Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tom Cotton leads the China attack

First posted in Asia Times.
Part 2: The Republican senator's accusations are not supported by facts on the ground, or by science
Politicocalled Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas the No. 1 coronavirus China hawk. This was not an honorific title but well-earned and well deserved. He has been the most vicious attack dog on State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s blame Chinateam. 
As early as January, when the world was just beginning to grasp the full significance of the novel coronavirus, Cotton charged that the virus came from the virology lab in Wuhan. He planted the seeds of accusation without providing any supporting evidence, but that’s how propaganda is supposed to work.

Sometimes he shared with the media that it may have been an accident that the lab let the virus loose. Other times he hinted that the lab may have created the virus to let loose on the world. His allegations were carefully vague so that he could not be pinned down. 

Pompeo and President Donald Trump play the same blame game even though the US Director of National Intelligence issued a press releasestating: “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.” (Of course, this statement is subject to withdrawal, if the boss threatens to fire the Director.)

Cotton follows Ferguson
Cotton also accused China of deliberately letting the virus loose on the world. He was drawing on Niall Ferguson’s assertion that China let international flight depart from Wuhan, which was factually incorrect. Daniel Bell, a fellow academic showed Ferguson that the Wuhan airport shutdown all flights, not just domestic on January 23. Ferguson would not retract but stand by his lie.

It’s widely recognized that every lie diminishes the reputation of the perpetrator, but Cotton has an ulterior motive. He wants to sue China for compensation for the economic damages and lives lost due to Covid-19. Of course, he would never call the contagion by the official name. To him, it’s always the “Chinese” virus.

Cotton cleverly thought he could lead a lawsuit to cancel the trillion-dollar IOU the US government owes China. Frankly, that’s a lot of trouble to weasel out of a trillion-dollar debt. It would be much easier for the fed to simply print one or two or three trillion dollars with the snap of Congressional fingers. Larry Kudlow, President’s economic advisor, also shuddered at the thought of what such a default would do to the credit worthiness of the dollar.

More recently, Cotton thought out loud on Fox News that it was fine for students from China to come to the US to study Shakespeare but not for quantum computing or artificial intelligence. That was a strange juxtaposition.
Study football at Arkansas

Of course, if Chinese students aspire to become Shakespeare scholars, they would surely apply to Oxford and Cambridge. University of Arkansas might be a back-up choice if the student couldn’t get into University of Alabama to study college football.

Cotton appears to be under the notion that Chinese students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) come to the US to steal secrets. Quantum computing and artificial intelligence happens to be two disciplines that Americans scholars are just as likely to go to China to study as vice versa. In some ways, China is as up to date and may be even ahead of the US.

It’s apparent that Cotton doesn’t understand much about STEM education in the college and post-graduate level. There is a bit over 1 million international students studying in the US and slightly over one-third is from China. Most of them are self-funded by their families. Since Beijing is not paying their way, there’s no need to spy for their tuition. 

More importantly, foreign students pay full tuition and represents a significant source of revenue for American colleges and universities.

Especially at the graduate school level, university STEM departments depend on the quality of the students to maintain the quality of the research output and thus maintaining their reputation for excellence. A recent surveyshowed that among nations, students from China ranked second highest in I.Q. while the American students came in at No. 28. That’s why top tier schools such as MIT, Stanford and others aggressively recruit students from China.

Another surprising revelation was that the top five most popular majors among the Chinese students were respectively business management, computer science, finance, mathematics and economics. This suggests that students from China are not just coming for STEM but just as interested in learning how to manage businesses the way it is done in the West.

Students from China have discovered that they are four times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime while in the US (and this was before the coronavirus induced xenophobia) than if they stayed home. In addition, with Trump’s randomly arbitrary granting of student visas and visa renewals, interest in studying in the US is flagging. A decade ago, enrollment in the US increased by nearly 30% every year. For the academic year of 2018-19, the increase was only 1.7%.

Lancet: the U.S. screwed up

Cotton was also part of the chorus accusing China of covering up the seriousness of the virus. Not so, said Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of Lancet, who praised China’s international cooperation and pointed to five papers published in January. It was U.S., U.K. and other countries in the West that squandered February and March, he lamented. 

Lancet is world renown, peer reviewed, medical research scientific journal. An open statement signed by 27 scientists from around the world was published on February 19in Lancet declaring their solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China.

Their open letter in part said: The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.

At the end of April, the world was greeted with the news that the first double blind, international study has found Remdesivir made by Gilead to be 30% more effective in helping a patient recover from Covid-19. Not a miraculous cure or vaccine to be sure, but a step in the right direction and the stock market responded positively.

The paperwas published in Lancet and the title of the paper included the words: “a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial.” The clinical trials were performed in China and the investigators were Chinese. It’s an example of the benefits of international collaboration and cooperation.

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, was often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. Even if Pompeo, Cotton et al., succeed in blackening China and obscuring its contribution, how will the world and the American people benefit from the absence of cross border collaboration? How will lies cure America of the Covid-19 epidemic?

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