Free Speech

Vanity Fair: "The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19's Origins"

|

A nearly 12,000-word article by award-winning journalist Katherine Eban; it's much worth reading, I think, though naturally it doesn't come to any conclusions on the bottom line question of whether COVID-19 indeed stemmed from a lab leak. An excerpt:

On February 19, 2020, The Lancet, among the most respected and influential medical journals in the world, published a statement that roundly rejected the lab-leak hypothesis, effectively casting it as a xenophobic cousin to climate change denialism and anti-vaxxism. Signed by 27 scientists, the statement expressed "solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China" and asserted: "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin."

The Lancet statement effectively ended the debate over COVID-19's origins before it began….

A months long Vanity Fair investigation, interviews with more than 40 people, and a review of hundreds of pages of U.S. government documents, including internal memos, meeting minutes, and email correspondence, found that conflicts of interest, stemming in part from large government grants supporting controversial virology research, hampered the U.S. investigation into COVID-19's origin at every step. In one State Department meeting, officials seeking to demand transparency from the Chinese government say they were explicitly told by colleagues not to explore the Wuhan Institute of Virology's gain-of-function research, because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of it.

In an internal memo obtained by Vanity Fair, Thomas DiNanno, former acting assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, wrote that staff from two bureaus, his own and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, "warned" leaders within his bureau "not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19" because it would "'open a can of worms' if it continued."

There are reasons to doubt the lab-leak hypothesis. There is a long, well-documented history of natural spillovers leading to outbreaks, even when the initial and intermediate host animals have remained a mystery for months and years, and some expert virologists say the supposed oddities of the SARS-CoV-2 sequence have been found in nature.

But for most of the past year, the lab-leak scenario was treated not simply as unlikely or even inaccurate but as morally out-of-bounds. In late March, former Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield received death threats from fellow scientists after telling CNN that he believed COVID-19 had originated in a lab. "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."

With President Trump out of office, it should be possible to reject his xenophobic agenda and still ask why, in all places in the world, did the outbreak begin in the city with a laboratory housing one of the world's most extensive collection of bat viruses, doing some of the most aggressive research? …

The story should remind us, I think, of the dangers of allowing perceived "scientific consensus" to justify suppressing criticism, investigation, and speculation (which is often the first step in criticism and investigation) about scientific questions. That is true in general, but it's especially true of new, emerging stories that scientists had only had a few months to investigate.

UPDATE: See also Newsweek (Rowan Jacobsen):

For most of last year, the idea that the coronavirus pandemic could have been triggered by a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China, was largely dismissed as a racist conspiracy theory of the alt-right. The Washington Post in early 2020 accused Senator Tom Cotton of "fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts." CNN jumped in with "How to debunk coronavirus conspiracy theories and misinformation from friends and family." Most other mainstream outlets, from The New York Times ("fringe theory") to NPR ("Scientists debunk lab accident theory"), were equally dismissive. (Newsweek was an exception, reporting in April 2020 that the WIV was involved in gain-of-function research and might have been the site of a lab leak; Mother Jones, Business Insider, the NY Post and FOX News were also exceptions.) But in the last week or so, the story has burst into the public discourse. President Joe Biden has demanded an investigation by U.S. intelligence. And the mainstream media, in an astonishing about-face, is treating the possibility with deadly seriousness.

The reason for the sudden shift in attitudes is clear: over the weeks and months of the pandemic, the pileup of circumstantial evidence pointing to the Wuhan lab kept growing—until it became too substantial to ignore.

The people responsible for uncovering this evidence are not journalists or spies or scientists. They are a group of amateur sleuths, with few resources except curiosity and a willingness to spend days combing the internet for clues. Throughout the pandemic, about two dozen or so correspondents, many anonymous, working independently from many different countries, have uncovered obscure documents, pieced together the information, and explained it all in long threads on Twitter—in a kind of open-source, collective brainstorming session that was part forensic science, part citizen journalism, and entirely new. They call themselves DRASTIC, for Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19….

The Vanity Fair article discusses and credits DRASTIC as well.

NEXT: The Law of Work-from-Home: Bar Membership

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But, mean tweets.

    1. Most of medical literature is garbage. It has to be redone. Most cannot be duplicated. Most reflect political or commercial bias. Most have exclusion criteria that violate the requirement of random selection to represent a larger population. Most try to apply group statistics to individual decision making. That misapplication is not allowed.

      1. “Most of medical literature is garbage.”
        Do you know this because you are an avid reader of medical literature OR
        because your little brain tells you that it is so?

        1. I’ve spent a good deal of my career in science research and some in medical (Cancer ) and honestly this is pretty much true. Peer review has become a joke. And claims on very small samples (see your average TV “new drug” commercial are the rule.).

          Even in the “hard” sciences like Physics it has gotten almost to use the current term “woke” driven..everything has to align to be tied to the new left…diversity and equity..sad but true.

          1. “Even in the “hard” sciences like Physics it has gotten almost to use the current term “woke” ”
            I have seen absolutely no evidence of that.

            As for the quality of peer review in medical journals I don’t have first hand knowledge. But in many instances, “first observations of …” are important to document.

            I can talk about peer view in the physical sciences. For the most part is is good quality but that depends on the quality of the reviewers as scientists and the editors. My board of editors tries to be thorough and tough, but do Poor reviews get through? Of course. Error is not completely avoidable.

            1. At least in physics they use a decent cutoff for statistical significance, not one in twenty.

              But Scientific American went ‘woke’ decades ago, and that’s got to have been some sort of leading indicator.

              1. Brett,
                We try to be careful about what statistics can actually show. Of course we generally have a better chance at controlling input variables than biologists do.

                You’re correct about Sci. Am.

    2. “The story should remind us, I think, of the dangers of allowing perceived “scientific consensus” to justify suppressing criticism, investigation, and speculation (which is often the first step in criticism and investigation) about scientific questions.”

      It should also remind us of the dangers of treating “somebody I don’t like said it” as proof something is wrong.

  2. “Signed by 27 scientists, the statement expressed “solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China” and asserted: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

    The fact that more and more scientists and academics think it’s appropriate to send out statements and letters condemning stuff, instead of writing papers disproving stuff, tells us more than we need to know about the current state of science and academics.

  3. Thanks for posting the author’s name up front. All that shows up from Vanity Fair in my news feed is pointless Trump hate so I would normally dismiss the source. But I liked Katherine Eban’s _Bottle of Lies_.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science wants me to sign a pledge to trust science. Not going to. It would be interpreted as trusting anything that cloaks itself in the mantle of science. While I trust science as a field, I don’t trust scientists as individuals. I saw how the COVID pandemic became politicized. If Trump criticizes China then all politically sound scientists must back China.

    (On “pointless Trump hate”: The New York Times’ exposes of Trump’s business and finance were good. All Vanity Fair seems to offer is mental masturbation about how this time it’s really happening.)

    1. The AAAS is a Beltway, extreme leftist organization now. The editor of Science and of its Board should be fired. It should return to being apolitical.

    2. “wants me to sign a pledge to trust science. ”
      I did not sign and I did not vote in an executive committee of my professional society to support that statement which is clearly political

  4. 1. Did Covid leak from a Chinese lab?
    -Most likely, yes.

    2. Did the Chinese government exert pressure to suppress this concept.
    -Yes

    3. Does China regularly exert pressure on Hollywood and Silicon Valley in order to “Suppress” unwanted information or presentations thereof?
    -Yes

    4. Did that pressure extend to COVID outbreak sources and our social media organizations, as well as others
    -Yes.

    It’s time to understand the threat China represents to our society, especially via its influence to suppress viewpoints it disagrees with.

    1. AL,
      You answer “yes” to (1) and (2) as if there is no doubt. But you do not know that nor have you ever seen compelling evidence.

      1. What do you think “most likely” means in his answer to (1)?

        I think the public evidence is very clear that China exerted significant pressure to suppress the idea that SARS-CoV-2 might have escaped from one of their labs, either WIV or the lab very close to the wet market blamed for the first (known) outbreak.

        1. To the diehards, there’s not going to be much “compelling evidence” short of China admitting they did it. And I’m sure there’s a handful of the truest believers that would continue to carry the banner even then.

        2. Michael,
          That was point 30 which I did not address. It is my impression that China does just that, BUT I do not have hard evidence to present.

      2. You answer “yes” to (1) and (2) as if there is no doubt.

        I’m curious to hear how you interpreted “most likely” as “there is no doubt”.

        1. I exaggerated, but only a bit. There is no solid evidence of the escape theory. So the “Most likely is just a “yes” with weasel words.
          I would have said possibly.

          1. Uh huh… Funny how that works. You just “exaggerated, but only a bit” while I used “weasel words”.

            There’s no solid evidence of the animal transmission theory either….something you fail to consider.

            Think about it like this. Imagine a new strain of Ebola appears in the general population. But not in Africa. In Fredrick, Maryland. There’s no “solid evidence” it escaped from Fort Detrick, which actively investigates Ebola. And the government blames it on an “open air market” in Fredrick. But fails to produce any evidence of the source animal, and the open air market doesn’t sell monkeys.

            What’s most likely…it escaped from the lab? Or it magically appeared?

            Now, do the same analysis for Wuhan…where one of the only 3 labs doing gain of function research on coronaviruses was located….and no bats were sold in the market…during the winter when bats were hibernating…in the middle of a massive urban area…. What’s most likely?

      3. This Australian actually hopes there isn’t evidence because reading of some of the correspondence of your bureaucrats and friends leaves a nasty feeling that there was they thought, and they wanted to be mates with China and suppress . We put ourselves out there and China attacked with venom, while some of yours commiserated with China, it seems. That if true would be sad for us though it is a warning as to how good a friend America is.

  5. The Vanity Fair report is excellent and it is certainly true both that “conflicts of interest hamper[] the U.S. investigation into COVID-19’s origin at every step” and that there are “dangers of allowing perceived ‘scientific consensus’ to justify suppressing criticism, investigation, and speculation.”

    Yet there is a seemingly obvious point which still escapes scrutiny. While the first documented US case of CoViD-19 was found in Washington State, we now know that the first case was present far earlier, most likely in California. The alertness of the medical staff in Washington State is as commendable as is the alertness of the medical staff in Wuhan; however, such alertness — and thus the documentation of the initial case(s) — has no effect on the actual origin of the disease. Likewise, the earth is spherical regardless of the position of the ship which does not fall off the planet’s edge.

    It has been my lived experience [grin] that calling a Chinese enterprise of any sort “sloppy” is the worst of insults, typically met with swift and heroic efforts to correct even an erroneously perceived issue. That is not the case with Wuhan lab leak accusations. What if the Chinese medical establishment is hyper-alert and, like the medical establishment in Washington State, detected something in Wuhan which did not originate in Wuhan?

    Broadening that question, what do our genetic records and blood samples now tell us; that is, with the mountain of data we now have, why do we continue to rely upon good-old-fashioned epidemiological gumshoeing? We shouldn’t allow a political consensus — or a political wish — lead the science astray.
    [And we shouldn’t allow autocorrect to insert ‘science ashtray.’]

    1. “What if the Chinese medical establishment is hyper-alert and, like the medical establishment in Washington State, detected something in Wuhan which did not originate in Wuhan?”

      Fair question. But the issue currently on the table is not whether the lab-leak hypothesis is the correct answer, but why that hypothesis was ruled out-of-bounds at the outset based not on evidence, but on the word of a mere 27 “scientists” who expressed “solidarity” and opposition to “conspiracy theories.”

      1. The question is far broader. We know that the militaries of China, Russia, and the US experimented with coronaviruses at least five years before the discovery in Wuhan. The question of pandemic origin pales in comparison to the question of the disposition of the experiments: where are the leavings of these experiments (Atlanta, Siberia, Beijing, et c ) and how secure are they against accidents?

        Academia is as political as it has ever been: we do not ask why pseudo-scientists endorsed eugenics, knowing (for at least 20 years prior to Galton’s work) that the concept was junk science.

      2. Is it too cynical to suggest that it is not outside the bounds of possibility that Trump’s re-election was a factor for some who ruled that possibility out-of-bounds?

        1. Is it too cynical to suggest that it is not outside the bounds of possibility that Trump’s re-election was a factor for some who ruled that possibility out-of-bounds?

          It would be interesting indeed to see the intersection of the sets of those who (1) ruled that possibility out of bounds; (2) throughout the summer, openly mocked the idea of a vaccine being ready in 2020; and (3) after Pfizer announced favorable trial results on Nov. 9, smugly explained why it wasn’t surprising at all that a vaccine would be ready in 2020.

        2. I doubt the US is thick with Trumpista virologists, but just as

          died-of-Covid v. died-with-Covid

          is an important distinction, so is

          poo-pooed-the-lab-leak-because-Trump-bad v. poo-pooed-the-lab-leak- and-btw–Trump-bad

          If you are seeking an explanation for the early Chorus of Virologists, Occam would suggest you look for it in the embers of the Great Virologist Wars – in which those who battled for the wonders of gain of function research fought those who battled against. The former had a LOT to lose, professionally, grant-wise, job-wise, reputation-wise, even dates-at-nerd-parties-wise, if it were to be concluded that Chinese gain of funcion experiments had visited this scourge on the world.

          Obviously because Trump bad is a perfectly good explanation for why the media picked up the couldn’t possibly be a lab leak end of the stick, but I think we’d have seen the same Chorus of Virologists if Covid had struck in 2016.

      3. The probability that SARS-CoV-2 originated outside of China is highly unlikely despite China having accused Western militaries of bringing it to China in Nov 2019.
        By Nov. 2019, the virus has now been identified as being in Italy and France in late November. First cases in China were in late October.
        The questions are 1) what were the pathways for mutation of the virus? 2) was the first transmission to humans zoonotic before mutation? 3) was there an animal intermediary that added mutations, 4) was the mutated virus being worked on at WIV, 5) did it escape from the lab, 6) was it intentionally released.

        One should keep one’s mind open to all possibilities pending hard evidence

    2. What if the Chinese medical establishment is hyper-alert and, like the medical establishment in Washington State, detected something in Wuhan which did not originate in Wuhan?

      Stipulating that the Chinese medical establishment is hyper-alert, what are the odds on them finding a non-Wuhan originating virus in Wuhan, the center of Chinese bat coronavirus research – rather than in some other Chinese city ? Of which I believe there are at least 150 with a population over a million. Why should the alert burghers of Kunming not have spotted it first ?

      Unless of course Wuhan doctors have had a lot of practice in spotting rare respiratory diseases cropping up in the city’s population.

  6. In Niven and Porlurnelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, tbe Moties are a race of many specialist classes. Politician. Engineer. Engineer technician assistant. Military fighters. Etc.

    The engineer class is a super genius. Tell it what you want, and it invents it instantaneously. They just barely couldn’t cobble together a heart lung machine to save a severed head in 4 minutes.

    But they don’t speak. They are mute, and remain silent while the politician class blabbers on and on and on and rules.

    In Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the Bugs are non-sentient. They, too, have many classes of workers, all drones. There is no intelligent bug.

    Except for the brain bug. But it does not exist in day to day life. When the colony is stressed, it breeds a brain bug.

    From the colony’s point of view, colony is stressed, breeds a brain bug, stressor goes away.

    How shameful these other scientists throw in with the politicians to try to teach this other scientist his permitted role in society.

    1. In Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, the Bugs are non-sentient. They, too, have many classes of workers, all drones. There is no intelligent bug.

      Except for the brain bug. But it does not exist in day to day life. When the colony is stressed, it breeds a brain bug.

      That’s not from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel, it’s from the movie.

      The movie actually started out as a screen play titled “Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine”.

      Someone told them there might be a copyright issue with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, so they went and got a license from Heinlein’s estate.

      Then they changed directors and the new director turned the movie into a mashup of the original “Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine” and Starship Troopers.

  7. Most of the problem was precipitated by prominent Republicans and conservatives who tried to lather some bigots by blaming the Chinese without legitimate foundation. Prof. Volokh knows and ignores this point, quite predictably.

    1. by blaming the Chinese without legitimate foundation

      He had as much foundation as is currently being deemed legitimate. Furthermore, the President obviously has access to information acquired through means that we don’t want China to find out about. He can put that out there only at the risk of losing our source(s). So the most you can say is “unknown” foundation, not illegitimate. Finally, if the President is unreliable the most that can be said is that we learn nothing from his statements, not that the opposite is demonstrated to be true.

      1. “Finally, if the President is unreliable the most that can be said is that we learn nothing from his statements, not that the opposite is demonstrated to be true.”

        There are a lot of otherwise intelligent people out there who operate on the opposite principle, unfortunately. Or an allied principle: If Trump says something that might be true and/or non-reprehensible, you must have interpreted it wrong.

      2. “He had as much foundation as is currently being deemed legitimate.”

        That is a stupid statement about a stupid statement. No legitimate, respected, mainstream source has endorsed the bigoted Republican statements blaming the Wuhan laboratory. Some decent people have proposed exploring the circumstance.

        Clingers shouldn’t try to play with science. Stick to superstition.

    2. Thanks for inadvertently demonstrating the problem in today’s society. Sure, Trump and his supporters may have blamed the Chinese without any legitimate foundation.

      Most of the news organizations who objected didn’t just say the possibility was unfounded…they claimed the lab theory was CONFIRMED UNTRUE. There was no legitimate foundation for that either. You can’t claim something is a hoax unless you know it to be false. This is just like reporting claiming U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Hunter Biden’s laptop was Russian disinformation. It may have been a big nothing-burger, but no evidence was ever provided to support that allegation, beyond “unnamed” sources. Maybe the same ones which said the lab theory was a hoax.

      And this keeps happening. The Russians (and Chinese) are certainly getting want they want: an erosion of trust in American institutions. The self-proclaimed arbiters are truth are happy to play along.

      1. “Trump and his supporters may have blamed the Chinese without any legitimate foundation.”
        Of course neither you nor I KNOW that. There could be highly compartmented information that suggests what Trump claimed in a broad bruh statement. No one is going to tell us.

    3. “Most of the problem”

      No most of the problem was precipitated by scientists who decided to sell their integrity for political hackery. The Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, is now shown to have engaged in intellectual buffoonery.

      Note they did not say that the evidence for a leak was weak or inconclusory. They said it was a “conspiracy theory.” That’s not science, that’s politics. Their medical degrees and experience does not make their political opinions any more valid.

    4. Kirkland, you are totally full of shit.

      Trump said it was so – too affirmatively because he thought it would save his ass. But still he asserted it to be true. So the media had to discredit. Their objective was to make sure Trump was a one term guy, facts and possibilities be damned.

      This was entirely a problem of the media on the left.

    5. If you listen to alt-media, as I do, there was plenty of “legitimate foundation” for blaming the Chinese more than a year ago, including some statements by Dr. Fauci (beyond the revelations in his recently exposed e-mails from that time). But Twitter, Facebook, and the major media all bent over backwards to silence anyone who tried to blame the Chinese out loud, and maintained that policy until the recent exposure event.

      If Facebook or Twitter had really done this blocking in order to save lives or prevent panic, they would be drastically re-thinking that policy now. Since they are not, their customers really ought to reconsider relying on those heavily moderated forums. At least thanks to the invisible hand, we now have a much greater choice of forums than we did a year ago.

    6. The lab is in Wuhan. They’d been studying bat viruses for years. There were intelligence reports about how bad they were at acting safely while working on said viruses. Multiple researchers at lab came down with COVID like symptoms in September of 2019. I believe one or two died but that I’m not 100% on. All this has been available information for over a year. So no, conservatives saying that it was a lab leak were not being racist, the were using logic without having the hatred of Trump blinding them.

      1. And how is it racist to say that COVID-19 came from a Chinese lab leak but not racist to say that it came from a Chinese wet market?

  8. This article isn’t meant to be critical of Dr. Fauci is it? I don’t think you are allowed to do that.

  9. The article says:

    A small group within the State Department’s Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance bureau had been studying the Institute for months. The group had recently acquired classified intelligence suggesting that three WIV researchers conducting gain-of-function experiments on coronavirus samples had fallen ill in the autumn of 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak was known to have started.

    This is the first I’ve heard it reported that the three WIV researchers were conducting gain-of-function experiments on coronavirus samples! The State Department’s fact sheet doesn’t say that. The Nicholas Wade article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists quotes David Asher that the three were working in at BSL3 lab, but that doesn’t mean they were working on gain-of-function experiments on coronavirus samples. I wonder what Vanity Fair’s source is for that, or if the author is taking liberties with the known facts.

    1. They cite “three government officials,” for this, so it looks like some new information (at least to me).

    2. I’ve seen it reported all over for months that the Wuhan lab was researching bat coronaviruses and conducting gain of function studies. This bit about the three ill researchers specifically being people who were doing that work is newer.

      1. If we really have that kind of information then we must have a serious mole either in the government or in the WIV. Maybe our government’s approach to China’s stone wall is going to be to let it out a little bit at a time to maximize the pressure.

        1. US taxpayer dollars were funding the lab in Wuhan. Approved by Fauci. If our incompetent corrupt government doesn’t at least know what’s going on over there, it would be really pathetic.

          1. Especially if the particular gain-of-function covid experiments were ones that we had funded.

        2. We have more than just a mole. The files on Hunter’s laptop appear to show that both Hunter and Joe Biden are in China’s pay. The fact that FBI refused to even look at the laptop when Giuliani offered it to them would itself be the object of an investigation if there were anyone honest in the Biden administration.

  10. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to the conflicts of interest involved in suppressing and censoring the lab-leak hypothesis. Dr. Fauci stands up and says “we have a statement by prominent scientists that this virus has a natural origin.” That statement turns out to be the one signed by the 27 “prominent public health scientists” and published in Lancet. Which was organized and shopped by Peter Daszak the President of EcoHealth Alliance, the recipient of funds specifically authorized by … Fauci. 5 of the 27 signatories actually sit on the board of EcoHealth Alliance. And when the W.H.O. investigated the origins of the virus, it only allowed one person from the US to be on the team: the same Peter Daszak.

    All these people are completely compromised. They stand to benefit directly from the lab-leak hypothesis being disproved. They are not at all independent.

    You cannot audit yourself. That is the basis of all transparency in business dealings. If Fauci isn’t fired, he should at least be kept completely away from this entire topic until the real investigation is completed.

    1. “we have a statement by prominent scientists that this virus has a natural origin.” That statement turns out to be the one signed by the 27 “prominent public health scientists” and published in Lancet. ”
      To give a completely non-political example: Of 600 physicists working on a experiment at Fermilab, 400 submitted a journal paper claiming either a discovery or first observation (I don’t remember and it does not matter which). The other 200 refused to sign the paper and informed the journal of their refusal.
      Question: what is a signed statement of 27 scientists with plausible conflicts of interest worth?

      1. Those 27 people declared that they had no competing interests relating to their letter. Are you suggesting they were less than scrupulous about that?

        1. Maybe scrupulous, maybe not. I can’t say. The financial conflict raises doubts.
          But are the mistaken. Quite possibly, yes.

  11. “With President Trump out of office, it should be possible to reject his xenophobic agenda . . .”

    What xenophobic agenda was that, exactly?

    1. I have to agree. It seems that they start with the premise that Trump is evil, and therefore everything he says is wrong. Then they justify it.

      I am genuinely convinced that if Trump said the sky was blue, the New York Times would call it racist to say it was anything but purple.

    2. reject his xenophobic agenda

      That’s just virtue signaling. They’re assuring their readers that though they are justifying a position that until very recently could only be held by a conspiratorial science denier, they really have not gone over to the dark side.

  12. It’s not the only backlash against Trump because Trump. I am convinced the incredible over-reaction to the pandemic, with all the loony lockdowns and concomitant fine-tuning, was almost entirely because Trump’s immunity to “normal” political infighting infuriated Democrats and anti-Trumpers so much that the pandemic was like manna from heaven in its ability to do something Trump couldn’t do much about. Just as both impeachments were Hail Mary last-ditch flailings because they had to try something, anything, to stop Trump, so were the lockdowns begun and continued as nyaah-nyaah reaaction to Trump.

    Whatever else Trump was/is, he is unlike just about every politician ever, and all the other politicians simply go bananas trying to figure him out, because they are incapable of thinking past the ends of their noses.

    1. Trump aside, people are losing their mind. We have mass delusional psychosis. https://www.eviemagazine.com/post/americans-are-suffering-from-mass-delusional-psychosis-because-of-covid-19

      One thing that Fauci got right, according to the headlines I saw about his emails. “Our society is totally nuts.”

      1. Whatever it is, covid did not cause it. It was the lockdowns, and those happened because politicians at all levels were tired of Trump being immune to the usual political bickering and had finally found some way of asserting power that Trump had no say over. So they did what they always do, doubled down on the stupidity, ignorant of the consequences, and proud of their ignorance and stupidity.

      2. We have mass delusional psychosis

        That article describes a delusion, where people reject the reality that is plainly in front of them, and gives the actual fatality rate of Covid-19 as an example. However, if the media is constantly exaggerating the dangers then maybe the reality is not so clearly in front of the people. The more uproar the media causes, the more they are rewarded. Also, with Trump thinking that minimizing the problem would help him get re-elected, his adversaries were motivated to maximize it.

    2. It’s not the only backlash against Trump because Trump. I am convinced the incredible over-reaction to the pandemic, with all the loony lockdowns and concomitant fine-tuning, was almost entirely because Trump’s immunity to “normal” political infighting infuriated Democrats and anti-Trumpers so much that the pandemic was like manna from heaven in its ability to do something Trump couldn’t do much about. Just as both impeachments were Hail Mary last-ditch flailings because they had to try something, anything, to stop Trump, so were the lockdowns begun and continued as nyaah-nyaah reaaction to Trump.

      If it helps, this is convincing evidence that you’re an idiot. This alleged “over reaction” with “loony lockdowns” was nationwide — including red states as well as blue — and also worldwide. Do you think random countries around the globe locked down their countries to get Trump?

  13. The much-maligned statement on page 4 of http://downloads.vanityfair.com/lab-leak-theory/1821COVIDemail.pdf?_ga=2.151390143.788075249.1622738393-2132807314.1622738393 seems to be incredibly honest: “[I]t would be difficult to say that military involvement in classified virus research is intrinsically problematic, since the U.S. Army has been deeply involved in virus research in the United States for many years.”

    Of course _our_ military attempts to weaponize viruses, just as does the military of China and the military of Russia. Guru Fauci and the Bloat of Academia have very little to do with such efforts.

    1. In making a moral judgement, it shouldn’t matter whose military is doing what. And there’s no specific reason to claim it “problematic” and then caveat your claim with “but it’s not just China”. One only does that if they have a specific bone to pick with the US military.

      But hey, that’s “journalism” today.

  14. “The reason for the sudden shift in attitudes is clear: ….”

    Trump has been removed from office and so now the truth can be told and all the “fact checks” can be checked (or unchecked–I’m not sure how that works).

  15. “The story should remind us, I think, of the dangers of allowing perceived “scientific consensus” to justify suppressing criticism, investigation, and speculation (which is often the first step in criticism and investigation) about scientific questions.”

    Yup. It’s a lot easier to consense than it is to collect evidence, test and prove.

  16. It looks like the U.S. moratorium on gain-of-function research went from October 2014 to December 19, 2017. If so, the grants to the WIV from EcoHealth Alliance in 2018 and 2019 described by Nicholas Wade as involving gain-of-function research would not have been violations. But here’s the part I can’t get past: Fauci told a Senate hearing on May 11 that “the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain-of-function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” NIH director Dr. Francis Collins released a statement on May 19 asserting that “neither NIH nor NIAID have ever approved any grant that would have supported ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans.” Why aren’t reporters all over this?

    According to Wade, it may be a question of definitions. EcoHealth Alliance believes that the term gain-of-function applies only to enhancements of viruses that infect humans, not to animal viruses. “So gain-of-function research refers specifically to the manipulation of human viruses so as to be either more easily transmissible or to cause worse infection or be easier to spread,” an Alliance official told The Dispatch Fact Check. So since they were manipulating bat viruses (to render them dangerous to humans) and not human viruses it wouldn’t qualify. Wade says that the moratorium “defined” gain-of-function very simply and broadly as “research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease,” but if you look at the referenced source it looks less like a definition and more like a description meant to aid the non-scientific understand what is being talked about.

  17. “And yet it moves.” — Galileo, 1633

    “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.” — the Lancet, 2020

    Seems like we are not progressing, but regressing.

  18. Since this is a legal blog….

    Suppose the investigation finds that Covid-19 did, in fact, come from China from a laboratory leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. What legal recourse does one have…can you sue for wrongful death?

    1. Who do you plan to sue, and in which court?

      Seriously, the chance of that going anywhere is less than the chance of an ice cube in Miami in the summer.

    2. Foreign governments are generally protected from being sued in U.S. courts by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. See: Foreign Sovereign Immunity and COVID-19 Lawsuits Against China. However, there are exceptions and China has been sued in federal court by Missouri and Mississippi. The two exceptions mentioned are the Commercial Activity Exception, providing jurisdiction in any case:

      in which the action is based upon a commercial activity carried on in the United States by the foreign state; or upon an act performed in the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere; or upon an act outside the territory of the United States in connection with a commercial activity of the foreign state elsewhere and that act causes a direct effect in the United States.

      and the Territorial Tort Exception, dealing with non-commercial activities:

      in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death, or damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the tortious act or omission of that foreign state or of any official or employee of that foreign state while acting within the scope of his office or employment.

      1. So effectively, you’re left with the Territorial Tort Exception. And to Bored Lawyer’s point, it seems a remote chance.

        Thanks for that info. I like learning new stuff every day.

  19. Regarding the “lab leak” theory, it appears that the neocon fraudsters are at it again.

    “On May 23, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate on Covid-19 Origin.” Citing unnamed “current and former officials,” it claimed that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology “went to hospital in November 2019, shortly before confirmed outbreak” of COVID-19.”

    * * *

    “But the article published by the Wall Street Journal—beyond being totally unsubstantiated and presenting nothing fundamentally new in terms of “intelligence”—is presented by a lead author who happens to have helped fabricate the most lethal lie of the 21st century.

    The lead author of the Journal piece, Michael R. Gordon, was the same man who, along with Judith Miller, wrote the September 8, 2002 article falsely asserting that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking to build a nuclear weapon.”

    1. According to Bush’s 2010 memoir, “The conclusion that Saddam had WMD was nearly a universal consensus. My predecessor believed it. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill believed it. Intelligence agencies in Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, China, and Egypt believed it.” So why are you picking on a reporter for the Wall Street Journal?

      1. Because he’s a conman who has previously fabricated a lie in service of the national security state and US expansionism. It might be worth considering the possibility that he’d do it again.

        An you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t take George W. Bush’s memoir as authoritative on this topic. The assertion that there was a nearly universal consensus on that is just ahistorical nonsense.

    2. “Regarding the “lab leak” theory, it appears that the neocon fraudsters are at it again.”
      Tefah,
      your mind is as closed as Behar’s. maybe more so.

      1. I’d like to think I have an open mind on many topics, but when it comes to hearing out the conspiracy theories from the criminals that sold and carried out the Iraq War, I will admit to being guilty as charged. “Fool me once” and all that. In fact, as a society, we would all do well to be a bit more close-minded to people who want to gin up a new cold war.

        1. What China did here has zero to do what happened in Iraq. They are causally disconnected.
          If you asked “a cui bono” was the Covid pandemic, the answer is very clearly China.
          Their economy grew and the remainder of the world tanked. They were immediately ready and no one else was.
          I’d be (and am) a lot more cynical than you are

          1. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make here – I never suggested a causal connection. Only that it’s worth considering the motives and veracity of the people selling this theory. It seems that many of the leading proponents are the same sort of natsec and intelligence ghouls that lied the country into war in Iraq. With the author of the WSJ piece it’s literally the same guy who was shown to be completely fraudulent (to put it in terms you would appreciate, a Lying Fake News enemy of the people). That doesn’t alone disprove the lab leak theory, of course, but is would be an important data point to consider, no?

            You may well be more cynical, but I thought cynics were supposed to at least be skeptical. You seem to be utterly credulous and eager to believe whatever the neocons trot out.

            1. First the people “selling this story” are not necessarily “neocons.” It is your label used because you think it is a “dirty word” like Nazis.
              The “story” is a distinct possibility that has not been ruled out, in large part because China is withholding access to the lab as if it has something to hide.
              Like with the single zoonotic transfer plus subsequent mutation with or without the pangolin link are also plausible.
              So your relegating the lab escape theory to “neocons” is a bit of name calling as a way to discredit a possibility that you do not want to accept.
              I call that being closed minded

            2. “utterly credulous and eager to believe whatever the neocons trot out.”
              If you have actually read what I wrote, I find natural mutation and two-step zoonotic transmission the most likely.
              I continually stress that there is no compelling evidence of any hypothesis.
              I have no idea of what neocons you are talking about. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle disappeared a long time ago.
              You are simply making up a reply because tour mind is closed and you do not like the question “a cui bono?”
              Too bad.
              But next time try to argue in good faith and give substantive technical reasons for your opinion aside from left-wing positics

              1. “I have no idea of what neocons you are talking about.”

                The main one I’m talking about is Michael Gordon, identified in my earlier comment. The author of the fraudulent “aluminum tubes” theory, and now the author of the leading piece on the “lab leak” theory. Other than him, there seems to be considerable overlap between people who pushed the war in Iraq and those desirous of a cold war posture with China who have latched onto the “lab leak” theory to advance that position. I think “neoconservative” is a fair and accurate term for such people. If I really wanted to be pejorative, I could reasonably call them “warmongers”, or perhaps “cheerleaders for the military industrial complex.” But I try to remain fair to opposing points of view 😉

                As to the merits of the lab leak theory, I never claimed it was wrong. Frankly, I have no idea either way. My only point is that it is worth taking stock of who the leading proponents are, as well as their likely motives. Once you do, alarm bells start going off. Caveat emptor should be the order of the day

                1. The WSJ piece is hardly the “leading piece on the lab leak theory.” That theory has been around for more than 15 months.
                  Neocon had a very specific meaning during the W administration. It is a dead term now except in your mind.
                  Still you choose to look at the name of a newspaper writer as the “source” of a theory, rather than considering possibilities on there data-supported merits.
                  You refuse to thing about “a cui bono?”
                  “My only point is that it is worth taking stock of who the leading proponents are, as well as their likely motives. ”
                  I don’t look at who proposes what with respect to SARS-CoV-2. I have been studying this topic academically or more than a year. I have published on the topic and prefer to form my own opinions based on multiple sources.
                  If a nut job supports an idea, that does not make the idea more or less correct. Nor does it make a nut job more of less o a nutjob.

                2. The author of the fraudulent “aluminum tubes” theory,

                  Surely you mean the author of the article, not the author of the theory.

                  And what exactly do you know about Michael Gordon’s political beliefs that would cause you to label him neoconservative? (Hint: the word does not mean “people who pushed the war in Iraq.”)

        2. I’d like to think I have an open mind on many topics

          That must be how your brain fell out.

          The former director of the CDC…among other well-credentialed authorities…has been saying for some time now that the evidence supports the lab leak hypothesis (it’s not a “theory”) significantly more than it does natural evolution in and transmission from animals.

          1. “That must be how your brain fell out.”

            Conservatives are getting better at comedy and it’s making lefties nervous.

          2. That ‘former director of the CDC’ is a Trump-appointed clinger who lacks mainstream credibility, you bigoted rube.

            Clingers should not try to participate in reasoned debate among competent adults concerning science.

  20. “And yet, in the wake of the Lancet statement and under the cloud of Donald Trump’s toxic racism, which contributed to an alarming wave of anti-Asian violence in the U.S., one possible answer to this all-important question remained largely off-limits until the spring of 2021.”

    Ah yes, Vanity Fair has to play to base here. What is the evidence that Trump contributed to anti Asian violence? Why is it that attacks seem to have increased post Biden, largely by black folks who mostly didn’t vote for Trump?

    1. “which contributed to an alarming wave of anti-Asian violence in the U.S.”
      Such a blatant unprovable slander and all because the Orange Clown called SARS-C0V-2 the Chinese virus. (But the British, Brazilian, and South African variants are acceptable nomenclature.

      1. And, as we all know, young black urban males tend to take their cues from Trump.

  21. And why should we trust an author who makes such unsubstantiated politically expedient claims?

  22. From the conclusion of Eban’s article: “The United States deserves a healthy share of blame as well. Thanks to their unprecedented track record of mendacity and race-baiting, Trump and his allies had less than zero credibility. And the practice of funding risky research via cutouts like EcoHealth Alliance enmeshed leading virologists in conflicts of interest at the exact moment their expertise was most desperately needed.”

    1. Of course it’s Trump’s fault that his detractors hate him so much that they were compelled to cover a world-wide pandemic in a way that was driven entirely by their desire to reject anything he said, whether true or not. I mean…what choice did they have? To care about reporting the facts?

      1. It is Trump’s fault that he has no credibility.

        It is clingers’ fault that they follow a vainglorious, lying, vulgar right-wing bigot.

  23. I was at a coin flip a couple months ago, but this article highlights several details that have come out in the last few months that are pushing me towards a lab leak being the most likely scenario.

    I want to stress that there is *no specific evidence* for transmission directly from an animal population. All the weight behind the non-lab hypotheses are because of high prior probability. All the actual evidence favors a lab leak, and that evidence is starting to become overwhelming. (There’s no smoking gun, but there probably never will be at this point.)

    1. There’s no smoking gun, but there probably never will be at this point.

      According to the Nicholas Wade article, if the virus came from nature we should be able to find evidence of that in nature. Apparently,

      both the SARS1 and MERS viruses had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic’s outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months. Yet some 15 months after the SARS2 pandemic began, and after a presumably intensive search, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to December 2019.

      If we are never able to find evidence of this virus in nature it looks like a smoking gun that it didn’t originate in nature, and we can be sure that China is frantically looking for it. According to the article they have already tested over 80,000 animals.

      1. What Wade overlooks is that the final mutations could have happened in a human host after an extra animal jump (such as bat to pangolin to human).
        There is no individual aspect of SARS-CoV-2 that is not found in animal viruses.
        Therefore I am not persuaded by Wade’s hypothesis.
        But absent Chinese cooperation with a full forensic exploration at WIV and in Chinese records, China will always look very suspicious especially as they withheld critical health information for at least 2 months. I consider that criminal behavior

    2. “that evidence is starting to become overwhelming.”
      The most that you can point to is mere circumstance. Your ruling out direct animal transmission at some point of the mutation chain is certainly based on no evidence.
      Every individual aspect of the SARS-CoV-2 can also be found in naturally occurring viruses.
      If your evidence is Chinese stonewalling then I’d say that doing so does not make them look good.

  24. The Lancet, among the most respected and influential medical journals in the world

    That more shocking thing is that people still had any respect for The Lancet after it played politics with the Iraq War by parroting the bullshit about > 600,000 “violent” Iraqi deaths due to the U.S. invasion in 2003.

    1. WuzYoung,
      You obviously don’t know about the large number of fatal respiratory disease cases cause by the US Army breaking up the surface of the desert.
      I heard about this in a public lecture by two active US Army medical officers.

  25. When do we move from leak to intentional?

    1. You don’t have to assume intentional to see as criminal Chinese failure to communicate immediately to the outside world, failure to stop flights from Wuhan to other countries while prohibiting such flights in China. The Chinese appeared to be immediately prepared with its Army to seal off Hubei, to build large field hospitals at amazing speed, to impose martial law in Hubei. Why were they so prepared at the drop of a hat, because they were preparing for 2 months while they kept the remainder of the world in the dark

  26. As one senior government official with knowledge of the State Department’s investigation said, “They were writing this for certain customers in the Trump administration. We asked for the reporting behind the statements that were made. It took forever. Then you’d read the report, it would have this reference to a tweet and a date. It was not something you could go back and find.”

    After listening to the investigators’ findings, a technical expert in one of the State Department’s bioweapons offices “thought they were bonkers,” Ford recalled.

    1. So, who’s this ‘senior government official’? After the last four years, I automatically discount anything from a reporter that doesn’t have a name attached.

  27. If there is much point to this blog beyond lathering a bunch of bigoted, superstitious, downscale right-wing fans, the proprietors hide it expertly.

Please to post comments