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[flagged] Unusual Features of SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Lab Modification (zenodo.org)
147 points by ycombonator 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments

The author affiliations are listed as "Rule of Law Society". A quick google search shows that it is a political non-profit dedicated to "investigating Chinese corruption" and is led by Steve Bannon of all people [1].

Given the extraordinary nature of the claims, the fact that this didn't see any peer review and isn't published in a real journal as well as the clear political motivations of the money behind the study, my BS meter is going off the charts. Even the name of the document "The Yan Report" makes it sound like a political hit piece cosplaying as a scientific article.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/steve-bannon-guo-wen...

An aside though: ^^This comment crystallizes the best of hn.

Within 30s I was able to learn so much — The gist of the paper, about how nefarious activities masquerade as academic research, politics and money in funding, and hardcore commitment of folks like Steve Bannon in pushing the overton window on trade relations, geopolitics etc. Phew!

The author Li Meng Yan is also a regular on Bannon's 4-hour daily YouTube-show "War Room Pandemic" which is absolutely crazy.

However they have a lot of money from some curious Chinese groups and you shouldn't underestimate how much influence they have over the current US administration.

jl2718 11 days ago [flagged]

Your statement implies that “Hacker News” is primarily talking about people. Is that what “Hackers” do now?

Hackers talk about tech. Tech can't be separated from people and politics anymore than anything else can.

Nice job uncovering the link to Bannon. In the abstract, aside from the claim of ‘censorship by the scientific community’, I thought this line was a red flag: * In this report, we describe the genomic, structural, medical, and literature evidence...*

If they had decent scientific evidence, they’d be pounding on it. Instead it sounds like they’re trying to cobble together a story from bits of cherry-picked analysis.

If not censorship, there is self-censorship in the scientific community. Who wants to sacrifice its carrier, funding, link with chinese labs?

Even if not told aloud or published, entire teams are intimately convinced the virus was released by the Wuhan BSL4, although not necessarily intentionally.

I am not surprised only "politically motivated" scientists try to break that out.

I am absolutely not in favor of Bannon either.

In the current environment, why would Western scientists be worried about funding issues if they prove the virus was manufactured in a Chinese lab? The US government would probably bombard them with money.

Simply because:

- they cannot formally prove there has been human manipulation of the virus, just like the proponents of natural selection cannot formally prove this is what happened. So as scientists, why argue publicly about that.

- as your politically inclined comment suggests, they would be at the center of a political battle. Today every western lab is dependent on China for reagents. There's a big risk getting short on them.

But the fact that only papers in favor of natural selection are being published in well-known scientific journals does not mean there is consensus.

Maybe the scientific journals also suffer from "the Disney bias".

First, I think you meant evolution. Natural selection is regularly, directly witnessed in all levels of life.

Towards the more general argument -- in the absence of formal proof, we are left with selecting the most likely scenario. In this case, what is the reason to believe it was created in a lab as opposed through natural mechanisms? The latter is more likely unless some evidence suggests otherwise. If the only evidence thus far is from a non-reviewed journal w/ very obvious political motivations, then it likely continues to be the less likely scenario.

What makes you think the natural selection/evolution is more likely?

Of course at the scale of China, having a virus outbreak due to a natural virus mutation is not a rare event. According to Wikipedia, there have been 3 virus outbreaks in "wet markets" in the last 20 years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wet_market). That makes about 1 outbreak in 7 years.

Now China is big! There are 108 towns with more than 1m population (https://all-populations.com/en/cn/list-of-cities-in-china-by...). What is the probability for an outbreak to occur in a given city? Again that is going to be a very rough estimate. Let's say there are 100 "wet markets", about one per city >1m. That make the probability for a natural virus outbreak in a given "wet market" to be 1 in 700 years.

Now if you want to argue what is the most likely event:

- a natural outbreak in Wuhan: probability is about 1 in 700 years

- a virus leak from the Wuhan BSL4 lab. Note the Wuhan's lab is the ONLY BSL4 lab in China.

Have you any kind of information that makes you believe the probability for a virus leak to be significantly LESS than 1 in 700 years?

Why is the latter more likely? Gain of function experiments are performed regularly in labs, also on coronaviruses. Lab escapes have occured numerous times.

Shi Zhengli herself suspected at first that it came from one of their labs, because Wuhan is so far from the bats that are the suspected original host.

Mainstream scientists regularly write papers about things they cannot "formally prove". For example here is a Nature paper suggesting, but not proving, that SARS-Cov-2 had a natural origin. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9

> Today every western lab is dependent on China for reagents. There's a big risk getting short on them.

So Chinese companies can ship reagents to labs around the world and ensure that none of them reach some specific Western lab? How could they possibly prevent them being resold?

> Maybe the scientific journals also suffer from "the Disney bias".

Disney is afraid of the CCP because they make a lot of money in China. I suppose it's possible that some journals are afraid of a CCP-led boycott, but there are quality open-access journals that would not be financially impacted by a boycott.

If a journal did publish a peer-reviewed article promoting the idea that SARS-CoV-2 was made in a Chinese lab, and the CCP responded by boycotting the journal, that would be a big deal and I think would rebound badly on the CCP.

Actually, after going through the paper, most concerns seem to me like cherry picked data, except for the fact that Shi theoretically found the RaTG13 (the "origin" of SARS-CoV-2) in 2013.

Even though it displayed potential for human infection and literally her job was to analyse bat coronaviruses with human infection potential, the virus was shelved for 7 years, and there's NO scientific literature, produced by her or otherwise, about this virus.

Not until the pandemic arrived, at least, then she's the first to say "nCoV-2019 actually comes from the bat coronavirus RaTG13, look how similar they are, it's zoonotic, teeheehee".

Not that shocking. After nCoV-2019 was sequenced, the first thing they would do is compare it to all previously sequenced virus samples.

The shocking part is that her lab never published that sequence contrary, to my knowledge, to common practice. Also the little research associated to it.

Let's gloss over the whole thing:

1- In 2012 6 mine workers get infected with a SARS-like disease, test positive for SARS-specific antibodies, 3 die.

2- Shi is literally sent to that cave to research the bat coronaviruses there that might have had caused the illness.

3- Her team finds a plethora of viral samples of potentially zoonotic diseases.

4- Her team describes generic findings, no full sequences published whatsoever, no mention of the actual reason that motivated the study of that shaft.

Fast forward to 2020

5- SARS-like disease arises, sequence matches 96% with one that potentially killed 3 miners that somehow wasn't really researched past basic findings.

How true is this? I was under the impression that all of the coronaviruses were published in a public repository even before the outbreak started.

It was only published along with her paper.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nuccore/MN996532 (2020)

Some quick google fu shows no hits before her paper, either for the virus name (RaTG13) or for chains of nucleotides.

Then another point that seems suspicious to me is that, in her interview with Nature, she states that RaTG13 was only found in 1 (one) bat poop sample, as in, ever, and that all of the sample was used, so there's no virus isolate available, which is too convenient.


It was previously called RaBtCoV/4991, and only a single gene was published in 2016.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nuccore/983856042

You obviously haven't interacted with many scientists. As a highly liberal group, they tend towards social justice. Telling them to cover something up is more likely to make them speak louder about it than actually stay quiet. Also, the vast majority of scientists get funding from their own country's government, not from China.

> Even if not told aloud or published, entire teams are intimately convinced the virus was released by the Wuhan BSL4, although not necessarily intentionally.

Let's have some actual evidence of this please.

I was reading half through the paper and it was kinda sketchy but I'm not an expert so I kept going, only to check the comments and wow, thanks for pointing these out.

Putting the Bannon label aside, this paper seems to be well written and proofread. The claims fell into the range of educated guess and reasonable doubts.


You may like or dislike Bannon and/or Trump, but I judged this paper using my only knowledge in biochemistry/molecular cloning from when I was trained during undergraduate.

I think knowing that this comes from people with a long and well established track record of intentional deception, propagating misinformation and exaggeration is useful background knowledge.

As for knowledge of biochemistry, there is no new research here. None. It's pasted together from other sources. For example the discussion of the proteins ZXC21 and ZC45 comes form this article [1], which also presents evidence that the virus can infect and therefore could have passed to humans from mammals other than bats. In other words it's closest viral relatives might be in a mammal species other than bats, so in focusing on bats for the virus's nearest relative we might be looking in the wrong place. That blows a hole in this paper's thesis that the virus not being almost identical to the bat viruses means it must be engineered, so of course it isn't mentioned in the article at all. Nice cherries they're picking!


In the words of Thomas Sowell, “virtually any belief, about almost anything, can be shown to be wrong if stated in a sufficiently simple-minded way.”

You’ve stated the paper’s thesis in a very simple-minded way, so your argument means little.

Yet somehow, it's a very close match (96%) for a bat coronavirus.


Magically, that virus was allegedly discovered in 2013, but despite their claim that it killed 3 out of 6 infected people, they somehow "forgot" to mention it to anyone anywhere or enter the genome into any public databases.


Even when you move away from politically-funded research, the story still stinks (well, CCP-sponsored research is still political).

These viruses circulate between mammal species. I said it's nearest relative might not be in bats, not that it has no relatives in bats.

> Putting the Bannon label aside,

No. The Bannon label is the problem here. White collar way to start dumpster fires.

This is malice. Knowingly and actively undermining public trust in the scientific method. Whatever works to make two stones fight.

You are committing the genetic fallacy[0] by stating your argument in this way. A paper like this should be judged on its merits, not its origin.

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

Ideally, yes, but practically no. We are in the midst of a massive disinformation campaign aimed to undermine public trust in public institutions. It takes time to properly evaluate a paper in the manner you describe - and that's a key element of their game. Keep you distracted so they can control the narrative. No. We have to collectively decide to stop playing their game and shut it off at the source. Therefore our strategy must be to ignore papers from known bad actors.

That would be absolutely true for those with unlimited mental bandwidth and time, large nations' intelligence services for example.

If one wants my attention for something that looks like scientific writing, except for rare exceptions at my personal discretion, one will have to go through peer review - the main filter of the scientific method.

Otherwise, the bin.

What does your limited undergraduate knowledge have to do with anything? It's really just one step away from a high schooler citing their biology homework as a source of authority.

You also seem to think that proofreading a paper increases the chances that it's correct which (in my opinion) shreds your credibility.

To claim that an undergraduate degree is just one step away from highschool biology homework is disingenuous.

"Proofreading" a paper does, in some amount, increase the chances that it's correct. It's called peer review.

Proofreading a paper is absolutely not peer review, at least if we're using the commonly accepted meaning of the term 'peer review'.

Proof reading means reading the text and pointing out errors in wording, spelling and punctuation. Peer-reviewing would using the same fundamental data and redo the experiment/mathematics and hopefully come to the same conclusion as the original author.


Or perhaps a non peer reviewed paper funded by an organisation that is rabidly anti-Chinese needs to have its claims scrutinised heavily.

No less than any paper funded by any organisations in China, which are rabidly anti-anything-that-could-reflect-badly-on-the-government.

Quite possibly, but that's a world away from your original (and I'm paraphrasing here) "everyone thinks orange man and his associates are bad" comment.

We do seem to agree that proper scrutiny of claims is important.


From hn guidelines: “Please don't post insinuations about astroturfing, shilling, brigading, foreign agents and the like. It degrades discussion and is usually mistaken. If you're worried about abuse, email hn@ycombinator.com and we'll look at the data.”

That's a stretch. Steve Bannon has earned his reputation quite well outside his (rather brief) association with Trump.

Yes, for running conservative media outlets, and since 2016 there's been a concerted push from the left to tar any media supporting political views that aren't left-of-centre as conspiracy theories. He also commited fraud to enrich himself, but that doesn't mean every scientific paper connected to him is necessarily invalid.

In other words, unique features of this study indicate it was constructed in a political laboratory and does not emerge from scientific practice.

It has references for each claim, in the very end. Lot's of completely neutral scientists (such as inhttps://www.researchgate.net/publication/340924249_Is_consid...) have voiced concerns about the dominant hypothesis of natural origin.

With tongue firmly in cheek I have to ask you for evidence of the existence of such an entity as a "completely neutral scientist" :p

I mean neutral in a sense that there is no obvious gain for them to fabricate the data.

Considering how egregious the funding source is for this, I felt justified in flagging it.

But you probably should read the paper first.

I've been following this mess for a while. Banon/Guo has been playing up Yan since she fled HK in late April. She's been doing media circuits on usual alternative media properties. HKU, her previous employer released a statement characterizing some of her claims as "hearsay" and rejected her assertion that she worked on covid19 early in the outbreak [0].

Brief timeline:

mid April - China indicates they will hammer National Security Law to HK*

late April - Yan defects

Early May - rumors spread of alleged Chinese virologist defection, western rag media misattributed to Shi Zhengli "bat woman" who worked at Wuhan institute of Virology. She's 56, renown in her field.

Late May - Chinese media confirms it was Yan MengLi, she's in her 30s, and basically a labtech. They traced her to Guo's villa in NY, alleging that she paid her to defect [1].

July - Now - Yan starts her wave of interviews on western alt media. HKU disavows her claims.

Late August - Banon/Guo is being probed by FBI.

Now - Banon/Guo doubles down on Yan and lab modification narrative.

*NSL law timing is significant, the fact that she bailed HK so fast after NSL announcement is (conjecture) because she was already in contact with Guo prior. Guo is at the very top of CCP fugitive shitlist. CCP doesn't do much social media manipulation on western platforms, but when they do, he's almost always targeted. She would have been 100% dead if they found out she was coordinating with him regardless of the credibility of her claims. Personally, I think she's digging for a US VISA and at least being paid well by Guo, Banon/Guo digging for good graces with Trump for FBI probe.



Not really buying the visa angle.

She is young, highly skilled and in an industry which most countries have high demand for.

Could easily get into UK, EU, AU/NZ etc.

That's why NSL timing is significant. Proposal to ram through NSL in mid April meant NSL could be reality sometime in June. She have ~2-3 months to resituate herself abroad as a Chinese national. That's not super easy.

No doubt all paid for by Bannon's Chinese billionaire yacht friend Guo Wengui that is wanted by Beijing for corruption and now wants "asylum" in the US.

Since the Chinese govt don't bother with gulags in Siberia for corruption charges , they rather shoot you in the back of the head.

I can't really blame the guy.

Not to ad hom the piece, but Miles Guo, funder of this work, is a controversial Steve Bannon associate and Chinese billionaire in exile. So, you know, might have an axe to grind.

Also, for a different, and published, perspective, see this piece:


I'll definitely take the paper from Nature Medicine over the article by someone associated with Steve Bannon. I simply do not believe it is plausible that this many scientists are in on the massive cover-up that would be required to hide such evidence.

Wait, you don't think people in China would be afraid of outing their government's nefarious deeds? Even in the U.S. our whistleblowers like Snowden have to run to Russia and face exile at best. How many people work in the NSA that could have said something but didn't? Now add that China isn't afraid to jail hundreds of thousands of people if it has to to get compliance. It's not afraid to harvest the organs of prisoners either. Add that they literally control all communication in the country behind a tightly controlled firewall.

> they literally control all communication in the country behind a tightly controlled firewall.

I think you have a bit of an idealized perception of the Great Firewall if you think it allows controlling all communication. That's certainly the goal, but in practice, the implementation is far from achieving it.

Well-known historical events like the Tiananmen Square protests can be censored because they're so well known, so the censors know what kind of content to block. (But people who want to talk about them anyway also know which keywords to avoid to evade censorship. It's a cat-and-mouse game.)

New scandals become known all the time and cannot be censored until the news has spread far enough to reach the censors. For example, when Li Wenliang warned his friends about SARS infections in his hospital, the censors didn't know they had to censor screenshots of that conversation or his name until it was too late. When Ai Fen gave an interview to Renwu, the censors didn't know they had to censor it until it was too late.

In the end, the Chinese government had to honor Li Wenliang as a martyr and Ai Fen as a hero to somewhat calm the waves of public opinion. It's extremely unlikely that they'd be able to successfully suppress the information if the virus was lab-made and someone blew the whistle on that.

The conspiracy theory presented in this paper is that mainstream medical journals around the world are "strictly censoring" evidence that COVID19 was developed in a lab.

Yep. It's strictly censored by everybody around the globe. Nobody wants to see scientists hanging on trees.

The Nature article only underlines the similarities between Sars-Cov-2 and viruses in the wild. It uses that as an evidence that the virus comes from natural selection.

The similarity absolutely IS NOT an evidence of natural selection, neither guided selection or straight genetic engineering.

Although I am absolutely not in favor of Bannon, many scientists self-censor to preserve their carrier, funding, link with chinese labs. Only those in favor of the natural selection publish in well known journals.

> Although I am absolutely not in favor of Bannon, many scientists self-censor to preserve their carrier, funding, link with chinese labs. Only those in favor of the natural selection publish in well known journals.

This is fairly standard conspiracy theory stuff. Next you'll be telling us about QAnon and pedophiles.

Seems common sense that scientists, like anyone really, would self-censor anything that goes against the norm.

I remember when Agile was in its heyday and I said it had a lot of negatives and nearly got fired.

I'm sure you agree that your personal anecdote isn't evidence of a vast global conspiracy where scientists around the world censor themselves in order to ensure they retain links to Chinese labs?

Do you know many scientists? To counter your anecdote, my personal anecdote is that many scientists I know (as friends or colleagues) are cantankerous contrarians who would delight in going against the grain especially in the knowledge that real proof of such a theory would vastly increase their profile/notoriety.

Exactly. Scientific history is full of these contrarians who presented evidence to show they were right and everyone else was wrong all along. Now, to be respected in the scientific community you need to present strong evidence, even better irrefutable evidence, if possible, so as to not be viewed as a crackpot. In other words when going against the grain you'd better have an airtight case that's credible. Even if it eventually gets shot down, which happens, you'll have wanted the scientific community to have learned something in doing so. You'll still be remembered for that.

Well in this case that would probably increase their notoriety but not their profile.

There is no value publishing against the apparent consensus for natural selection, because of the high risk, and the lack of a definitive proof, yet. A true scientist would even refrain to conclude for the natural selection hypothesis.

I'm not really following your point?

Are you trying to say there's a global conspiracy to silence scientists who disagree with the prevailing theories of natural selection and evolution?

In https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17938318 some of the parties involved mentioned that they disassociated from the paper in fear of being ostracized.

Scientists are people too. You often see people hiding their real beliefs due to the fear of retaliation and public perception as well as misinterpretation regarding controversial topics, it is only natural that scientists have the same fear, especially when considering this case where we have a highly political topic.

Sure - I agree that there will be some scientists who will self-censor.

What I'm taking issue with is the trope that there's some kind of conspiracy of silence going on, where the global science community has decided it's beholden to China and refuses to research / publish credible theories that this is a lab-made virus. My experience is that scientists aren't a homogenous group and quite a few of them actually care about truth and facts and put that above the risk of losing links to Chinese funding.

You’re using the word conspiracy to ridicule the idea that humans will not speak about something out of fear of repercussions, which is about the most in-evidence thing about past atrocities one can imagine.

No I'm not. I invite you to read the response you replied to more carefully.

You are the only person in this discussion who mentioned the word conspiracy though.

Earlier this year, there were attempts to publish articles going against the narrative, and those who attempted were ridiculed, the exactly same way like it is happening in this comments section. No one wants this to happen to them.

This is not correct. There is additional evidence presented in the article which you do not mention. Essentially, to create SARS-CoV-2 in a lab, you would have to pull off several impressive feats of biochemical engineering:

- "a hypothetical generation of SARS-CoV-2 by cell culture or animal passage would have required prior isolation of a progenitor virus with very high genetic similarity, which has not been described"

- "Subsequent generation of a polybasic cleavage site would have then required repeated passage in cell culture or animals with ACE2 receptors similar to those of humans, but such work has also not previously been described."

- "Finally, the generation of the predicted O-linked glycans is also unlikely to have occurred due to cell-culture passage, as such features suggest the involvement of an immune system."

Basically, synthesizing SARS-CoV-2 would require you to do at least three things that are currently unknown to science. Is it possible that a some military lab achieved this working in complete secrecy? Yes. Is it the most parsimonious explanation? No.


We have a substantially (96.2%) similar virus with known killing potential (3 out of 6 miners who caught it). It is discovered in 2013, but isn't added to any databases (despite the deaths making it very notable) until late January of this year.

The mine samples came from Yunnan province, but the research was done in Wuhan which is in Hubei province (Those provinces aren't even adjacent) at a lab which just so happens to be rather close to the seafood market where the first cases allegedly happened.

The Nature paper states, near the end, that “More scientific data could swing the balance of evidence to favor one hypothesis over another.” Contrary to popular belief, that paper does not “debunk” the claim of laboratory origin but merely casts some doubt on it.

Several papers have now been written which provide more scientific data to re-evaluate this claim, and Steve Bannon did not provide the funding for all of them.

That's not even ad hominem. It's a pretty relevant piece of info and does change how I look at the article.

That’s enough to cause a leak in facts in my book. The straw that broke the camels back.

Not only that, but Miles Guo claimed that the virus was intentionally released by China to defeat America via biological warfare. He also made many other interesting claims:


It's hard to doubt Miles Guo's credibility: it is as solid a zero as they come.

To be fair, it's not like he's the only one who spends money to publish lies to brainwash people. Nearly every political party and government does that, although only select few would lie to such an extreme degree.

Guo has come out with almost no credile exposé anout the CCP despite repeatedly promising never-before-seen mega ones. Some of his followers did provide sensitive infos to him and quickly landed themselves on national television and jails.

Conspiracy theories have since been his only hobby beside bodybuilding and preaching on his yacht.

> Not only that, but Miles Guo claimed that the virus was intentionally released by China to defeat America via biological warfare

Such an assertion is well within the bounds for what should be considered possible. China's style of governance lends itself very well to extinguishing epidemics (namely, they can take swift and decisive action), so it's not a stretch to imagine that they would be affected by the outcome less than the USA in the longer term.

> Not only that, but Miles Guo claimed that the virus was intentionally released by China...

If that is true, your source doesn't show it. It says that a media outlet owned by Guo reported that "the Chinese government prepared to admit that the virus came from a lab".

Not that it was engineered, not that it was intentionally released and certainly not as biologicial warfare to defeat the US (somehow by releasing it inside China).

Miles Guo is also part of Trump's Mar-el-Lago resort

That's worth noting, but if we were to apply that metric to dismiss a piece of scientific work, we would also have to dismiss anything coming out of Chinese state-controlled research labs for being biased. After all, who would fund such research? Certainly not a pro-CCP entity.

There is no such thing as an unbiased source, especially with anything concerning China. If the scientific arguments presented hold ground, it shouldn't matter who authored them, and if the authors are so biased that they provably gave up on scientific principles, that should suffice to discredit the work.

Science 2004: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8587412_Infectious_...

"For the third time in less than a year, an outbreak of SARS seems to have originated from a failure in laboratory containment. This latest incident, revealed in China late last week, is the most serious."

2019 Journal of Biosafety and Biosecurity: Inaugural editorial: Towards evidence-based biosafety and biosecurity https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331229899_Inaugural...

"In 2004, a case of laboratory-acquired SARS infection was reported, and a number of containment failures occurred in high-security laboratories in Singapore, Taiwan, and mainland China. The 2004 SARS outbreak in North China resulted from a series of flaws in the biosafety protocol at a national institute in Beijing, resulting in infection of four laboratory workers. This has been the most serious biosafety event to date."

Oh I think it's entirely plausible this was an inadvertent escapee from a research facility, either of a naturally occurring virus under study or a bio-weapon. Neither possibility can be entirely discounted and I'd like to see a thorough investigation into the origins of the virus.

That doesn't mean this paper is any use whatsoever. It's evidence is sketch, pasted together from snippets of other articles. There is no new research here at all, and it comes from sponsors with a long and well established track record of peddling disinformation. So sure, please do keep an open mind, but that goes both ways on theories like this.

Sketchy evidence? Tell me more. I look forward to your thoroughly-cited refutation of the paper’s main claims.

I described some of my criticisms in another post, basically they cherry picked only the evidence they wanted to from the papers they sourced their ideas from. This is not research. There is nothing new or original in this paper, it's just taking things from elsewhere, stripping off the context and stitching it together into their own narrative. There's nothing original or substantive there to refute.

Since this paper is making what amounts to a forensic argument, there will inevitably be some "cherry picking" of evidence since much of the available evidence is not relevant and will necessarily be omitted. Just because the authors did not present new data from original experiments does not mean this doesn't count as "research"; synthesizing knowledge from across prior research is an important and effective tool for advancing any field.

If you want to refute the claims of the paper by arguing that they cherry-picked evidence, you need to provide specific evidence that was omitted from the paper and show how it contradicts their claims. Your other comments on this thread provide only the slightest hint of an argument and do not constitute anything resembling a true refutation.

I completely understand if you don't have the time or energy to compose a more thorough argument--after all, this is basically a flame war on an anonymous Internet forum. But if you find another source which presents a properly composed refutation of these claims, I'd appreciate it if you post a link here. I'll also be on the lookout for such arguments and post anything I find.

They took the protein sequences as evidence the virus didn't come directly from bats and concluded that therefore it must have been engineered. However the paper that did the research on that also showed that the virus is well adapted to mammals other than bats and humans, so it's very likely it cam to us from another mammal species other than bats.

This blows a big hole in their bat -> engineering -> humans thesis and so they completely omitted any mention of it even though they must have read it and known all about it.

I'm not refuting the claim that it might have been engineered. I'm still open minded on that question. I'm refuting their claim that the evidence demonstrates that it was engineered. The evidence does not demonstrate what they claim it does. That's what I'm refuting.

Dozens of such incidents also happened in USA, Soviet Union/RF, etc., including recent incident with Ebola. It's not unique to China.

If the root-cause was anything more than a zoonotic event then there will never be an independent and serious investigation on it.

Personally there are so many inconsistences with the timeline and location that I am much more inclined to believe the hypothesis of a "Gain-of-function" experiment that negligently escaped the lab, more so than a 'designed' virus or an unfortunate zoonotic event.

I don't want to be controversial or go into arguments on facts versus 'circunstancial' evidence but I would like to point out that the last time I linked a url about this on reddit, my comments got silently shawdowbanned. I tried multiple variations and unless I obsfuscated the url the comment would always get shadowbanned.

This is the link in question: https://project-evidence.github.io

I've worked in facilities management at a university with an infectious disease research program. As with all buildings there were system failures over the years. In one case air filtration failed and it required evacuation.

In most countries these incidents would be public, reported in the media and people would move on. But in China it's almost a mandatory requirement that there is a cover-up since any form of 'bad press' is a potent source of destabilisation.

My post is just pure conjecture, but I don't have a good gut feeling regarding natural origins of the virus. And if there would be any other origins it would never be disclosed. This is ripe for conspiracies but something about this doesn't feel right.

It should be a huge red flag that the main outbreak started in Wuhan near a well known virology lab but we are constantly fed rhetoric which assumes origin much earlier and at a vastly different location in Southern China, where the bat caves are and pangolins roam. Notably, those regions have not experienced an uptick in "weird lung disease" like Wuhan did before identifying SARS-CoV-2.

The wet markets and all associated animal trade and TCM in general exist everywhere in China and Wuhan is one of thousands of large population cities. Nothing was special about Wuhan except one single thing:

It all started across the street from a BSL lab when the conditions that led to the outbreak are available all across China, thousands of times.

Have you maybe considered that your link is basically claiming a massive conspiracy? That's it's virtually the same stuff that Alex Jones and Infowars are pushing?

> We are an anonymous group of researchers. We are not affiliated with any company, nation state, or organization. We are not receiving funding from any sources, public or private.

So I'm going to straight up say that this site is politically motivated without a doubt. Here's some actual researchers from the West writing an open letter to the Lancet willing to put their actual names to their research saying it's natural in origin.


I can find you similar sites with psuedoscientific analyses of 5G research papers too. Should I share them here?

I don't dismiss the possibility that I might be used as a propanganda pawn. However, I don't see how your claims refute mine.

Scientists have published quite a lot of material by now on how at a _molecular_ level it seems like a 'natural' virus, as in not a engineered/designed virus, I fully accept the body of science on this.

My argument is not that it is artificial but that it is a virus under study either for cataloguing purposes or used in a "gain-of-function" experiment, and that this virus _accidentally_ escaped the lab facilities where it should have been contained in.

I would be interesting in discussing the circunstancial inconsistencies with the _seafood_ market zoonotic theory, for example:

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 (?)

If I put my critical thinking hat on, this does not contradicting a "natural" source. However, it shows a very weak case for us to defend a multi-zoonotic event with a final jump occuring at seafood market, a stone throw away from a BSL lab.

People need to understand that this scenario is entirely plausible and could have happened even in the US and many research labs around the world.

Gain-of-function experiments and engineered viruses are not the stuff of James Bond stories, they are ordinary scientific work. They aren't necessarily that dangerous, but even extremely dangerous pathogens have leaked from labs numerous times.

The origin of the virus is unproven, yet somehow the "lab origin" story is a conspiracy theory while "zoonotic transfer through multiple hosts in an unlikely area (Wuhan)" is the dominant narrative. Either hypothesis has, at best, circumstantial evidence going for it.

Indeed, irrespective of the obvious agenda and credentials of OP's link, I would still expect this to be a platform for us to explore and discuss these scenarios with critical argumentation, beyond any divisive political polarization or propaganda.

edit: typo

The problem isn't even that it happened, since accidents and issues are an unfortunate part of research and life.

It's the way some entities deal with it for political reasons that screws everything up and leads to huge public distrust and poisoning of discourse.

The Coronavirus talk points are clear and to be adhered to. While I agree with the majority of the talk points (wear a mask etc.) I find it highly suspicious how some things evolved and changed over time.

Before April 7th, apparently no research existed in the world which proved that even simple textile masks are highly efficient at reducing transmission of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 simply because they reduce droplets you spread. The virus needs droplets so its own size is irrelevant and the only leftover thing to check are fine aerosols which outside of artificial conditions rarely occur.

Then suddenly, mask was everything as if somebody flipped a switch. People somewhere came together to flip the rhetoric which means that at some point, regarding the masks, it wasn't science-based but messages of control. Yea, maybe the mask supply was to be protected for medical personnel. Ok. But spreading the message that masks are not required is the wrong way to go about it.

Case in point:

> By contrast, surgical masks — those cheap, disposable, gauzy masks that often come in blue or green — are less uncomfortable. But Schaffner says the scientific evidence that "there might be a benefit for people in the community wearing [surgical] face masks is very, very meager. The general sense is perhaps, but they're certainly not an absolute protection." In other words, they do provide some benefit but they're far from foolproof. [1]

This is NPR! It's January 29th, 2020 and they spread the message that simple disposable surgical masks have VERY VERY MEAGER BENEFIT. I can only say: what the fuck?! Why?

This reads as if masks are not really helping so forget them anyways. As opposed to: there is significant reduction in transmission, even if not 100%, so wear them!

But research has long since existed proving effectiveness of surgical masks spreading airborne pathogens [2, 2013!]. It was abundantly clear that they help. But WHO and media told us a different story. RKI in Germany lied as well until early April.

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/01/29/8005317...

[2] https://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/j...

> But research has long since existed proving effectiveness of surgical masks spreading airborne pathogens...

No it hasn't! The claim that the evidence is "very meager" has been correct and is still correct. The study that you linked only shows a reduction in viral particles, but it also shows that coarse droplets contain less virus.

It stands to reason that reduced particle counts imply reduced viral load, and that reduced viral load implies fewer or less severe infections. However, that is hypothetical and not scientific proof.

In my view, the narrative has changed because of political pressure. If scientists were asked "Do masks work?", the honest answer would be "I don't know".

However, that's not what people want to hear from the experts. So you rephrase the question to "Could masks confer a benefit?" and then the honest answer is "That is plausible". Now politicians have something that they can tell people to do, to give the impression that something can be done and that something has been done.

That is not to say people shouldn't wear masks. However, it bothers me that this one scientifically plausible but unproven intervention gets a lot of attention, but many others don't. For instance, take vitamin D or zinc supplementation. Somehow, we need gold-standard double-blind placebo-controlled trials on 100,000 subjects before officially declaring those as potentially beneficial interventions.

The mask thing is your opportunity to read about the Gel-Mann effect, and join us in the club who believe very little, if anything, coming from the media.

Reminder: the people behind the articles you read are often 20 something ex-bloggers who have no real world experience and also often have an axe to grind.

PhD in molecular biophysics here (did virology rotation in grad school also). There's not enough time to go into how bad the "science" is in this paper. Evidence is cherry-picked, and circumstantial at best. Lots of non-sequitors presented that are unconnected to the actual science. I've read earlier claims that are similar to this and basically they see low alignment similarity to commercially available vectors and claim "AHA it must be engineered". But anyone who has studied molecular biology knows that vectors are almost always derived from natural viruses. Also, while viral linkages are normally linear, crossover between viri in hosts is well documented and does occur "rarely". That's say it's rare compared to normal genetic drift, but common enough that it's not particularly surprising to see genetic material from another "vector" in the wild. It does not have to be lab derived to see the mutations observed. Once you call into question this fundamental premise, everything else looks like the scientific trash that it is.

For an opposing viewpoint written by actual experts in this field, please see:


I posted what appears to be the top comment on the previous submission of a similar paper describing the probable laboratory origins of SARS-CoV-2 (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23875758), so I'll try and do another quick summary here. (Caveat: I have no particular expertise in this area, I just read a lot of scientific research)

The lead author here is an immunologist who, unlike the authors of prior papers alleging laboratory origin, is Chinese and was trained in Chinese institutions. At the time of the outbreak Dr. Li-Meng Yan was working in a public health lab at Hong Kong University and was asked to investigate. She claims that she fled to the US after realizing that there was a cover-up going on and she knew too much already.

The most striking and novel claim made here is that the bat coronavirus RaTG13, which is a 96% genetic match to the novel coronarivus, is a total fabrication. This argument is based upon a few key observations:

1. RaTG13 was supposedly discovered in 2013 but not publicly reported until after the outbreak already started, in a paper (published by researchers closely affiliated with the WIV) that claimed it as evidence SARS-CoV-2 likely originated from bats.

2. A number of independent preprint papers raise significant concerns about the veracity of RaTG13, and one published paper indicates that the RaTG13 spike protein is actually ineffective at binding to ACE2 receptors in horseshoe bats (the supposed reservoir).

3. After excluding RaTG13, the next closest relatives are two bat coronaviruses (ZC45/ZXC21) that were discovered and characterized by Chinese military research labs. A Chinese lab published research near the start of the outbreak which identified these viruses as the closest relatives, and that same lab was apparently closed for "rectification" shortly thereafter.

The paper goes on under the assumption that ZC45 or ZXC21 was the backbone for engineering the SARS-CoV-2 virus, noting how the particular characteristics of the genomic match (100% E protein, 94% Orf8 protein) align with what one would expect after the gain-of-function modifications that produced the unusual RBM and furin cleavage site which were also identified in the Sørensen paper. This paper goes into much more detail on those two points, and provides counterfactuals to describe how unlikely these observations would be in a naturally-evolved virus.

In the second half of the paper the authors describe in detail how a lab with sufficient technical acumen could engineer a virus like SARS-CoV-2 through a sequence of well-defined steps, with references to published research demonstrating these capabilities. Then they postulate the exact components involved in engineering the actual SARS-CoV-2, along with a projected timeline of six months for the whole process.

There is very few labs in the world, which can do synthesis of the virus from the published paper. One of them had major incident[0] (equipment was stolen from the lab by rescue team after blast and fire in the lab) right before epidemic.

[0] https://edition.cnn.com/2019/09/17/health/russia-lab-explosi...

This is the only comment here that actually mentions the furin-cleavage site, IMO the greatest smoking gun. Thank you.

I know, right? It's amazing how much you can learn when you actually RTFP.

> In fact, a Chinese BSL-3 lab (the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre), which published a Nature article reporting a conflicting close phylogenetic relationship between SARS-CoV-2 and ZC45/ZXC21 rather than with RaTG13, was quickly shut down for “rectification”.

I think that's misinterpretd, the ref link in the paper is https://globalbiodefense.com/headlines/chinese-lab-that-firs... , which leads to SCMP's https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3052966/chin...

SCMP's piece also mentioned that "It also obtained the required credentials to conduct research on the coronavirus on January 24." That indicates the Centre actually gained more access.

And if you search Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre on Google, you can see it's still actively doing COVID-19 related research. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullar...

There is a wikipedia article about the 1st author https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li-Meng_Yan

Worth reading Li Meng Yan's wikidedia page as a first stab at untangling this mess.

She is a Chinese[1] viral researcher who published on covid[1], who fled to America when she felt her life was in jeopardy[1] for saying that China knew about human-to-human transmission of covid much earlier [1].

And lead author of this paper.

1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li-Meng_Yan

Other commentary on this paper: https://www.thedailybeast.com/steve-bannon-linked-groups-pus...

Bannon clearly has a narrative he wants to push, and this is just part of that play. This is far from objective science. The authors and funding clearly have huge conflicts of interest. The claims made are extraordinary compared with most other experts in the field. Those two facts alone are enough to significantly discount any claims made in the paper.

Why should it be flagged?

People don't learn molecular cloning, phylogenetics, or how to perform a PCR before they upvote/downvote. People just hate its rhetoric.

Is this article already available in German?

So any country could do this (and even some rich private individuals if they are motivated enough). Keeping in mind that this virus showed up a lot earlier in other countries I'd say there is no way to prove who let the dogs out anyway.

I really don't get why people were so resistant to the idea. We knew experiments went on at that lab. We knew they had coronaviruses.

I have now flagged this particular bullshit misinformation FIVE TIMES on HN.

There is a group here on HN repeatedly posting this drivel and related nonsense. I would have thought that Trump-style lies and propaganda would be beneath HN, but here we are.

So what’s up OP? Care to explain why you’re engaged in lies?

This is a scientific research paper. If you think it’s BS then I eagerly await your point-by-point refutation of the scientific evidence presented therein.

It doesn't work this way.

Given objective evidence of a political intent of anti-Chinese propaganda, such as the involvement of specific factions who want to blame China for the pandemic, it's perfectly reasonable to assume this text is "fake news", with only the form of a scientific paper.

And on the other hand, we already know that building a custom coronavirus in a few months is feasible, if not easy; proving or refuting a plausible story about a synthetic biological weapon made by specific people in specific laboratories is a matter of espionage and investigation, not of scientific evidence.

> proving or refuting a plausible story about a synthetic biological weapon made by specific peoople in specific laboratories is a matter of espionage and investigation, not of scientific evidence.

Okay, fair enough, we'll call it forensic evidence. Either way, the arguments stand on their own merits. You can't dismiss a prosecutor's entire argument as "anti-defendant propaganda". The only people who would ever go to the trouble of building a case are the ones who believe the defendant to be guilty.

Call it science or call it forensics, but the same principles of evidence and truth apply. Evaluate the argument on its merits.

From a purely scientific side, the "principles of evidence" show a plausible story, competing with less extraordinary and also plausible options (like similar viruses mutating in similar ways, or transfer of genome portions in some other way than the few simple ones discussed in the article). The article contains apparently knowledgeable reflections about what is possible or more or less likely, not actual evidence; true evidence would have to be of a more forensic nature, and it would increase the usefulness of this theory from a way to irritate China to a way to find useful information about therapy and vaccines.

From a more literary and psychological angle, the evidence of disregard for alternative explanations, if not bad faith, is strong enough to discredit the article and place it on the spectrum of more or less intentional falsehood between completely delusional crackpot pseudo-research and completely deliberate poisonous PR effort.

You clearly didn't read the paper very closely. The authors spend multiple pages looking at possible pathways for the observed genetic features to have emerged naturally, and provide arguments against each of these scenarios. You may contest their arguments as weak or insufficient, but it is dishonest to characterize this as "disregard for alternative explanations".

> completely delusional crackpot pseudo-research

I find that the more adjectives and adverbs you need to make a statement, the more desperate your argument has become.

The thing is that I guess many people feel uncomfortable of seeing anti-Chinese rhetoric, which is considered right-wing agenda and such, yet they fail to realize that this is not about anti-China conspiracy, it is about issues of lab bio-safety on global scale. I mean, a good scientist should not be concerned about the political repercussions of finding the actual source, but only with what it really was. My personal belief is that you should should hide the truth, even for noble reasons, like it happened with N95 masks in March-April. No one gained anything from that.

Yeah man, this entire comment thread is a trip. Mass downvoting of any comment that doesn't parrot the line that this is a politically-motivated conspiracy theory. I have faith that enough rational individuals can see through the chaff and decide for themselves, and hopefully the truth will eventually emerge.

You probably need to just read the paper. It has very cold professional and neutral tone, lots of verifiable links and references. I mean, it really does not matter in what faith it is made, as soon as it checks out.

I fail to discern a "cold", "professional" or "neutral" tone. Scientific jargon is not enough: there is a lot of cherry-picking, fallacious reasoning and "because I say so".

> The alternative theory that the virus may have come from a research laboratory is, however, strictly censored on peer-reviewed scientific journals. > the RaTG13 virus also diverted the attention of both the scientific field and the general public away from ZC45/ZXC21 > It is believed that the researchers of that laboratory were being punished for having disclosed the SARS-CoV-2—ZC45/ZXC21 connection. > This finding further substantiates the suspicion that the reported sequence of RaTG13 could have been fabricated > Even if we ignore the above evidence that no proper host exists for the recombination to take place and instead assume that such a host does exist, it is still highly unlikely that such a recombination event could occur in nature. > Importantly, this, and the other recombination event described below in section 1.3 (even more impossible to occur in nature), would both have to happen to produce a Spike as seen in SARS-CoV-2. > Strikingly, consistent with the RBM engineering theory, we have identified two unique restriction sites > Once the restriction sites were successfully introduced, the RBM segment could be swapped conveniently using routine restriction enzyme digestion and ligation. Although alternative cloning techniques may leave no trace of genetic manipulation (Gibson assembly as one example), this old-fashioned approach could be chosen because it offers a great level of convenience in swapping this critical RBM > The striking finding of EcoRI and BstEII restriction sites at either end of the SARS-CoV-2 RBM, respectively, and the fact that the same RBM region has been swapped both by Dr. Shi and by her long-term collaborator, respectively, using restriction enzyme digestion methods are unlikely a coincidence. Rather, it is the smoking gun proving that the RBM/Spike of SARS-CoV-2 is a product of genetic manipulation.

Regarding links and references, how many are other papers from the same group, sock puppets, irrelevant material, bad research that remains a preprint for good reasons, and so on? For example:

8. Segreto, R. & Deigin, Y. Is considering a genetic-manipulation origin for SARS-CoV-2 a conspiracy theory that must be censored? Preprint (Researchgate) DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.31358.13129/1 (2020).

20. Singla, M., Ahmad, S., Gupta, C. & Sethi, T. De-novo Assembly of RaTG13 Genome Reveals Inconsistencies Further Obscuring SARS-CoV-2 Origins. Preprints, 2020080595 (doi: 10.20944/preprints202008.0595.v1) (2020).

Socket puppet? R. Segreto is not a sock puppet. Preprint, because big scientific magazines deny her article for potentially political reasons.

I was just showing two examples of obviously partisan references, indicative of a bubble of like-minded opinions that is a dangerous foundation for scientific research even when those opinions are mostly correct.

have you _actually_ read the references? There is nothing partisan about it. Rosanna Segreto is a Ph.D. scientist in University of Inssbruck, one of top 100 Universities in EU; no partisan affiliations. There is nothing "bubble-like" in that papers; scientist are not obliged to speak in mute terms. All that matters is the contents of the research.

This isn't a scientific research paper; it's propaganda masequerading as a science paper. I know it's hard to tell the difference, especially if the authors were skilled.

Have you actually read it?

I skimmed it, like most "articles" about articles that suggest that SARS was either intentionally or inadvertently released from a lab, and after a bit determined it was propaganda, not legitimate science, and did not continue.

Each and every claim they make is substantiated by links to some other research, by unrelated and independent research. Most of people here are not virologist, molecular biologists etc, and probably have no say in determining if it is propaganda or not.

Sure, but it's probably not in anybody's best interest for those of us with molecular biology (biophysics in my case) PhDs to do rebuttals of papers like this in an ELI5 way, so that hackers can understand how to recognize propaganda.

Baseless statements like it is "I skimmed it, and it is just propaganda" are not welcome in any educated conversation. If you cannot give a good explanation why it is "a propaganda", it is probably better to not say anything.

OK. This sentence in the abstract: The alternative theory that the virus may have come from a research laboratory is, however, strictly censored on peer-reviewed scientific journals.

that's not true. If you wrote a good article that was completely defensible and submitted it to a top journal, it wouldn't be censored. It's not like the editors of nature are just sitting around stomping on papers they don't agree with. The problem is that if you wanted to convince peer reviewers and editors to publish such an article, it would need to be absolute perfect- not a single detail wrong, not a single bit of politics, totalyl consistent with the observed evidence, and more likely than natural origin (which is a very reasonable hypothesis to start with). Very few of the articles I've seen that claim lab origin pass the basic technical tests.

The editors of nature, science, etc, would love to receive a paper that actually made a good enough argument that there was a lab origin. that would be the scoop of a century.

Please, let's not focus on some political points of the article (my personal experience actually confirms that going against the established consensus will hurt you carrier; there is a plenty of evidence in the history of science, when the scientists were ridiculed for being contrarian; check Zemmelweis, Cantor etc.). Please focus on scientific points.

That does not mean that it shouldn't be refuted point-by-point, to show the paper for what it really is.

It's not worth the effort.

Than your opinion is baseless, and just an attempt to silence uncomfortable claims.


The idea is widely considered by the scientific community to be false. Less than 1% of the community here is qualified to dive into the details. Implying that because something is a scientific paper, that if general readers can't beat it point for point, is deeply misleading.

I think the paper is BS. It's funded by people known to produce BS. I cannot personally prove that its BS, but I'll lend my trust to more trustworthy scientific publications with no bad funding incentives.

I'd prefer content like this not appear here.

Here is one trustworthy paper, exploring subject of artificial origin of the virus https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340924249_Is_consid...

Ah yes, this non peer reviewed, preprint, by someone who studies fungus instead of viruses, and states that while there's no evidence something was man made, we can't prove this is the case.

Case closed I guess.

It does not matter what precisely she studies - she is a specialist in genetic engineering, and the evidence she brings up is applicable across wide range of living organisms, as soon as it has DNA; what did you personally study? Computer Science? Electric Engineering? Case closed, I guess? Did you actually read what she wrote? Did not she explain why it is a preprint? If you _actually_ bother to read her paper, you'd understand what she actually wanted to say - namely you cannot deny probability of man made virus, just basing your argument on old preliminary research made in January. That research is like stupid statement by Knuth long time about goto operator, old, irrelevant but is become a consensus. And her motivation has nothing to do with China per se, her concern is danger of GoF experiments, which can lead to disaster.

As many i started reading the paper from a non biologist perspective, then hit the comment section here to see the Steve Bannon references. That man has a whole carddeck up his sleeve. Question: Is it illegal to release misleading material like this?

No, it is not illegal to release known factually incorrect propaganda masequerading as scientific literature. If it was, large numbers of professors would be violating the law constantly.

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