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Trump pins coronavirus hope on a climate skeptic – Prez turns to ‘a French virologist with a history of criticizing climate science to offer the world hope’

By Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter Climatewire

President Trump has turned to a French virologist with a history of criticizing climate science to offer the world hope amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, Trump tweeted that the combination of two medicines could dramatically alter the often deadly course of COVID-19.

“HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” Trump wrote. He then cited a study published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents that afforded little time for peer review.

Trump’s optimism comes from a small study of about 40 COVID-19 patients in France, though it wasn’t immediately clear how it came to the president’s attention.

The study was conducted by Didier Raoult, a virologist at Aix-Marseille University in France. Raoult has a history of challenging science outside of his field of expertise, including claims that Darwin’s theory of evolution was wrong and that climate models are overblown.

“Climate predictions are absurd,” he wrote in a 2013 piece for a French publication, Le Point, in which Raoult declared he “hates climate forecasts.”

According to a French-to-English translation, he wrote that those who take action against climate change — as well as those who do the research to examine it — have taken “more of a religious approach than a science.”

“Our sense of guilt explains the transformation of the debate into something of an unscientific nature,” he wrote.

While Raoult has no climate credentials, he is an influential virologist who has discovered dozens of bacteria. Raoult also has been critical of how governments have responded to the global pandemic, and he published a book this month called “Epidemics, Real Dangers and False Alarms.”

In it, he blames the media for instilling fear about COVID-19. “This panic is largely due to the exaggerations of the press, which knows that fear ‘sells,'” he wrote.

It remains to be seen if Raoult has discovered a useful — and potentially lifesaving — drug regime to combat the coronavirus, health experts caution. They include Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force who said researchers don’t know yet if the drugs are safe for people with the coronavirus.

Health ethicists say Raoult’s work, and other small studies, should not be reflexively touted as a cure — particularly by politicians looking to give people an unverified sense of hope.

Hydroxychloroquine is a derivative of an anti-malaria drug, and azithromycin is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial pneumonia.

Raoult, an influential virologist who has received funding from the French government, published a video in February called “Coronavirus: Endgame!” in which he explored Chinese experiments with hydroxychloroquine.