Looking at “The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for COVID-19” with a Critical Eye

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

The Wall Street produced an intriguing piece the other day, “The Secret Group of Scientists and Billionaires Pushing a Manhattan Project for Covid-19,” which while picked up and signal-boosted by other venues — Business Insider, Daily Mail, Newsweek, Beckers Hospital Review (the best) — doesn’t seem to have generated any additional reporting. The scientists, billing themselves as “Scientists to Stop COVID-19,” have produced an oddly untitled deliverable[1] (PDF, seventeen pages) dated March and April 2020. It’s worth a read. (Two hours ago, news came that the administration has initiated “Project Warp Speed,” which seems inspired by this project, but there’s no reporting on personnel, and it’s not clear they adopted the recommendations of the scientists. I’m guessing that the issues I am about to raise for the deliverable of the “Secret Group” will also apply to Project Warp Speed[2].)

Given that “personnel is policy,” I’ll first reduce people mentioned in the Wall Street Journal story, and the scientists who signed the March-April deliverable to tabular form. After that, I will take a quick look at the scientists’ deliverable, focusing especially on issues of governance and restoring our economy.

As a sidebar, I must protest at the PR-driven use of “Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project cost $23 billion in US dollars and employed 130,000 people. I don’t think anything of that scale is being proposed, unfortunately. End sidebar.

Now let’s look at the billionaire and multimillionaire backers of… well, whatever the project is really called; I’ll call it, following the Wall Street Journal, the Secret Group. In addition to backers, there are also fixers, who connect the backers and the scientists to the administration, agencies, and other firms, primarily in Big Pharma. I have ordered the backers and fixers not alphabetically but by net worth.

Table I: The Backers (and Fixers)

Non-Scientists Firm(s) Net Worth Other
Michael Milken Milken Family Foundation $3.7 billion Convicted felon
Peter Thiel Clarium Capital, Palantir $2.2 billion Venture capitalist
Brian Sheth Vista Equity Partners $2 billion Private equity
Jim Palotta Raptor Group, Tudor Investment $1 billion Private investor
Thomas Hicks, Jr. Hicks Holdings, LLC $700 million Private equity, Chair, Republican National Committee, Trump National Finance Co-Chairman
Steve Pagliuca Bain Capital $450 million Private equity
David Solomon Goldman $100 million CEO
Nick Ayers America First Policies $12-$54 million Aide to Pence

In essence, the country would be betting on venture capitalists and private equity specialists to solve the COVID-19 epidemic; oligarchs, in other words. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good bet, even leaving aside debacles like Uber; private equity is, after all, responsible for a range of social ills, including surprise billing from practices in privatized emergency rooms, to our collective difficulties in getting a good night’s sleep on a decent mattress. The presence of fixers in the form of Trump’s finance chair, in addition to Pence’s gofer, is also interesting. It is rational to develop connections to the current administration; however, the backers may well regard saving the Trump administration’s bacon as the first priority — he has, after all, done very well for them — with the successful taming of SARS-COV-2 as a happy by-product, but a nice-to-have, not a have-to-have. But perhaps I’m too cynical.

Now let us turn to the scientists. I have listed them in alphabetical order, but I removed all their degrees because they messed up the table.

Table II: The Scientists

Scientist Primary Base Serial Entreprener Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Dr. Thomas J. Cahill Newpath Management
Dr. Benjamin Cravatt Scripps Research Institute
Dr. Lynn R. Goldman Milken Institute School of Public Health
Dr. Akiko Iwasaki Yale
Dr. R. Scott Kemp MIT
Dr. Michael Z. Lin Stanford
Dr. David Liu Harvard
Dr. Michael Rosbash Brandeis
Dr. Stuart Schreiber Harvard
Dr. Edward Scolnick Merck
Dr. Jonathan W. Simons Prostate Cancer Foundation
Dr. Ramnik Xavier Harvard

This certainly is a list of the best and the brightest (If I had a column headed “Nobel,” there would be two). Nevertheless, in essence, the country would be betting a committee dominated by serial entrepreneurs in the biomedical field and by two institutions — the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute — to come up with the correct recommendations to solve the pandemic. That seems more than a little risky. Where, for example, is Johns Hopkins? And why are there no epidemiologists?

Having looked at personnel, I’m going to look at two policy recommendations. (I’m skipping over the Committee prioritizing remdesivir[2]; my layperson’s sense is that there are a lot of potentia treatments out there, and it makes more sense to accelerate many rather than one. I also note that the stock market just had a massive pop based on a preliminary remdesivir result from Gilead, and I certainly hope that none of the backers were front-running it.)

First policy recommendation: Massive testing. From the Taleb-adjacent New England Complex Systems Institute, Chen Shen and Yaneer Bar-Yam, “Massive testing can stop the coronavirus outbreak“:

At this time in many places in the world, including the US, there are insufficient tests to achieve widespread testing. This limits our ability to use this approach. Still, it is possible in principle for the test to be produced rapidly and cheaply and then applied massively to identify cases limiting the need to use other approaches such as lockdowns. Once a large number of tests are available, massive specific testing can achieve the desired outcome of stopping the outbreak.

The scientists write on page 12 (footnotes omitted):

All employees and students must certify (via smartphone app), before leaving home, that they are not experiencing enough of the following COVID-19 symptoms to exceed a calculated risk, weighted by symptom frequency, of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 (incidence frequency and standard error areshown, with data sources):

a. Fever (0.64±0.030)2–4

b. Sinus pain (0.50±0.18)4

c. Cough (0.46±0.032) 2–4

d. Reduced or altered sense of smell or taste (0.44±0.17)

e. Expectoration (0.32±0.036)

f. Stuffy nose (0.25±0.15)

g. Chills (0.18±.044)

h. Fatigue (0.18±0.025)

i. Sore throat (0.13±0.039)

j. Headache (0.13±0.037)2,4k. Difficulty breathing (0.11±0.034)2,4l. Joint or muscle pain(0.099±0.023)3,4m. Diarrhea (0.056±0.015)

n. Vomiting (0.026±0.018)

This certification should detect the vast majority of symptomatic cases, including mildly symptomatic ones, among those who accurately respond. None of these individual symptoms are specific to COVID-19, but in aggregate they can be used to assess an individual’s risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2, and even if caused by other pathogens are a prudent basis for staying at home. The acceptable level of calculated risk may differ among occupations (for example, nursing home caregivers could be subject to a very low risk threshold).

First, the Complex Systems Institute lists five approaches to mass testing: Self-reporting and diagnosis, contact tracing, lockdown—geographic community identification, neighborhood generic symptomatic testing, massive specific testing, and targeted random sampling. The scientists have opted for the first approach, but I would expect some discussion. Instead, they simply self-reporting and diagnosis via an app.

Second, what on earth could “certify” possibly mean? What is the “certifying authority”? Local health agencies? The State? The Federal Government? Facebook? What is the penalty for a false claim? Or is this simply a “nudge theory” endeavor, with the certification performing the function of the “Close Door” button on an elevator that does not actually function?

Third, what happens to the data, which includes a person’s idenity, their home — or, I suppose, wherever they slept last night — and medical data? Given Peter Theil of Palantir’s presence as a backer, one might suspect nothing good.

Fourth, only 81% of the United States population has a smart phone. What about them? Will lthere be a subsidy to buy them? And what about people who prefer to use contract phones? What happens if you lose your phone? What happens if you lend your phone? What happens if a whole family has one phone?

Fifth, surely this depends on each individual having a unique identifer? That amounts to a national ID, which is, to say the least, controversial.

Sixth, a mere “certification,” in the absence of free testing and free treatment, is simply an incentive to game the system. If people need to feed their families, certification will be a secondary consideration.

All in all, one might speculate that the backers and the scientists are both a little detached from the majority of the population.

Second policy recommendation: An “empowered council. From page 12:

We propose that the federal government appoint an empowered council that will work with U.S. and global stakeholders to coordinate the required development and investment actions in an efficient, time-sensitive, and non-partisan way. The proposed centralized approach has proven effective in the past while responding to global emergencies. A similar approach effectively accelerated the development of a polio vaccine in the 1950s. In this celebrated case, the private National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later known as the March of Dimes) provided centralized funding and technical decision-making to ensure the development and availability of a vaccine for what was at the time a devastating infectious disease.

Such coordination requires centralized decision making to manage the activities across multiple individual promising approaches, and among the supporting functional and funding efforts—thus our recommendation to appoint an “empowered council“. A prospective agreement must be established primarily among the regulators, the key funders, and key global stakeholders to ensure that the empowered council has the authority to direct the overall enterprise. The empowered council should have a strong technical/scientific background with direct experience in the previous development of infectious disease vaccines. Such a central coordinating and decision mechanism can ensure alignment among regulatory requirements for clinical and pre-clinical evaluation of vaccine candidates and can effectively manage the large at-risk scaleup and manufacturing investments needed to ensure ready availability of a vaccine as soon as its safety and efficacy has been demonstrated. It can also manage the complexities of the multiple parallel technical approaches that will be required.

They really do love that phrase, “empowered council,” don’t they? (It reminds me of how, back in the day, affirmative debaters would propose “a magic board” to solve whatever problem the status quo had been unable to solve). Note, however, that “the federal government” doesn’t appoint anybody; the executive branch typically does, the legislative branch sometimes does, and I suppose the judicial branch might. So already I think that the “empowered council” has stumbled coming out of the gate. Anyhow, I have questions.

First, will the proceedings of the “empowered council’ be open to the public? Will minutes be published? Will there be any democratic accountability at all?

Second, can the authors really believe that the March of Dimes is an appropriate precedent? It was legitimated by FDR and it was in existence for twenty years (not “warp speed”). It proposed that every child in the United States contribute a dime — that’s why there’s an FDR dime — for the eradication of polio. (Industrial production of the vaccine was also organized by — gasp — the Soviet Union, which led to testing in the United States). What’s obvious about the March of Dimes is its deep small-d democratic roots, which I can only think would be very useful in vaccine compliance. The scientists propose nothing like that.

Third, who enforces the “prospective agreement” and what form does it take? Is it an international treaty?

Fourth, what on earth is a “global stakeholder”? What kind of document can Bill Gates, Giliead, the United States, and the Wellcome Foundation all put their names to, as if Bill Gates (say) were a sovererign, and the United States was a private person? (Lawers in the readership?_

Fifth, what are the conflict of interest requirements?

Sixth, for vaccines and treatments developed under the aegis of the “empowered commitee,” what are the intellectual property rights? Will they be equivalent to the Salk and Sabine vaccines, given that the March of Dimes has been cited as a precendenty?

Seventh, how long can members of the “empowered committee” serve, and will the committee be sunsetted?

* * *

I must conclude, but I don’t think I can say much more than I have already said. These matters seem to be moving very fast. It’s not clear to me that “efficiency,” as neoliberals understand it, should be the primary goal. The Manhattan Project, after all, was very different institutional from this proposal, and had a very different social basis, as did the March of Dimes.

NOTES

[1] Opening sentence: “We are a group of passionate citizen-scientists….” Ugh, “passionate.” What is this, an intern’s cover letter? As for “citizen scientists,” please refer to Table I.

[2] Infection Control Today: “Those close to the project have requested to remain anonymous because it hasn’t been officially unveiled to the American public.” Oh. Another secret group? Or the same one?

[3] The words “patent” and “intellectual property” do not appear in the scientists deliverable.

Table I: The Backer and Fixers

Non-Scientists Firm(s) Net Worth Other
Michael Milken Milken Family Foundation $3.7 billion Convicted felon
Peter Thiel Clarium Capital, Palantir $2.2 billion Venture capitalist
Brian Sheth Vista Equity Partners $2 billion Private equity
Jim Palotta Raptor Group, Tudor Investment $1 billion Private investor
Thomas Hicks, Jr. Hicks Holdings, LLC $700 million Private equity, Chair, Republican National Committee, Trump National Finance Co-Chairman
Steve Pagliuca Bain Capital $450 million Private equity
David Solomon Goldman $100 million CEO
Nick Ayers America First Policies $12-$54 million Aide to Pence
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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

73 comments

  1. flora

    Thanks for this post. My first thought on reading the list of symptoms: We’re entering hay fever season; tree pollen now followed soon by grass and grains pollen, etc. Symptoms b-f match a lot of hay fever sufferers symptoms. Seems like too broad a list covering too many possible maladies to be useful as a guide for a focused investigation into one disease – covid-19. imo.

    Reply
    1. paul

      The virus seems to have a libertarian bent, the most vulnerable and the least useful are its main victims.

      All that welfare spending,all those pensions ‘saved’.

      Let us never forget that the managers of the crisis, not the virus, had a prior agenda.

      Reply
    2. Punxsutawney

      Yes, Some of those symptoms I have had almost daily since I was 10-12 years old. And I’m at a age now where you can add fatigue on many days as well.

      Reply
      1. jonboinAR

        Same here, pretty much. I keep a pile of clean kleenex on one side of me, a trashcan of used ones on the other, or something like that, pretty much anywhere I am. I’ve had a very mild sore throat off and on since November, as I do every winter. No one anywhere near my orbit has caught Covid, so obviously I’m not a carrier. I’d have to respond yes to some of those questions though, if they were put into effect, so I guess I’d just resign myself to spending the rest of my existence in quarantine.

        Reply
        1. JTMcPhee

          I believe that “self-certification” menu that one is supposed to fill out before leaving one’s shelter-in-place then gets fed by the “empowered committee” to a nice opaque AI algorithm thingie that decides whether the reporting human is or is not sick with this particular virus. Nothing possibly wrong with that entire top-down autocratic “empowered” approach, is there?

          Needed: a Will Rogers to examine all this and wrap it up in a suitably pithy and deflating epigram…

          As to interconnects and interests, isn’t that prostate Institute one of Milken’s pet projects, out of self-interest, funded by the billion or so that the government and Judge Kimba Wood let him keep from his thefts in the savings and loan fraud 30 or wo years ago? And his interest in the prostate research was purely personal — he had prostate cancer, and like all these other effing squillionaires, wanted to buy himself a get-out-of-death card.

          Reply
  2. paul

    I have never needed a tin foil hat to recognise these antibiotic expressions.
    Class is the master conspiracy, powell lit the starting gun.

    Reply
  3. Off The Street

    Somewhere in fine or invisible print there will be a notice of the mandatory annual booster chip shot, so bend over and accept that non-reimbursed insertion. There might be a slight twinge.

    Reply
  4. flora

    Adding:

    Speaking of Salk and Sabin, they gave their vaccines to the public; Salk didn’t patent, Sabin refused to patent, following Salk’s example. I doubt this committee will give away any successful vaccine formula to provide free or near free vaccines to everyone, assuming they find a successful vaccine.

    Reply
    1. polecat

      Of ! • Course ! • They ! • Won’t !

      Gotta Make Bank!, after all …..

      There is no calling, so slight, that certain principle charactres won’t jump on – and lead – parade style, ALL under the guise of helping the plebs out. I don’t see it working too well, as that now tawdry, moth-eaten, socialized-gains reakin neolibricon vail is found to be quite perforated .. showing a cast of thousands!

      Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        I think a few countries have mooted the idea of ignoring Gilead’s remdesivir patents if it proves successful and Gilead wants to make it prohibitively expensive.

        Reply
  5. X observer

    Unfortunately, it will come down to whichever group displays the most “confidence” and I’m afraid the former group was bred and raised for it.

    Reply
  6. Dwight

    We have local state and federal government, and the United Nations. All thoroughly corrupted and crapified by parasites like this, but still somewhat accountable to the people. These institutions are what should be empowered to address the problem, and limited to protect civil rights and common wealth.

    Reply
    1. flora

      I agree. Several universities – including UC Berkeley, Duke, UTexas, UKansas, Harvard, and UIllinoise, among others – are joining peer consortiums to work on various aspects – vaccines, testing, proposed chemistries verification, etc – of the coronavirus-19 pandemic. (Both Salk and Sabin worked at major universities.)

      The more I reread this post, the more the Theranos company comes to mind: great publicity, big names, lots of investor money, named scientists hired; the medical results were… less than expected. ( The financial results until the scam was blown… oh, those were stupendous!)

      Reply
      1. KLG

        “The more I reread this post, the more the Theranos company comes to mind…”

        As someone who began a now long working life in fundamental biomedical research as a 19-year-old, DingDingDingDing! We have a winner!

        Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        Sure seems related to me. Stop funding the WHO, then the ‘federal government’ sets up an ’empowered council’ to replace them. US exceptionalism at its worst. Will Venezuela and Iran, for example, be required to kowtow to US diktat before receiving treatments or vaccines?

        Reply
      2. Jack Parsons

        He said something about “defunding the WHO”. He says something about a lot of things he doesn’t do.

        Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Yes, apparently that’s what ‘”reopening” means. What a system.

      Do notice however, that “Get back to work, or starve” is the fundamental relationship that underlies wage work. One can ameliorate but the tendency is always there. TINA!

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        But see the Strike Map.

        I wonder if one can crowd-source a Strike Fund for a general strike? Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

        Reply
  7. Synoia

    Hmmm, COvid Symptoms

    a. Fever (0.64±0.030)2–4
    b. Sinus pain (0.50±0.18)4
    c. Cough (0.46±0.032) 2–4
    d. Reduced or altered sense of smell or taste (0.44±0.17)
    e. Expectoration (0.32±0.036)
    f. Stuffy nose (0.25±0.15)
    g. Chills (0.18±.044)
    h. Fatigue (0.18±0.025)
    i. Sore throat (0.13±0.039)
    j. Headache (0.13±0.037)2,4k. Difficulty breathing (0.11±0.034)2,4l. Joint or muscle pain(0.099±0.023)3,4m. Diarrhea (0.056±0.015)
    n. Vomiting (0.026±0.018)

    Most of these can be produced by a hangover.

    Reply
    1. Adam1

      These are all a joke. Upwards of 50% of cases are going to be asymptomatic. The latest data from NYC is saying that the majority of patients never recorded a fever.

      Reply
  8. Tom Stone

    I laughed reading this.
    “No one has ever gone broke by underestimating either the intelligence or the good taste of the American People” seems to be apposite.

    Reply
  9. sd

    Assume a test tube…

    I watched the YouTube that Tom posted in Water Cooler
    Where are they? | Make Me Smart #181 | with Loren Wold
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6MhLiaDl9E

    One of the interesting discussion was on the nuts bolts of manufacturing tests. Tubes, reagents, etc. Manufacturing in the United States can not currently meet the need of tubes for the state of Ohio. That’s just one state of roughly 10 million people.

    Without a serious ramp up in manufacturing here in the United States all of the basics that go into testing, I just don’t see how it gets off the ground.

    Reply
    1. xkeyscored

      And I don’t see how the US can possibly achieve such a ramp up in weeks or months, even with the will.

      Reply
  10. Jon Kryzmuski

    As well as costing the quoted $23 billion, didn’t the original Manhattan project result in quite a large death toll? Not the outcome I’d like to see with this!

    Reply
    1. Pym of Nantucket

      The Apollo project was also driven by the thirst for annihilation. It was a thin cover for ICBM development. Certainly a pattern there. Like motherhood and apple pie.

      Reply
  11. Ping

    I am very concerned about the vaccine being proposed with new mRNA technology. It doesn’t work like other vaccines in that it sends instructions to cells, in this case to produce a dummy protein which disrupts Covid. It’s sounds like human GMO, re-engineering humans at molecular level and there are crickets on MSM about this new technology where some reports say it is already in production when presumably there will be pressure to make the vaccine mandatory.

    I’m not an anti vaxxer but this is very creepy.

    http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2020/04/23/vaccines-blockchain-and-bio-capitalism/

    Reply
    1. xkeyscored

      Humans are GMOs. We’re the product of evolution.

      GMOs have been widely used at many stages in the fight against this virus. Refusing to use this or that technology because of some dogma just leaves us more defenceless. Of course safety needs considering, but that’s not the same as rejecting an option out of hand because of possible negative effects. All vaccines, treatments and measures come with possible, and often real, negative effects. We need to weigh these up, not choose whichever appeals most to our prior prejudices.

      Reply
      1. Ping

        I am concerned that a vaccine with the ability to reprogram our cells is not even being discussed publically (crickets). And then what about booster shots to refine the process, more cell programming with little vetting and probably a big rush for profits? Reprogramming humans at cellular level begs unintended consequences. I had a shingles vac and flu shot not long ago, I’m not prejudiced against vaccines.

        Reply
      2. JTMcPhee

        Xk, I’d say claiming “evolution” is GMO is a bit casuitic. GMO refers to intentional modifications done by humans, and a lot of what has been done by those humans has been profit-driven in complete defiance and disregard of the precautionary principle. Add the demand for patent rights and “protection,” especially for substances developed mostly using public money (except for the marketing and lobbying, though that comes out of the public’s other personal pocket) to the demand for legislated immunity from liability that goes along with what’s being proposed by the oligarchs seeding this stuff, and there is more than enough reason to demand a level of caution and proof way beyond the press-release “studies” that are floating around, touting one privately-owned, “We set the price” “cure” and another.

        It’s been fascinating, like watching a snake swallow a rat, to observe the engulfing of the commons and the public goods by the constrictors — as typified by what Lambert is reporting on here. It only ends when the last snake eats the last rat in existence.

        Reply
        1. xkeyscored

          I was being deliberately provocative, for sure. But just looking at the words organism, modified and genetically, we are GMOs, even if the acronym usually refers to when we consciously do the modifying. It is how I see things, more or less, but I grant it’s an unorthodox view.

          Of course a lot of this genetic technology has been seized on by corporations to make profits and never mind the fallout. Monsanto and glyphosate spring to mind. They’ll seize on any technology to do the same.

          It’s also true that GMOs and related things have been used at almost every stage of the fight against this virus. Cultured human lung epithelial cells, mice altered to have human ACE-2 receptors, vaccines based on other viruses with bits of this one inside, etc etc. Would you prefer none of these were used, and we were months behind in our understanding?

          Yes, a new mRNA vaccine is an unknown. It might not work, and it might hold dangers. COVID-19 also holds dangers, and I think we need to weigh these up against each other, not decide in advance we won’t use certain solutions.

          Reply
  12. Freethinker

    Thanks for posting, Lambert. Truly Orwellian. The untitled deliverable paper was worth the read as a new intro to Brave New World. The proposed radical reorientation of resources to invasively survey and “treat” populations with agents that have not been thoroughly and diligently researched under the aegis of panicked concern for the well-being of Americans (labor), is surely a proposal worthy of great scrutiny and strenuous objections. This secret group and its backers are up to no good public policy that’s for sure. Anything to avoid allowing a significant portion of the workforce to permanently telework. Where’s the oil & gas profits in that solution?

    Reply
    1. Freethinker

      And anything to avoid strengthening labor laws to ensure paid sick leave and vacations for all workers, living wages, guaranteed jobs (federal government as employee of last resort), strong unions, broader and deeper collective bargaining rights, Medicare for all, etc. All US employees, as usual, assume the position!

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      It struck me as very odd that the “secret group” as a whole (including the backers and fixers) had no name, and the deliverable had no title. That makes them impossible to refer to.

      Plus the whole biomedical thing… Am I right in thinking that the biomedical industry as a whole (all the companies these serial entrepreneurs founded) is notably light on breakthroughs that show actual medical benefit? I won’t say Uber, exactly, let alone Theranos, but aren’t the hype and the capital investment disproportionate to lives saved?

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        Here’s your chance to create a meme. Give the Secret All-Masterful (ScAM) Council and its “Constitution” a name. My brain is too soft to come up with anything pithy, but maybe you can. Get something started. It needs a handle if us mopes are going to be able to spare some thought to how to beat it to death with its own fraud/

        Reply
  13. The Rev Kev

    I seriously doubt that this group will ever do much except to hoard resources to themselves and try to have other lines of research suppressed if it threatens what they come up with. If they ever came up with a vaccine, I would never ever take part in any trial as it could be a lethal mistake that. Already there are signs that scientific research is being corrupted and biased towards pre-detirmined results in order to come up with results that align with economic imperatives. I see this group being more of the same.

    Reply
    1. flora

      You doubt that this group of PE/junkbond/VC financiers will put the country’s welfare ahead of their their personal profits? Say it ain’t so! /heh

      Reply
  14. David in Santa Cruz

    Hoo-boy! That is some batshit right there! Play that Theramin, maestro. This is ‘50’s sci-fi.

    I guess that Thiel figured-out that the Kiwis in the hills around Wanaka are a bunch of game hunters and expert riflemen who will overrun his compound between lunch and tea-time — so he’s got to get organized with his “empowered council” to tell the proles what for.

    As for this “smartphone certification” thing — what complete rubbish. What about the asymptomatic carriers? What about people who follow Trump’s and CalPERS’s example of casual lying? Rubbish.

    Somebody watches too much television. Or is front-running Gilead shares. Likely both…

    Reply
  15. K teh

    If you do nothing but what you have been doing, you will be a tremendous help to your community. Like all the rest of the mythology, the Manhatten Project was not what the narrative says it was.

    All the upcoming jobs are going to be a can of worms in a fire. These people have never seen anything like what is going to happen this quarter or the repercussions. They have no idea what the are doing and they are supposed to be experts, with the followers that go along with that, multiplied by the tribes represented.

    It’s a can of worms because they have been doing the wrong thing for decades, using debt as the input to investment. It’s a fire because they are always looking for a 2fer – they are going to plan to take credit for your work and torch you as the scapegoat for all previous errors

    Choose wisely.

    Reply
  16. Sven

    From the surrealistic PDF

    Business or school officials can be trained and certified at qualified institutions and laboratories to administer nasal, throat, or saliva sample collection

    This one (also) made me cringe, I would not want my boss to poke into my nostrils or see my bad teeth.

    They forgot to mention how to test participants in the informal economy, all workers of the so called gig economy, field workers and so on.
    Oh, my bad, they’re disposable people

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > the surrealistic PDF

      I tried to keep it light, because the story was after all from the WSJ, but yes, the entire project seemed a little unmoored. Like a Gibson novel where the McGuffin is never found and may never have existed, because everybody involved in the hunt for it is a scam artist, Maltese Falcon-style.

      I’m long medical dogs, not swabs — if the private equity dudes don’t have all the dogs shot in an act of Veblenian sabotage, as they are perfectly capable of doing.

      NOTE The swabs are super-invasive; I’ve seen the diagrams. They’re not really swabs like you buy at the drug-store. They’re more like barbecue forks with cotton on the end that the stick all the way up to the end of your sinuses and rub around. We ran a link the other day with a study saying saliva tests were reliable, so the scientists’ untitled deliverable was right to push that solution. But medical dogs would be best of all. I’m just hoping “be kind to animals” protects them from whatever moves Big Pharma wants to make to eliminate a competitor.

      Reply
      1. thoughtfulperson

        Coincidentally the US CDC has said yesterday dogs and cats need to social distance.

        Covid sniffing dogs though, so much faster than testing, and might eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals even vaccines (which may not even provide immunity for a coronavirus).

        A true threat to long-term profits!

        Reply
    2. flora

      The PDF:
      So they’ve got all the middleman rent extractions figured out… the glitch is figuring out how to create a working product. Or maybe the rents extraction is the working product.

      Reply
  17. PlutoniumKun

    At best, this is a case of ‘if all I have is a hammer…’. They are obsessed with data and tracking by phone, when in reality public health professionals have developed simpler tried and tested track and trace methodologies. My guess is that app based systems will only work with a very co-operative public as they are too easy to game for people who are motivated to avoid quarantine.

    I think the best data will come from South Korea and Taiwan, who have both used a mix of old style interventions, along with very intrusive tracking software – not just on phones, South Korean cities are stuffed with surveillance hardware. Eventually we will know from them which approaches did the best. It should also be noted that Vietnam and North Korea appear to have used fairly old style low tech approaches with a high degree of success.

    Reply
  18. xkeyscored

    One bit that alarmed me, which hasn’t received much attention here, was the ’empowered council.’

    “We propose that the federal government appoint an empowered council that will work with U.S. and global stakeholders to coordinate the required development and investment actions in an efficient, time-sensitive, and non-partisan way.”

    Regardless of whether the federal government can appoint such a thing, or only the executive/legislative branches or whatever, it seems clear that they intend the USA to be controlling all this, with some input from ‘global stakeholders’, whoever they are. I find this utterly obnoxious, as this is a global pandemic, not something confined to the USA. Furthermore, given the USA’s manifest incompetence in dealing with it so far, it’s pretty doubtful they’ll come up with any workable solutions anyway.

    The US seems to want to corner any vaccines or treatments for itself first, and nations able to afford them (with huge mark-ups) second. I truly hope they fail if this is their intention.

    Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        I didn’t mean to imply that it would. I’d love US citizens to put a stop to this US exceptionalism. But judging from the comments here, few seem too concerned that the aim appears to be US interests controlling who has access to a vaccine and who doesn’t.

        Reply
        1. JTMcPhee

          That concern about the intent to use this thing to serve “US interests” which really are supranational corporations and “investors/blood funnel vampires sure seems plain to me, but maybe that is just a penumbra from a decade or more of reading here at NC, where pretty much everybody is on that page.

          One problem all us woke-to-the-giant-scam people have is that we see what is being done but are pretty powerless to confront and stop it. Yves has been calling out CalPERS for a long time, and apart from some tactical victories the staff and their enablers and moneyed interests are still doing the same old stuff. And the Stock Market took another bounce on the weak tea of the French sort of study on remdisevir…

          Reply
  19. Fritzi

    Apparently this Virus can kill people in a pretty big variety of ways, see those dying from strokes in addition to hear attacked, kidney (liver too?) failures.

    Did I imagine this or was it truly said that it can no longer be found in the body pretty soon after death?

    Im any way that has contributed to plenty of deaths not being counted AS covid.

    To that sounds like it possibly could be handily weaponized in the future (with some tweaking), for the quiet weeding out of “unproductive” or otherwise surplus populations, who just happen to die off slowly but steadily, without anybody necessarily seeing that they all die from the same cause, or that they are being bumped off deliberately.

    Eugenicism being a favorite thing of many a misanthropic billionaire oligarch, that might ne another thing to worry about, when a cabal If them wants their private covid Manhattan Project.

    Politicians have already demonstrated that they are totally okay with letting their constituents die, just as a sizeable portion of the populace itself.

    You can’t tell me that there aren’t some billionaires who are kinda disappointed that the Virus, nasty as it is, is not deadly enough.

    Yet.

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      All this calls to my mind the “Fermi paradox.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox

      I would guess that “intelligent” aliens would have figured out how to mess with/tinker with their physical makeup just as the scientificated among us are all proposing. Maybe that’s why one of the three proposed resolutions of that Paradox is “intelligent alien civilizations are short-lived:” There have been many attempts to explain the Fermi paradox,[12][13] primarily suggesting that intelligent extraterrestrial beings are extremely rare, that the lifetime of such civilizations is short, or that they exist but (for various reasons) we see no evidence.

      There are a lot of ways to die in this universe…

      Reply
  20. Ignacio

    Thank you for this Lambert. There are several striking features that you have already commented and I would like to chime in.
    I won’t discuss on the apps, symptom reporting, testing and tracing because these are national policy issues and should not be equally managed in every country. But what about the vaccines?

    The Science behind their proposals on vaccines is scant. The impressive self-elected comittee of scientists/entrepreneurs does not perform precisely an outstanding exercise of scientific questioning on the possibilities of vaccine candidates but discuss basically operative, corporative and financial questions without any note on what is scientifically advisable. Is it best to early select a vaccine candidate by the empowered council or would it be wiser to have many more cards at hand in case candidates fall short on safety and protective standards? Do they, at least, envision the criteria for vaccine selection? How many candidates should go to clinical phase III? Is it safe to select only a couple? Is this primarily a question cost-effectiveness as they suggest or rather a question of safety/efficacy above all? If cost effectiveness is an issue why don’t they include in their discussion criteria related with the massive deployment of vaccines? The only candidate they mention (Moderna, RNA based vaccine, never tested technology) would have deployment issues given that RNA-delivery techniques are lacking everywhere and have never been used massively. Not to mention the many unknowns behind any new technology.

    There is no chance for international agreement on the basis of such an obscure draft and no “empowered council” will emerge without a previous agreement. An International Treaty would be cumbersome to negotiate and, given the precedents, even closest US allies would be very wary to start with.

    I see very little science behind this and a lot of seeking business opportunity.

    Reply
    1. xkeyscored

      I see little prospect of international agreement to all this, and little mention of it in the document beyond ‘global stakeholders’, whoever they are, having some unspecified input to this ’empowered council’. But I can’t see why the US won’t set up such a thing as an alternative to the WHO, the latest in a string of international bodies and agreements it has effectively rejected. An alternative to the WHO that will place what they see as the USA’s interests first and foremost. Why wouldn’t they do that?

      Reply
        1. xkeyscored

          I mentioned their manifest incompetence earlier, so they might fail in finding treatments or vaccines, but they might succeed in getting funding, which may be the whole point of their scheme. Success does depend on aims and goals, and given the names attached to this project, money looks like one of them.

          Reply
      1. Ignacio

        These “global stakeholders” sounds Trans-Oceanic Partershipesque style. These guys are out of bounds.

        Reply
        1. xkeyscored

          The word always brings to mind the Dracula B-movies of my childhood. Self-righteous burghers, eliciting little of my sympathy, bearing pointed wooden stakes ready to be hammered into the heart of their enemy.

          Reply
  21. Amfortas the hippie

    since Iran lobbed a few missiles, and i went with my usual “get all sides of the story” approach, I have been unable to open PDF’s(or access the Atlantic, the Nation or Black Agenda Report(!?)
    so i was unable to read this pdf(perhaps on my fone today sitting in parking lot of chemo place)

    the presence of Thiel nixes the entire thing, for me.
    the lack of doctors or epidemiologists is also pretty worrying.
    like others said, various “Smartest Kids” obsessions stand out…like the cell phone stuff…and that reeks of wishful thinking and a ham handed attempt to insert themselves into the New Order…when these very people are at the heart of the set of reasons that we’re in this crises in the first place.
    Herbert Hoover fiddling amidst the fire.
    If we were a smart and functional civilisation(that’s the weed talking,lol), I’d say that this bunch just effectively signed themselves up for the Challenge Trials for new vaccines.
    They say they want to Serve Man, and all….get thee to a research facility and bare yer arms, then!
    the names i recognise…and the institutional relationships of those i do not…cause my hackles to raise. I wouldn’t put these people in charge of taking out the trash.

    Reply
  22. thoughtfulperson

    “And why are there no epidemiologists?”

    This seems to me a telling issue. Epidemiology is not where the money is. Even testing, I suspect, is not as lucrative as pharmaceuticals and vaccines (which could be required by all).

    Epidemiology, when most effective, can eliminate the need for pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Thus, having epidemiologists involved would be working at cross purposes to the goal of amassing a huge pile of $

    Reply
  23. D. Karp

    Remarkably little information on Dr. Cahill, who appears to have less than two years out of school, but has raised his own fund (with less than two years PG).

    How can this not work?

    Reply
  24. Sven

    Unrelated to this (loosely) what is your take on the silicon valley VC elites trying taking over the world (specially in this shock doctrine moment)
    Eg: Just went on Paul Graham twitter feed today and saw this pearl

    Weird potential idea: competence tourism.

    E.g. Goldman Sachs has a bunch of people who really need to work in an office together. They can’t in the US because of the coronavirus. So instead they all go and work for a while in a country where they can, like Taiwan.

    He’s not alone in this regard, I see a bunch of silly and unmoored (thanks for the word, French native here) ideas takes like this making round and rounds in the twitterverse.
    Along those same unmoored lines (I really like this word) the latest Marc Andreesen It’s time to build babble is worth its weight of peanuts.
    Not talking about of Musk(rat) who revealed his real MAGA side with his latest meltdown.

    Reply
  25. Dirk77

    I can’t comment on the biology of the above manifesto, but there are other organizations, while not “passionate”, are competent and level headed enough to figure out a good plan. One obvious pick is the National Academies. They have many groups at their DC office (a walk from the White House!) whose sole job is to gather together the best and brightest to tackle this problem or that. If you don’t want the NA, just go down the list of speakers at a past related scientific conference and call them up for advice. Hell, you might even talk to scientists at the CDC. They might know something. None of this involves any big pharma con artists or hyperactive master of the universe types.

    Reply

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