Listening to the testy exchange between Sen. Rand Paul and St — er, Dr Anthony Fauci the other day, I couldn’t help but think both of these famous lines from Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Marmion’:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!

…and also this excellent ‘completion’ by J.R. Pope (‘A Word of Encouragement’):

But when we’ve practiced for a while, How vastly we improve our style!

Sen. Paul began by reminding the ubiquitous doctor of Section 1001 of the US Criminal Code, which makes it a felony, carrying a prison term of up to five years, for lying to Congress. He then reminded Dr Fauci that on his last testimony before Congress, on May 11, he stated that the National Institutes of Health, where Dr Fauci is employed, ‘has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology’.

Oh dear.

Let me introduce you to Dr Shi Zhengli, the infamous ‘Bat Lady’, whom Sen. Paul referred to in his presentation.

Dr Shi is a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. She and her colleagues have been engaged in gain-of-function research there for years.

What is ‘gain-of-function’ research? It is experimenting with virus to make them more communicable, more virulent, or transmissible from animals to humans.

Why would one do this? To create biological weapons is one reason. Another, claimed by Dr Shi and her colleagues in 2015, is to investigate ‘the potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks’.

The trouble is, as the science reporter Nicholas Wade points out in Where COVID Came From, ‘The benefits of the research in preventing future epidemics have so far been nil, the risks vast.

I think Wade is right. Given what we know now, ‘it seems clear that the NIH did not intend its funds to be used for gain-of-function’. ‘Intend.’ But it is undeniable — no, that’s not quite right, because Fauci did deny it — let me say then that it is simply the case that ‘researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice.’ At least some of that research was funded by US taxpayers via grants made through agencies of the NIH.

Which leaves us where?

It leaves Anthony Fauci yelling at Sen. (and, by the way, medical doctor) Rand Paul that ‘you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially, you do not know what you are talking about, OK?’

Not really. But let the record show that Dr Fauci ‘totally resents’ Sen. Paul’s suggestion that there was NIH-funded research going on in the Wuhan lab and, moreover, he had nothing to do with it.

Let’s cut to the chase: ‘Dr Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11, 2021? Do you still claim that NIH never funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan?’

‘Sen. Paul, I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement. This paper that you were referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function.’

‘Qualified.’ Now I feel better.

But let’s skip Sir Walter Scott and J.R. Pope and move on to Hamlet: ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’

Millions have died from COVID. We do not — not yet — know with absolute certainty where the virus came from. Maybe it emerged naturally. Maybe. But, as Wade points out, there are many and increasing doubts about that theory. Sen. Paul exaggerates only slightly when he says that ‘all the evidence is that [COVID] came from the lab.’ I do wonder, however, whether he is right that, speaking to Dr Fauci, ‘there will be responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself’.

There’s been no ‘responsibility’ to date. Can we believe that there will be now?