There were those who warned us about Dr. Robert Redfield when Trump appointed him to the be director of the CDC, and the coronavirus pandemic and the American governments abysmal response to it are proving Redfield’s critics right. However, Redfield has been able to keep his head down and not get the scrutiny that he so richly deserves. While we see the blatant incompetents like Trump, Pence, and Azar in action versus the experts like Anthony Fauci, Redfield straddles a kind of middle ground: a man who looks competent on paper, if you don’t look to close at his history or political idealogy.
Let’s look at the positive parts of Redfield’s background:
A leading virologist, Redfield has spent more than 30 years researching HIV and other infectious diseases. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps for 20 years and later cofounded the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he now acts as associate director. He has overseen a clinical program that treats more than 5,000 patients in the Baltimore-Washington area, and has experience treating people in sub-Saharan Africa. His supporters speak of him as a kind and compassionate doctor, who is devoted to his patients…
As part of his work treating HIV patients, Redfield has also dealt with many cases of heroin addiction—valuable experience, given the Trump administration’s focus on tackling the opioid crisis. His “scientific and clinical background is peerless,” said the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, in a press release announcing Redfield’s appointment. “Bob Redfield is a talented and committed physician/scientist who has steadfastly devoted the past three decades to the study and care of HIV-infected individuals,” adds Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a leading HIV researcher himself. “He is highly regarded.”
However, there are parts of his past work that are “controversial.” And as someone who worked in the HIV-1 field as a graduate student, I’m findng what is reported about Redfield more than controversial.
But Redfield has not escaped the controversy that has dogged other Trump-era appointees. In the mid-1990s, Redfield oversaw a clinical trial of an experimental HIV vaccine at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He was accused of manipulating data from the trial, “sloppy or, possibly, deceptive” data analysis, and overstating results in a number of talks and publications. After an investigation, the military cleared Redfield of misconduct charges, but as Jon Cohen reported for Science at the time, the Army never provided an explanation of how it reached its conclusions.
Despite clearing him, military investigators chastised Redfield for having a “close relationship” to a nonprofit called Americans for Sound AIDS/HIV Policy (ASAP) “to a degree that is inappropriate.” ASAP, now known as the Children’s AIDS Fund, was founded by evangelical Christians; it has championed abstinence-only education as a method of combating HIV and other approaches grounded more in religious belief than scientific evidence.
I don’t have an AAAS membership, so I cannot see the entire Science article that is in the link. I can only see the first page. But it looks like the Army decided to look the other way when it came to investigating the accusations against Redfield for scientific misconduct. Basically, at least one of Redfield’s colleagues, a Maryanne Vahey, said that she had provided Redfield with all the PCR data from 26 patients who were part of a clinical study of the vaccine that Redfield was trying to develop. Redfield only presented data from 15 of those patients at an international conference. Redfield claims that all the data was not given to him at the time of his presentation. This lead to allegations that Redfield was cherry picking the data to make the vaccine appear effective. The Army accepted Redfield’s explanation and did not resolve the discrepancy with Vahey’s claim.
And it is not just one fellow scientist who alleges something fishy with Redfield and his results.
Yet one of the whistleblowers who first raised the matter to the Army told Kaiser Health News this week that he remains so troubled about Redfield’s handling of the vaccine research that he has decided to speak out publicly.
Redfield was principal investigator over clinical trials of a treatment vaccine at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The research was conducted at a time when there was intense pressure to come up with a treatment for HIV/AIDS, which often killed patients within a matter of months.
“Either he was egregiously sloppy with data or it was fabricated,” said former Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Hendrix, a doctor who is now director of the division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It was somewhere on that spectrum, both of which were serious and raised questions about his trustworthiness.”…
Hendrix, who was the director of an Air Force HIV clinical unit when he raised the concerns, said: “Two members of his [Redfield’s] team told me they had tried to replicate the analysis, but they couldn’t. When they tried to go to the Army, they said they were ignored.”
After Hendrix couldn’t replicate the results, he drafted a letter to his superiors reporting the data problems.
Hendrix said Redfield’s superiors initially told him not to send a letter detailing the concerns. Instead, the military scheduled a meeting with Redfield and other researchers so Hendrix could discuss the concerns. In the meeting, Hendrix recalled, Redfield acknowledged he had overstated how promising the results were.
“I thought it was resolved,” said Hendrix, who said he later called Redfield to say he was proud to work in an organization that could openly discuss such concerns.
However, Hendrix soon heard Redfield make the same inaccurate representations of the data at a conference and decided to file an official complaint requesting an investigation into scientific misconduct.
The Air Force thought there was enough evidence against Redfield to launch an official inquiry. However, Hendrix and others say that no serious investigation was done. It would not surprise me if the Army covered up for Dr. Redfield.
But if a cloud of possible scientific misconduct wasn’t bad enough, Redfield is one of those “scientists” who lets ideology and religion shape his work. Reporter Laurie Garrett catelogs Redfield’s greatest conservative hits:
's early engagement with the AIDS epidemic in the US in the 1980s and 90s was controversial.
As an Army major at Walter Reed Medical Institute, he designed policies for controlling the disease within the US military that involved placing infected personnel in quarantine and investigating their pasts to identify and track possible sexual partners. Soldiers were routinely discharged and left to die of AIDS, humiliated and jobless
, often abandoned by their families.
In the 1980s Redfield
worked closely with W. Shepherd Smith, Jr. and his Christian organization, Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy, or ASAP.
The group maintained that AIDS was "God's judgment" against homosexuals, spread in an America weakened by single-parent households and loss of family values.
Redfield wrote the introduction to a 1990 book, "Christians in the Age of AIDS," co-written by Smith, in which he denounced distribution of sterile needles to drug users and condoms to sexually active adults, and described anti-discrimination programs as the efforts of "false prophets."
In the early 1990's, ASAP and Redfield
also backed H.R. 2788, a House bill sponsored by deeply conservative Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-California)
. It would have subjected people with HIV to testing, loss of professional licenses and would have effectively quarantined them. (The bill died in Congress.) In the 2000s, Redfield
was a top advocate for the so-called "ABCs of AIDS"
in Africa, pressing to prevent HIV infection through sexual abstinence, monogamy and the use of condoms only as a last resort.
Now, this is the one area where Redfield’s critics agree: he has had no experience running a public health organization. Previous CDC directors have had at least some experience with either a city or state public health organization. But not Redfield. And this lack of experience shows when it came to the failure of preparing adequate coronavirus test kits.
In fact, most of the testing for coronavirus is being done by state public health agencies and NOT the CDC. In fact, when it comes to testing for coronavirus, it is just chaos, at least according to an article by The Atlantic. I love this bit of information from the article:
Today, more than a week after the country’s first case of community transmission, the most significant finding about the coronavirus’s spread in the United States has come from an independent genetic study, not from field data collected by the government. And no state or city has banned large gatherings or implemented the type of aggressive “social distancing” policies employed to battle the virus in Italy, Hong Kong, and other affluent places. (After this story was published, Austin, Texas, cancelled this month’s SXSW festival.)
While Redfield may have had training as a doctor and a scientist, he appears to be untrustworthy. Yes, he may have some compassion for his previous patients, but he allows his political and religious beliefs to blind him to data he finds inconvenient. And his lack of experience running a public health organization shows when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.