A federal watchdog has weighed in on problems with a U.S. government grant that funded work in Wuhan, China, on bat coronaviruses that some onlookers claim led to the COVID-19 pandemic. The audit found oversight issues by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and that the grantee had misreported $90,000 in expenses. But it sheds little new light on issues already widely covered and discussed in the media and Congress.
This story and the details it alleges highlight the harm that can be done to responsible research practice when the utterances of a populist leader influence the decisions of a country’s peak research funding body. Politics must not be allowed to infect research.
In April 2020, after then-President Donald Trump claimed the SARS-CoV-2 virus could have come from the WIV lab, NIH terminated the EcoHealth grant with little explanation. That step was widely condemned by scientists, and OIG’s report now says NIH improperly executed the termination because it did not provide a valid reason or provide EcoHealth with required information for appealing the decision.