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Ex-CDC director says he received threats from other scientists after backing lab-leak theory

Former CDC Director Robert Redfield told Vanity Fair that he received death threats from other scientists after telling CNN in March that he believes the coronavirus accidentally "escaped" from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Why it matters: The allegation was featured in a sweeping investigation by Vanity Fair into the battles over the origins of COVID-19 that have raged inside the U.S. government and scientific community.


  • Redfield's claims underscore the fraught nature of the debate over the lab-leak theory, which has risen in prominence in recent weeks after initially being dismissed by many scientists and the mainstream media.
  • "I was threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis," Redfield told Vanity Fair. "I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science."

The big picture: President Biden last month ordered the U.S. intelligence community to "redouble" its efforts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus and produce a report within 90 days that "could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion."

  • The request came after the Wall Street Journal reported on previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill enough to be hospitalized in November 2019.
  • The WIV's lead coronavirus researcher, Shi Zhengli, had previously performed "gain-of-function" experiments to make viruses more infectious, a controversial field of study intended to help scientists combat potential future pandemics.
  • The lab received some U.S. government funding through the National Institutes of Health and a nonprofit called the EcoHealth Alliance, but officials — including Anthony Fauci — have strenuously denied that the U.S. funded gain-of-function research.

Driving the news: Led by contributing editor Katherine Eban, Vanity Fair conducted a months-long investigation that included interviews with more than 40 people and a review of hundreds of pages of government documents.

  • One of those documents was an internal memo sent by former assistant secretary of state Thomas DiNanno, a Trump appointee, alleging that staff within the department had warned leaders "not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19" because it could "open a can of worms."
  • On Dec. 9, an official warned colleagues not to ask questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s controversial coronavirus research, as it would call attention to U.S. government support for that research, according to another document.
  • The warnings "smelled like a cover-up," DiNanno told Vanity Fair, "and I wasn’t going to be part of it."

Worthy of your time: Read the full Vanity Fair investigation

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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