The Volokh Conspiracy

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Scientists Urge Investigation of Theory COVID-19 Escaped from a Lab In Wuhan

A letter in the prestigious journal Science calls for a full investigation.


Did COVID-19 originate in a lab? This suggestion is not confined to conspiracy theories–at least not anymore. National Review's Jim Geraghty has been documenting evidence for such theories for months, noting that the lab-escape theory does not mean that COVID-19 was invented or augmented by researchers. It is equally (if not more) plausible that it was the subject of research in a lab before its eventual escape.

A long essay by former NYT reporter Nicholas Wade has fostered greater discussion of the lab-escape, as Reason's Ronald Bailey noted here. Now a group of scientists have published a letter in Science, perhaps the world's most prestigious scientific publication, urging greater investigation of the theory and COVID-19's origins.

The letter begins:

On 30 December 2019, the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases notified the world about a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China (1). Since then, scientists have made remarkable progress in understanding the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), its transmission, pathogenesis, and mitigation by vaccines, therapeutics, and non-pharmaceutical interventions. Yet more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.

As the letter stresses, it is important to understand where COVID-19 originated, and prior investigations of a possible lab leak have been insufficient. The reality is we are not sure where COVID-19 came from, but it is important that researchers are allowed to try and find out.