Conspiracy Theories

New Article by ex-New York Times Science Writer Claims Lab Leak Theory Is More Plausible Than Natural Origin Theory

The former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade is no stranger to controversy. Now he has written a long essay arguing that the “lab leak” hypothesis is more plausible than the “natural origin” theory.

As readers may be aware, there are two main theories for SARS-CoV-2’s origin. One maintains that the virus originated in bats, and then jumped to humans, most likely via an unknown intermediate host species. The other states that the virus originated in a lab, but then accidentally escaped, perhaps due to inadequate safety protocols.

At the start of the pandemic, the lab leak hypothesis was dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by many scientists and much of the mainstream press. Since then, however, more and more evidence has emerged that casts doubt on the alternative, natural origin theory.

Back in January, New York Magazine ran a long essay by the journalist Nicholas Baker, which tentatively argued the lab leak theory could be right. Then in March, Undark ran a piece by the science writer Charles Schmidt, stressing that the virus’s origin is very much an open question. At the end of March, The Telegraph ran a similar article by the author Matt Ridley and the biologist Alina Chan. (Indeed, Ridley is writing a book on the pandemic’s origin called Viral, due to be published later this year.)

In his new essay, Wade adopts a more forceful tone. Though he acknowledges “there is no direct evidence for either theory”, he maintains that the lab leak theory provides a far better explanation of the available facts. As Wade notes:

It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses.

By contrast, there are several pieces of evidence that the natural origin theory has great difficulty explaining:

No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. 

Though some scientists claim we may never pinpoint the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2, the debate will no doubt continue over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, Wade’s essay is worth reading in full.

WHO Distances Itself From its Own ‘Whitewash’ Report Dismissing Covid Lab Leak Theory

No sooner had the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday published its report into the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus, than the Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was making a public statement distancing the organisation from what observers are calling a “whitewash”.

The report, which had been conducted with heavy reliance on Chinese scientists and under pressure from Chinese authorities, concluded it was “extremely unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 had escaped from a lab, claiming instead it was most likely the novel virus had passed from bats via an “intermediate animal host” before sparking an “explosive outbreak” in Wuhan in December 2019.

With a rare and welcome criticism of the Chinese Government, Dr Ghebreyesus said: “I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing” and insisted that “all hypotheses remain on the table”.

The United States, the UK and 12 other countries (Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Slovenia) issued a joint statement echoing the Director General’s concerns: “It is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

The European Union, more meekly, said that it regretted the delays and the “limited availability of early samples and related data”.

Dr Peter Ben-Embarek, head of the WHO mission at the centre of the controversy, defended his report, saying the “zoonotic origins” of the pandemic had been the agreed remit of the investigation rather than a potential laboratory accident. A defence which rather begs the question as to why the investigation was disbarred by design from looking into one of the key possibilities.

Dr Ben-Embarek, for reasons best known to himself, felt moved to offer a rather feeble defence of the Chinese Government’s lack of cooperation.

Of course there are areas where we had difficulties in getting down to the raw data, and there are many good reasons for that. In China, like in many other countries, there are restrictions on privacy laws that forbid the sharing of data, including private details to outsiders in particular. Where we did not have full access to the overall data, this has been put as a recommendation for future studies. So the idea is that, because we didn’t have time or because certain authorisation needs to be given before we could get access to the data, all that could be done in the second phase of studies.

Science journalist Matt Ridley aptly called it a “pure whitewash” when he appeared yesterday morning on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s show on talkRADIO. He pointed out that although the report concludes it’s very likely that an animal carried the virus to Wuhan, this conclusion is at odds with the 20-30 pages in the report which note that 45,000 animals in China have been tested for the virus and none have been found with it.

Former CDC Director: SARS-CoV-2 Escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology

A former director of the CDC in the US – Robert Redfield – has told a CNN interviewer that he believes the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and didn’t originate in the city’s wet market. MailOnline has more.

The former director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, says he believes COVID-19 “escaped” from Wuhan lab in China and may have been circling as early as September 2019.

Redfield made the admission in a CNN interview on Friday but stressed it was his “opinion”.

It is the first time Redfield, who was appointed CDC director by President Trump, has stated publicly that he believes COVID-19 originated in a lab and not in a wet market where an initial cluster of cases was linked to.

“I’m of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory… escaped. Other people don’t believe that, that’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out,” he said.

“It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in laboratories to infect the laboratory worker.

“That’s not implying any intentionality. It’s my opinion, right? But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Readers of Lockdown Sceptics won’t need reminding that this hypothesis used to be dismissed as a “conspiracy theory”. But the theory is gaining more and more traction and is the subject of Matt Ridley’s next book.