Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Politicization of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As my long-term readers know, I have expressed disappointment in what passes for a "scientific response" to the current COVID-19 pandemic and that the fight against the pandemic has been taken over by the ruling governmental bureaucracy.  It would appear that I am not the only one who is concerned that the response has become political rather than scientific.  It would appear Just months after he took the job, the President  of the European Union's European Research Council (ERC), Professor Mauro Ferrari, has tendered his resignation.

Let's start with some background about the European Research Council.  ERC was established in 2007 by the European Union as a public body for the funding of scientific research.  It is governed by an independent body, the Scientific Council which consists of researchers who are distinguished in their fields of study as shown here:

 The ERC's mission is:

" encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence."

Here is how the ERC functions:

"Being 'investigator-driven', or 'bottom-up', in nature, the ERC approach allows researchers to identify new opportunities and directions in any field of research, rather than being led by priorities set by politicians. This ensures that funds are channelled into new and promising areas of research with a greater degree of flexibility.

ERC grants are awarded through open competition to projects headed by starting and established researchers, irrespective of their origins, who are working or moving to work in Europe. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence. The aim here is to recognise the best ideas, and confer status and visibility on the best brains in Europe, while also attracting talent from abroad."

Now, let's. look at the gentleman that is the subject of this posting.  Just under a year ago, this is what the European Research Council had to say about Dr. Ferrari's appointment:

Dr. Ferrari took over his position as President effective January 1, 2020.

Here is Dr. Ferrari's CV:

Here is additional information about Dr. Ferrari to give you a sense of his qualifications as a researcher:

Ferrari is considered to be one of the founders of the revolutionary nanomedicine technology, a new cancer treatment that uses chemotherapy-loaded nanoparticles to directly target cancer cells, minimizing damage to healthy tissues.  Dr. Ferrari has roughly 480 publications to his name, holds patents on dozens of inventions and is cited over 20,000 times by other researchers.
In his letter of resignation from the European Research Council which he supplied to the Financial Times, this is what Dr. Ferrari had to say (with my highlights):

I found these sentences particularly interesting given the politicization of the response to COVID-19:

"In times of emergencies, people, and institutions, revert to their deepest nature and reveal their true character."

"I though that at a time like this, the very best scientists int he world should be provided with resources and opportunities to fight the pandemic with new drugs, new vaccines, new diagnostic tools, new behavoural dynamic approaches based on science, to replace the oft-improvised intuitions of political leaders." (my bolds)

In the interest of balance, here is what the Scientific Council of the European Research Council had to say about Dr. Ferrari's resignation:

In the final paragraph, the Scientific Council notes that Dr. Ferrari's statement (as provided above) was "economical with the truth". 

While there are obviously two sides to every story, it is interesting to note that the core of Dr. Ferrari's complaint against the European Research Council was based on the politicization of the current pandemic, an observation that is far from faulty.  While in this particular case, at least some of the political problems may have been internal to the ERC, it is clear that the global response to COVID-19 has been driven by politics and has little to do with the welfare of the unwashed masses.

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