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I have seen a lot of claims made about "gain of function" research in regards to corona viruses, one of them being that it is or was "illegal". I wondered whether or not this claim was true at the time that some entities (NIH, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, other government organizations, etc.) were funding and/or conducting gain of function research themselves.

It seems the NIH did place a moratorium on funding gain of function research starting in October 2014 and rescinded it in December of 2017. (Source)

I found Senate Bill S.3012 that was introduced by Sen. Marshall in October 2021, but a) it is not law, just a bill, and b) cannot be used to ex post facto criminalize behavior that had already been committed (US Constitution, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3).

Questions

  • Was funding "gain of function" research by government institutions ever illegal? If so, starting when?
  • Was conducting "gain of function" research by government institutions ever illegal? If so, starting when?

I have not seen this question asked here before, a quick search I was able to find the following question but it doesn't delve into whether either conducting this research or funding it was or is now illegal.

What is the status of Rand Paul's criminal referral to the DOJ relating to allegations levied against Dr. Anthony Fauci?

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    There were rumors that scientists were experimenting with how to make viruses more potent (perhaps to understand what does that so as to learn how to counter it) and it sounded like bioweapons research with a grave potential to go wrong which some people think it what causes COVID-19 in the first place. I'm not convinced that it was ever illegal to research how to make viruses more potent, but I can see how it would be unwise.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 15:58
  • Interestingly this question would've likely been removed or at least downvoted to death in summer 2020 :-) Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 17:44

1 Answer 1

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Senate Amendment 2003 was an amendment to an amendment to a bill which did not pass: it would have permanently ban all funding of gain-of-function research in China. Senate Bill S.3012 likewise did not become law. Furthermore, economically bans gain-of-function, and does not criminalize anything. It says "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no research grants supported by Federal funds may be awarded to institutions of higher education, or other research institutes, that are conducting gain-of-function research", meaning a total shut-off of federal research money to an institute that engages in such research. But it didn't happen, so it is still legal.

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  • Thank you, I realize that it's hard to prove a negative, and am plenty willing to believe the answer to my questions are "no". Would it be a good summary to say that the only potential illegal thing that could be construed to have possibly happened is if the NIH gave taxpayer money to researchers conducting something that could be described as "gain of function" research during the time of it's own moratorium (late 2014-2017)? Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 2:07
  • That really depends on the exact NIH rule (if any), and you should probably ask at Academia SE if there are med people reading. They would not approve any further disbursements for prohibited research, but it's unlikely that there was a "claw back". So effectively, the bureaucracy makes it impossible to violate the policy, unless you are referring to patently false statements in an institutions representations to the NIH.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 2:20
  • Given such a wide range of sentiments, something like that is exactly what I am referring to; unless someone can produce evidence of money going out when it was expressly forbidden somehow, either through outright lying or some other means in order to push funding to a forbidden area then I can truthfully respond that these claims are incorrect. Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 2:29
  • @JeffLambert What does it say about our justice system if it is hard to prove that something is not forbidden? ;-) Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 1:52
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica That it's quite difficult to get people to play nicely with each other despite even the best of intentions. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 7:21

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