaxxers, quacks, and other medical conspiracy theorists are so fond of the pharma shill gambit, as they find it difficult to imagine that people like me would spend so much time and effort countering their pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and disinformation if someone wasn’t paying us. Naturally, they assume that it’s big pharma who must be providing the funds.

What the world is finding out since Musk took over Twitter is that he’s just another run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorist, but unfortunately a run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorists who’s worth billions of dollars and is one of the richest (but no longer the richest) people in the world. Unfortunately, he’s plenty rich enough to bring in Great Barrington Declaration shills like David Zweig, who was the house propagandist for the American Institute for Economic Research) to continue as one of use useful idiots or just plain propagandists to continue the “Twitter files.” His amplification of the conspiracy theory about Dr. Fauci and his wife Dr. Grady is a relatively small but very telling bit of the disinformation he now spreads.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

40 replies on “Did Anthony Fauci have a “conflict of interest” because his wife is Chief of Bioethics at NIH?”

Not only a run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorist, but one with little ability to fact check even basic things, as you point out.

The problem – as with Donald Trump – is the big microphone, not the quality of content.

Sometimes, it also seems to me that part of the problem is that to be a real conspiracy theorist, you need to not understand how complex the U.S. government is as a whole, and how big and multi-faceted our bureaucracy is. Sometimes, you get the feeling they think that every agency is every other agency (like sometimes they think that every disease is every other disease and every vaccine is every other vaccine). I don’t know if it’s ignorance or just unwillingness to do the work to understand something complex before addressing it.

They are conspiracy theorists. Their main interest is in joining dots in ways that support their existing beliefs. It is not unwillingness to do the work, so much as a complete disinterest in understanding how things work. They know how things work, as they are party to privileged information that the sheeple don’t have (at least in their own heads).

Wow, this article just comes across as paid for agenda journalism, 10 minutes of my life I will never get back.

Hey, some of us average folk are trying to stay informed and avoid the most wrongest things some dolts say (loudly)! I mean, I look somewhat fondly to my high school years, but, me, like most people move on from that with real success and hard work. That comes with an ability to at least argue with facts and ideas upfront.

I believe you are not even a conspiracy theorist (which most critics of this blog are), just someone with a disgust that no one but you knows. Thanks for your weird scribble of disgust. You learn nothing. Neat, that’s hard to do but I appreciate your small commitment! I thought the article was quite clear and explained the complete ignorance of the loud doltish talk.

Anyway, for others, this is what intelligence and practice can get you even at the high school level. Might equate to other tasks of discipline that doesn’t get you applause but you know — applause comes in many methods.

Elon is so incredibly dangerous! It’s like giving Charles Manson a microphone!

Oh? Have you got any evidence showing Dr Grady giving approval to something her husband needed approval for? If so you might have a case. Otherwise you’re just shit stirring.

PS what’s for dinner tonight doesn’t count.

Way to show everyone you didn’t read the article. There is nothing to investigate as she has no authority to review the work of her husband, it’s not her job.

The image of Dr. Christine Grady used by Bruce Y. Lee at Dr. Grady receiving or giving an award at a liquor bar?

Note: NIU Health Services does not ask students questions regarding alcohol-related issues or do blood work to screen for alcohol, said Christine Grady, director of health services.

MJD says,

Misusing alcohol can have both immediate and long-term health effects.

Ironically, psilocybin-assisted (magic mushrooms) psychotherapy is a potential natural medicine breakthrough for alcoholism. MJD et al. has a review describing such and it will publish soon. I’ll present it here when published…Orac willing?

@ Orac,

Will you write a post acknowledging that alternative medicine occasionally spanks conventional medicine?

Oops, Christine Grady (NIH Clinical Center) isn’t the same Christine Grady (NIU Health Services). My apologies to both.

@ Orac,

Is NARAD several people or just one person with multiple personalities?

Oops, Christine Grady (NIH Clinical Center) isn’t the same Christine Grady (NIU Health Services).

It speaks volumes that it took you 32 minutes to figure out what should have been immediately clear upon initial examination.

Is NARAD several people or just one person with multiple personalities?

Wrong thread, Doucheniak. Did you ever answer my question whether you had any first-hand experience with the indole psychedelics?

Will you write a post acknowledging that alternative medicine occasionally spanks conventional medicine?

Until alt med stops lying about vaccines, I have absolutely no use for the whole business.

That’s not alternative medicine, quack.

A natural substance having effects that are beneficial is an actual area of scientific research. The results of psilocybin being used to treat various mental conditions is well documented in credible scientific research that has been peer-reviewed in credible journals.

So what about it would make it alt-med?

Jay Kanta asks,

“So what about it would make it alt-med?”

MJD says,

quack, quack…

Hi Jay K., here’s one definition of alternative medicine.

Treatments that are used instead of standard treatments. Standard treatments are based on the results of scientific research and are currently accepted and widely used. Less research has been done for most types of alternative medicine.

oh wow, you’re as ignorant as johnlabarge. Psilocybin was found, VIA RESEARCH, to work and is now slowly being accepted into the medical field just like all new discoveries. The RESEARCH exists. It is no longer “alt-med” once the research confirms early data and hypotheses.

Well, one more reason to never buy a Tesla.
Other reasons are:
I don’t have a drivers licence
I don’t have the money

Glad Elon Musk doesn’t own Steinberg and Arturia, because I can’t work without their music software.

“Well, one more reason to never buy a Tesla”

Just one? The whole touch screen thing sold be off — Did not a warship blunder because of that same issue? Tactile, don’t take your eyes off to find the controls. I cringe when I see the dragon crue. Touchy touchy but not able to change a thing. He, as the decider, determined that the only sensors on the cars would be optical. Hell, Humans have enough problems with optical data to this very day!
He did not loose billions of dollars. People who had stock in him did. I’m done whith his wet baby syndrome. He is an awful person, just ask X Æ A-Xii (Q, stand up!).

I just hope SpaceX can stay out from under him..

In the past few days, I viewed tweets about Dr Fauci which were trending and they seemed to be nearly equally divided between realists thanking him or applauding his long career in PH OR anti-vaxxers calling for tribunals, a new Nuremberg trial and/ or his head.

Orac notes allusions to Fauci as a mob boss: do you think that his name and origins in Brooklyn might have had something to do with those slurs?

The anti-vax conspiracy factory has manufactured scores of confabulated crimes committed by Dr Fauci and should be held accountable for their lying malfeasance which resulted in the government needing to supply him and Dr Grady with protective agents ( shown when they were walking in a park near their home during an interview).

At RI we can observe closely how anti-vax lunatics seethe with anger and even wish for retribution for alleged sins by PH/ SBM supporters.

Why not hold him accountable for deceiving congress? If it’s good enough for Roger Stone, then it’s good enough for Tony Science.

A friend of mine is department chair at a major academic medical center and conducts human clinical research. Their spouse is chair of the institution’s ethics program. When an issue comes up in their research requiring an ethics consult, the spouse recuses and an alternate is brought in. I would assume that Dr Grady follows a similar path should she ever be called on to judge a program Dr Fauci is directly involved in.

Who, on the other hand, oversees the ethics of Muskrat’s botched and horrific animal stuides at Neuralink?

etting a monkey to play pong absolves lots of sins.

So, sho got fat (and got deaded.). So? Think of the Wii-challenged children!

Tony and Christine are just a power couple, not a big deal compared to Tony’s replacement Hugh Auchincloss and his daughter Kalah.

Kalah previously worked for the FDA right under Robert Califf and Scott Gottlieb. She now works for a commercial company selling access to the FDA.

So while her daddy Hugh will be handling multibillion dollar funds while at the helm of the NIAID, Kalah will be receiving money from Hugh’s potential commercial counterparts, that they would claim is totally unrelated to Hugh.

Obviously a totally conflict of interest free arrangement!

Will we even know that Kalah made a million here and there while her dad is pulling strings at the NIAID?

You still believe that boss doles out research grants. It is peer review, and these are research grants, no consulting fees.
FDA boss does not approve drugs either. There is an entire department for this purpose, do you know that ?

Are you familiar with the concept of “conflict of interest”?

If Kalah can get paid millions by corporate clients (like Moderna or Pfizer) who need something from Hugh, that is a conflict of interest.

And if Kalah makes a few millions this way, the public will not even know.

And if you believe that Hugh will not have influence on multibillion dollar decisions, I have a bridge to sell to you.

I have plenty of experience with honest AND dishonest people.

I do not believe in honesty of these specific individuals. Had they been honest, they would painfully avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest.

At best these folks think that anyone in the medical field is so altruistic to never be affected by conflicts of interest. It’s a pretty thin plank indeed.

john, you, igor, lucas, and the rest of your anti-science crowd are yourselves so empty of honesty and integrity that you’ve come to make the blanket assumption that everyone is, so despite there being no evidence of all of conflict of interest you imagine there is and try to present it as fact.

Are you yourself knowledgeable that FDA and NIAID are separate agencies ? Kalah Auchinloch consults clients about FDA procedures,
not how get grant. Pharmaceutical companies do not do basic research, because its results must be published and are availale to competitors.

I’m sure others have noted this:
amongst those I survey ( alties, woo-meisters, anti-vaxxers. Substack prognosticators) there is some variant of ” I was right early in the pandemic” by advocating no PH interventions such as closures, masks, vaccines and Fauci was wrong.. Look at Sweden or Florida!
as if comparing the situation NOW- when a high proportion of people are vaccinated and/ or have been exposed to Covid- to early 2020 when no one was vaccinated and only a few had been exposed to the virus. We really didn’t need those draconian measures, they shriek.
Right. Now that millions worldwide are dead.

Sceptics might be entertained ( or sickened) by reading how anti-vaxxers/ freedom advocates act as if they knew better. See, NN, CHD , other cesspits of unreason.

No, we didn’t really need those measures, as we can see in China, now they have decided to get rid of all measures, which were far more draconic than anywhere else I think.

Just to bash on Mujsk some more (I’ll try to stop it), If I recall correctly, hydroxychloriquin reached Trump’s ear via him. I don’t remember bujt there is this:

“Despite Raoult’s claims the drug could cure COVID-19, it wasn’t really until Elon Musk tweeted about the drug March 16 that social media interest spiked.”

I wish he could be written out of this narrative, though he can not be. I hope he is able to drag all the billionairs toward Mars and stick the landing. Really hard.

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