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The evidence which suggests that Covid-19 is not a naturally evolved virus [pdf] (minervanett.no)
495 points by 2a0c40 21 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 463 comments



Here's the Cliff Notes version of the argument in this paper:

1. SARS-CoV-2 has a number of unique and unusual genetic features, when compared to close relatives, many of which explain its high virulence and infectivity among humans.

2. A series of research papers published by a group of virologists, dating back a little over a decade, demonstrate (1) a progressively increasing understanding of viral features which make coronaviruses more infectious and virulent in humans, and (2) laboratory capabilities for successfully creating chimeric viruses (e.g. moving one specific protein sequence from a bat SARS-like virus to human SARS virus) to test their hypotheses.

3. Each of the unique and unusual features of SARS-CoV-2 appears somewhere in this line of research.

4. Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the city where the outbreak began, were intimately involved this line of research.

Taken together, the publicly-available evidence indicates that a select group of virologists had the domain knowledge and laboratory capabilities to create chimeric viruses which possess each of the unusual features of SARS-CoV-2, and that select group of virologists was concentrated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology located at ground zero for the pandemic.

The authors feel that, in light of this preponderance of circumstantial evidence, the hypothesis that the biogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 involved human intervention should be seen as the leading (i.e. most likely) explanation.

They do not make any statement about how the virus first infected a live human and spread into a pandemic, but conditioned on their biogenesis hypothesis being true, one would then assume an accidental lab release from WIV as the most likely explanation.


This isn't entirely true, though. SARS-CoV-2 is much less virulent than SARS or MERS.

For a virus that recently crossed the zoonotic barrier, and even moreso for one crossing from bats, it's virulence is actually astonishingly low.

Therefore, the hypothesis of a two-stage crossing to humans, from bats to a larger land based mammal and then to humans is much much more likely, because this would explain high transmissibility due to the necessity to infect despite small lung volumes, as well as much lower virulence.

Therefore, the pre-existing hypothesis seems to match reality more closely than an accidental release. A virus being engineered to be an order of magnitude less virulent seems unlikely to say the least.


> A virus being engineered to be an order of magnitude less virulent seems unlikely to say the least.

From what I gathered it’s not suggesting specific genetic traits were engineered, but rather that they were experimenting and one of those experiments could have accidentally been released(?).


Yes, but is the theory is that one experiment, in the context of a gain analysis, was made in order to see how the virus might evolve to be much less severe?

Why would a gain analysis try to find ways in which a virus could be made weaker? I don't doubt that an accidental release is feasible, though very very unlikely, but why would an experiment make a less severe virus in the first place?


>Why would a gain analysis try to find ways in which a virus could be made weaker?

To better understand the mechanisms that make it weak or strong?

Plus, why would it have to be "made weaker" as opposed, accidentally made weaker? If they were experimenting they would have all sorts of varieties/results... it's not like every experiment to make it stronger would make it stronger... surely some could fail and make it weaker!


If I were to make a great bio weapon that would do the maximum damage, I will have these attributes: 1. Spread it easily; 2. Don't kill the ones who spread it most easily (the young); 3. Be lethal enough to overwhelm the system. And so I have the Covid-19. Of course it is all post-fact analysis. but it also answers your question of why would an experiment make a less sever virus in the first place - to address the biggest problem of an infectious agent as a bioweapon, i.e. a virulent virus ends up killing too many too fast to be highly infective and 'effective'.


And if I were to make a bioweapon, I would think about long-term impact.

(1) Millions disabled is far worse than millions dead.

(2) Attacks can come in multiple pieces. The first virus might do damage to make people especially vulnerable to the second virus. If I can protect my population against the first one /or/ the second, my people are safe.

My opinion is it's just a matter of time before we see bioweapons, and we should be ready. If not before COVID19, then now. Our vulnerability is very obvious.

We should treat this as an emergency prep drill, and make sure businesses can operate remotely, kids can learn remotely, we have PPE, and the infrastructure is in place for essential work. That also wouldn't collapse the economy.


Infectious bioweapons are a horrible idea in a highly connected world for the reason we can all plainly see: they don’t respect national borders.

It is an old-fashioned notion of a weapon that only made sense when there was little exchange between the citizens of states in opposition, like the U.S. and USSR.

China, for whom international trade is a crucial part of their strategy, would not work on an infectious disease weapon unless they simultaneously developed a vaccine to protect their own people. The fact they are not currently vaccinating their population, or even in the lead in developing a vaccine, is extremely strong proof that COVID-19 did not originate as a Chinese bioweapon candidate.


Not a proof at all. It just shows that it can't be a planned release.


If a lab in China had been working with this virus at all, they would have had at minimum working cultures of it, and potentially multiple strains and experience modifying them. Cultures alone would have put them ahead of western pharma companies in developing a vaccine—even in the case of an unplanned release.

The fact that they’re not ahead is compelling proof that this virus was as new to Chinese medicine as it was to everyone else.


> The fact that they’re not ahead is compelling proof that this virus was as new to Chinese medicine as it was to everyone else.

I appreciate your argument, but are you sure that they are not ahead? I don't have personal knowledge, but (for example) there was a Reuters article last week with a headline that included that claim "China leads COVID-19 vaccine race": https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-china-.... If somehow it was proved that they are indeed ahead, would you consider this compelling proof in the opposite direction? I think I'd consider both directions to be weak evidence, but neither to be anything near proof.


They are ahead by a few weeks, yes.


If there is a country that benefited most from this virus, it's Russia. Crippling economies of China and especially US (with additional misinformation to make people not wear masks).

Why would a country that wanted to deploy a bio weapon started on it's own land? It's not like travel to other countries was restricted.

Also Russia is not a country that would have qualms about affecting own citizens. Putin get to power by coordinating bombings on apartment complexes and blaming Chechens for it.


Well, let's break down this hypothetical a bit more:

(1) "Work on" is different from "release." If I were China, I would not release a bioweapon, but I might work on one. The US and USSR worked on nuclear weapons but did not release them. There are 200 nations. Some of them almost certainly have secret bioweapons programs.

(2) As China showed, they could handle a COVID19-level bioweapon attack while the US can't. US has several times as many /dead/ as China had /infected./ In a war, if I were China, I might release one too if I had one.

(3) If I were planning a sneak attack, as I said, a multipart bioweapon might make sense. If something like COVID19 damages the lungs, and makes people vulnerable to PICORNA21, and only 80,000 of my citizens caught COVID19, while millions of Americans did, it seems pretty safe. Especially if I know I can do another lockdown, and the US can't. Release PICORNA21, lock down, wait for millions of paralyzed Americans, and take my rightful spot back in the world.

(4) China is not the only player. Bioweapons are rapidly moving into the range of clever undergrad students, not to speak of terrorist organizations, rogue nations, etc.

I'm not trying to badmouth China here. I don't even think China is the major threat; just that the US should be ready for something like COVID19 intended as a weapon.

Also, as points of fact: (a) China is vaccinating its military already. (b) China has no reason to vaccinate its population yet; their lockdown has worked. If China did vaccinate their population already, as you point out, that would be clear proof this was engineered by China.


You missed out one critical element of a highly contagious bioweapon: you have to be able to protect your own population. Otherwise it's a self-own.

(This is why nobody has really used bioweapons in warfare to date, with the exception of some questionable reports that the USSR had a really lethal weaponized smallpox strain on some of their ICBM warheads, as a balance-of-terror multiplier.)

While this doesn't prove that COVID19 isn't a bioweapon, it strongly suggests that it got loose long before whoever designed it anticipated. Unless, of course, it was developed by the world-leading Vietnamese biological warfare institute (hey, look at their fatality figures)! (That was sarcasm, by the way.)


Not if you’re a communist regime. Remember, in communism, there is no individual. Everyone belongs to the state.


>If I were to make a great bio weapon that would do the maximum damage

You must not know much about bioweapons, then. By any measure, SARS-CoV-2 is a very, very poor bioweapon.

Think about it... it infects everyone but for the most part younger people don't die from it or even become incapacitated. It's mostly killing the elderly or people who have pre-existing conditions.

Effectively, SARS-CoV-2 helps the nation that's infected with it prepare for conventional conflict... it leaves younger people able to fight in the military and with some immunity to the weapon, it greatly reduces the need to care for the elderly or those in poor physical condition, freeing up workers for weapons production or logistics.

It's easy to stop this supposed "weapon" from spreading, just social distance and wear a mask... if everyone does it, the attack is ineffective.

Any country that attacked another using SARS-CoV-2 as a weapon would be suiciding. All the virus would accomplish is making the youngest, most able portion of the target population very angry and reducing the number of non combat capable people they have to take care of.

But wait, you say... the US is having a much higher impact from the virus.

That's because our leadership has failed outright and continues to do so at many levels. Calling the virus a hoax, politically motivated re-openings, the support of ignorance instead of science, conspiracy theories... all due to poor leadership.

Which of course is the real reason this tinfoil hat theory that the virus is a weapon hasn't died yet. Convincing a large number of people that it's a weapon would remove responsibility from Trump and the GOP for failing so incredibly badly, or at least make them look better in the run-up to the election.

The truth is that SARS-CoV-2 isn't a weapon, it's a pandemic which the US could have quickly suppressed and defeated, but did not because our corrupt, inept government worships ignorance instead of enlightenment.


Or what if the virus was intentionally released to remove a costly population demographic (old & infirm) that no longer have a cost benefit for the CCP/PRC GDP. Keep in mind that we still don't have valid numbers from China so we don't know how many died though back-channel reports say the reported numbers are much too low. The virus may very well have performed its intended purpose and any damage to enemies of the CCP is just iceing on the cake.


Good question! But I just write javascript :) very interesting stuff


> Why would a gain analysis try to find ways in which a virus could be made weaker?

You're presuming it was for gain analysis. What if the intention was different? What if you were ultimately considering the virus for bio-warfare and wanted to hide that intention?

If we're going to explore theories this fits the evidence, or is at least possible.


Just looking at it from an effect perspective, it’s clear that the much more virulent variant was much easier to keep under control.


I read that viruses, as a whole, are trending to be less severe because highly lethal viruses kill the host faster than it can spread. They could be researching ideas like this.


maybe to be safe and minimize the consequence of accidents?

maybe you can still arrive to the same conclusion, regardless of suppressing or amplifying a trait?


> why would an experiment make a less severe virus in the first place?

Wouldn't that make it seem safer to study?


Why do you think it's very, very unlikely?

Accidental releases of viruses from labs have happened quite regularly. It's a serious concern.

The UK was first introduced to the uselessness of Imperial College and their epidemiological modelling by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 amongst livestock. It resulted in mass killing (by humans) of animals. Eventually the epidemic disappeared, amongst great acrimony and disaster for farmers.

In 2007 foot and mouth appeared again. This time, the virus was traced to the source of the outbreak. It came from a lab in Pirbright where the virus had been stored for research. Two government orgs were connected by pipes, and the pipes had been allowed to rust due to a budget dispute over which org should pay for repairs:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_United_Kingdom_foot-and-m...

There's a long history of biolabs leaking and being found to be dangerous. It's not at all unlikely given this shoddy history.

https://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/the-long-histo...

the New York Times (8/5/19) reported: “Deadly Germ Research Is Shut Down at Army Lab Over Safety Concerns”

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/17/reports...

"Hundreds of bioterror lab mishaps cloaked in secrecy"

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/23/undisclosed-cd...

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday they have identified 34 incident reports involving bioterror pathogens mishandled at CDC labs that were “inadvertently” not disclosed in 2014 to congressional investigators who had asked for the information

Oh and here's one from December 2019:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03863-z

Chinese institutes investigate pathogen outbreaks in lab workers


Is this actually the case? This paper [1] seems to indicate that there are multiple types of gain-of-function research, not just an increase in virulence. In fact, the paper specifically discusses “transmissibility”, which would seem to support the argument of the paper under discussion: “In short, SARS-CoV-2 is possessed of dual action capability. In this paper we argue that the likelihood of this being the result of natural processes is very small”

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK285579/


Sure. The issue is that there would have to be gain-of-function research to reduce virulence and (maybe, it's not entirely clear) to increase transmissivity.

There is no evidence for that AFAIK, and I don't understand why a lab would do a gain of function experiment and reduce function instead.


It strikes me as reducing virulence would be a responsible first step before conducting research on increasing transmissivity of a deadly virus.


Do you have the study where they would have reduced virulence for these reasons? Because reducing the virulence of a virus to such a level that a large part of the population don't even get any symptoms seems odd to say the least.

Also, it's not even clear that COVID-19 is that much more infectious (or at all) than SARS, it seems to me that its explained well enough by so many people brushing it off or not even realizing they have it because it's so much less severe.


Reasons a [malicious|altruistic] actor might do that:

You have the ability to use it to induce fear and therefore behavioral changes. Positive cases are valuable.

Plausible deniability.

Mistakes.

Response.

Testing (as parent pointed out).


Assume it's academic research.

Introducing feature X (regardless of effect) allows you to study X.

You do it to learn more about X, not because you particularly want to engineer something more virulent or lethal.


Yes, exactly, which is discussed in the paper. The goal of gain of function research isn’t about “let’s make viruses that do crazy shit,” it’s a method of hypothesis testing. When you can successfully add (or remove) stuff then you can test hypotheses that would otherwise not be testable.


Reduce virulence compared to what? SARS-1? But they are not talking about SARS-1, they actually were talking about some other random bat viruses, which have zero virulence in humans.


Au contraire, you would expect random bat viruses to be incredibly virulent in humans.


Really? How is that? Proof? Link?


This research seems relevant;

>Our key result is that hosts most closely related to humans harbour zoonoses of lower impact in terms of morbidity and mortality, while the most distantly related hosts—in particular, order Chiroptera (bats)—harbour highly virulent zoonoses with a lower capacity for endemic establishment in human hosts.

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.201...


True, but to be dangerous the have to pass cross species barrier, before that event, virulence is exactly zero. So, random bat viruses have zero virulence in people.


What I know is that a virus like Ebola, which kills almost everybody who is untreated, cannot be that successful as a virus like Covid19 or HIV, because it gets no chance to spread. The corona virus is so successful because it can spread without killing everybody.


Edit: I'm very wrong about the terminology here.

---

CoV-2 is way more virulent than SARS, as evidenced by the fact it's spread across the entire world. SARS might spread more easily from contact, and it does more damage once it's inside you, but that's only one component of virulence. MERS is also not really comparable - it's very difficult to transmit between humans.

I get what you're saying but practical effects just matter more than isolated metrics. Viruses that transmit asymptomatically are more likely to be virulent, because you can't isolate patients. If you're trying to engineer a virus, you want to make it transmit faster than it kills people and you want to make it hard to quarantine.


You're confusing virulence and infectivity. Virulence is specifically how severe a virus is. For example, one might say that Hepatitis is more virulent than the common cold.


You're right, I am. I should have focussed on the point that asymptomatic transmission and lack of severity may be a feature in an engineered virus, not a bug.


How can you argue that the outcome of a test is known before that test is performed? That’s why the test is made in the first place.


> SARS-CoV-2 is much less virulent than SARS or MERS.

Can you provide sources for that? I thought it was the opposite.


Virulence :

1. the severity or harmfulness of a disease or poison.

COVID-19 - has an fatality rate of around 0.5-1%, according to the best methodologies we have, in various environments, with recent papers suggesting that it might be even less lethal in places where medical care is sufficient.

In comparison, the best data for SARS fatality rates is of around 11% (!).

This means that SARS-CoV-2 is around ten times less virulent than SARS. MERS is even worse than SARS.

Now, SARS-CoV-2 is likely even more infectious than SARS, but part of that is because it's less severe, meaning that you can spread it even without being sick.


Thanks, I had my definitions wrong :)


Should we go by the crude fatality rate since the data around COVID-19 isn't rock solid yet right? Shouldn't we measure COVID-19's virulence by the IFR aka infection fatality rate instead? As of today with 14,194,795 cases and 599,438 deaths, COVID-19's infection fatality rate is 4.23%. By comparison, SARS only had 8,098 cases and only 774 deaths, giving it an IFR of 9.56%.


4.23% is a case fatality rate, or CFR, not IFR.

The issue is the SARS had a lot less cases, and was more virulent. There is no evidence for asymptomatic spread of SARS, and almost every single infection was accounted for using contact tracing.

Therefore, it makes sense to use the best guess at IFR for both. The best guess for IFR for COVID-19 is around 0.3-0.9%, depending on the state of the healthcare system.

SARS however, seems to have a very low rate of asymptomatic carriers : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371799/ , of around 7%. Of those 7%, it is expected that the vast majority are detected, as there were very few cases of SARS of unknown origin (IE, no contact with an infected person). On the other hand, COVID19 is believed to have asymptomatic infection rates of as high as 50%, and even at the very beginning there were tons of cryptic transmission.

Therefore, it is likely that the CFR of SARS is very close the IFR. Using a high-estimate for the IFR of COVID19 and comparing it to the CFR of SARS should yield a very good comparison for virulence of the two viruses.

Therefore, SARS is indeed in the ballpark of 10x more virulent than COVID19.


We need to be really careful about the claims of asymptomatic infection.

The problem with this concept is it becomes impossible to detect false positives. In fact it makes the test the ground truth rather than actual observable clinical sickness. Any bug in the test thus creates a pseudo-epidemic:

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00047325.htm

If you look at that paper you can see it admits that other research studies found no asymptomatic infection at all. Others on the other hand said they saw it. So there's no real consensus that this phenomenon actually exists in this case, and the asymptomatic people didn't seem to transmit the virus at all (so why are we all wearing masks now then?).

The numbers involved are tiny. Their conclusions are based on the antibody test returning positive without symptoms for just 6 people. The amount of antibodies found in the asymptomatic cases was significantly lower than for other cases, leading to the question of whether they were picking up noise at the edge of the test's capabilities and whether they truly understand how the test works (given that there weren't many SARS-CoV-1 cases, there'd be limited cases on which to test or calibrate it).


Isn't there often a trade-off between virulence and infectiousness in viral transmission?

See "A transmission-virulence evolutionary trade-off explains attenuation of HIV-1 in Uganda" https://elifesciences.org/articles/20492


That trade off is made by evolution. I don't see why scientists in a lab would make that trade off in a gain of function analysis - you can just make it more infectious and keep (likely increase) the level of virulence.

Since evolution isn't involved in the proposed mechanism, I see no reason why such a trade-off would occur.


I think you presume a level of mastery over artificially engineered viruses that just doesn't exist. Is it obvious before a modification is made to a virus strand whether it will be more or less virulent? Besides, engineering for virulence can easily get yourself killed. Furthermore it didn't necessarily have to be engineered for nefarious purposes. It could have been an experimental virus that accidentally escaped and that's all.


Perhaps depends on your goals. Virulent enough to cause global panic and show how a totalitarian state can respond better to a pandemic than democratic stated. But not virulent enough to actually kill everyone.

Similarly SARS and MERS were perhaps too virulent and could thus easily be controlled by screening for symptoms, while the new coronavirus can spread without symptoms, which could possibly be attributed to the lower virulence.


Now this sounds exactly like something Donald Trump has been saying all this time, and such conspiracy theories don't contribute much to the discussion.

If thousands of deaths in China, a complete lockdown that hit the economy incredibly hard and perhaps more crucially, the total breakdown and potential reshaping of the global supply chain, which China has been benefitting from massively, is something that the Chinese gov wants to to achieve, then such conspiracy theories might hold water. I think it's plain to see how nonsensical they are.

Also, nobody made the US look bad but themselves. This is obvious if you compare COVID responses in countries like Germany with those in the US.


Which professional published best case death estimate did the US not beat?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23407130

Excess deaths are the only accurate measure.


Then it was truly unavoidable for the us to keep getting worse and worse, for some reason more in states full of people who think masks are mind control (a total mystery that we will never understand), while other countries are seeing things get better.


It's not that mysterious how tribalism, fear, and the discomfort of admitting being wrong, just to name a few contributing factors, can result in people holding irrational beliefs.

They're not a different species, they're people. If you give into the urge to treat them as "other", as inferior, or as a different "tribe" to be defeated you're not as different from them with their ridiculous beliefs as you might like to think.


We? No. You don't understand. That's fine. You can learn.

https://stpauls.vxcommunity.com/Issue/Us-Experiment-On-Infan...

You ignored the Q you responded to. "Which professional published best case death estimate did the US not beat?"


The "a total mystery that we will never understand" was intended to be fairly obvious sarcasm. My mistake.

That's not completely true. Some of those pressures still apply to artificial viruses once they're released. Highly dangerous viruses get quarantined, and viruses that produce symptoms quickly (and don't transmit asymptomatically, or have a shorter window) are more obvious. Both of those properties reduce real-world transmissability, which is all that actually matters.


I'd argue that SARS-CoV-2 is very far from the Pareto optimal trade-off in infectivity and virulence. There are viruses that are both more virulent and more infectious.


Maybe, but I can't imagine it's easy to reach it, or really establish it. Too many variables to predict.

Like to be clear I don't think it was deliberately engineered to be optimal. If it's engineered at all I'd imagine it's an experiment that escaped.


Good summary, thanks!

Related to the origin hypotheses, the hypothesis of zoonotic outbreak from a wet market in mid-Dec no longer seems as relevant. It was first laid out in a widely disseminated paper in The Lancet [1, see Figure 1B], but since then retrospective wastewater analyses from Italy[2], Spain[3], Brazil and others[4] have found it was circulating much earlier.

"The Italian National Institute of Health looked at 40 sewage samples collected from wastewater treatment plants in northern Italy between October 2019 and February 2020. An analysis released on Thursday said samples taken in Milan and Turin on Dec. 18 showed the presence of the SARS-Cov-2 virus." [2]

and

"Most COVID-19 cases show mild influenza-like symptoms (14) and it has been suggested that some uncharacterized influenza cases may have masked COVID-19 cases in the 2019-2020 season (11). This possibility prompted us to analyze some archival WWTP samples from January 2018 to December 2019 (Figure 2). All samples came out to be negative for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genomes with the exception of March 12, 2019, in which both IP2 and IP4 target assays were positive. This striking finding indicates circulation of the virus in Barcelona long before the report of any COVID-19 case worldwide." [3]

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159299/ [2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-italy-... [3] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.13.20129627v... [4] https://twitter.com/LMeigre/status/1282819131390210050


I think the “hypothesis of zoonotic outbreak from a wet market in mid-Dec” is still very relevant, and the few papers claiming to have evidence of SARS-CoV-2 prior to Dec 2019 outside China are still very questionable. It’s not like they tested old samples in a few places and the virus promptly showed up. Rather, lots of old samples were tested all over the place, and the virus almost never showed up, except in a very few instances that night more parsimoniously be explained with false positives.


It isn’t relevant, and hasn’t been since almost the beginning of the pandemic. We’ve known since March that the earliest retroactively identified case of the disease in China was from October and had no connection with the Wuhan wet market. The wet market may be the the earliest identified widespread outbreak, but it is clear that the crossover event happened earlier and the virus had been circulating at low levels prior to that.


> but it is clear that the crossover event happened earlier and the virus had been circulating at low levels prior to that.

Source? Definitely some experts think it is not impossible that it was brought to the wet market very early in the outbreak, that's not implausible at all. But the idea that it was circulating globally or widely at all before that is not backed by the evidence.


There are some Brazilian researchers in the process of mapping the whole genome of some samples collected and frozen back in November 2019 that they believe to be SARS-CoV-2.

It will be interesting to see how that compares to a Wuhan sample and see if it had most of the novel features of COVID-19, but is maybe missing one thing like how it binds to ACE2 which is probably implicated in all the cardiovascular issues it causes.


Why not both?

There could have been a baseline level of the virus or a close brother of it in circulation early in 2019, but the conditions of the wet market ecosystem in late 2019 let it suddenly spiral out of control, or make a final evolution to its current high-transmissiveness form.

Sort of like how we can find, retrospectively, intermittent cases of HIV back to the early part of the 20th century, but it suddenly exploded in the 1980s.


It's actually been hypothesised from the beginning that ancestors of Covid-19 passed back and forth between humans and animals several times before taking its current form. The idea being that an ancestor of the virus was first transferred to humans where it 'learned' how to adapt to the human body before transmitting back to an animal host and mutated to become more deadly to humans and then transferred back to humans. This is partly based on the idea that a successful virus wouldn't adapt to be more lethal to its host and that close cousins of Covid-19 have been found in several species of bats and other animals.

This actually makes China a much better candidate than Europe for the place where the most important step in its evolution occurred. China has much more vibrant trade in wild animals for clothing, consumption, and traditional medicine. China also happens to be the place where the first reports of widespread hospitalisations occurred.

I don't think it's possible that Covid-19 in its current form could have floated around with its current high level of transmissivity or even the lower level of transmissibility of the Chinese strain without being detected for more than a month.

As we've seen from America's second wave (bumpy first wave?) the virus replicates exponentially (even with some social distancing), so tens of thousands of people can be infected within two weeks. So we ought to see pretty strong signal in ICU admissions within about 5 weeks of an outbreak (allowing ramp up time, incubation period, and time for symptoms to progress). We'd also expect to see all-cause mortality rates of people over 65 to increase significantly within about 7 to 8 weeks of the outbreak occurring as the average time to mortality is about 18 days.

I fail to see how it'd be possible for the health system of any developed nation to miss all that, but a developing country that has a culture of secrecy and suppressing information from both its own people and central authorities? Yeah I could believe that.

> Sort of like how we can find, retrospectively, intermittent cases of HIV back to the early part of the 20th century, but it suddenly exploded in the 1980s.

That's in large part because HIV collided with African urbanisation, significant international air travel deflation, an explosion of homosexual activity (unprotected sex), an industrialised blood transfer system, and a drug epidemic with administration using shared syringes. I can't think of a similar set of factors changing in our current society that could have allowed for the explosion of a coronavirus.


I would consider the final evolutionary jump to not have been at the wet market, but the virology lab where someone who works with the bat virus caught the one in circulation worldwide - this more deadly virus broke out in Wuhan because that was where the last jump occurred.

Some viruses lie dormant in our bodies for years, was someone at the lab infected with a bat SARs virus at some point, and all it needed was this other virus to come along for it to share some of its virulence?


> Related to the origin hypotheses, the hypothesis of zoonotic outbreak from a wet market in mid-Dec no longer seems as relevant

Perhaps in your mind, but this is not at all a fair representation of the general scientific consensus - most still hold the weight of the evidence leans towards a November '19 origin in Wuhan


I think you were partly right on this, so wanted to update you in case you're interested. Science has a new interview with Zhi Zhengli who also no longer supports the idea that it was probably from the market:

"However, two papers published in late January revealed that up to 45% of the first confirmed patients—including four of the five earliest cases—did not have any ties to the market, casting doubt on the theory that it was the origin. Shi agrees: “The Huanan seafood market may just be a crowded location where a cluster of early novel coronavirus patients were found.”

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/trump-owes-us-apolog...


How did you determine the general scientific consensus?


Reading peer-reviewed papers & following field leaders on Twitter.

I have experience in academia, so it might be easier to parse because of that, but news articles are certainly not sufficient.


Please don't spew falsehoods and add 'general concesus' to it.

There are reports that the French team that traveled in October in Wuhan for mil. sports games, got infected by it. So, that it was at circulating in Wuhan at least since October, even most probably: early september.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/08/covid-19-pandemi...


Whether that's likely or not can be estimated by extrapolating case numbers from January back in time into 2019 and using a reasonable estimate for the R0 value without any measures against the spreading of the disease. Even if you don't trust the Chinese numbers, the estimate should be roughly in the right ballpark, since we certainly didn't have millions of deaths in Wuhan in January. The initial exponential growth phase is similar in all regions with comparable population density.

I haven't crunched these numbers, but a start in early September seems unlikely to me - call it a hunch, based on looking at the initial growth curves.


The Telegraph is not a reliable source for anything connected to covid.


The Telegraph is not a reliable source for anything.


Newspapers are not a reliable source for news.


The Telegraph only qualifies as a newspaper in the loosest of terms, in that it also sometimes reports news and is published in dead tree form.


Why did you quote me 'general concesus' and then misspell the word?

I'm not going to respond to the rest of the comment suggesting the Telegraph should be part of my consideration when judging the science.


He cited papers, you referenced a "general scientific consensus". This is a gun fight, sir, so you'd best put that knife away.


He cited two scientific papers, one which is peer-reviewed and indicates that the virus originated in Wuhan and one which is an un-peer reviewed pre-print on medRxiv, funded by a private company with interest in promoting the efficacy of wastewater monitoring, that Covid was present in wastewater. It's worth looking in to, but hardly discredits the widely-accepted Wuhan origin yet.

In your poorly fit analogy, the scientific consensus would be the gun to the single, unreviewed paper's knife.


I see you’ve played knifey spoony before!


I read the spain paper. They don’t report the false positive rate of the test they used, but if it was one that was commonly available, that paper’s P-value is something like 0.5. They don’t compute a P value.

Until the others make it through peer review, I wouldn’t read anything into their results.


As noted downthread, these points don't particularly point to it being engineered (point 1 applies in spades to SARS and MERS, for example). Most scientists believe the evidence [0] indicates it's of natural origin.

[0] https://www.sciencealert.com/the-new-coronavirus-could-have-...


> SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins were so effective at binding to human cells, they had to be caused by natural selection.

Read the article you are citing. There is convincing evidence that the virus developed via evolutionary mechanisms. That in no way refutes lab-origin and is entirely consistent with how most labs promote infectiousness (particularly airborn infectiousness) through gain-of-function research.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4693520/


>There is convincing evidence it developed via evolutionary origins.

Er, yes. Not sure what you're saying here (the title is "..Covid-19 is not a naturally-evolved virus...')?


Gain of function serial infection techniques do not constitute natural evolution: they constitute lab-directed evolution.

That is for all intents and purposes man-made, unless one is splitting hairs, which much of the politicized media is doing.


Very unlikely to be the case here though, in particular because the same receptor domain is found in the wild (e.g. pangolins).

Yes, quite a lot of media have become politicised (the reason for which being quite well understood). None the less, the science is what it is - provisional. It is not surprising that commercial entities take particular positions to benefit from said politicisation.

In most countries at least, the science will ultimately give us the answer.


Thanks for the summary. It feels a bit like the intelligent design argument for God. It has these features, we can’t imagine them randomly coming together, so it must have been designed. Add that humans really want to ascribe motive and reason to events, when sometimes it really is jus chance.


You’re missing step 2: a group of virologists published research showing (indirectly, over time) exactly how one might create a chimeric virus with the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2. The argument is not “we can’t imagine them randomly coming together”, the argument is “these virologists had the experience and knowledge to put them together, and have been doing so for years in their experiments”


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No, but other similar viruses have already risen out the same general conditions in China before. The evidence to say that this one is different is going to need to be very compelling. Circumstances are not enough.


I feel step 4. is just a more specific detail of step 2, and the critical tricky piece of their argument is step 3 because that's the step that synthesizes steps 1 and 2. I imagine that the rebuttals would try to show that step 1 or 3 do not hold.


Right, in the conclusion they refer to "means, timing, agent and place" which seems to frame this like one would prosecute a criminal trial in the absence of "smoking gun" physical evidence. If the researchers at the heart of all this were located far from the epicenter of the outbreak, then you'd need to find a good explanation for why it started where it did, which is why I think it should be mentioned as a distinct point of evidence.


Ah okay it's like the difference between a forensic argument vs a scientific argument.


No, that’s a misleading comparison. There is no such thing as a “scientific argument” about matters of historical record, because you cannot conduct science on history. Forensics is all there is. It’s just that there is no piece of evidence that incontrovertibly ties the virus to the lab prior to the outbreak, e.g. a leaked research document dated prior to the outbreak showing knowledge of the virus or something.


I think it's more people taking what a court calls 'evidence' and declaring it 'scientific evidence' - sure they both use that same word 'evidence' but they are quite different things and shouldn't be mixed


The summary is very much faithful, unfortunately followed by comments from commenters who obviously did not read the paper. I would just add this item, paraphrasing the paper:

In 2015 the Wuhan team of virologists working with researchers from Chapel Hill, NC obtained a chimeric virus able to infect the human respiratory tract, while unexpectedly featuring an increased pathogenesis in the mouse. The dangerous outcome was briefly discussed in the original paper, and further experiments seemed to have been carried out only at the Wuhan lab, possibly because of a US gov ban on such experiments that existed at that time.


Thank you for this summary.

A slightly tangential question I'd love to get more perspective on is the impact of the virus being "man made" on our current predicament. Even assuming that the virus was not naturally evolved, and its characteristics are partly caused due to human interventions we're still stuck finding a vaccine, medication and ways of reducing transmission.

Is there still a thread here that this virus is evidence that humans can possibly create chimeric viruses? In my limited understanding, using protein sequences to modify viruses is generally believed to be possible.


In the article, the authors say that, in 2015, US researchers created a chimeric virus from a bat coronavirus to infect mice lung cells. They tested the virus on human lung cells and predicted that it would be very dangerous to humans. They stopped doing research on it because it would break the US rules against making human viruses more powerful. They were working with virus researchers from Wuhan. The authors conjecture that the Wuhan researchers used the same techniques and made Sars-cov-2 and it accidentally got out.


The issue is that SARS-CoV-2 is much, much less powerful. So that doesn't really follow.


Compared to what? Not much is known how powerful that chimeric virus was compared to CoV-2. Could please elaborate where did you get that notion from&


What do you mean by this? I heard that it has incredible affinity to ACE receptors, which is why it sprrads so quickly (combined with asymptomatic infection)


Yes, it binds to ACE2 receptors more strongly, but once you're infected it's about one order of magnitude less severe.

To note, receptor affinity is not the only mechanism by which infectivity is modulated. You would already expect that a virus that is ten times less severe would spread more easily, and SARS was already able to spread efficiently through air at great distances, so it seems likely that me that receptor affinity is stronger but that other mechanism are weaker. This would explain the fact that it is less severe and not much more infectious.


Modifying a sample genome is easy. It has been done routinely in industry and academia for decades.

Alternatively, they can inexpensively “print” entire virus genomes from scratch from a digital copy, but the “printer” is pricey.

(I’m being intentionally vague here, and skipped a few steps. I accidentally wrote a tutorial for starting your own biological weapons lab, then edited it down.)


>the impact of the virus being "man made" on our current predicament

One good aspect could be the lack of an animal reservoir would make it less likely to come back. So far minks seem to be the only animals to catch it in a major way.


Or, and this is a really crazy theory, they were studying it in China because it was a local virus that they were worried might one day infect humans. Maybe they were studying which changes would make it most dangerous because they wanted to be ready if those changes happened naturally. Honest hard work can sometimes look like evil plans, and not every coincidence is the result of conspiracy.


I actually believe this to be the case. From what I have read researchers often do something called gain of function research. In this research they add genetic features to viruses that could make it more infective. This is done, at least in part, to help learn how to protect society from such a virus if it were to evolve naturally. I thought I heard somewhere that one of the functions coronavirus has that its closest known relatives do not have just happens to be something that virologists frequently add.

All this leads me to believe it was created in a lab. Likely for altruistic purposes but still. When this escaped whoever knew that it was from a lab should have disclosed it ASAP to help the world prepare.

I have no experience in virology so don't trust me.


The thing I just don't understand is why gain research would take the effort of making the virus much less deadly. This virus is around ten times less deadly that SARS, wouldn't gain research at least maintain virulence?


You switch from death rate or R0, so it's not clear which variable you are referring to. COVID-19 may be less deadly, but it has killed more people than SARS. So it does appear to be a 'better' virus.


One way of discovering what increases property X is testing that some change decreases property X.

Another way of discovering what increases property X is testing that some change indeed increases property X, while also discovering it decreases property Y.

While attempting to increase both X and Y, they made an intermediate with increased X and decreased Y. Perhaps it seemed a promising starting point to also increase Y.

I don't get the surprise. This is all par for the course in research.


Depends, what if you had a virus that caused the same antiviral response as SARS on the immune system but had no deaths (couldn't cause death)?


I do not have experience in virology either but what you heard is correct. Researchers do work on creating new strains of viruses, with the goal being development of vaccines before epidemics start.


> they were studying it in China because it was a local virus that they were worried might one day infect humans. Maybe they were studying which changes would make it most dangerous because they wanted to be ready if those changes happened naturally.

The person you're responding to didn't say anything different to what you've said.

> Honest hard work can sometimes look like evil plans, and not every coincidence is the result of conspiracy.

Why did you say that? It certainly isn't stated or even implied by the person you're replying to.


The person he/she/they is responding to may not have originated the thought, but the quote this poster is responding to is very clear from context. It reads as follows:

“The authors feel that, in light of this preponderance of circumstantial evidence, the hypothesis that the biogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 involved human intervention should be seen as the leading (i.e. most likely) explanation.”


Which is not an accusation of research done in bad faith. The linked paper referenced 4 others as evidence. It doesn't say that those 4 were somehow done for evil - just that they were done.


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Even taking the worst possible view of the Chinese government, they have strong economic reasons to have been preparing for a new SARS type epidemic over the past twenty years. They don't need the benefit of the doubt.


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One could also easily argue that the CCP has very little to gain from ruining almost all of their customers financially.

So far, it also looks like mainland China was hit hard, while Taiwan got off easy. The CCP would most likely not strengthen a territory that they hope to eventually absorb.

And lastly, I would assume that with Trump, the CCP could just bribe their way into Washington.

So I see very little for them to be gained from starting this. And you yourself also conclude that India is benefiting more than China.


Why give a government with modern day concentration camps, an avoidable epidemic of prisoners with COVID-19, and military occupation of free countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, or more historically in Iraq (again), Somalia, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cuba, I feel like I’m just naming random countries at this point...the benefit of the doubt about anything?


Comments like this really derail an otherwise civil and interesting discussion.


Syria is a free country? Have you been there?


Because China didn't kill George Floyd in daylight?


C'mon Hong Kong belongs to China and always was. It was just leased to UK and this lease had ended in last century. China just wanted to reap benefits of Being Kong economy this is why they given them such a huge autonomy . They can change it anytime as this is their property. If someone would follow your logic Hawai is also US occupied country ...


So I'm not going to get into an argument, just make three basic points to reply here:

Hong Kong did not always belong to China, and was not leased to the UK - part of Hong Kong's area (the New Territories) was leased, but Kowloon and Hong Kong island were ceded in perpetuity.

China signed an international treaty with the UK regarding the handover of Hong Kong, a treaty which comes with certain rights and responsibilities. Sure, there's no real way to actually enforce such a treaty, but you can't really complain if other countries react to the breaking of a treaty with punitive measures, and don't trust the treaty-breaker not to break other treaties in future.

How about asking the people of Hong Kong what they want? There's about 7.5 million of us here, with a fairly unique history and culture, so maybe just being subsumed into another country wouldn't be the choice of the population?


Hawaii was taken from its native peoples and there is a very slow process underway to remediate that. [0]

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_recognit...


This is not the scientific method you are applying but a hopeful emotional reaction.

tasogare 21 days ago [flagged]

Yeah sure the racist hypothesis of Chinese people eating bats is far more likely than a virus escape from a Wuhan lab with known protocol defects that worked on coronaviruses. /s


Are you saying bats weren't sold/used as food in Wuhan?

What's racist about suggesting someone eats bats? Mammalian flesh is a common food source across human cultures.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_as_food


Bats are not really eaten as food in China. Maybe eaten as part of traditional medicines or rarely in specific rural areas but that's about it.

The videos of people eating bats that surfaced following the beginning of Covid-19 were from Indonesia.

The way this misinformation has spread is indeed based on racism (Chinese are 'barbarians' who have 'barbarian' eating habits and they should change them and eat like 'normal' people).

Now, (fruit) bats eaten as food in West Africa is a major vector of the spread of Ebola.


> Now, (fruit) bats eaten as food in West Africa is a major vector of the spread of Ebola.

And maybe one day we can conclusively say bats play no roles whatsoever in the spread of Covid-19, like we are able to say confidently about bats and Ebola. We aren't at that point yet, dismissing bats as a factor is a disservice to science.


Discussing whether bats play a role as vector or reservoir of the virus is not the same as making thinly-veiled racist comments on a culture or as spreading misinformation on a culture.


Would you rather that we don't discuss bats in this specific thread? Because all that mentioned so far is that bats are(were) sold at Wuhan market as food, and that they may have a role in spreading the virus. Both of that is true. Nothing that implies Chinese people are "barbarians" or they should eat like "normal people".

Bringing racism up where it doesn't exist discourages, or at worst suppresses, a healthy discussion.


A healthy discussion starts by acknowledging bias, racism, and misinformation. All of which have been widespread on this issue (Covid-19).

Now, this thread goes further by continuing to relay the conspiracy theory that the virus is man-made, not least when the paper concludes by claiming that the burden of proof is reversed and that it is the natural origin of the virus that must be proven.


It’s not racist to say Chinese eat bats. That’s simply a fact. If it helped this virus, that’s another debate.


> China

5. Cui Bono?


That’s a heck of a lot of steps to get to that conclusion.

There is a massive amount of misinformation around COVID-19. Check out this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misinformation_related_to_the_...

All the things that the article posits have been looked into and the conclusion from most of the scientific community is that it is extraordinarily unlikely that this came from a lab in Wuhan.


> the conclusion from most of the scientific community

Who is this "scientific community" that you speak of, anyway? Modern science is conducted through published research papers. I read papers and decide for myself which arguments to believe. Do I understand everything? No, of course not, but I learn a helluva lot more than if I trust what a secondary source tells me about scientific research and leave it at that. You only have to read a few papers to realize that what is reported in the media is often radically different than what the authors actually claim in a paper.

But really, this is tackled head-on in the paper itself. There is basically one peer-reviewed paper that argues against the man-made theory, and the authors point out flaws in that paper. I also read it an did not come away thinking that they had made a particularly convincing argument. I encourage you to do the same; it's a very approachable paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7095063/

They even state that "More scientific data could swing the balance of evidence to favor one hypothesis over another." In other words, the jury is out, and the prosecution has brought more evidence. Time to reevaluate.


It is a false claim that the Covid-19 outbreak started from Wuhan. Scientists from Spain, Italy and Brazil have independently reported the detection of the coronavirus in their city waste water samples dating back to early 2019.

China was the first country to detect the existence of the coronavirus, but it does not mean the virus started in China. If a country announces the finding of a new virus, it makes that country a whistle-blower for the mankind, not the scapegoat.


This has been considered to be a problem with cross-contamination, only one sample was found in Spain for example.


The fact that the virus was detected in wastewater samples in Italy earlier doesn't by itself rule out an origin from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or from China.


It does not rule out the origin from Italy, USA, Spain, UK or any other countries on the earth either.


True, but what you wrote suggested that the fact it was detected elsewhere exonerates China. It does not.


Could you link some sources for that claim?




Thanks for doing it though.


Epidemiologist Ellie Murray said it better than I could, so I’ll just quote her: “Yes, the chance of a virus like SARS-CoV-2 suddenly arising is fairly low. That’s why we have so few pandemics!!

But conditional on being in a pandemic the chance that the virus that arises to cause it is like SARS-CoV-2 is super high!!

There’s no conspiracy, just statistics”[0]

That said, the fact that the outbreak started so close to the Wuhan Institute of Virology is certainly suggestive that it escaped from the lab, though that doesn’t mean it was necessarily “man made.”

[0]https://twitter.com/epiellie/status/1281960135796101120?s=21


> the chance that the virus that arises to cause it is like SARS-CoV-2 is super high

This statement obscures and oversimplifies, which is unfortunately what scientists sometimes do when speaking to the public because they assume people won't understand otherwise.

When she says "like SARS-CoV-2" she is not speaking about the physical structure of the virus, she is really just referring to general qualities that a virus would need to display in order to reach pandemic level: high infectivity, unusual disease progression for which proper treatment is poorly understood, frequent and unpredictable mutation, etc.

What the researchers in this paper have done is identify the unusual components of SARS-CoV-2, i.e. the proteins and their physical structure, which give it this pandemic potential. And then they describe a sequence of research papers, published by virologists from the WIV, which demonstrate awareness of the characteristics of these exact features as well as a laboratory capability to produce chimeric viruses with these exact features. And the epicenter of the pandemic is a stone's throw away from the laboratory where those virologists work.

If you're going to make a hand-wavy argument about real-world events using Bayesian inference, you need to be prepared to explain why certain evidence is independent of your prior. Or drop the argument.


It is worth clarifying that she was not responding to this paper specifically, just to general arguments of the type “this must be man made because it has so many features that make it well-suited to spread in humans.”

The fact that researchers in Wuhan were studying (some of?) these features is stronger evidence when combined with the location. However, it also seems reasonable that features of viruses researchers study because of their likelihood to increase human transmission would show up in a naturally occurring virus with a lot of human transmission.


> However, it also seems reasonable that features of viruses researchers study because of their likelihood to increase human transmission would show up in a naturally occurring virus with a lot of human transmission.

You are letting language get in the way here. Researchers at Wuhan weren't studying "features" of viruses, they were studying what happens exactly when you insert X amino acid at Y location and how that can affect the structure of Z protein. And that exact, one in a billion, never before seen mutation happens to occur randomly right next door to them?


The line of thinking is seductive, believe me, but that's the thing about circumstantial evidence - it is very likely that there is a coronavirus infectivity research station next to a massive source of bat coronaviruses, that was in fact why the lab was there!


But do you see the qualitative difference between "pandemic virus appears in general region where these kinds of viruses are common" and "pandemic virus appears down the street from a viral research lab"?

You're also just making a straight up false claim anyway, since most of the virus samples discussed in their research come from distant regions (500+ miles away).


Instead of "pandemic virus appears down the street from a viral research lab", it might be more accurate to say "pandemic virus has first documented human outbreak in a province whose capital city is a metropolitan area of over 19 million people and also has a viral research lab." Wuhan is bigger than two New York Cities put together -- and it's not at all impossible that the earliest cases actually came from outside the city but were treated in Wuhan. (A report from the South China Morning Post in March, based on unpublished government data, was that "a 55-year-old from Hubei province could have been the first person to contract Covid-19," and the description of him as "from Hubei province" rather than "from Wuhan" is at least suggestive.)

If China's BSL-4 virus laboratory was set off in the countryside in a "little" town of 50,000 and the outbreak started there, the paper's argument would be way more compelling. If we could even reliably trace a "patient zero" to a neighborhood near the WIV, then, again, maybe. But we can't. All we can say for sure is that a dangerous global pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus started in a huge metro area (or its surrounding province) that's also the site of a BSL-4 lab specifically set up to study dangerous global pandemics caused by novel coronaviruses. The paper's conclusion is, well, pretty much the paper equivalent of archly intoning "that would sure be a weird, ironic coincidence" and staring meaningfully into the camera. I mean, yes, it would be, but that's a little short of a slam dunk.


It's a tough call.

If you read the actual paper, what they say is:

"These meet the criteria of means, timing, agent and place in this reconstructed historical aetiology to produce sufficient confidence in the account to reverse the burden of proof. Henceforth, those who would maintain that the Covid-19 pandemic arose from zoonotic transfer need to explain precisely why this more parsimonious account is wrong before asserting that their evidence is persuasive"

ie. Basically, there are enough red-flags here that the burden-of-proof is to show that it isn't artificial rather than that it is.

...and you could hear that argument.

On the other hand, it's not really rigorous.

You can't go and say, hey, look, I invented an EM drive; rather than proving that it generates thrust without any emissions by isolating it and measuring it, the burden of proof is on everyone else to "prove why this more parsimonious account is wrong before asserting that their evidence is persuasive".

Ie. Before you go and measure anything, first you have to come tell us why we're wrong.

Now, rather than putting the EM drive in an isolated box and measuring the thrust it produces, you have 50 different people who have to go out and prove that EM drives are impossible before anyone actually goes and measures anything.

See any problems here?

I mean, you could argue it either way, but it doesn't convince me.

While I agree that the paper lays out some interesting points, they're wide open to attack on the conclusion they draw from them.

This, in particular:

"We refute pre-emptively objection that this methodology does not result in absolute proof by observing that to make such a statement is to misunderstand scientific logic. The longer the chain of causation of individual findings that is shown, especially converging from different disciplines, the greater the confidence in the whole."

Sure.

"We posit that the evidence below attains a high level of confidence."

Yup, that's what they've done here. They posit which means, in this case, arbitrarily assert without proof that it is the case that there is a high level of confidence here.

They just haven't shown that in a compelling way imo.


How you interpret their data is up to you (e.g. whether it gives you a high level of confidence). But they’ve clearly given you proof that the virus is artificial.

Personally I think the circumstantial evidence in this case is fairly strong. But I’m hardly impartial.


> they’ve clearly given you proof that the virus is artificial

No, they haven't.

The evidence is circumstantial.

You can choose to believe what you want to believe; but the fact is that they have not proved anything.

That's the problem with the paper. Actually read the darn thing.

I'm 100% sympathetic to what they're saying here and I do hear their arguments, but this paper doesn't prove it.

> Personally I think...

You know the quote. "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

If it comes down to "well, I think that's high confidence" and someone else is just like "well i don't" as a personal opinion ("...But I’m hardly impartial..."), then, don't you think, maybe they haven't really done a great job here?


> You know the quote. "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

The things written down in this paper are true whether or not you agree that they lead to the conclusion that the virus was engineered (obviously, exclude their conclusions).

Maybe using proof was the wrong word.


> But they’ve clearly given you proof that the virus is artificial.

They've made conjecture, but not incontrovertible truth.


Yes, probability at work in nature is capable of such a thing, as improbable as we may find it.

Also there are probably trillions upon trillions of copies of the virus by now, one in a billion isnt hard to imagine.


> frequent and unpredictable mutation

This isn't actually one of the qualities of SARS-CoV-2. Like other coronaviruses, it possesses a proofreading mechanism for its RNA code which drastically lowers its mutation rate compared to something like influenza.


> the chance of a virus like SARS-CoV-2 suddenly arising is fairly low

I don't know if misleading is the right word, but this isn't the whole story and could in fact mislead people. What we should be taking from this breakout is that although potentially not that likely, they are becoming more and more likely. What's bothering me is all this focus on the wrong things. We need to already be preparing for the next spillover event for the next virus, but that isn't even close to being on the table, much less discussed or even mentioned. We shouldn't and can't be treating this as a singular event, but many are.

I learned this from the below article:

http://nautil.us/issue/83/intelligence/the-man-who-saw-the-p...

>> Are spillover events more common now than 50 years ago?

> Yes. EcoHealth Alliance, an NGO, and others, looked at all reported outbreaks since 1940. They came to a fairly solid conclusion that we’re looking at an elevation of spillover events two to three times more than what we saw 40 years earlier. That continues to increase, driven by the huge increase in the human population and our expansion into wildlife areas. The single biggest predictor of spillover events is land-use change—more land going to agriculture and more specifically to livestock production.


> But conditional on being in a pandemic the chance that the virus that arises to cause it is like SARS-CoV-2 is super high!!

This statement is a distraction from the main question. The question is: conditional on being in a SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, what is the probability that the virus arose through purely natural processes, vs. the probability that it escaped from a lab.

I am not equipped to assess the biological evidence, but I do know this: The virus came out of Wuhan, the location of a top safety level (BSL-4) lab that experiments on coronaviruses. It is China's first BSL-4 lab, and one of a small group of such labs worldwide. This alone suggests that the probability of a lab escape is not negligible and should be taken seriously. In fact, without considering additional evidence I would argue this puts the probability of a lab escape above 50%. But again, I am not familiar with nor am I equipped to assess the biological evidence.

In addition, if the virus did escape from a lab, both the Chinese government and the bio scientific community are clearly and highly incentivized to keep this fact a secret. Therefore, when a member of one of these groups argues that this is not a lab escape, this serves as very weak evidence in favor of natural evolution. The incentive to keep such an outcome a secret is so strong, that I would argue we should discount such statements altogether and focus on the actual evidence.


There is something about this way of reasoning that seems faulty to me.The reason the Wuhan laboratory was studying coronaviruses in the first place is that there is a large reservoir of the virus in the area. In other terms: diamonds are hard to find, but where you find diamond mines you also find diamonds, ergo: diamond mines must create diamonds.


Diamonds coming out of a mine is of course no surprise. But let’s look closer at these “diamonds”.

It’s said that diamonds are like snowflakes as each one’s minute imperfections make it absolutely unique.

So in this case we have a diamond mine pumping out “natural” diamonds but turns out they all have a very specific structure which exactly matches a manual published a few years earlier on making lab created diamonds which are almost indistinguishable from natural ones.

It might lead you to suspect that the diamond mine in fact provides the perfect cover story to ship as many lab-made diamonds as you want and sell them with the natural diamond markup.

I have no way to gauge for myself how definitive these genetic abnormalities are, but if they’ve found published research painting a trail directly toward these specific unique and highly unusual sequences which are also specifically responsible for the extremely contagious nature of SARS-CoV-2, then I think at least we are beyond the simple fallacy of believing “mines make diamonds”.


This is why I prefer thinking about the goal of this discussion as estimating probabilities, rather than as coming up with a logical argument that has a definite conclusion. I agree that the presence of a large virus reservoir in the area shifts the probability in favor of a natural process. I don't think it is enough to make the probability of a lab escape negligible.

As a followup, I would ask: How many such reservoirs are there, how close are they to human population etc., and therefore what is the probability that the virus came out of this particular one? How many of these BSL-4 labs are located next to such reservoirs? etc. All with the goal of estimating how likely a lab escape was.

I would like to emphasize that (1) it is important that we know the truth, because it will inform our preparation for future pandemics, and (2) there is sufficient evidence that warrants a serious look at the possibility of a lab escape. Instead of dismissing it as a "conspiracy theory", or leaving it all to the biologists, I suggest taking considering all the evidence and trying to estimate these probabilities.


> I am not equipped to assess the biological evidence [...] I would argue this puts the probability of a lab escape above 50%.

That's exactly the faulty reasoning right there.


It's not faulty reasoning, it's how probabilities work. I am estimating the probability of a lab escape given the above information, and without evaluating the biological evidence. It's a prior. By evaluating the biological evidence we can update this probability, but I didn't do that. I'm saying that because the prior is high, it is worth to go ahead and evaluate all the evidence. And I know that when experts who I respect looked at the biological evidence, they came to the same conclusion, namely that a lab escape is likely.


To quote Feynman: "I just saw a car with the license plate <some random string with no meanimng>. The probability of that happening is far lower than being hit by lightning!

As to the laboratory being close: it wasn't accidentally located in Wuhan. The city is the regional centre for a region that only recently expanded into somewhat pristine nature. With ongoing and constant encroachment of natural habitats, there is far more contact between wild species and humans than there is in Europe/North America, or even other Chinese regions.


Feynman is making a joke which people who understand priors would get, but you’re using the punchline as if it means something.

If Feynman had guessed the plate number before seeing it (say, written a research paper identify the exact number ahead of time) then something miraculous indeed just occurred.


Fun example time!

Sylvia Browne's book End of Days predicts a pneumonia-like illness that spreads around the globe in 2020. Published in 2008.

Additional details do not yet match what's happening, though.


Source for your rate of contact claim?


Well, sadly, the damage is done. And it has certainly exposed our unpreparedness, broken/outdated protocols among agencies and exposed deep divisions in these United States. Just imagine if this is a test case, we’ve really exposed ourselves. I am quite certain our adversaries are watching and learning.


If this was a dress rehearsal for a WW2 repeat it certainly doesn't look good. In 1941 the US had enough societal fabric to conscript every fighting age man and send everyone else to the factories to make munitions for 4 years. Today, the US can't even get people to agree on using face masks and staying 6 ft away from each other for a few months.

As a percentage of the population more Americans have died from covid than the Vietnam war. The wartime comparison is apt.


No, sorry. The US was prepared, we just have an administration that failed us and an entire political party that cares more about short-term politics than protecting its citizens. We have to reform our system because it should not be possible that someone like Trump is head of the executive or Mitch McConnell is head of the Senate. Arguing counter factuals is hard, but I entirely believe we could have whipped this thing had we competent, good faith governance.


Yeah we've been tracking it and preparing for it since 1918. There's a whole industry built up over the years around preparing for this, but it still requires leadership involvement to put it into action. The leadership we have now believes in ideologies, conspiracy theories and blame. All they had to do was stand on the shoulders of science and let it work, as many previous administrations have done to prevent pandemics from becoming catastrophes.


USA and UK both reportedly took actions to stop funding pandemic response infrastructure, removing stockpiles and failing to fix known failures.

The chances of both countries doing this just before a global pandemic seem similar to the chances that there's a virus lab in a Chinese mega-city that saw some of the first cases.

So, it's proven Trump and Johnson are secretly Chinese operatives working as part of a covert group hellbent on destroying Capitalism with engineered viruses!!1one /s


This is the same stuff that causes conspiracy theories around airplane crashes.

The conspiracists go

“It must be a conspiracy because there are like these 6 redundant safety mechanisms and the odds of them all failing at the same time are extremely low”.

But the answer is obvious. If the 6 redundant mechanisms hadn’t failed, the plane wouldn’t crash.

So as long as the odds of failure of each redundant system is not 0%, every plane crash that ever happens will look the same, with multiple redundant items with extremely low likelihood’s of failing, failing together.


This is not the same thing IMO.

Imagine Russia announced last week they had a airplane hacking tool that could crash any 747 by using sonic waves to rattle some bolts loose making the wings fall off the plane.

If tomorrow, 3 different 747s crash all because their wings fell off, would that be suspicious?

You could say "well it was a plane crash, something had to go wrong". But things went wrong in a very specific and unique way that is directly linked to another nation.

It's the same here. The researchers are showing incredibly specific modifications to protein structure and DNA. It's not just "oh wow, this virus is very virulent". It's "oh wow, this virus has a handful of never before seen mutations, all of which were being studied in Wuhan, where the virus began".


Would it be any different if FIRST the 3 planes had crashed, and then a few weeks AFTER that, the hacking tool was announced?


Is this often the case? I have the feeling that in most aircraft crashes it’s always a major structural failure, or pilot error/confusion.

Not often do I hear that all 6 redundancies failed at the same time.


The odds of having a particular order in a deck of cards is very low, but the cards have one of them anyway. I think you are looking at the odds from the wrong place.

Could have been a pandemic with a simpler virus, too.


> That’s why we have so few pandemics!!

Depends on how you define pandemic. Just in my lifetime I've seen the rise of HIV, SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, H1N1, SARS-CoV-2, and perhaps others that I've forgotten, that meet the dictionary definition of pandemic. That is more than one pandemic per decade, on average, which seems like a lot.

But you can also avoid calling them pandemics. HIV, for example, is officially a "worldwide epidemic". As per the dictionary definition of pandemic, I cannot find any difference between pandemic and worldwide epidemic, but I suppose to an epidemiologist there is a difference.


There used to be a difference in the WHO definitions but they changed the definition of pandemic at the time of swine flu, the new definition didn't require the virus to be deadly anymore.


There are virus labs all over the place so this could be a birthday paradox. There's one here in rural Montana (the data we quote often about sars-cov-2 survival times on surfaces was generated there).


There are not that many BSL-4 labs worldwide, and especially in China (they only have 2).


Unsurprisingly one of those is in a city of 19 million people next to a reservoir of coronaviruses that already caused epidemics.


I've had some trouble understanding this claim though. From my understanding the bats that the virus most likely came from are thousands of miles away from Wuhan. This also is the area that the Wuhan researches went every year to collect samples.

My understanding of Chinese geography is a bit weak - but it is a bit like if a cow disease broke out in Boston near a BS4 lab. There are certainly some cows in Boston a few blocks from the BS4 lab there. Sure - there are cows in Massachusetts - but statistically it would be a bit surprising that a disease in cows would first show up there.


Yes, the institute of Virology in Wuhan did research on bats up to thousands of kilometers away. There are, after all, only two BSL-4 labs.

However, there is a large population of bats right outside Wuhan, and you can find research by the WIV cataloguing different viruses found in the same province. For example : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31009304/

The key here is that the bats the virus (likely) came from are not actually thousands of miles from Wuhan, but only a few dozen. It's just that since the WIV is a huge institute they sometimes also do research in bats in other regions too, because they don't have such facilities.


I'm a bit confused. That article doesn't mention viruses at all in its abstract, only bacterial studies.

My understanding is that the virus came from horseshoe bats. These largely live in Southern China. Wuhan is not Southern China. All studies of Corona viruses I can find deal with going to southern China (because that's where horseshoe bats live) to collect samples from horsehoe bats: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6563315/

Do you have a non-paywalled version to the link you provided? It says they looked at bacteria in bats in the abstract but didn't mention anything about which species of bats.


I can't give you a non-paywalled link legally, but there are actually Shortridge horseshoe bats in Hubei.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortridge%27s_horseshoe_bat https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubei

You can see that Hubei is indeed in the area where horseshoe bats are found.


Not many that were running job ads for coronavirus researchers at the time the coronavirus emerged.


> But conditional on being in a pandemic the chance that the virus that arises to cause it is like SARS-CoV-2 is super high!!

This will be misinterpreted by everyone who doesn't understand the Bayes rule (which is 99.999% of the population). What she's saying is just a fancy version of "this is the kind of a virus that would likely cause a pandemic", nothing more.


> certainly suggestive that it escaped from the lab, though that doesn’t mean it was necessarily “man made.”

https://www.iesdouyin.com/share/video/6823589225980644623

Dr Fauci said it better than I could, so I'll just quote him: "hahahaha"


This is a really big claim, so some background checking:

The paper was published in the Quarterly Review of Biophysics[0] (this accepted version is materially different from the original link posted here).

Only thing I could find about Birger Sorensen's was his Linkedin page [1a] and the Immunor page where he's listed as the Chairman [1b].

Angus Dagleish looks legit, although it's notable that he did stand for Parliament in 2016 as a UKIP candidate, according to Wikipedia[2].

Can't find any primary sources for Andreas Susrud.

[0]: https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/c...

[1a]: https://www.linkedin.com/in/birger-sorensen-174a20b/?origina... btw, if this is considered doxxing, let me know and I can remove the link.

[1b]: https://immunor.com/about-immunor/board-of-directors/

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angus_Dalgleish


Might find more if you search for Birger Sørensen. He is kind of legit from previous work however he is viewed as a fringe character in Norway with this, and "no-one" supports this.


>“The authors feel that, in light of this preponderance of circumstantial evidence, the hypothesis that the biogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 involved human intervention should be seen as the leading (i.e. most likely) explanation.”

I think they are just two different papers. The linked paper has the following quote:

>We have just (2nd June 2020) published Biovacc-19 in QRB-Discovery: a candidate vaccine for this daunting task (Sørensen et al., 2020).


Why do the background checking? Why not just consider the arguments on their merits alone? That's what science is.


Can't speak for the OP, but for myself: I am not qualified to evaluate the evidence in this case; I just don't have the biology background. But sometimes when you get some out-there questionable sounding stuff research, and you spend a minute googling, you quickly find out that the journal the thing is published in is chaired by the author and itself has no credibility, the author is selling some form of snake oil directly supported by the dubious claims, and similar. Sure technically their argument ought to stand on it's own anyway, but there are so many quacks out there and so little time. It's a useful optimization.


> I am not qualified to evaluate the evidence in this case; I just don't have the biology background.

A "background check" does not change this fact, nor does your point actually negate the comment you are responding too. No one here is arguing that you must listen and believe everything that someone has written in a paper, but things must be proven and disproven.

"Background checking" in any form is not science. It might help you make a decision. But that does not make the decision a scientific one even if you consider it "an informed" decision.

To be completely honest, it has become silly that things like this need to be said and reirerated so often on HN.


Most things that climate change deniers post are factually accurate. If you would target the basis of their claim with the data they provide, you will always lose. Being a climate change denier when you only have access to facts that don't support climate change is only logical.

To disprove them requires you to have even greater subject matter knowledge than they do, which is unfeasible for most normal people. Even at a top university you would need several years to become a subject matter expert. Clearly not a feasible strategy for every commenter on HN.

So what can we do? Most "Climate Skeptics Science", while not being factually disproven, can lose a great amount of credibility by background checking things like authors, what scientific conferences or journal a paper has been submitted to, if it is peer reviewed, etc. In fact, with enough loss of credibility it becomes the burden of the author to prove that they/their paper is credible (see what I did there?).

If there was a clear bias in the authors' background, this would call into question the credibility of the paper. Humans are well-equipped to understand bias without a university degree, less so with bioengineering.

To summarize: HN commenters are generally ill-equipped to prove/disprove arguments in a scientific paper. Like in most sciences this isn't always necessary since you can put the credibility of the authors up for test. If they fail that test, they must prove their credibility before their scientific argument carries any weight. Most HN-commenters are adept at judging other peoples biases.


The problem is that this... methodology... works for both true & false claims. Pure credentialism held up Lysenkoism, among other things, for quite some time, after all. I mean, I read this:0

> If there was a clear bias in the authors' background, this would call into question the credibility of the paper.

And I can't help thinking how there would always be a "clear bias" of people who weren't strongly in support of the Party against Lysenkoism, so it just puts people into a stronger bubble, it doesn't defend any truth.

I think that those not capable of defending a position scientifically shouldn't attempt to do so and should leave it to those who can. I think this because I see these failed attempts as a way of weakening the point they're attempting to support.

> To summarize: HN commenters are generally ill-equipped to prove/disprove arguments in a scientific paper.

I disagree strongly with this, we have a lot of good scientists here who are better equipped than the vast majority of sites. Maybe not everything can be written into a single post, sure, but most of the people here have blogs or what have you and it's not uncommon to see someone post a rebuttal on their blog and for that to make the front page of HN.


I think I understand your argument, but I think you misunderstood me. I agree that just looking at credentials isn't the way to go. It does create these echo chambers where only those wearing "my colors" can be correct (when perhaps people need to see and hear those without "their colors"). But my argument was never to resort to pure credentialism. Looking at someones background is an important tool in our toolbox for finding the truth. My argument wasn't that a background check should replace scientific debate.

> I think that those not capable of defending a position scientifically shouldn't attempt to do so and should leave it to those who can.

Exactly! And to the 95+% of people who commented or clicked the opening link who do not have a background in bioengineering, how could they take a critical and informed stance to what the paper claims? The claim of the pandemic being man-made affects them, wheter they can fully understand the scientific discussion or not! I never meant to say that there is no-one on HN that cannot have the scientific discussion. I meant to say that most people simply have other skills than bioengineering in their toolbox, but they do have the ability to judge someones character if they find background information about them.

Maybe I should have put more emphasis on "generally" when I wrote it, but I hope I have clarified my point here and that you see it is very much in line with your thinking.


That's better, I just find that when things get political, it's best to focus on facts. People can have completely opposite views about a particular party's credentials. Here, for example, someone might reject authors that are Chinese because "of course" they'd defend the CCP vs. other people who think just the opposite.

I feel that pure facts helps take away the "heat" of an argument. Things that shouldn't be even remotely political--like wearing masks--have turned into political footballs and adding more "heat" to the issue only hardens people to bad positions that hurt everyone.


As a non-expert, if someone says something unusual that would require expertise in the field to say with credibility, I have every right to verify their expertise. Or to at least verify whether or not they have a history of things like “being convicted of fraud” or “being barred from practicing medicine due to publishing fraudulent papers in the Lancet”.


The reliability of those who write papers is fairly important. How do I know that data hasn’t been falsified? How do I know what is correct?

There are reasons why some publications are treated more seriously than others. Reputation is very helpful for the layman. The very fact that most scientists have said they feel it was a natural outbreak speaks volumes to me. This paper is just a vast chain of speculation, and I think it needs to be treated with a great deal of caution.


Do you think pagerank works?

Do you think it's unscientific?

Should we look at websites in random order after a search?

Don't confuse the fact h-index has significant issues with the idea it is useless.


A background check does help though. If a paper written by or on an anti-vaxx site for example, I have some idea what I’m dealing with right away. It makes me less likely to be charitable on any questionable claims.

Also, swamping people with already settled arguments that they have to continue to prove or disprove is a disinformation tactic. A background check helps avoid giving those situations any air.


How do you make sure this doesn't lull you into a false sense of trust?

Here's a discussion about a paper by respected scientists working in a respected organisation. The paper is probably bad science. https://twitter.com/DiseaseEcology/status/128386841036377702...


I said it makes me less likely to be charitable. I try and read every paper with a skeptical mind.


I disagree. Or rather, I don't think this is about doing science.

In many aspects of our lives we rely on the advice of experts. Personally, as I am not a trained biologist, I am unable to reliably decide if the arguments here are right or wrong. I also believe the vast majoriy of people are in a similar position.

As a result, the only options are to look at:

1. The scientific consensus.

2. The legitimacy of the people making the claims.

It's too early for 1, so 2 is what remains.


In many aspects we rely on multiple and competing opinions from various experts. It's not unheard of to go see half a dozen or more experts for treatment recommendations from various experts on a disease. Covid is a novel virus, so nobody has any more than 6 months or so of experience with this particular virus. So first of all, the rush to consensus is a mistake for a novel virus. Secondly, ascertaining the origin of a virus is not something that you garner from consensus. It takes serious investigative work that may take years.

So, again, consensus is just a way to cast complex, nuanced topics as flat, solved for things. That's not the case in most scientific subjects.

#2 is not what remains. You can engage with the arguments and the logic. Even as a layperson.


Who says an expert is an expert?

Catholic priests are all experts in catholicism. They write papers about Catholicism, all peer reviewed by other experts in catholicism.

Most agree the Pope is infallible.

Groupthink is still Groupthink and belief is still belief. Hence why we have debacles like the lipid hypothesis.


It is very easy to find out whether someone is an expert, as long as you really want to and don't just fool around. For example, an expert on viral diseases will have a long track record of publications in highly acclaimed journals for the past 30 years or longer.

For the purpose of validation or expert testimony, there is no need to consider everyone who has a PhD and got tenure an expert. It is reasonable to set the bar very high.

The expert on catholicism example is a needless distraction. Of course, there are such experts on catholicism, and they can tell you best what catholic doctrine says. Their opinions about virology are obviously irrelevant, though.


It's not easy at all.

By your measure, Professor Ferguson at ICL is an expert in predicting diseases. He's got a big team and has been doing it for more than 20 years. Many published papers. Invited repeatedly to advise world government's due to his expert status. Widely asserted to be the best in his field.

Guess what - it appears every prediction he ever made was wildly wrong. His predictions for COVID were also wildly wrong. His code was released and it was full of severe bugs. He told the world millions would die of COVID and then when they didn't, claimed his expert recommendations had saved them, all in a fraudulent paper that assumed as a prior that the virus in Sweden mysteriously behaved totally differently to everywhere else and that only lockdowns can possibly affect the course of an epidemic (despite knowing that it isn't true).

This guy has been a failure and fraud his entire life. So has his entire field. It's not just him. All the expert epidemiologists produced models that failed to track reality in any way at all.

Yet, he's an expert by any proxy metric you care to pick. His colleagues rally around, his university protects him, Nature magazine published apologetics for him. He's an expert, unless you pick the only test that matters - are his papers correct?

I know it's scary. But decades, perhaps centuries of near sheep-like behaviour towards science and academics has led to their institutions being saturated with incompetence and fraud. They have no working institutional mechanisms to detect or clear it out. That's why so many fields have "skeptic" movements that "deny" the science. Usually they aren't actually science-deniers as painted, they're people who expected the so-called science to actually care about the scientific method and do their sums right. When they discover that it isn't happening they blog about the errors they found, and the next thing they know, they're being demonised by the press and the very self-same scientists they're criticising. Not because they are wrong, but because they are dangerously right.


Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Doubly so when there is motivated reasoning behind the argument.

If a pharma company came out with a paper saying “we’re almost done developing a cure for cancer!”, people would be rightly skeptical. Lethal manmade viruses are less ridiculous than that, but I’d still classify them as very surprising. Motivated reasoning for those with political ends should be unsurprising when it comes to discussing whether covid is manmade.

Checking background/credentials is due diligence to ensure you aren’t being duped. I wish the world exclusive operated on good faith argumentation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.


I think it's valid in a politically charged scenario such as this one to take into account the motivation behind the research as well as the research itself. At least in a forum like this one, as opposed to similar research papers. And I think the GP did it in an even handed way.


In science (as in politics) it is important to understand the reputations of the people who have produced research. Andrew Wakefield being a terrific example.

It's also important to point out that this is pretty much an opinion piece.


Actually it makes sense to background check from an ethical point of view. There's a reason you are supposed to disclose your affiliation, source of funding, conflict of interest, human subject consent statements etc when publishing any bio paper.


So what if Angus stood for UKIP? He's entitled to his views. How is that relevant to virus research or his scientific credentials?!


It's not of course, it's chaff from the sort of leftists who don't believe anyone who believes in local government should be allowed to have any influence.


I don't appreciate the snide remark.

This is a politically charged topic so any strong political affilications are notable. I would've also mentioned it if he had run for lib-dems or green or any other party.


The idea this is relevant to the argument relies on a hugely convoluted and entirely unarticulated conspiracy theory of the form ... "the paper is a clever obfuscation that's not really about the stated topic but rather designed to push the political goals of ukip" but there's no plausible way that's true. It's about as relevant as saying the guy is a dog owner.


Of the five salient points they make here, I would argue that they are a lot less strong than the authors believe them to be.

Point 1 can also likely be made for the original Sars-CoV, and probably is irrelevant. If they show CoV-2 is more human like than the earlier, then they can begin to make the point.

Point 2 is a gigantic leap of faith - I don’t understand how they connect amino acid inserts into the sequence to gain of function experiments. It makes no sense!

Points 3 & 4 are related: The extra charge on the RBD. If you look at the previous virus, it has a much smaller positively charged patch, and this expands in CoV-2, which makes an evolutionary drift in this direction entirely reasonable. It’s not a wholesale integration of a brand new feature. This charged patch is actually important for binding to heparan sulfate, which gets involved with a bunch of viral entry events (eg AAV, Chinkunguya virus, some other coronaviruses I think). There’s a few recent preprints that discuss the HS relationship with Cov-2, and can go a long way to explain the tropism of the virus. The HS can overcome lower expression of ACE2, by possibly supporting the attachment.

Finally, point 5 is where they throw out DC-SIGN as a receptor. While there are high mannose glycans on the virus particle, I don’t know of anyone proposing this as a receptor for the virus. There is no biochemical/experimental evidence that they show to support this idea.


I will add a few points which I read on a github page and I am unable to verify, so I would be keen to have others review and sanity check:

1) The likely genetic source of SARS cov1 and cov2 is a species of bat in Yunnan province, thousands of miles away, two provinces away from Hubei (Wuhan).

Ref: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5708621/

2) The outbreak allegedly started in December in Hubei province when the local bat population (which does not carry this SARS virus?) would be hibernating (?)

3) Only 66% of the initial 41 COVID patients had exposure to Huanan _seafood_ market.

Ref: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6...

4) A seafood market where you would have to have non-hibernating bats from Yunnan thousands of miles away from Wuhan(?)

5) The seafood market is 13Km away from Wuhan Institute of Virology where Yunnan bats were studied. And 1.4km away from Wuhan's Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (?)

Are these points real or misinformation? If real, why is there no pressure for an independent investigation?


5) We're talking about a dense urban area ~ 1580 km^2. A _lot_ of businesses and institutions are within 13 km radius from each other. And there are 19 million people in this metro area. So a lot of things should e hapenning in the same city and only few km away, but most of them are not related to each other.

1, 2, 4) are probably irrelevant, because the researchers mostly agree that there was an intermediate host (which one remains to be determined, might be pangolin). So it doesn't matter if the bats were far away or hibernating. Consider also that people often travel, and trade is not limited to one town.

3) It only confirms that we still don't know who was patient zero, and when and where he or she was infected.


I suppose my issue here is that, all the point I mentioned appear to be inconsistencies with the current official statements and all the counter arguments deconstructed them are probability based and arguably as speculative as the authors claims on biogenisis.


> A Norwegian virologist has made claims about the non-natural origins of the new coronavirus. These claims were, reportedly, in an earlier draft of the paper, and Dr Sørensen has since repeated them to Norwegian press.

> The final version of the research paper, which has undergone peer review and been accepted for publication in the Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery, doesn’t actually make any claims about whether the virus was natural or man-made in its current form.

> The scientific community widely agrees that the virus was not artificially engineered.

https://fullfact.org/health/richard-dearlove-coronavirus-cla...


The scientific community widely agrees

One has to wonder how a "Fact Check" site can make an assertion like this without any provided list of references. What exactly does "widely agree" even mean? Was there some sort of statistical polling they did to establish that? Exactly what percentage of the scientific community constitutes "widely" anyways?

In fact, this website appears to enjoy using the word "widely" within articles to make all sorts of broadly generic assertions without any numerical/statistical basis.

https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=site%3Afullfact.org%20...

Obviously this has nothing to do with conclusion of the paper, but this "many scientists agree" lingo that shows up in various places (Wiki articles, fact-check sites, news, etc) can really be used to push a narrative without any sort of rigor. Personally I look forward to the day where I get to meet the "they" in "you know, they say..."


Putting "all scientists agree" in quotes when that isn't in the source material is highly misleading.

Edit: op edited their post


> The scientific community widely agrees that the virus was not artificially engineered.

Artificially engineered isn't really the question; the questions are 'is this a lab escape?' and 'if this is a lab escape, did the virus work so well on mammals pre-experiment?'.

The scientists have a massive incentive not to believe that the virus is a lab escape until the evidence is overwhelming. This is a global disaster, if it was a lab escape there will be dire consequences for the funding and regulation of level 4 biosecurity centres and potentially global trade & travel for countries that have them.


Everyone has a massive incentive to look for actual, concrete evidence for a lab escape before they draw any such conclusions. Leaving aside the uncomfortable geopolitical angle (US policy is to respond to deliberate biowarfare with nuclear weaponry), extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.


1) This clearly wasn't biowarfare. The coronavirus is so useless when viewed as a bioweapon that there is no way it is even vaguely possible that it was developed as one. The idea is laughable.

The Chinese military would have to be beyond stupid to go into a bioweapons program and develop a virus that mainly only targets old people, usually doesn't cause symptoms, spreads like wildfire and is therefore a huge risk to countries with large, densely packed populations. If it was a lab escape it would probably have been just part of studying SARS-like viruses for public health reasons.

2) And there is nothing extraordinary about claiming "Standards in practice were lower than the standards on paper". That is a pretty mild claim. Lab escapes of viruses are a thing.


> The coronavirus is so useless when viewed as a bioweapon

Considering the how it's playing out in the US, it looks like a great bioweapon for an civilian attack. A big chunk of the population is old enough to be at risk of death. Another non-negligable portion of young people develops long-term disabilities (which is even more crippling to the economy than short-term deaths). And as a nice side-effect of how bad job security is, millions are now unemployed.

If you were to construct a civilian bioweapon you want to target against the US, it almost looks like you would have new playbook now. I very much agree though, that it's extremely unlikely that it was developed and planned in that way.


The variety of weird symptoms ("covid toes" and loss of sense of smell, for example) also adds a lot of uncertainty and distrust on top of the actual problems the virus causes.


> dire consequences for the funding and regulation of level 4 biosecurity centres and potentially global trade & travel for countries that have them.

This is wishful thinking. Countries would simply lie; push such labs underground, or disguise them as some other kinds of labs.

But even that is a misdirection. DNA isn’t nuclear material; technology to manipulate it will soon be available at home.

More in the podcast with Naval Ravikant: https://after-on.com/episodes-31-60/044


Thank you. Finally someone else has realized that the scientific community may, in fact, be composed of human beings, an animal that comes baked in with an aversion to making their own life more difficult or jeopardizing the attitude of those around them to their work!

You can't look at the set of circumstances that lead up to this, factor in that a lab escape is likely, and make an honest attempt at projecting what additional controls may be rolled out on the field of virological research, and come away from that blind to the fundamental conflict of interest this may generate in people in the field.

Hell, I know researchers who can't even imagine why anyone would do the kind of work described in these documents in the first place, yet nevertheless we have the papers to show they did. We know the equipment and techniques to do the deed exist. That they were all in the same geographical and temporal location. If you don't suspect spooky action at a distance, or endorse magical thinking, you have to come to 2 very uncomfortable conclusions.

The first: technical know-how, tools, and people to wield them existed within the same space, at the same time. The outbreak started in close proximity to this potential causal nexus. This was paired with seemingly anomalous behavior in the initial response to said outbreak, and. It is politically intractable to get a good first person inspection of what was going on at the early stages of the pandemic response due to official acts of censure and destruction of evidence.

The second: Everyone who you'd defer to decide whether or not it's reasonable is also liable to place a variety of unpleasantly enhanced controls on their field as a consequence of giving an affirmative answer.

It'd be like asking the fox whether the lack of security measures on the coop may have had something to with the sudden sharp decline in the population of living chickens. We already know what that answer will look like.

We all look at each other and assume the best of intentions, but even history tells us the best of intentions have a way of finding their ways to very unpleasant outcomes in the presence of enough cogs without the full picture of what is going on, and those with enough of a picture to know what is going on are infrequently in that position due to a willingness to cut their own throats by admitting why they are really doing what they are. That's just the Machiavellian or politically inclined ones.

You've got Oppenheimer's and Teller's who did research just for the fundamental beauty they saw in the math, and understanding, and power conferred by the knowledge gained from their work.

I can't be so crazy as to be the only one to see the ridiculousness in taking the very people with the most lose as being perfectly impartial. I can't be the only candid or meta-cognitive enough to realize that at some level there needs to be a degree of salt taken to any assertion that a lab couldn't have been involved and we should all just stop even considering it.


This point - that the field of virology will be seriously damaged if a lab leak is believed, is one that Bret Weinstein, a serious biologist, has been advocating.

It explains the difference in opinion of virologists and the well informed independent investigators.


“ doesn’t actually make any claims about whether the virus was natural or man-made in its current form.”

Huh? The paper claims that the preponderance of evidence supports a theory that the virus is the product of a sequence of laboratory manipulations. I suppose this could hinge upon one’s definition of “man-made” but creating a chimera is man-made in my opinion.


They are referring to the final, peer reviewed version of the paper, as opposed to the draft.


The paper is six pages long.

> In this paper we argue that the likelihood of this being the result of natural processes is very small.

> We have deduced the internal logic of published research which resulted in the exact functionalities of SARS-CoV-2, including the convergence of agreement from difference classes of source, the timings of the stages of the research and the development of documented capabilities by named institutions and individuals

It’s the latest revision from July 1, by now the text is probably trying to be as “gentle” as possible.


This is the immunology equivalent of "jet fuel can't melt steel beams". It's embarrassing to see it here, especially in a community with pretensions of bringing "disruption" to biotech. It would take a long time to catalog all the nonsense here but I'll just say that short subsequence (6aa) BLAST is meaningless and this subsequent claim is just word salad: "Such high human similarity also implies a high risk for the development of severe adverse events/toxicity and even Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE)"

(there's no relationship between the capacity for ADE and self-similarity of amino acid content)


Would you please explain more clearly?


Sure, what's your degree of bio background?


What do you think about this? https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=q5SRrsr-Iug

Are these people also conspiracy theorists?


I didn't watch more than a few minutes, too much real research going on to keep up with the more fringe stuff.

But tl;dr it could be a lab escape but most virologists think it's more likely to be spontaneous zoonosis. In either case, the evidence for genetic modification or "serial passage" is very weak and the virus's distinguishing traits all fit in well with the background distribution of coronaviruses we know about. So the fixation on lab escape seems like a distraction.


Regarding your fuel comment, that is what NIST found. They confirmed in their report that indeed, it cant and didnt. They rely on a weakening... where the fire was, which is a few floors of the top of the 2 buildings. The 3rd building is a different eh... reason.

Here is an overview: http://s3.amazonaws.com/nasathermalimages/public/video/prete...


I’m not sure why you’re downvoted, I thought it’s widely known by now that there were helpers on the ground for 911. Building 7 being the easiest one to draw conclusions from.


This paper is not evidence, it is speculation based on an inability to see a path other than gain-of-function lab work. These coronaviruses are slow to evolve due to their proofreading capabilities but they recombine readily. The natural path, therefore, is a wild animal (likely pangolin, civet, raccoon dog, or even human) that is simultaneously co-infected by two viruses that recombine.

The problem with genome data centric analysis is that no distinction is made between RNA samples and virus isolates. Key evidence for the gain-of-function hypothesis, is one or more lab isolates that match long segments of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, including non-coding segments.


Look, when most virologists/epidemiogists look at this "evidence" and consider it too flimsy and flawed, then I wonder why people here are so eager to jump on it as "I'm not a biologist, covid19 is so unusual, it's obviously man-made". HN is embarrassing right now.


The same happened with HIV, these kind of conspiracy theories are inevitable. People always want to blame someone, even when there is overwhelming evidence that a natural catastrophe occurred. Remember the Italian seismologists who got sued because they didn't predict an earthquake?

Fact is that if the virus escaped a lab, the incident could have occurred in any other lab, too. It likely evolved naturally, though, and another fact is that it could have occurred naturally in many places in the world - e.g. in the Middle East or in Africa -, and a more dangerous virus could evolve in many regions of the world at any time.

Many people just don't want to accept this, especially those who reacted in the wrong way to the pandemic initially. It's always easier to blame someone else.


The HIV conspiracy theories were kind of silly though and they were able to trace the source to chimpanzees. Things seem different with covid.


Its not just non-biologists opinion. Its the opinion of nobel laurates https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23877141 . It is embarrassing for chinas ccp.


Luc Montagnier has gone completely nuts long ago. He's on several occassions proclaimed that DNA can teleport, that autism isn't real or caused by vaccines and joined anti-vaxxing movements and supported homeopathy, and the idea that water has memory, among other things.


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