One thing you can say about Donald Trump: he rewards loyalty. Since he can’t be bothered with the details of governing, he’s turned the preparation for his administration over to those who stood by him during the campaign. A chief beneficiary is PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel, who praised Trump in primetime at the Republican convention and followed up with a hefty campaign donation at a time when Trump’s defeat seemed certain.
For his support, Thiel has been given a major role in selecting who will run the Trump administration’s health and science efforts.
“He’s got pretty broad influence,” an anonymous insider told the health and science website State.
Given Thiel’s love of weird ideas, that comment should send shudders down your spine.
Put aside the obvious conflicts of interest that are a prominent feature of the incoming administration. (Thiel has investments in health sciences companies and a firm that sells health care software.) Thiel is now in a position to shape U.S. policy in a way that matches his own bizarre views. Rolling back regulations and making life easier for drug companies is to be expected in the next White House. Thiel has already reportedly tapped his chief of staff, Jim O’Neill, as FDA commissioner, even though O’Neill has zero medical background and has promoted the idea that the FDA should approve drugs before they’re shown to work. “Let people start using them, at their own risk,” O’Neill told a conference two years ago.
Like his boss, O’Neill is a big promoter of the idea that death can be conquered. And more specifically, that Thiel’s death can be indefinitely postponed, since he wants to be immortal. With Thiel influencing government policy, that means he could clear the way for the type of research that directly feeds Thiel’s fanciful beliefs.
“[Thiel] seems to me a worrisome outlier in terms of his views about science and research,” Henry Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School, told Stat. “He seems quite impatient with the normal ways things get done. I worry that he is interested in shaking up the research establishment and doing it in ways that lead to higher risk activities that have potentially higher rewards, but lower probabilities of being successful. That can be catastrophic.”
But who is going to stop Thiel? Not Trump. In the meantime, we could see our tax dollars diverted from funding research on challenges like HIV/AIDS that will have a real impact to research that will keep Thiel immortal. And if you’re worried about that, there will be some new drugs on the market you can try. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they”ll work. In fact, they may even kill you before you have a chance to take that immortality pill.
But that’s your own risk.