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How I learned to stop worrying and love the lab-leak theory (donaldgmcneiljr1954.medium.com)
136 points by themgt 27 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 235 comments



Just so people know who is posting this - Donald McNeil Jr was the chief voice at NYT focusing on covid. He was ousted earlier because of some remarks that he allegedly made to a school group a few years ago, but before that, the NYT was pushing for him to get a Pulitzer for his reporting on COVID. Him starting legitimize the lab-leak theory as possible is reflective of the people more generally taking the lab-leak hypothesis seriously.

That's never to legitimize violence, or score political points, but maybe to get us a bit closer to what sparked the pandemic.


Its astonishing “scientist” in labs are so detached from the real world and dismissive as always.

The virus wasn’t tampered with. Th lab in Wuhan is “GAIN OF FUNCTION” testing.

read it again. Gain of function means nudging viral samples so they gain functions on their own without human gene editing or modification that can easily be traced.

Why now? Why not 5 years ago? The animal markets have always been there.

Occams Razor.


Why MERS was in 2009? Why not 2007 or 2001? Etc. The animals were there since millions of years.

This argument is bootless. Viral mutations and spread happen according to anomalous diffusion statistics that are inherently chaotic at outset.

For those who do not know what chaotic means, it is extremely sensitive to initial conditions. Most of which are actually unknowns. Risk is always there, but details are never initially predictable.


Your logic here isn’t sound. “Why not 5 years ago?” - the mechanism here is that each year there is a low but non-zero probability of a virus jumping to humans.

That is why you have infrequent intermittent epidemics like Spanish Flu, or more recently SARS, and not constant evolution of new crossover viruses.

It seems that crossovers happen more on the timescale of decades than mere years. (Though I’m excluding crossovers of unviable infections that don’t go anywhere, of course).

None of the above argues against the lab escape theory. As the OP details it’s possible. Just your specific line of reasoning here oversimplifies, hence the downvotes.


Why did SARS-CoV-1 jump from Bats in Yunnan to humans in Guangdong in 2003?


There's basically no evidence either way, although the outbreak being in a city with a class 4 bio lab actively studying sars viruses does on the surface seem to make the lab leak more probable. Bit of a coincidence.

What really makes me think though is the way China is being uncooperative. You'd think if they were innocent they wouldn't need to limit access to data and prevent investigation of the Wuhan lab. Maybe that's just in their nature as a totalitarian regime, but it's not doing them any favors here.


> What really makes me think though is the way China is being uncooperative

This reminds me exactly of the same kind of arguments made about Saddam Hussein when it came to WMDs before 2003.

It turned out that Hussein was playing to the domestic audience, not the USA. It made sense to him to stand up to the weapons inspections for domestic political consumption. Everyone in the USA, including the CIA thought he MUST have been actually hiding something, but he wasn't, it was all just bluster.

Similarly here, its likely all for domestic consumption. They just don't want to admit it came from China, period. They've been pushing the idea that it was spreading like wildfire in Italy in Sept/Oct 2019 (via some scientific article that never should have been published). They're happy to make the argument entirely about the lab leak theory because then they can rely on the scientific community to debunk that -- and then all that remains for domestic consumption is their ideas that it came to China in imported food.

And here's the kicker which is that if this doesn't make sense to you, it doesn't have to. They don't give one sloppy fuck about what you think. They care about what 1.4 billion Chinese people think. If you're convinced it is a lab leak they just don't care and that works fine for them. They can debunk that internally and push the idea that China is the victim.

And the zoontic theory doesn't help them as much, then they have to explain why it happened again after SARS-1 in 2003, and they might have to actually do something about a lot of the animal farming practices in China, and could lose face for domestic political consumption. Bunker mentality is better for authoritarian regimes than self-reflection about mistakes.

(See also Jose Mourinho's player management style)


That may be true, and I agree that possibility is underplayed. But if that's what happened, isn't the correct policy action the same as what those concerned about lab origin are advocating (i.e., to push for an investigation of the origins that's not fully dependent on the CCP's honesty)? The danger to humanity exists regardless of whether they're concealing reckless science that causes pandemics or reckless agriculture that causes pandemics.


They know an investigation of the origins pins it on China. With a zoonotic source China is still at fault. As an authoritarian regime that outcome undermines them.

A bunch of Americans angry about the lab leak theory works fine for them, that just enhances the bunker mentality for their own domestic consumption.

And they're more worried about domestic politics now and spinning propaganda than they are about preventing the next pandemic.


> With a zoonotic source China is still at fault.

Is it really though? Is that then not a "shit happens" case? No one seems to be particularly angry at how SARS started, or Ebola in Africa etc. It just seems understood that often humans and animals mingle closely together, and then yes, bad things happen, but it's just part of doing business.

Anyway China is implying already that this is what's going on, so I can't see what they would have to lose by confirming it.


I agree that the CCP's incentives are to oppose such an investigation regardless of the true origin, especially after they've spent months digging in to that position. But if our goal is to reduce the risk of future pandemics, then do you have a better idea for a policy action to achieve that?


Yes. That's why I'm pointing it out.

People get Big Mad at China over the lab leak theory.

I'm quite annoyed at China over deflecting investigation of the zoonotic origins because we're risking SARS-3 more or less.

But the people yelling about the lab leak hypothesis are also useful idiots in deflecting investigation of the zoonotic origins, so I'm equally annoyed at them.

It wasn't a lab leak. We aren't going to do anything about it. Something like it will probably happen again.

I'm just stockpiling some nice N95s once the prices crash in a year or three. The human race, in general, is too collectively stupid and too easily manipulated to stop this from happening again (and everyone in this thread is part of the problem).

[ And yes, everyone in this thread angry at the CCP I view as equally as bad as the CCP in being useless at preventing learning anything that'll prevent a future pandemic. A pox on both your houses. ]


So what policy action are you proposing? In other words, what do you think voters should push the American government (or whatever government you elect, assuming you live in a democracy) to do?

If you believe that a lab accident is so unlikely as to not be worth investigating further, then your position is rapidly becoming as fringe as the opposite was four months ago--you disagree here with Tedros, Redfield, Baltimore, Baric, any quote I've seen anywhere from the intelligence community, and many other big names. But if that's your sincere belief, why wouldn't you push for a forensic investigation of natural origin (e.g., allowing scientists not permanently under the CCP's physical control to collect samples from agricultural sites, and ship them out under seal for testing outside China)?

Finally, just for my curiosity: Do you agree with the consensus that the 1977 flu pandemic (which killed ~700k people) was probably a lab accident? Or do you think that one was definitely natural too?


This is the first time I'm seeing the word 'pox' being used by someone! Till now I've only seen it being used in books!


I don't think there is one. Determining the source requires cooperation from the Chinese government, and there is no way that cooperation can be forced if they don't want to give it. And even if there was, there's no guarantee that enough evidence or information remains after a year and a half for us to prove anything.


There is. Assume it’s either zoonotic or lab, and then put in new protocols to address both. We aren’t resource constrained on this.


I think the reason is that the Chinese government doesn't care as much about the danger to humanity as they do about saving face and maintaining their power.

They may even know definitively where it came from, whether it was a lab with lax safety practices or from reckless agriculture. And they can fix either or both of those things, quietly, while still pushing the narrative internally that the virus didn't come from China at all.


I agree, and I'm interested to watch e.g. whether the WIV continues to publish risky research. My private guess is a paper or two for the sake of appearances, but a much lower volume of sampling and lab manipulation of novel pathogens than before--the CCP doesn't want to lose face, but it doesn't want another pandemic either.

It sure would be nice to know what happened, though, both for the sake of human knowledge and to inform similar research (or agriculture, or whatever else might have caused this) outside China. I don't what it's possible to learn given the delay and CCP's obstruction, but it seems defeatist not to try.


Has anyone analyzed this with a Bayesian statistical approach? Considering that a zoonotic transfer could happen in a very large number of places on earth, I would imagine that the odds of an outbreak in any particular city would be quite small? With that in mind, how many virology labs are there doing gain-of-function research on coronaviruses? How many have had safety issues in the past? How many times have pathogens escaped? Also, how many zoonotic transfers have there been where no infected specimens of the host species could be found after a concerted investigation? It seems like one should be able to come up with reasonable estimates for most of these numbers with some digging.

I'm not qualified to make conclusions one way or the other, but it feels to me like this calculation would weight heavily toward a lab leak. To a layman's eyes, it feels a bit like we've got a lung cancer patient who just so happened to be a pack-a-day smoker, and everyone's searching furiously for any explanation that isn't the cigarettes.


>>"Has anyone analyzed this with a Bayesian statistical approach?"

- YES. And they give lab leak theory over 80% likelihood

https://www.rootclaim.com/analysis/What-is-the-source-of-COV...


How can you assign a probability/likelihood to vague statements like "There is some weak evidence regarding lax security and procedures at the Wuhan Institute of Virology"


Probabilities determined from Bayesian analyses like this one aren't really intended to be perfect – it is more of an exercise to help you think through the various different possibilities in a more structured way. In other words, Bayesian estimates should always be taken as relative to all other related estimated outcomes rather than as absolutes in isolation (even thought you are arriving at a specific "probability").


I am aware. This is why I find it particularly grating if you even pretend it's not subjective.


This is my thought. I think it is hard to do a Bayesian analysis here and come up with priors everyone can agree on but it always seemed to me it would be like if a new Mad Cow disease started near Cambridge, Mass. If a new cow disease arose naturally it would probably be in a cattle farm with tons of animals being slaughtered - not next to a lab that studies prions.


The problem with that is there are way more pathogenic viruses originating in animals than prion diseases, and (probably?) way more virology labs than labs studying prion diseases. That makes both factors in the equation much larger in the case of viruses than prion diseases. Just off the cuff, I'd guess that would make the overall probability of a zoonotic virus emerging near a city with a virology lab at least an order of magnitude greater than your prion disease scenario.


U know, this theory was dead due fact controversial politician said it loud. Ofc he had to keep mouth shut until point there were hard evidence. Still one of main reasons why it was dismissed who said, not what being said.

As global pandemic is complex issue where are many bolts and knobs. However, it still would be usefull why engine blowed up, not just why pilots acted badly during crash


I assume virology labs are not randomly distributed across the country, e.g. there could be many reasons why a lab studying coronaviruses might be located in close proximity to an area with a high risk of outbreak.


The closest animal virus to SARS-CoV-2 was found in nature about 900 miles from Wuhan (RaTG13, in Mojiang). Dr. Shi herself thinks spillover in Hubei is unlikely:

> We have done bat virus surveillance in Hubei Province for many years, but have not found that bats in Wuhan or even the wider Hubei Province carry any coronaviruses that are closely related to SARS-CoV-2. I don't think the spillover from bats to humans occurred in Wuhan or in Hubei Province.

https://www.sciencemag.org/sites/default/files/Shi%20Zhengli...

The WIV's program to sample novel SARS-like viruses from nature and manipulate them in the lab was the biggest in the world. The only other group that comes close is Ralph Baric's, and Baric has joined the letter in Science calling for further investigation of the origin:

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6543/694.1


There are plenty of reasons that any State wouldn't cooperate or seem to be with an external investigation. If I were China I would certainly worry about a frameup or selective leaking of things to sway the public. There is very little motive for China to do anything given the risks.


> if they were innocent they wouldn't need to limit access

Never talk to the police


Another way to get at a similar disconcerting place:

Where is the animal population that harbored the virus?


Same problem with SARS-CoV-1. The Bat SL-CoV-WIV1 virus that is closest related to that is also from Horseshoe bats in Yunnan. The SARS-CoV-1 outbreak in humans was >700 miles away in Guangdong. The virus may or may not have used an intermediate animal like civets to jump to humans.

We've seen this happen before and we know there was no lab leak involved.


The lack of cooperation complicates all of this, which was my primary point.


The problem is, there is nothing to cooperate in. Any source or fact given by Chinese government or scientists will not be trusted.


It is necessary for global involvement. Direct research, investigations, data collection, the works.

Being open enough to understand what is actual is the cooperation.


People are absolutely shocked when I tell them what China reports as their numbers for testing and cases.


Given how much control they have, and how much of a priority saving face is, governance in China is rife with perverse incentives.


May not have come from the lab, but entirely possible they were working on bioweapons or something else untoward in Wuhan. Would explain why they don't want inspectors poking around

We won't know until someone forces open those records, I guess.


There's basically no evidence either way

The article this article is about (Nick Wade's article) is built around the opposite claim, that there actually is by now quite a lot of evidence and it supports the lab leak theory. And in particular, there is no evidence of natural animal-to-human transmission that could balance out the preponderance of evidence on the other side.


McNeil Jr also references this letter from epidemiologists and biologists in Science [1] calling for a new investigation.

[1]: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6543/694.1


The "viable" in the "Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable" is doing a lot of legwork there.


There's also an earlier open letter from March from a different group of scientists, which includes a list of limitations with the WHO’s visit and investigation, and what they would like to see happen in a new investigation: https://s.wsj.net/public/resources/documents/COVID%20OPEN%20...

Reason magazine wrote about this letter and circumstantial evidence that has been piling up in support of exploring the lab leak hypothesis further: https://reason.com/2021/05/12/did-covid-19-leak-from-a-wuhan...


There's another ongoing thread on the same topic, with a different root article, but perhaps a similar impetus (the recent letter to Science):

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27160898


This is a great, in depth fact filled article. Really explores the subject completely.


Suppose there was a leak, or an employee sold a test animal to the wet market make extra cash.

Seems that cov2 was going to jump to humans eventually, given the state of the wet markets.

My question is, so what? China is not going to ever agree nor allow an investigation. They will deny any allegations.

So it there is no evidence for human tinkering with the virus what can be done?

I mean, we have account of alive human organs harvest, slave labour, forced assimilation of minorities... nothing was done


I think this ignores why the "lab leak" theory was being squashed in public:

1. There was no evidence

2. The conspiracies going around in early days prompting the response was that China manufactured the virus as a weapons and/or released it on purpose.

3. There was no evidence

People were reading the WHO reports as information was coming in and they were talking about no transmission outside familial groups and saying "Ahah! The WHO is in China's pocket, they were lying about the virus!" or "They are incompetent and don't know what they are doing!". Zero understanding that the reports were pretty much just raw information and analysis on what was known at the time.

This was just over a year ago peeps, but people were forgetting like 2 months on haha.


No eVIdEnCE is exactly what you would expect to see from a lab leak in China, and the exact opposite of what you would expect in literally any other situation. So it's still no direct evidence, but it is increasingly strong circumstantial evidence.


The problem I have with the lab leak theory is that if it was a lab leak, what do we make of SARS? Was SARS a lab leak, too?

If it was reasonable for SARS to naturally jump from bats to humans, why couldn’t COVID, too?


Wade's article explains that. With SARS-1 they did find the animal transmission path very quickly (within months). Part of the argument here is that despite an overwhelmingly large and well incentivised search, no such path has been found for SARS-2. Meanwhile there is microbiological evidence that is suggestive of lab work.

Unfortunately due to China's stonewalling there is no way to prove anything beyond doubt. However, the balance of probabilities at this point says that the WIV was doing GOF research on these sorts of viruses and one escaped. One reason to believe this is likely is that they apparently were not working at especially high biosafety levels. Just ordinary lab coats and gloves.


The accidental lab leak theory proven would actually be great news, as the alternative is that civilization has reached the threshold where we have a hyper connected population in contact with so many natural disease reservoirs that pandemics are emerging spontaneously. If it’s a lab leak we change pathogen containment practices, otherwise we curtain our freedom of movement and association


Are you claiming that Covid is particularly severe relative to historical pandemics, or that Covid-level issues are a particularly modern phenomenon?

In fact the opposite is true. If it had emerged in any other century, Covid would barely even be on anyone’s radar.


>If it had emerged in any other century, Covid would barely even be on anyone’s radar.

Surely you can't be serious. I mean, I think we would have noticed. In fact, it would have been on a lot of people's radar. They definitely would have noticed in India, Italy & Brazil.

I mean, are comments like this hyperbolic, and I'm just not in on the joke?


Not intending to make the case that Covid-19 would barely be on anyone's radar, but here is a comparison with some past pandemics that went relatively unnoticed (afaik):

1957-1958 H2N2 pandemic[1]

- 1.1 million deaths worldwide (0.04% of world population of 2.9 billion)

- 116,000 deaths in the US (0.07% of US population of 174.9 million)

1968 H3N2 pandemic[2]

- 1 million deaths worldwide (0.03% of world population of 3.5 billion)

- 100,000 deaths in the US (0.05% of US population of 200 million)

Covid pandemic (so far)

- 3.39 million deaths worldwide (0.04% of world population of 7.9 billion)

- 586,000 deaths in the US (0.18% of US population of 330 million)

---

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1957-1958-pandemi...

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1968-pandemic.htm...


I suspect some readers are thinking ok, so it's ~6x worse, surely that's noticeable. But the COVID numbers are seriously inflated relative to past epidemics by the enormous testing programme, and the way mass PCR testing has cut doctors out of the loop. These numbers of deaths are deaths in which a positive PCR test was roughly temporally co-present, regardless of what an expert on the ground said the cause of death was, which is a much weaker standard than was previously used for ascribing a cause of death.

Another way to look at this is overall mortality levels. In the UK, which has a reasonably high death rate, COVID raised overall mortality (per million) to around the level it was in the year 2000. Nobody was worried about that mortality level at the time, it was normal. Nor has anyone really noticed or commented on the general improvements in mortality since then. In Sweden age-adjusted mortality went back all the way to 2012 levels, and that with quite minor restrictions.

This is suggestive that we perceive the impact as large because it tends to be phrased in terms of deviation from a 5-year model baseline, and because of the general expectations created by enormous 'expert' predictions. Having sacrificed so much via such extreme measures, people need to view it as an extreme event to justify a worldview of 'experts are generally honest and correct' (which can be seen in this article as a very, very strong prevailing world view at the NYT!)


> Nobody was worried about that mortality level at the time

They were sufficiently worried to increase cigarette taxes, ban advertising, educate the population to stop smoking.


Anti-smoking campaigns were decades earlier and did not involve measures anywhere near as harsh as currently deployed.


They would have noticed a few unusually bad “flu” seasons, but relative to smallpox, plague, measles, malaria, and even some historical outbreaks of the actual flu, it wouldn’t have registered as a particularly generation-defining event as it is now.


Hello Umanwizard, I'll try to make that less ambiguous. What I mean is, over the last century it has become common to believe that we are taming pathogens - smallpox, polio, maybe malaria next, diseases that have been with us for a very long time. As our technology enables this, I fear another trend pushes us in the opposite direction, that as we encroach further and further into fuller exploitation of remaining wilderness we are encountering novel potential pathogens at a greater rate, and our highly connected single global population means that transmission happens very quickly. So my question doesn't concern the lethality of Covid, rather that is is novel and has spread globally quickly - whether this might be an early data point in a future data set, that will indicate we are now be generating new novel pandemics at a greater rate. If that is the case, that will be a more difficult problem to solve than the problem of lax lab safety.

There are interesting points in this thread, about how well we would respond to confirmation that the pandemic was triggered by a lab leak, so I'm not saying that there would be a good outcome from knowing it was a lab leak, rather that even if we never know the truth, it would probably be a better thing for the future of our civilisation it was a lab leak, rather than the first significant event in accelerating sequence of naturally generated pandemics. These are not the only two options of course, but that was the ambiguously stated meaning of my comments

cheers

monk


I mean, that's obviously happening anyway, and it's not only a modern occerance. Pandemics have a long and varied history, no? I guess this would modify how often we think that happens?


We can have all of the best possible pathogen containment practices but if they're not followed then they're of no use. We would also need a way to ensure that they're followed


That might be great from a public health standpoint, but I'm not so sure from an overall global perspective. Proof of a lab leak and subsequent coverup would be a hugely destabilizing political event that could have severe consequences as there would be people pushing for some type of retribution for the millions of deaths. At the very least that would lead to further political division and racial animosity in places like the US. At the worst, it is the first domino on the way to WWIII.

EDIT: Just to get in front of the responses that are already popping up, this isn't an endorsement of a coverup. It is just recognition that if a coverup did occur and was revealed that wouldn't be "great news".


What would you say in response to someone who believes that widespread belief of a coverup would do more to sow distrust and division than a transparent admission of the truth?


The truth is the truth and we shouldn’t cover it up because of the harsh realities it may bring.


Unfortunately that outcome is happening already, from just the hearsay


Well the heresay comes from people like Donald Trump and the longer the Democrats ignore the theory the more credibility they lose and give to him, even if the way he said it was inflammatory. Seems like it would be far less destructive to bring it out into the open now than to just let people think that someone calling it the Kung Flu was more transparent than the political party that pretended like the lab leak is just a racist conspiracy theory.


The Democrats (and the many “gullible” reporters like the one that wrote the referenced link) are simply waiting this out in hopes the average reader forgets that Trump and others including a few brave scientists pointed towards the obvious possibility of a lab leak early in the pandemic.


And were subsequently labeled racist and likely lost their jobs.


For persons of average intelligence or more, it is indeed good news.

For persons of Asian appearance, living in physical proximity to persons of lower than average intelligence, it's dangerous news, unfortunately.


Can you provide recent statistical data during the pandemic about actual hate crimes to back that up, specifically about the race committing the crime?



Increase from 49 to 122 is certainly a big increase, but these are extremely small numbers, considering they are derived from cities with combined populations of tens of millions of residents.


> The accidental lab leak theory proven would actually be great news

For humanity, yes, for the CCP, not so much.


So I generally give like zero weight to conspiracy theories. That being said, I don't believe anyone can reasonably claim with any degree certainty that Covid was a lab-leak BUT the WHO investigation simply hasn't done their due diligence to a sufficient degree to eliminate this theory.

Unfortunately the WHO's credibility is trained here. In the early days of the pandemic the WHO bent over backwards not to upset China. More to the point, it took China's denials on face value.

So it's more than a year after the pandemic started before the WHO investigators got any sort of access to investigate (which, incidentally is not a good look for neither China or the WHO).

But here are two demonstrable and known shortcomings of the WHo investigation:

1. In 2019 there was a database of coronaviruses that China had. In late 2019 it was taken offline. Super-weird timing. By itself that doesn't prove anything but the WHO hasn't investigated it. Did they ask? If not, why not?

2. Wuhan labs do investigate coronaviruses. The WHO has never been given access to what coronaviruses they have.

It is weird that 1-1.5 years later we're still unsure of the origin (unlike, say, SARS or MErS).

Oh and, for the record, I don't believe for a second this virus was in any way engineered.


> So I generally give like zero weight to conspiracy theories

You know it was once a conspiracy theory to say the Earth wasn't flat. And it was once considered blasphemy to say putting leeches on your body didn't help an illness.

There's a reason why the term "conspiracy theory" is thrown around by the media so much...it's because they know a certain subset of people have been socially conditioned to bypass critical thinking if the term has any association with the underlying topic.

How is questioning and discussing things worse than blindly believing what you're told? Even when what you're told has no backing by science or logic when compared to the associated "conspiracy theory"? (for example, covid began by someone eating a bat-burger vs. the "conspiracy theory" that the Wuhan lab, with public documents showing funding signed off by Fauci, was experimenting with super-viruses, and one of the workers in close proximity caught the virus.) I'll never understand this.


> You know it was once a conspiracy theory to say the Earth wasn't flat.

Archimedes knew the Earth was a sphere. You can tell the surface of the Earth is curved by the fact that the body of a ship disappears from view before its mast.


I always ask these flat earthers to explain how we see the coriolis effect when firing long range rifles or artillery. Naw, I'm lying, I've never met a serious flat earther online or in person. I think it's a device used in lazy debate rather than a set of real breathing thinking people. Even the flat earth society appears to be just a fun group that meets socially more than scientifically.


I have also never met a flat earther, or seen any discourse online that seems like such.

I am not convinced that they exist in nearly the kinds of numbers that folks like to suggest.



Yes. What people are thinking of here is Galileo and the idea that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Nobody has ever thought the Earth was flat in any great numbers because it's obvious to anyone living in a society that has boats that it can't be true. It's some sort of garbling of what was really being debated in those times.


and also if you just climb a tall enough hill and look at the horizon


And he was wrong, as the Earth is flattened at the poles. Sphere is a first order approximation at best.


I think people usually give zero weight to conspiracy theories not because they're never true but because it's much likelier that the experts know better than you do.


This article shows how funding and fear of losing funding might have influenced all these experts to back the wrong narrative.


That's a logical fallacy: appeal to authority. Didn't the CDC claim that masks don't help against the virus just last year? Expertise didn't prevent them from (knowingly) making a false claim back then, and there's nothing wrong with healthy skepticism now.


Also, because they’re trying to compensate for biases that cause people to see patterns where none exist.


> You know it was once a conspiracy theory to say the Earth wasn't flat.

In the 3rd century BCE, it is documented that the Egyptians calculated the circumference of the Earth to a relatively high degree of accuracy [1].

The Earth not being flat wasn't so much a "conspiracy theory" but a challenge to medieval Christian doctrine. It just doesn't fit the modern definition of a "conspiracy theory". The essential part of a conspiracy theory is that a powerful and covert group is responsible for something not appearing as it seems.

Common examples: faked Moon landings, UFOs (as aliens, including Roswell and other such incidents), the JFK assassination (done by the CIA or whoever) or the Holocaust didn't happen.

They all tend to revolve around some Big Lie (a fact exploited by Goebbels and others) and it tends to play into human psychology that there's some grand plan or there's something you, as a believer, know that other people don't. We now live in a time that has validated people raising how they feel to having the same weight as science, demonstrable evidence and reason. So now we have people believing in stolen elections, QAnon, Covid-19 being fake and the like.

So what you're doing is attempting to conflate the term conspiracy theory by applying it to a situation any reasonable person knows as being obvious ("the Earth isn't flat") and I have to wonder why. What other belief are you trying to validate?

[1]: http://www.geo.hunter.cuny.edu/~jochen/gtech201/lectures/lec....


> We now live in a time that has validated people raising how they feel to having the same weight as science, demonstrable evidence and reason

Since you mentioned the election, how does science, demonstrable evidence and reason play into the fact that the people labeled "conspiracy theorists" were refused all of this....and the fact that no one can prove Biden won any more than they can prove Trump didn't lose?

> The Earth not being flat wasn't so much a "conspiracy theory" but a challenge to medieval Christian doctrine.

You're changing the scope of the argument. You now give credence to the then "conspiracy theorist" because you acknowledge the foresight they had (at the time) to see larger fundamental truths while living within a world of shifting power dynamics. I would certainly say this was done in the face of a "powerful and covert group responsible for something not appearing as it seems".


https://youtu.be/bpQFCcSI0pU?t=255

Early last year (2020), whole Chinese internet social media was looking for "黄燕玲" - a missing researcher in Wuhan lab. She disappeared around Oct/Nov 2019. Chinese social media suspected she was patient-0. The messages showed up multiple times in my wechat feeds for couple days. They all got taken down a few days later.

Government officials still claimed she was alive but was not able to produce any proof.

If WHO really want to investigate, they just need ask :

If "黄燕玲" worked for Wuhan lab? Where is she now? Where is her families, friends, co-workers? Can we talk to any of them?


Having an open mind about alternative explanations than the official one from the WHO is not believing in conspiracy theories. Its just not believing in propaganda.


Imho calling the lab leak theory a conspiracy theory is a form of gas lighting. It is telling people that it isnt legitimate to use basic common sense to question why the bat coronavirus outbreak happened down the street from the lab studying bat coronaviruses. You must deny what is plainly in front of your eyes.


Nine miles away is "down the street" now?


I think its worth clarifying that there are multiple virology labs in Wuhan; the WIV BSL-4 lab is indeed ~12km away from the wet market, but the WHCDC BSL-2 lab in use since around 2018 is located a couple hundred meters away from the market. Ref the last page of https://img-prod.tgcom24.mediaset.it/images/2020/02/16/11472...

There are some claims (debatable?) that bat coronavirus studies were conducted at the WHCDC lab. There is more information about the laboratory locations and biosafety concerns in this report: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350887648_3_WUHAN_L... (written by members of the drastic project; I'm not sure how much of this information is substantiated by other sources but at least the maps appear to be reasonably accurate).


Yes. It is.


This term has always bugged me. It seems to me that thinking "conspiracy theory" is a meaningful concept is guaranteed to make you dumber. Truth is an incredibly complex concept, and while we need to use greatly-simplified models of it to function in everyday life, the notion that there's a useful _binary_ distinction between theories that should be taken seriously and those that shouldn't does has a way higher epistemic cost than it does a benefit.

It's particularly bad as a thought-terminating cliche because so much of what defines the label is aesthetic: when figures or institutions in the cultural mainstream speculate wildly, the term is never used (guess how many outlets covered Hillary Clinton's description of Tulsi Gabbard & Jill Stein as "Russian assets" as a "conspiracy theory").

Every theory can be considered with the same tools, parametrized by fundamental factors like how far it is from your current model of the world, what the implications are, etc etc. I freely admit that I've never looked into Flat Earth arguments enough to thoroughly debunk them, but a combination of 1) the amount of things I'd need to change in my model of the world for it to be true and 2) the minimal impact on my life if it were mean that I don't really care to look into it. I can apply the exact same process to every other bit of constructed knowledge, without needing to hand off my critical thinking ability to lizard-brain pattern-matching and mood affiliation like "conspiracy theory".


It's not a conspiracy theory. It's a perfectly reasonable theory that will never be proved one way or another, because of an actual conspiracy of the CCP to prevent investigation. They've been openly waging a trade war and ever-increasing threats of kinetic war against Australia for a year now, simply because the PM publicly called for an enquiry to determine where it came from.


> So I generally give like zero weight to conspiracy theories. That being said, I don't believe anyone can reasonably claim with any degree certainty that Covid was a lab-leak BUT the WHO investigation simply hasn't done their due diligence to a sufficient degree to eliminate this theory.

It's okay, you're among open-minded people here!

FWIW, I think we should stop couching any critical examination of the received theory as if we're defending Heliocentrism in front of the Inquisition.

The evidence for gain-of-function lab leak is at this point entirely circumstantial, but that at least is evidence, not just speculation (or, worse, blind zealotry flying in the face of evidence). It's not a water-tight theory, but it's not ludicrous.

What we need is an investigation that follows those circumstantial leads and uncovers the truth. The CCP being the strongly authoritarian regime that is, often immune to impolitic truths, this may be politically impossible. But we shouldn't waver in at least discussing what could be true, even if the hypothesis ends up proven false.


Does it matter which kind of regime it is? Should similar thing happen in the USA, let's say American flu of 2030, you'd see identical levels of lies and lack of cooperation and propaganda.


Yes, it does matter. In America, I can freely criticize my government, publish ideas they find horrific and suffer no consequences from them. I somehow doubt Winnie the Pooh would afford me such liberties, especially considering how his CCP thugs have clamped down on Hong Kong.

The American government would certainly "spin" and use propaganda, but at least in America people are free to discuss hypotheses without fear of being officially censored or sent to a penal camp and/or firing squad. There has been a worrying wave of private censorship in America over the past decade or so, but it is not (directly) enforced by the government.

Also, let's not act like there's moral equivalence between the CCP and the US government, as deeply flawed as the latter is (and I am a major critic of my government). Recently, the CCP regime launched its "Long March" rocket, and subsequently lost control of the booster. By dumb luck, the booster landed in the ocean and didn't harm anyone, but no one in the CCP regime bothered to make safety contingency plans. Few in the West realize this, but the CCP regime also launches rockets over populated areas, and its rockets or boosters have even destroyed Chinese villages before.

In America, these things would be unthinkable.


If you believe RaTG13 is genuine, then you should look past no where. At the same time (2012-2013), same place (TongGuan, Yunnan), some miners are infected by a virus with symptoms very similar to covid, and WIV was involved during the time and has the samples from the patients which have never been released.

All this is documented in a graduate thesis by a student from a local college in 2013.


s/trained/strained/


Strained is closer in Levenshtein distance, but I'd bet tainted was the original word.



It's also closer in "typo" distance (https://xkcd.com/1530/), although perhaps not with autocorrect.

edit: although now that I think of it, I suppose a "typo" distance is something of a weighted Levenshtein


> So I generally give like zero weight to conspiracy theories

It needn't have been a conspiracy; it's plausible that it was accidental, or even if intentional, the work of a single disgruntled individual.


But that at the very least implies a conspiracy to conceal the virus's origin, and possibly even crucial details about its transmissibility or treatments.


While that is denotatively a conspiracy, most people think of conspiracies as something outlandish, not business as usual for the CCP. I think that’s what the parent comment was getting at, anyway.


No, that's not what I was saying. Instead, I was saying that it might have been leaked by a single person, and everyone else might not know (well, in their hearts, they probably do) whether the virus escaped from a lab or came from the same place from which they took their sample (presumably the "nearby" bat caves).


Why?

If it was a lab escape, the most likely scenario is that the virus is from a bat sample. It's even possible that, if it's a lab leak, the person who leaked it doesn't even know that they leaked it, and is actively reassuringly themself with the wet market theory.


> It needn't have been a conspiracy

We have so used to calling "conspiracy theories" anything that deviates the official narrative, we don't even notice what it means anymore...


I know what it means. I'd assume most people here do too.


> I don’t believe for a second this virus was in _any way_ engineered.

Does ‘selection’ constitutes engineering in your vocabulary. And if yes, then why don’t you believe that this virus was carefully selected during the gain of function research?


Why do you call it a conspiracy theory? There's nothing conspiratorial about it. Any politically sensitive organization will inherently do whatever it can do avoid blame. That's as natural as the force of gravity.

I also don't understand why you say so vehemently that you don't believe it was engineered. Gain of function experiments are something they do in these labs!


> There's nothing conspiratorial about it. Any politically sensitive organization will inherently do whatever it can do avoid blame.

This implies multiple high ranking officials and organizations conspired to hide information and cover up evidence. We have a word for this: conspiracy theory.

Americans tend to equate the word "conspiracy theory" with being crazy or ridiculous, but that is not always the case. Many conspiracy theories turn out to be true. Look at the recent Pentagon disclosures on UFOs for instance. Or look at any of the plans the CIA had in the 50s-60s which turned out to be true: MKULTRA, COINTELPRO, Operation Mockingbird, etc. These were "conspiracy" theories that turned out true.


I think of it more like the Illuminati myself. Normal bureaucratic blame shifting hardly merits the term.


There's a lot of interesting conspiracy theories about why that is the case. Most people point to one of the Warren Commission documents obtained via FOIA about how the CIA must discredit people who doubt the official JFK assassination narrative and have them associated with communists.


I don't know what the OP was saying, but a lot of people use "engineered" as a byword for "released on purpose."


I don't know that people are plucking the word out of its context like that. "The pandemic was engineered" is a substantially different claim than "the virus was engineered", and I have seen vanishingly few claims of the former (in the mainstream; you can nutpick literally any claim in the Internet era).


Because any evidence that disproves the theory only makes it stronger for those that believe it is a conspiracy. Not that everyone that believes in this believes it is a conspiracy.


> So I generally give like zero weight to conspiracy theories.

Why? Assigning a prior probability of zero to anything is a recipe for disaster, it means you can never change your belief.

Looks like you had enough of an open mind to hear some of the arguments in favor of this one, and it increased your posterior probability somewhat, so I guess “like zero” is your way of saying “close to zero but not zero”.

Have you tried giving other conspiracy theories a chance? I think you’ll find mixed results.


I tend to trust Prof Shi Zhengli on this one. She has been open [1] to investigations into her lab and has the most evidence in her favor. Notably, she's showed that miners who died 8 years ago didn't die of Sars-Cov-2 and that none of her staff had antibodies.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-55364445


There are two things actually and sadly no one investigate both of them: 1. Is Covid a lab leak ? (which had poor investigation) 2. Could China stop it (Whether its lab-leak or not) in early stages and prevent it from spreading out of their borders ? (which they achieved successfully for other provinces)


So if the lab leak theory turns out to be true, how will people deal with the fact that they've been vehemently disregarding it as a "Q-anon conspiracy theory"?

And would it be worth questioning if any other recent topics labeled as "conspiracy theories" may in fact also be true?


> So if the lab leak theory turns out to be true, how will people deal with the fact that they've been vehemently disregarding it as a "Q-anon conspiracy theory"?

If the lab leak theory turns out to be true, I'll admit I was wrong about my intuition. It's not impossible, but it's extremely unlikely. We've had literally thousands of new virus strains evolve in the past century of viral research and like three known "lab leaks". As has been repeated ad nausum, there is absolutely nothing surprising about SARS-CoV-2's structure or relatives or evolution and no reason to doubt that like every other pandemic this is a naturally evolved pathogen.

Now tell me why people keep INSISTING that this must be true absent evidence[1], and explain what you'll do when (as with basically every conspiracy theory) it turns out that there never really was any real evidence.

[1] Or don't. We all know why. The lab leak theory casts a convenient boogieman in the part of the villain, and distracts from fingerpointing aimed at parties closer to home who could have reacted well to the pandemic but chose not to. It "makes it all someone else's fault", so there's no surprise why it's so popular.


I would believe that Covid started elsewhere in China before believing in started in a wet market in Wuhan. It is extremely unlikely to start there given that isn't where the bats in China are or where new corona viruses are.

In fact, if you read any research that had been published by the WIV on coronoaviruses pre-2020 they all start by talking about expeditions to collect bat droppings 1500 miles away.


So one bad flew 2400 kilometers, bit some people in Wuhan, then died?

It started in Wuhan spontaneously. There are no intermediary COVID19 infections in a migration trail of any kind from those bat reservoirs in Yunnan to Hubei.


> There are no intermediary COVID19 infections in a migration trail of any kind from those bat reservoirs in Yunnan to Hubei.

Can you cite a few other diseases where the evolution was traced back in multiple species across that kind of distance? Where did ebola come from? MERS? At best you get the immediate host, or as with covid a somewhat close relative.

You're demanding proof that simply doesn't exist for any other disease and then citing the absence of that impossible proof as evidence for your conspiracy theory that has even less evidence in support.

I mean, fine, we only have that one bat in Yunaan. OK. Fair point. You have zero samples from that lab.


https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29669833/

This is a paper from 2018 where they went into caves in southern China and took 1000+ samples of droppings from bats back to Wuhan and found new strains of coronaviruses.

If they did this in late 2019 of course they wouldn't have published that after a (theoretical) leak...an absence of a sample means nothing. In fact, if anything the fact they didn't publish a similar report is more telling.

If you look at pre Covid-19 reports on bat coronoaviruses in China you'll see the large majority of such bats are in Southern China - very far away from Wuhan.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466186/


> of course they wouldn't have published that after a (theoretical) leak

Twisting "absence of evidence" into "evidence" by alleging a coverup is a classic conspiracy theory tactic. You're literally arguing for a conspiracy by asserting the conspiracy as a prior.


I don't think that applies here.

If you are doing a Bayesian analysis on if a suspect committed a crime at 2:00 AM and they told you they were sleeping then - does this tell you any new information?

I would say without outside evidence it shouldn't update your probability on the subject. If they truly were sleeping they are going to say they were sleeping. If they were committing the act they are going to say they were sleeping.

Saying "the fact the suspect said they were sleeping at 2:00 AM is what they would say if they were committing the act" is not the same as saying "the fact that the suspect said they were sleeping at 2:00 AM is proof they committed the act"


Three leaks? Where did you get that number? Lab leaks are extremely common, far more common than 3 in the last century! Quoting the Wade article this article starts by referencing:

The smallpox virus escaped three times from labs in England in the 1960’s and 1970’s, causing 80 cases and 3 deaths. Dangerous viruses have leaked out of labs almost every year since. Coming to more recent times, the SARS1 virus has proved a true escape artist, leaking from laboratories in Singapore, Taiwan, and no less than four times from the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing.

As another example, the most recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK was traced quickly to a lab that had kept samples of the first one.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn12615-faulty-pipe-bla....


Lab leaks of novel diseases. I mean, duh, if you culture stuff that's already endemic it's going to get out.

I'm saying that if you take any strain of any human disease anywhere, and ask the question "is this a naturally evolved pathogen or was it cultured in a lab?", Darwin wins by a factor of like ten thousand. Yet... somehow no one thinks that's a relevant fact?


That makes no sense. You're claiming that natural viruses will of course leak all the time, but GOF enhanced viruses are "novel" and thus won't? That's implausible, the GOF enhanced viruses are bred to be more virulent, not less.

Moreover, the ways lab leaks happen don't depend on where the virus came from originally.


The furin cleavage site is not present in known coronaviruses for any of the suspected progenitor viruses to recombine with to gain that feature, and utilizes an extremely unlikely codon for Arginine when you take coronaviruses as a whole into account, but an extremely prolific codon in human-centric gene editing tool supply chains.

The fact it appears to be an insertion if it came from a mutation is also highly unlikely.

These are, in fact, remarkable characteristics taking into account the proximity to an institute where this type of work took place, staffed by researchers who have done it multiple times in the decades leading up to the pandemic, who had funding for doing similar work at the time, who started acting oddly at the time, which caused such a stir that all related research was tightly perception managed by the state.

I cannot say as in my life it has been the case that with such smoke as that, there has not been a vigorous exothermic reaction to be near.


Why are people insisting this came from a guy eating a bat-burger and bat-fries meal with absolutely no evidence?

My common sense info is that a super-virus popped up right down the street from a lab designed to create super-viruses(funding signed off by Fauci, and much historic public info/discussion exists about what type of work was being done at the Wuhan lab), China disappeared the lab people, and biggest red-flag of all is that the corrupt propaganda media (CNN, MSNBC, Business Insider, etc) is trying to rub it in everyone's face that the lab story isn't true.

Next line of discussion is how much jail time Fauci should get for enabling blatant malpractice while setting himself up to make a fortune.


> Why are people insisting this came from a guy eating a bat-burger and bat-fries meal with absolutely no evidence?

The answer is right in the article, at the very end: the virus was found in 6% of samples taken from the market, with most of the virus-positive samples found in areas that had wildlife in it.

That's not "no evidence" at all. I would rate it as slightly -- but only slightly -- more compelling than the circumstantial evidence pointing to a lab leak.


So there is evidence that Fauci signed off on funding of gain of function research in the Wuhan lab?


There is not. People get so offended when accused of being conspiracists, but then they rattle off this kind of fever swamp nonsense. That there was a genuine debate within the research community on GoF work is true enough, but this bit is just a ridiculous smear by the right against someone who (amazingly, when you think about it) has become a "political enemy".


This article is already taken care of that hasn't it? 80% of it is spent smearing anyone who knew from the beginning that logically this was overwhelmingly likely to be a lab leak.


IMHO, this is a great likelihood-based analysis of various origin theories:

https://www.rootclaim.com/analysis/What-is-the-source-of-COV...


whoa - that looks like an interesting project! Thanks for the link. Slightly OT but I tentatively agree with the premise: this kind of service seems far better at trying to assess credibility of an unproven claim than general chatter to and fro. Looks like their track record backs it up too.


What about the private cell phone data that showed the lab shut down in October?

Was this shown to be false?


Let's say that a serious proof of a lab leak emerged, what would be the political consequences? Will countries ask China for compensation?


This is a very lengthy and well-researched story that basically just says "we don't know but could be". Which I think is where we've been for the past few months. There was a lot of whiplash early on between conspiracy theorists trying to peg this as a biological weapon attack and scientists trying to stick to the evidence. McNeil does a really thorough job dissecting the mess of nonsense and looking at evidence. But the result is still that we don't know. And probably never will.


I’m getting a 500 error on this story. Only me?


Working for me.


[deleted]


It is not socially acceptable to point fingers or raise suspicion of anyone but the western man. The lack of honest and genuine conversation is concerning.


Working out the initial cause of this Covid outbreak is far far far less important/actionable than working out what we should do differently when (not if) another virus starts spreading.

This concept should be familiar to those in tech already: https://codeascraft.com/2012/05/22/blameless-postmortems/


Well I mean never letting Covid out (if that is the source) would have prevented 7-13 million extra deaths this year so it is worth thinking about how we don’t let another one out if it is possible.

I disagree that it is less actionable. I am a former scientist. Proper handling of lab waste etc. is infinitely easier than having the whole world lock down, wear masks, and rapidly develop mRNA vaccines to try and put the genie back in the bottle.


> Proper handling of lab waste etc. is infinitely easier...

Sure, but safety requires everyone be perfect about their handling 100% of the time. If a mistake happens, just once, with the wrong lab materials, that's it. And humans will always make mistakes, no matter how bulletproof we think the process is.


That's a false equivalency though; whether or not this was a lab accident, there will be future pandemics which aren't (like every single previous one in history).


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_Russian_flu

Except another very recent one was also a lab accident. So, no, not every single previous one was, and 2 of last 3 will have been from labs.


Except that virus was genomically identical to another virus in the 1950s.

These thing's aren't being made in labs, they're being stored there but the actual reality is this: none of the countries being so interested in this have any ability to influence the country's these things happen in.

So your effective response protocol may as well just blackbox the problem: "there is a new novel virus, how do we respond?"

No one's going to be invading China to drop napalm on biological research facilities they've collectively decided without the CCP's involvement are "risky".


First, I think you've misunderstood the significance of that genetic similarity in the 1977 pandemic, since your use of the word "except" doesn't make sense. That genetic similarity is itself the evidence that the pandemic was probably of unnatural origin. After 27 years of natural transmission, the 1950 virus should have picked up mutations along the way. It didn't, thus the widely-accepted theory that it spent those intervening years in a laboratory freezer:

> The reemergence was probably an accidental release from a laboratory source in the setting of waning population immunity to H1 and N1 antigens

https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra0904322

So the statement above that "every single previous one [pandemic] in history" was of natural origin is probably false. The 1977 flu killed about 700k people worldwide, less than SARS-CoV-2 but more than a typical flu season.

To emphasize, humanity doesn't have the technology to invent viruses de novo. A lab-manipulated virus is always going to be derived from a naturally-evolved virus, whether that's in simple ways (like storage in a freezer for 27 years) or complex ones (like genetic engineering). The question is the causality--if a pandemic was caused by the actions of scientists, then if not for those actions, those thousands/millions of people would still be alive.

Second, why would we need to invade China? The USA was literally funding this research, so couldn't we just stop doing that?

If SARS-CoV-2 arose from a lab accident, then China certainly deserves special blame for the coverup. But before that, this wasn't a political topic--it was an obscure academic debate between a small subset of virologists who wanted to perform certain risky experiments, and other academics who thought that risk was unacceptable. It's quite possible that the CCP is currently wishing they'd blamed the whole thing on a rogue, American-funded researcher early on. If they had, then it's quite possible that narrative would have stuck--it would be stupider than what most people seem to believe now, but not by much.

Finally, the indifference you express above is bizarre to me. Do you believe the same thing about Chernobyl, that it's better for us to devote all our resources to improving treatment for cancer (which will also occur naturally, with or without nuclear meltdowns) and none to preventing meltdowns? If not, how is this different?


Exactly. This is what I meant by "not actionable".


How is lab safety “not actionable”? Is it some special field of science where all improvements and progress has stopped? I don’t understand your point.

Haven’t more people died from SARS-Cov-2 than nuclear weapons, why we can’t have international conventions and inspections on dangerous virological research?


It's not actionable for the US to force China to do something, sure. China doesn't want to suffer through another global pandemic either, so it would be useful to them to know if they need to improve lab safety standards. In fact, that information would be useful and actionable for all countries that have viral research labs.


There are plenty of actions beyond military options like economic, political, and legal. China could be isolated financially with trade embargos for example. US treasuries and other nations instruments that China owns could be seized and extinguished. Bank accounts can be seized. There are many actions that could be taken if countries really desired. However, the alluring call of cheap manufacturing and a large population to market goods toward clouds most countries from taking any actions.


There hadn’t been one at this scale for 100 years, who’s to say how long it would have been till the next natural one, I for one would rather not have experienced a global pandemic even if a natural one was due in 50 years


The 68 flu killed between 1-4 million, so the high end in that one would be comparable to what we see with covid.


1-4 that didn’t shutdown the wold isn’t comparable to covid nearing 4 million verified and likely far higher despite many actions and lockdowns taken. I’d much rather have lived through a 68 flu then covid thank you


The 68 was a lot more deadly amongst the young. Shutting the world was a political decision not a fact of the virus' behavior.


In 1968:

- The population was much less densely gathered

- The world population was roughly half what it is today

- There was much less air travel

- Testing was much worse

- Statistics about mortality were much less evenly gathered

There are worse things than lockdown.


Yes, and proper handling of nuclear bombs is infinitely easier than losing them or accidentally dropping them on your own soil, but the United States still managed to mess that up every now and then...

Mistakes seem to happen despite just about any amount of preventative measures in our world.


Imagine my surprise when I learned that one of the 3 incidents with fully assembled weapons happened about 15 miles from where I live.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1961_Goldsboro_B-52_crash


In software you would never do a postmortem without understanding the root cause of the incident. If this was caused by a lab leak, or even gain-of-function research, that seems like a pretty important detail.


But that's not what you would start with. If you have an incident and discover that your response plan was hilariously inadequate, you would prioritize making more robust response plans because even if you can prevent that exact incident from happening again, there will be other disasters.


You're writing as if somehow general pandemic response has been deprioritized in favor investigating the lab leak theory, which is absurdly far from reality.

This incident has cost millions of lives and possibly undone decades of progress on reducing poverty worldwide. It is worth pursuing multiple angles in parallel.


Pandemic response in the USA was atrocious, and it's politically convenient for those who support the administration that was responsible to try to deflect blame however they can. So I'm very skeptical of the motives of people that keep posting stuff like this.


The academic community is pretty opposed to the trump administration, which also is the one blamed for the covid response. Don't see why they'd be bending over to defend it there.


Conversely, if you discover that the cause of the issue was inadequate controls during virus research then you should absolutely start with fixing those.

Put it this way, if the cause of the worldwide pandemic was because it leaked from a lab then you should fix the lab.


Saying this as layman that warned for years about virus engineering, this is just a given. The mere potential should be enough. However, speculation without evidence and mitigation is bad.


Regardless you would do both? And knowing it was gain of function research in a lab is an easy “let’s stop doing that” moment


My engineering org practices blameless postmortems too, and I am an extremely strong advocate of them, but a blameless postmortem is not the same thing as a postmortem that refuses to identify or address root causes. And here, there is some possibility that the current pandemic was the result of specific risks that we, collectively, took.

Earlier in the pandemic I saw a focus on the risks of "wet markets" for zoonotic transmission; although that hasn't panned out so far as a theory for COVID-19, if wet markets present a significant risk of creating pandemics (note: if! I don't know they do), we should evaluate possible restrictions and regulations on them.

More recently I've seen discussions of "gain of function" research on bat coronaviruses, and allegations that some dangerous research on coronaviruses was being carried out in BSL-2 laboratories. Regardless of whether COVID-19 was the result of a lab leak (or whether we ever prove it was), if some specific of research presents a significant risk of creating pandemics (again, if!), we should evaluate possible restrictions and regulations on them too.

Pandemics are, I think, inevitable; it would be foolish to ignore trying to prepare for the next one. But the chance of a pandemic is very possibly not set in stone; it would be equally foolish to ignore trying to bring that risk down. And I categorically reject the argument we need to pick one or the other to focus on; I think we can focus on every step of the chain.


Funny thing, no matter what you do, there will be a pandemic similar to this one or worse. What you're doing is prolonging the time until regulations and checks failure. Potentially ignoring the fact that there will be unknown or covert actors ignoring all of these safeties.

Instead, we would do much better to improve our tools for handling these issues by looking at successful and unsuccessful containment protocols, failed attempts to distribute a vaccine quickly enough etc.


Look, there's a pretty plausible story (see, eg, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/coronavirus-lab-esca...) right now that we, as a society, have spent a significant amount of effort performing research that had a relatively high risk of accidentally creating and releasing a pandemic virus into the wild, and then it may well have done exactly that. It's not a wild idea that we should 1) figure out if this story is true and 2) if it is, stop doing it.

> Potentially ignoring the fact that there will be unknown or covert actors ignoring all of these safeties.

I don't mean this as negatively as it sounds, but I literally don't understand the argument you're making here. It feels like it's of the form:

"Because <bad actor> might do <bad thing>, there's no point trying to encourage anyone from not doing <bad thing>."

Is that...right? Because if so, do you also feel like police forces and laws against murder and assault are a distraction from medical research devoted to savings the lives of people wounded in violent crimes?

I think it's reasonable to suggest that "setting houses on fire less often" or "banning setting other people's houses on fire" or "mandating more fire safe construction" are all complementary strategies to "getting better at extinguishing house fire".


You can do both. If a plane crashes, you find out the cause. During that evaluation, if you also find that the pilots response to the engine failure was also wrong, you fix that too.


There is a noticeable trend here of gatekeepers crying foul when others decide to talk about this. They try to shame you into silence, claiming that you are caring about the wrong thing, as if you cannot pay attention to more than one issue simultaneously.

Whenever there is a trend of similar talking points on a hot topic it makes me wonder how much of that is influence from outside groups.


Please don't resort to sinister explanations without evidence, when a topic is plainly divisive. It's an extremely tempting but low-quality discussion move that the site guidelines explicitly ask everyone here to refrain from:

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

If there's specific reason to believe that comments here are somehow being manipulated, that's different and you should email hn@ycombinator.com so we can look into it. (That's in the site guidelines as well.) But the overwhelming majority of the time, there's zero suggestion of any such thing, other than people disagreeing, which is evidence of nothing but that the topic is divisive.

I've posted hundreds if not thousands of explanations of this over many years at this point: https://hn.algolia.com/?sort=byDate&dateRange=all&type=comme....


Speculation about it might be detrimental. So it seems like a bad tradeoff unless one can find evidence one way or the other, and what constructively to do about it first.


The link you posted still says we need to find out root causes. It just says some extra stuff about how to provide psychological safety so that people are more forthcoming and we are better able to get to the root causes.

You will not find a sane engineer on the planet who says "we don't need to find the root cause, we just need to move ON and move FORWARD". Such nonsense is the domain of politicians.


I disagree. If it was indeed gain of function research in China that caused covid we should immediately stop doing that sort of research and ban it. There’s a reason it’s been controversial and many virologists have jobs on the line when it comes to its origins


It was banned in the USA around 2013, then Fauci and Straszak shifted funding to continue it in Wuhan to get around the USA bans. Virologists signed on to the article promoted by Straszak claiming the wet market fantasy as Fauci and Straszak control much of the funding in virology.


> then Fauci and Straszak shifted funding to continue it in Wuhan

A nested conspiracy theory is just what we need for some more political polarization in the USA. Score!


This information is publicly available and was mentioned in Wade's article. It wasn't against the law to fund it, there were loop holes in the rules that allowed circumvention with sign off from Fauci and likely another guy Collins from the NIH. So no need to dismiss this with the tired conspiracy claims.


The convenient use of the word “conspiracy theory” usually indicates a lazy evaluation of the facts from what I’ve observed. The threat of “polarization” adds even more to the lack of rigor. Should we just ignore concepts and discussion if it is not generally agreed upon or upsets a group of people?


Unfortunately that's the way the game seems to be going. Have a huge interest in statistics and want to comment against the election results - better be very careful if you make unpopular assertions and need funding. Same thing appears here.It would be a very career limiting to make claims that are similar to the orange man's claims around the origin, the ability of otc medications like HCL or invermecithin to help early on decrease the severity.


Thanks for mentioning the election example. The word “lies” is a proxy for lack of rigorous journalism as well. When journalists claim that opinions / criticism about something as complicated as an election are “lies”, their bias is quite obvious. It’s as if there is no nuance allowed.


In the case of the election, "lies" is a perfectly appropriate word, since the people claiming voter fraud were lying about the possibility of fraud. No fraud was actually found, and everyone investigating found nothing to suggest any fraud was happening or likely.

So yes, if you stand up and claim that there was rampant voter fraud that changed the outcome of the election, you are at best misinformed, and at worst lying.

I wouldn't even call this voter fraud stuff "conspiracy theories". It's gaslighting and destabilizing propaganda by an administration that failed to get reelected.


Your second paragraph is more reasonable but it is in conflict with the first.

Do you deny as stated by many news agencies that the CIA stated or leaked that Russian agents impacted the 2016 election? What about the 2020 election? Is the CIA lying? Did Russian agents or other hackers just sit that one out?

There is so much evidence of election fraud and odd irregularities throughout the United States … the question is whether there was enough of it to impact the results. Arizona came down to 0.3% of the vote and Georgia was razor thin as well. States like these are decided by how votes are counted in a single county (Fulton and Maricopa in these cases) due to the high population concentration in a region of the state. Questioning the results (regardless of which political party) is not lying especially given the thin margins; it is healthy for democracy and gives more confidence in future election results.


> gaslighting and destabilizing propaganda by an administration that failed to get reelected.

That's it, right there. And then when cornered like the lying rats they are, they will claim "people are saying", "a lot of people feel", and "we're just asking questions." No, sorry. I thought the rightwing in the US was the ones don't care what people are saying, how they feel about things, because facts are facts? Oh, and I also thought it was part of the responsibility of being an elected political leader to tell the damn truth and not just "ask questions".


Actual facts are now a conspiracy theory?


What if doing the first thing helps us do the second thing?


Is it? If this virus came about via GoF research in a lab, the solution for "next time" is:

1. Stop doing GoF research

2. Better lab containment processes


A serial arsonist was burning homes in a Midwest suburb. As regular home-burnings occurred, the residents became upset with the fire department. ‘Why was it taking so long to put the fires out?! Why can’t we have better fire hoses, or faster fire engines?! Maybe the town tax dollars should pay for private enterprises to go around and moisten homes, making them less flammable?’ Another group of residents were trying to convince their neighbors that they should be trying to catch the culprit. They felt they had some pretty compelling clues as to who the arsonist was. But they were shouted down, ‘No, no, no.’, they hand waved. ‘Working out who started the fires is far far far less important/actionable than working out what we should do when (not if) another [fire] starts spreading’

Oh the absurdity.


In my experience, blameless postmortems can be really useful for the process of getting to the bottom of things and creating a plan of action, but can also enable people who are reckless or incompetent, and make it difficult to ensure that the people who really need to learn something from their failures have actually learned something.

As applied to this situation, it doesn't really matter. The Chinese government has a vested interest in any investigation being labeled inconclusive. Whether it was a lab leak or a result of unhealthy agricultural practices, China doesn't want egg on its face. They'll do everything in their power (which is a lot) to avoid having the finger definitively pointed at them.


People died. ALOT of people. I think an FAA crash investigation where they try to pinpoint EXACTLY where the problem or chain of problems were is more relevant here. Or the Challenger investigation.

Don't miss that the entire gravity of this line of questioning is that if COVID19 did escape from the lab, our entire response to a lab leak would be different and save lives then a zoonotic emergence scenario.


Working out what we should do differently when (not if) another virus starts spreading is far far far less important than figuring out how to stop another such virus from spreading.

Understanding the root cause is a logical way to do that.


> Working out the initial cause of the Covid outbreak is far far far less important/actionable . . .

I think the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" applies.


In this case more like 50 tons of cure.


Unless the release was due to gross negligence --like an outage is due to really bad decisions by someone. In those cases blamelessness is not productive and conducive to more mishaps,


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1977_Russian_flu

But it keeps happening and maybe labs working with such viruses need much more careful procedures or shouldn’t perform risky gain of function research for example.


Playing the opposite game with all recommendations from China and the WHO would have been a good start. I think responsibility and fear of discovery are at the core of how crucial information was suppressed and distorted leading to nonsensical actions like the SF rally for Chinatown in late February 2020.

Part of this has resolved itself since every piece of information is no longer being evaluated on whether it helps or hurts Trump.


from a technical perspective, maybe (I don't agree with that, but I can see both side of the argument)

from a legal/international relations perspective, absolutely not

if this was a preventable bio-research accident rather than an act of God or Nature, there are huge ramifications for China's place in and relation to the world

at this point I wouldn't be shocked if it was an accidental leak or an intentional leak by the Chinese, an intentional leak by the US or even an intentional leak by another country to provoke US/China tensions

a forest of mirrors


> It spawned racist rumors like “Chinese labs sell their dead experimental animals in food markets.”

First, I don't see how is this racist. Second, this is not rumor, there are Chinese articles about how some lab members were punished.

The author lost credibility here.


Suggesting that because it has happened before in China, "Chinese labs" do it, is indeed racist.


What rubbish. There must be some way to comment on Chinese practices that isn't racist.


CCP is a better descriptor as they are the ones pushing and regulating policy there.


Calling pattern recognition racist is a bad move because due to being necessary for survival it will never go away. You should probably focus on what is factual instead of what you dont want to be true and then calling it racist.


Follows are my reflections on the comments on this thread and on the article re speculation about why there have been no candidate natural viruses revealed, or a definitive origin.

People speculate China is concealing malicious intent and such is indicated these two facts (and many others).

I'd like to address these. I think that some people are misjudging why it might be in China's interests to not reveal an origin, nor a candidate natural virus, even if it had concluded its internal investigation and discovered definitive answers, even if those answers exculpated China of any mal intent. I'm not saying they're doing this, just offering another perspective with context and strategic reasoning.

As China has engaged with the world in the last 15 years, it has founds its soft power advances rebuffed, obstructed and aggressively countered, even as its international institutional standing, economic power and strategic dominance (at least in APAC/MEA) has grown. Mainstream Western presses run night and day printing stories to support "China bogeyman" narrative staples like "China virus", "China debt trap diplomacy", "China oppression", "Foreign influence", "Xinjiang genocide", "HK freedom fighters" to name a few currently popular ones.

Faced with this hostile international media environment what can China do? Domestically it must counteract and throw words-of-kind back, and diplomatically it has leant into the same. These are expected and required responses.

But the strange thing is, while it looks to be on the back foot, and while it may not be the sort of positive, glowing, appreciative and respectful international press coverage China might have dreamt of in its recent path of rapid growth, given that foreign presses and their audiences display an appetite for these stories, China might actually be serving its own interests by simply feeding those appetites and fanning the flames.

This sounds crazy. Why would China want the foreign press to gorge itself on anti-China stories and go off its rocker on "China bad"-conspiracy theories. Why would it be in China's interests for people of other countries to receive this "biased education" about China? Why would China, if it had evidence, arguments, platforms and means to counter these narratives, not run its own operations night and day to paint a different picture?

I think there are a couple of advantages of what I'm proposing is a deliberate strategy, and there are certainly opportunities for China in the current hostile international media environment.

1. Controlled opposition. Once the "rabid dog Western press" has found its preferred China-hate narrative, it seems quite happy to continue munching on that big juicy bone and not letting it go. China could try to "prize the bone from the mouth", but that will likely reinforce the rabid dog's grip, no? Maybe a better strategy is to simply keep feeding the dog similar tasty tidbits and not reveal the "tasty bone" is actually rancid and expired (dog may not care, but hey), at least for now. In this way China achieves a measure of control of the anti-China stories. In this way China deftly turns the Western's presses preferred appetite (and by some it's perceived "strength") into a vulnerability.

2a. Domestic mileage and protection. Chinese people might come across Western anti-China articles, which will only increase their proud nationalism and support any narratives the central government might want to launch about how biased and anti-China the western countries are. This incredible power actually insulates the central government from any foreign criticism, and weakens the ability of "foreign adversaries" to dislodge the Chinese government from their people (an likely impossible goal anyway, but many wedges have attempted to be inserted, no doubt to the amusement of regular Chinese who see foreigners trying to get Chinese to hate Chinese as a fool's errand), because its so easy to dismiss the chorus of Western critics by how unhinged and hypocritical they are. The risk for China here is that it can insulate itself from internal legitimate critics, by the feintest association with "crazy" foreign ideas. So it will need to balance that insulation with practicality.

2b. Useful distraction. The loader and crazier the Western press and commentariat seems, the more China can allow such insanity to pierce its information control for useful effect. Bad press from provincial officials cramping the central government's recent achievements style? A dash of "China hate" from the foreign press is sure to refocus netizen's attention and bring people together in solidarity against external opposition. Again, the risk with this is China utilizes this massive power (of foreign hatred) too liberally to tune out of useful internal dissent. Given it's rapid progress and stellar achievements I don't think it seriously risks a lack of introspection, but the louder the Western "evil CCP" commentariat grows, the bigger this power grows, and so the bigger the risk that China might go overboard in using this domestically.

3. Future reveal payoffs. Just say China was manipulating foreign presses into printing anti-China narratives, but had bulletproof evidence against the claims (such as endless video evidence, investigations and interviews with people in Xinjiang, or legal arguments and foreign influence proof in HK, or a closest relative natural virus that originated in Italy in 2018), why would it hold off on providing that right now? Probably because the reasons above are so compelling and useful. China is interested in domestic narrative shaping and information control, and successfully achieves these objectives through many means. The above possibilities are useful tools that assist in this. But there's another reason. A sort of "kill shot" to end the credibility of the Western press and paint China itself as "unfairly and racistly persecuted victim" (not altogether inaccurate). Say China brought out information (but didn't reveal it had been sitting on it) to decisively end many of the anti-China claims, it would be able to constantly play that up to convince Westerners they can't trust their own "free press". A pretty strong card to have, particularly as soft-power will become more important as China's influence ability grows. But not a card you'd need to play right now, not only because you'd miss out on the above. China can bide its time and watch the West score own-goals and commit unforced errors in its media game against China, that it can dredge up later to reveal Western incompetence and bias.

4. Catalysis for change. Say some place in China or some policy was an issue for the central government, but it was having a hard time cultivating the domestic momentum and provincial political will required for a successful change, what could it do? How could it utilize the current "winds of chaos" to assist it in its own goals? What if the West was directly inciting HK violence (or not involved, doesn't matter here), and China knew, and allowed that to occur, until the time was right (and the justification big enough) for it to step in and change the law? Without every firing a single shot (itself), or ever sending in the troops (to do anything but clean up the roadway after people had departed). Guiding the winds of Western obsession and hate into the sails of a ship China is steering, could be a useful strategy for particularly challenging issues. All that Western press fanned those flames, blew those winds, puffed those sails --- to sail that ship right into China's harbor. Pretty deft "covert" or "paradoxical" soft power. I think many of these issues are simply useful for reasons 1 - 3, but what other targets might be good candidates for this strategy? Xinjiang strategy needs a change, but is resisted by the elements who benefitted from version 1.1? Maybe. Need to send more people and money to build up naval supremacy in reefs and islands? Get the West to escalate its anti-rhetoric to show China how scared they are of that, and against China doing that, to lend support to it seeming like a good thing to do to counter Western projection, in that case. GZ or SZ having issues with provincial leaders, their cliques and ambitions? Seed some "political oppression" stories in the Western press to create a chaos and a grassroots movement for less central intervention, allow the movement to catch fire, then tie it to the South's irresponsible leadership (and relative economic liberalism and Western links, for good measure) and use that to oust the provincial leaders as incompetent and complicit. It's hard to think about these hypothetical candidates, but I'm sure there's many opportunities. Probably the flames of Western narratives can be used in some manner or another as part of larger strategies.

As China's control and stability (and success) increases, its ability to deploy these strategies will diminish. But now seems like a good time and many opportunities, as the West eagerly lurches from one "China-hate" to the next. One risk is the West might wise up to this, and start trying to "counter manipulate" China, by feigning outrage at a non-issue or trying to force a Chinese concession by successfully cultivating an irrational populist narrative in a Chinese area that's to drive a change that's against Chinese interests. Time will tell if the West develops this strategic narrative sophistication. They've been on top for so long, they may have grown soft and uncritical, while China has had to grow clever in the hostile climate it found itself emerging in internationally. Of the West, in this, perhaps it's like Bane says, "Victory has defeated them." In the soft power sense, in these aspects, I think that's partly true.


Deleted


I understand how intense the magnetic pull can be, but this is off topic in this thread.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27190749.


edit Changed "character" to "structure" because my intent is being misunderstood. This is ultimately about human psychology (as in homo sapiens), not particular nations or peoples. Each of us could very well have but for chance been placed in any of these boats, and our behavior would change to match because we're not morally special.

There are a number of things at play here that stoke up distrust, mainly due to China's current national structure. The world won't get China's cooperation on this, and there will be no smoking gun evidence one way or the other. But we can stop and think about it rationally.

In fact, someone already has, and I recommend reading it if you haven't already, putting the lab leak theory to rest: https://old.reddit.com/r/science/comments/gk6y95/covid19_did...

So what's going on with China then? Well first off, they're an autocratic nation, which makes them EXTREMELY sensitive to criticism and dissent. An autocratic nation deals with criticism by dismissing it, dodging it, blocking it, and crushing it. You're not going to get cooperation on something negative like a pandemic outbreak because they don't know where it came from either, and it's better for them to just block everyone than to allow any potential negativity to stick to them. Again, this behavior is nothing new for autocratic nations.

Secondly, they're an up-and-comer nation. They've finally reached the big leagues (again), and that means that they expect big league treatment. It means that they can push back against anyone they choose and punish those who step on their toes. They've been doing this for years now, buying or bullying compliance like their more established brethren from smaller nations and organizations, even to the point of cowing the WHO (who, for the record, have always deferred somewhat to the powerful because they have no actual teeth and would lose access to that nation otherwise).

Third, they have a legacy to uphold as the Kingdom of Heaven. Xi's mission for the nation is a moral one to once again become the shining beacon of civilization, the center of the Earth. For a nation on such a mission, minor things like a pandemic are merely a distraction that could potentially be used by the other nations to disrupt their sacred task of purifying their people and seating themselves at their rightful place as THE representatives of humanity's best.

So no, the lab leak theory holds no water. And no, there will be no investigation. And unless you want to invade China or something equally drastic, that's how things will stand.


Please don't take HN threads into nationalistic flamewar. If you reach "they have a legacy to uphold as the Kingdom of Heaven. Their mission under Xi is a moral one to once again become the shining beacon of civilization, the center of the Earth", you long ago left the topic of this thread.

Actually as soon as you went to "Chinese national character" you already did that. For god's sake please let's avoid $anyone's "national character" on this site. That's a fast track to hell.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27191023.


It wasn't my intention to turn this into a nationalistic thread. I was just trying to explain that we're not going to get anywhere with an investigation because there are a lot of political, historical, and aspirational issues at play here rather than actual malfeasance. I'm not trying to discuss about who is "right" or who is "wrong" because we'll be at it all day and the thread will turn to garbage.

At the core this isn't really about this or that nation anyway; it's about human nature and how we respond to pressure based on our power. This is how humans will behave in a contentious political world, and why the distrust is and will continue to run high for years or even decades as the new political world order sorts itself out. One might even say "interesting times". Nationalist countries will always be oversensitive, up-and-comers will try out their new strength, and egocentric leaders will steer their countries in twisted directions based on idealized past glories and fables. Thus my final paragraph in the parent.

The "legacy to uphold as the Kingdom of Heaven" is China's past glory being used by its egocentric leader, similar to Trump's MAGA, or Bolsonero or Erdoğan or Putin or Duda or any of the egocentric leaders who've gained power due to fear and uncertainty in today's turbulent world.


[flagged]


Note section 9.5 of Project Evidence

9.5 Arrest of Lab Animal Seller From the same ECNS article in the previous section:

We are looking for contributors who can read Mandarin to help us find and translate the original article from The Paper that details the arrest of the ’top academician’.

Medical staff and experts have long been asking for better regulation and supervision of biological research institutes in China, but with mixed results.

A top academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering earned 10.17 million yuan ($1.46 million) by illegally selling off lab animals and experimental milk, according to a report in the Shanghai-based The Paper.

Li Ning, a leading expert at transgenic technologies at China Agricultural University, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on January 2 for grafting 37.56 million yuan.

Author’s Note: "Li Ning" and the "top academician" appear to be two different people. Li Ning was sentenced to prison for allegedly embezzling research grant funds.

The academician’s arrest shows that the regulations concerning lab safety were either too lacking or not properly enforced and enable a bad actor to put many others in danger for their own profit. The new biosafety rules were likely put in place to rectify these deficiencies.

If a "top academician" was selling lab animals at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, could a worker at the WIV or WHCDC have been doing the same thing? Why not?

Could one of these lab animals have been sold to the Huanan Seafood Market?

@https://project-evidence.github.io/

The "it's common" may be overstated, but it is not unprecedented.


The universities and labs in China usually subcontract the work a few levels down to some people who have no training or idea about what they are dealing with. And they would be more than happy to "recycle" whatever that can be "recycled", including dead experiment animals. For what is worth I had probably ate a frog I dissected from a school restaurant many years ago.


That really doesn't help the credibility of rest of his article


[deleted]


Am I cynical for thinking there would be no punishment or accountability?


So in essence, the lab leak theory got scrapped right off the bat b/c we as a society have developed an aversion to Trump?


They are easing you into the revelation of the virus being a lab leak and the CCP being maliciously irresponsible costing millions of lives from the initial leak and holding back information after the fact.

Revealing it all at once would cause economic and social chaos. The racist assaults alone would be horrendous. Not to mention the political and economic consiquences.

It's no coincidence that the Uygar genocide is being talked about now despite going on for several years.


FWIW I'm going to defer to the virology experts on this one. I know when I am out of my depth, and when to seek expert advise.

https://twitter.com/angie_rasmussen/status/13942570285586391...


Angela Rasmussen is indeed a virologist and is heavily quoted in the media, but this appears to be more because she specifically seeks that (she has a publicist!) than due to any prior distinction.

Ralph Baric invented modern coronavirology. He was Zhengli Shi's mentor, and published frequently with her in the past. He signed Jesse Bloom's and Alina Chan's letter in Science calling for further investigation of the origins of SARS-CoV-2:

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6543/694.1

As to the specific tweet that you've linked, David Baltimore seems to disagree:

> “When I first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus,” said David Baltimore, an eminent virologist and former president of CalTech.

https://thebulletin.org/2021/05/the-origin-of-covid-did-peop...

My own impression is that the FCS points only weakly towards lab origin (and other evidence, like the origin city, lack of intermediate host, and pre-adaptation to humans is much more significant), but I'm not the one with the Nobel prize. But my point is that if you choose experts by almost any metric other than Twitter follower count, you'll see a very different picture.


> Ralph Baric invented modern coronavirology. He was Zhengli Shi's mentor, and published frequently with her in the past. He signed Jesse Bloom's and Alina Chan's letter in Science calling for further investigation of the origins of SARS-CoV-2:

I read the Science article; the way it was drafted doesn't really specifically rule any particular thing out however. It's just calling for a further investigation, and says that both hypotheses remain "viable", which is an extremely low bar in science.

Combing Jasnah's thread with another by Andersen (https://twitter.com/K_G_Andersen/status/1391507230848032772), it paints a picture that any explicit engineering seems a bit far fetched. I have yet to seen any specific responses to these critiques of lab engineered FCN site hypothesis. Instead, I see mountains of people who are not in a position to critically evaluate these claims. Science is both an institution and a process, and not everyone is equally qualified to evaluate the evidence.


That letter may seem perfectly tepid and reasonable out of context, but Andersen has publicly criticized it:

> But, “the letter suggests a false equivalence between the lab escape and natural origin scenarios,” he said. “To this day, no credible evidence has been presented to support the lab leak hypothesis, which remains grounded in speculation.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/science/virus-origins-lab...

Dr. Shi too (though she obviously can't deviate from the CCP's position without putting herself in physical danger):

> The chief scientist for emerging disease at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Shi Zhengli, said in an email that the letter’s suspicions were misplaced and would damage the world’s ability to respond to pandemics. “It’s definitely not acceptable,” Shi said of the group’s call to see her lab’s records. "Who can provide an evidence that does not exist?"

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/05/13/1024866/investig...

The controversy isn't "people who don't think lab origin merits further investigation" vs. "people who don't think natural origin merits further investigation". It's between people who think lab origin is so unlikely that no further investigation of that possibility is necessary (like Andersen and Rasmussen, along with the CCP), vs. people who think both possibilities are sufficiently likely that further investigation of both is required (like Chan, Bloom, Baric, Tedros, Redfield, etc.), as expressed in that letter. I'm obviously with the latter group. For example, I believe we should push China to release more records from the WIV, but I also believe we should keep sampling animals looking for a natural intermediate host. If you study the evidence yourself then I believe you will agree.

As I noted above, as best I can tell the FCS is mostly a distraction--interesting, but not determinative either way. (Although again, a Nobel prize winner seems to disagree with me.) I'm much more convinced by the origin city and distinctive nature of the WIV's work sampling novel viruses from nature, by the lack of an intermediate host, by China's removal of access to the WIV's database of viral genomes in September 2019, by their blocking reporters from the mine where RaTG13 was discovered, and other such non-genomic evidence. This evidence is also much easier to judge without advanced scientific background.

ETA: And for emphasis, "no genetic engineering" also doesn't imply "no lab origin". For example, it's entirely possible that SARS-CoV-2 is a naturally-evolved virus accidentally released by the WIV. They routinely sampled remote, virus-rich bat caves that no other human would enter, with nothing more than a surgical mask and nitrile gloves. They could easily have brought a virus back to Wuhan and released it before even sequencing it, whether in a lab accident there or in a researcher who became infected in the field. I urge you to research and understand this yourself, instead of deferring to strawmen set up by virologists with little distinction beyond their Twitter following.

ETA2: And note that Andersen and Rasmussen both now claim to support further investigation, but prior to the Science letter they did not. They also seem to support it only in the abstract, and to shout down any calls for specific actions (e.g., pushing China to release the WIV's virus database). This is a long story; please try to understand it in detail, and don't take any isolated claim from any side at face value.


Nobel peace prize winners can been frankly weirdly wrong on these topics when they overextend from their own specific domain. Think back to the AIDs crisis, where Peter Duesberg, an award winning molecular biologist, thought that AIDs couldn't possibly be caused by HIV. He was outside of his peer group that came to realize that AIDs is in fact caused by HIV. Experts can be wrong, but that is why science is not just a process, but an institution. Peer review is how we deal with these discrepancies, and "doing your own research" without expert mentorship is not a substantial substitute.

I have a PhD in bioinformatics, and yet I know that my personal expertise (and ability to consume) information about viral engineering is limited. I therefore have to rely on experts, and make a substantial effort to tune my priors to ensure I'm listening to the right sources. A single medium blog from a reporter without any editorial supervision is not an adequate substitute. When I have questions about how to adjust my priors for this subject, I have been in communication with colleagues whose expertise and knowledge are qualified to answer questions. And from all of this, there has been a general consensus from these scientists that while they cannot specifically rule out lab origin hypothesis, there does not even begin to approximate the amount of evidence we need in order to "prove" it. Remember in science we are trying to make claims that are by nature testable- if you cannot test a hypothesis, it's then just pure speculation.

If you want to waste your mental effort on "doing your own research" and making baseless speculation, fine, waste your time. Go off the deep end and find amusement of the sort of baseless conspiracy theory folks that appear on Joe Rogan. But do not for a moment bring baseless speculation into the realm of science. Too many people have spent too much time to waste it on people who cannot intellectually appreciate the differences between testable scientific hypothesis and a baseless speculative claim.


I don't know who you think is asserting that lab origin is "proven"? The claim is that sufficient evidence exists that it should be investigated, not that investigation of all other possibilities should stop.

For a specific example, the WIV had a database of viral genomes, available on the public Internet. There was also a private, password-protected section. That entire database went offline in September 2019, and hasn't come back. The WIV has cited "hacking attempts" as the reason.

Do you find that reason credible? Do you believe that the contents of that database should be obtained and publicly disclosed, for open scientific review? If yes, then you share your desired policy action with the "baseless conspiracy folks". If no, then you share it with the CCP.

And since you say "priors": knowing that a pandemic emerged but nothing else, what's your prior that it emerged due to lab activity? I assume you're aware that the 1977 flu pandemic was probably a lab escape, and depending how you count we've had perhaps a dozen pandemics in the last fifty years; so I don't see how you can claim less than ~5%. That's far from negligible, so what evidence takes you from there to dismissing it as "baseless speculation"? It can't be the novelty of the pathogen, since a distinctive part of the WIV's research was specifically their collection of novel pathogens from nature (about 900 miles away, to be clear; Wuhan wasn't in an expected natural spillover zone).


We may never know for 100% certain if it truly was a lab leak, but what we can be certain of is the denialism and withholding of information in the crucial first 2 months of the emergence of the virus. In at least this, China is culpable for devastating millions of lives and disrupting the global economy, all for the Chinese government to save face.

Edit: Removed claim about Chinese new year


Chinese New Year celebrations were cancelled and travel restrictions were imposed in January of 2020.


From what I've read they were cancelled, but the motivation from the government to keep transit operation in the lead up to Chinese New Year might have been to allow citizens to get home. This would be to avoid backlash from citizens who couldn't be with their family for, what is for many, their one holiday a year. Which seems reasonable. I believe by CNY the gene sequence and other data had been leaked by a rogue scientist in China to the rest of the world, and the cover was blown.


But they called Australia racist for imposing travel restrictions in February?


And China’s lack of candor is disturbing. It denies access to the institute’s lab logs and whatever messages were swapped during its own investigations, took down 2018 statements critical of lab biosecurity protocols, retaliated against Australia for advocating an open investigation and sharply restricted the W.H.O. investigators.

Would the USA have been any more open if an American government lab was suspected as the source of an outbreak? Especially under the former administration which outright lied to the American people about the severity of the pandemic.


It's not like they've been forthcoming in the past:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/05/28/biolabs-patho...

A USA TODAY Network investigation reveals that hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near-miss incidents have occurred in biological laboratories coast to coast in recent years, putting scientists, their colleagues and sometimes even the public at risk.

Oversight of biological research labs is fragmented, often secretive and largely self-policing, the investigation found. And even when research facilities commit the most egregious safety or security breaches — as more than 100 labs have — federal regulators keep their names secret.


> The whole world, China included, needs a hard answer, whoever is to blame — so we can prevent this from happening again.

Really?

Is that what will happen if someone confirms the lab leak theory?

We just tighten bio security in labs and off we go, back to normal?

Don’t make me laugh.

This isn’t about science any more, it’s about playing the blame game and deflecting responsibility for a massive public health disaster by an administration that lacked competence to deal with it.

It would be economically catastrophic for China to admit any evidence that implicated them.

So... given the overwhelming cost of releasing evidence, what the hell benefit is there from pinpointing blame?

Restore trust? It’ll only cost you trillions of dollars in blame and finger pointing... yeah right.

That is never going to happen.

So... we’ll never know.

Attempts to resolve this haven’t convinced me that the effort is not better spent trying resolve the current situation, rather than blame someone else for it.

Am I missing something?

Seriously, given how plausible either animal or lab leak scenarios are, we are required to address both to prevent future pandemics.

How does knowing one way or another help?




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