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Leaked grant proposal details high-risk coronavirus research (theintercept.com)
725 points by BellLabradors 22 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 461 comments



Daczak serves on the WHO team to investigate the virus origins, but this did not get mentioned in any reports. Instead he warns other not to discuss it. He does not include notes that research was done on modifying bat viruses to make them infectious to human cells. These behaviors look like a guilty person, do they not?

The wuhan and eco-health researchers had already started work on the furin cleavage sites and why would they stop when DARPA blocked it? Funding can’t only come from the US. Did CCP also block this research?

> there is published evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was already engaged in some of the genetic engineering work described in the proposal and that viruses designed in North Carolina could easily be used in China.


Peter Daszak was also one of the people organizing the letter in the lancet back in 2020 denying that it came from a lab.

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

Lancet responding to criticism: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6...


Yeah, turns out 26 of the 27 scientists all had some conflict of interest related to the Wuhan lab:

>All but one scientist who penned a letter in The Lancet dismissing the possibility that coronavirus could have come from a lab in Wuhan were linked to its Chinese researchers, their colleagues or funders, a Telegraph investigation can reveal.

Source: https://archive.ph/dXc0n


Think about what you're actually saying: most of the world's coronavirus experts have some kind of link to one of the world's leading laboratories' researchers, colleagues, or funders. Would you expect anything else?

Suppose something strange happened and there were suspicions that it was CERN that was involved. Now a letter gets penned by the world's top particle physicists saying it's highly unlikely that the experiments at CERN would be involved. What do you suppose the likelihood would be that those particle physicists would have links to the researchers, colleagues or funders of CERN?


Do also note that damn near every lab today would not propose a new approach or project without already secretly having gone half the way in it with prior funds. No one proposes a potential novel idea without already being fully sure it will work.


100% true for theoretical/computational physics, solid state physics, optics, catalysis research, and many more. You use existing grants to explore completely different topics and once you have something promising where you are 50-80% there, you write the next grant. Rinse, repeat.

Particle physics (or gravitational wave research for example) is the odd one out here. Maybe because it is 100% fundamental research, where it is known to not produce applicable results.


Not true where you have to get ethics consent. You can't do this because you're lab will be shut if you are found to be doing experiments in secret. Yes - in some labs for maths, physics and so on you are right, but not medicine & biology.

If you don't believe this then look at the failure rate of the projects.

The other thing is that the funding agencies really, really, really don't like this - they want high risk research not handle turning. So if you get caught out you will get blacklisted - it's misconduct.


> You can't do this because you're lab will be shut if you are found to be doing experiments in secret.

It's almost like if you move your research to a country who has no regards for safety or ethical concerns, that suddenly isn't a problem.


This is something I wish more people understood about academia with regards to this grant.


Certainly not true in the area of particle accelerator experiments. Every single step there is done in public so to say. And it's not that it's a niche, literally thousands of scientists and engineers work on this stuff. (Also I know people that had to change thesis topics half-way through, although I cannot fully recall the reasoning for that.)

It's well-known that there has been high-risk coronavirus research across the globe. Actually there are even documentaries from before the pandemic, not sure why this has to be double-emphasized.


> It's well-known that there has been high-risk coronavirus research across the globe.

Not to me.

>Actually there are even documentaries from before the pandemic, not sure why this has to be double-emphasized.

Got any names/years so I watch them?


There's one documentary from ARTE.tv, a french-german state-owned TV station that I watched in Spring 2020 but which was from around 5 years ago at that time. I cannot find it but I'd add a link here if I do eventually. (Not easy since so much similar content has popped up since then)

One particular reference (point) the documentary was revolving around was the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies which has been pointing out the problem with zoonotic epidemics/pandemics vs. populations and wild ecosystems intertwining too much. (AIDS, SARS, MERS)

Maybe that's interesting enough:

"Thus, it is highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China. Therefore, the investigation of bat coronaviruses becomes an urgent issue for the detection of early warning signs ..."

Bat Coronaviruses in China, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466186/ from March 2019

That said, all this conspiracy discussion is giving the research a bad taste. I mean they cannot build up a lab in a bat cave or ignore the whole issue. And this is not the first epidemic/pandemic of this sort.


> It's well-known that there has been high-risk coronavirus research across the globe.

It's the first time I heard of anything of the sort.

Do you have any reference pointing out, or is this just Facebook hearsay?


Corona virus and gain of function was done in the US and when a leaked accident occurred it got banned and outsourced to the world. The research labs and stories was famous during MERS outbreak. India, Pakistan and China is the best known countries with advance research labs for it.


> Daczak serves on the WHO team to investigate the virus origins (...)

As a reference never hurts, specially in a topic prone to disinformation, here's a link to the WHO's page on its official list of members of their "Global Study of the Origins of SARS-COV2".

Dr. Peter Daszak, Ph.D (EcoHealth Alliance, USA) is listed as a member.

https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus/origins-of-the...


Not necessarily guilt but a HUGE conflict of interest…


As much credibility as the executive team at Philip Morris releasing an open letter outlining how smoking doesn’t cause cancer.


This 'looks guilty' thing is akin to witch hunting.

If millions of people died and you were right there when it happened, a likely suspect, you might want to deflect blame as well.

Populism and Politics have little to do with the truth. If the masses are fired up over one theory, or if the highly politicized academic community is fired up over one of their own sensitivities, it can be destructive for many involved.

Refusing legitimate investigation - now that's a bad sign because people should want to clear their names.

We don't know what the answers are but it warrants further investigation.


Systemic failure perhaps, certainly when regards to the soul-crushing CCP (not the Chinese).


Scientists absolutely need to investigate themselves as well, to avoid biases and blind spots. Just because someone is smart, doesn't make them arbiter of truth. So we need to examine ourselves AND facts.


He proudly proclaims his research in this video, he is not hiding anything: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdYDL_RK--w


He absolutely did try to hide things. He tried to hide his relationship to the original Lancet article denouncing the lab leak theory, because he knew it was a staggering conflict of interest:

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/06/the-lab-leak-theory-...


Person organizing PR statement takes actions to make that PR statement as effective as possible? Not exactly a cover up. I don’t “like” my own instagram posts for the same reason.


It’s expected that conflicts of interest be disclosed in journalism and things like this. Instead he actively worked to hide his conflict of interest.


Exactly, and it looks like almost all of them did:

>All but one scientist who penned a letter in The Lancet dismissing the possibility that coronavirus could have come from a lab in Wuhan were linked to its Chinese researchers, their colleagues or funders, a Telegraph investigation can reveal.

Source: https://archive.ph/dXc0n


Scientists have to hold themselves to a higher ethical standard than PR flacks.


> why would they stop when DARPA blocked it

Because the Trump administration decided that along with a bunch of other offshore collaboration funding decided to pull the money (America First!). There's a Vincent Racaniello episode on Microbe TV that explained what happened there. I don't remember the episode but here's his channel:

https://www.youtube.com/c/VincentRacaniello/videos

I think if folks would listen more to virologists than the press they'd find out that it's incredibly difficult to engineer new viruses (that's actually in his coursework - also on his channel), but it's also incredibly difficult to create stable "gain of function" (for weaponising) which has been suggested as the source of SARS2 and that whole Wuhan conspiracy theory thing.


But why would one denial from one particularly finicky funding source (Trump-era US agencies) make researchers – who thought they were doing essential work – stop such essential work? Why wouldn't they use other funding, possibly from overhead funding or prior grants, or from other less-finicky funders? And in a jurisdiction – China – where many of the same limits or reporting-requirements might not exist?

Are virologists the only humans who, thwarted by one jurisdiction's limits, give up without considering doing their career-making, essential-to-humanity work elsewhere?

> …it's incredibly difficult to engineer new viruses… [and] …also incredibly difficult to create stable "gain of function"…

Indeed, but humans do incredibly difficult things all the time. In fact, they're often attracted to the challenge, and seek funding to help them do it, and often don't let a 'no' from any one funder stop them from bootstrapping work in other ways.

It's also incredibly difficult to engineer & get approval for vaccines to a brand-new disease, but that got done, recently, faster than ever before.

It was incredibly difficult to create nuclear weapons, but a lot of countries have done it independently.

Given the significant number of dangerous pathogen escapes from disease labs, it's also "incredibly difficult" to keep dangerous contagions safely contained. It's comparatively easy to accidently let them out!


Covid wasn't a brand new disease. They had most of the research necessary to create a vaccine completed two years before the outbreak. We would likely have had the Johnson and Johnson vaccine by July of 2020 if Trump hadn't shut down the pandemic response team purely because it was created by Obama. They were the ones already preparing the ground work necessary for a vaccine to existing SARS Corona virus diseases that had already emerged as far back as 2011. Project Warp Speed wasn't so successful because it provided funding or cut red tape, most of the vaccines we got didn't even participate. We got vaccines so fast because nearly a decade of related research had already been completed.

My point is it would have required a virtual miracle for the proposed gain of function research to have produced something that could have escaped in the time framed that is possible regarding the rejected grant request. Additionally, good research has proven that Covid couldn't have been due to gain of function research either.


All 3 vaccines used in the US received funding through Operation Warp Speed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Warp_Speed


Most of your points about coronavirus vaccine research also apply to coronavirus gain-of-function research: scientists have been studying these viruses for decades. They've also been proposing – & sometimes doing! – gain-of-function-like work on these same viruses for years.

And why would it take a "virtual miracle" to accomplish via purposeful lab work the same thing that a 'wholly natural origin' explanation would suggest happened by dumb luck in natural recombinations?

What if it was both 'natural origin' and a 'lab leak'? For example, perhaps a wholly natural zoonotic event created the novelty, but it wasn't circulating in humans until after researchers found that crossover-ready virus in the wild – doing research similar to that in this just-revealed proposal – & brought it to Wuhan for study. Then, either with or without further 'gain-of-function' tinkering, inadvertently let it loose into an urban population?


If that is the case why did Peter himself say a covid vaccine was impossible at the Nipah conference in 2019?


The 2019 nipah conference was December 09-10. The first COVID patients with symptoms had only entered the hospital the previous day and the epidemic was still unrecognized. Why was anyone talking about a vaccine for a disease no one knew existed at an unrelated virus conference? Can you source anything to that effect?


1. There is no viral backbone anyone knows of which would have been used in this research

2. There is no spike protein anyone knows of which would have been used in this research

3. The PRRAR furin cleavage site is not one humans would have tried it is unlike any other known furin cleavage sites in coronaviruses

4. There are now many known related sarbecoviruses which have been found with furin cleavage sites

5. Furin cleavage sites have independently evolved in multiple different branches of coronaviruses, probably a dozen times that we know of now.

6. The furin cleavage site is short and can easily happen through recombination with another virus due to coinfection.

7. This is very likely what happened due to infection with the SARS-CoV-2 ancestor and an HKU9-like virus.

It is not particularly suspicious that the thing which we were worried about happening and causing a zoonotic spillover event is the thing which actually happened.


The proposal that this article is about weakens your argument significantly.

They were going to experiment with multiple backbones, experimenting with multiple variations of spikes, looking specifically to try novel types of furin cleavage sites.

There was no public reporting of what happened with this research. We don't know what they have because WIV database was taken offline. They claimed to have searched it, but what they claimed was the closest match in the database was not, in fact, as close as a sequence they had published. Given that demonstrable lie, there is no way to verify any claim about what sequences were or were not known and possibly involved in this research.

Furthermore the person who submitted the proposal was also the person who broke ethical standards to preemptively shut down all discussion of a human release.

That isn't to take away from the possibility of a natural spillover. The facts that you say about that are facts. But accidental release is also possible. And the lack of transparency from those who are most likely to have made the mistake heightens suspicions, it does not lessen them.


But at the end of the day you have zero evidence of any of that actually happened. The backbone doesn't exist, the spike doesn't exist, the effort necessary to culture that completely unknown virus in the lab isn't documented anywhere. And the grant proposal very specifically is concerned with using the WIV1 and SHC014 backbones, nothing related to SARS-CoV-2. And going from sequence to live culturable virus that you can work with is _difficult_. They aren't out collecting bats in the morning and whipping up live novel virus backbones in the evening. And if they actually carried out the research in this grant proposal you don't get from there to SARS-CoV-2, those are all SARS-1-like.

It is research that "sounds like" what happened with the SARS-CoV-2 zoonotic spillover, but that isn't a strange coincidence. They were researching the thing they were worried about happening, and then it happened. Their research proposals naturally rhyme with what actually occurred because they had studied and understood the problem enough to guess more or less accurately what the process would be. There are still massive gaps in between this proposal and SARS-CoV-2 that you could fly a plane through.


"Zero evidence", huh? The epicenter of Covid-19 was the middle of a major metropolitan city (instead of a rural area near lots of animals), blocks away from a major virology lab which was specifically studying these viruses, collecting hundreds of wild strains from field operations, in research DARPA said before the fact endangers the local community and was banned by NIH, trying to specifically create this virus as closely as possible for the research to be successful...

It's like seeing smoke billowing out of a building and refusing to accept that there's a fire until you see the flames. Very convenient that your standard of evidence surpasses anything we can possibly obtain after the CCP scrubbed everything.


SARS was first discovered in a major city too. This makes a lot of sense. If there is an outbreak in a rural village, the chances of it spreading worldwide are slim. It is quite possible that small outbreaks happen occasionally without anyone noticing. Who is going to test a few villagers that got pneumonia for novel coronaviruses?

I would also argue that in the age of factory farming it is not so clear if more human-animal contact happens in rural areas or in big population centers. SARS was eventually traced back to palm civets which are farmed animals. In this industry wild animals, many of which are susceptible to SARS-like coronaviruses, are being bred in large numbers. To me this sounds like a perfect breeding ground for the viruses as well.


It's the totality of the evidence taken together, not a series of things to be considered independently. When a lot of "coincidence" add up, they cease being coincidences. Or, at the very least, if there's no serious investigation by the people in charge of something so significant, an injustice is being done.

Also, factory farming is far safer than all other forms of farming. If the outbreak was unrelated to WIV and centered in Wuhan, wet-markets and exotic animal markets are the likely culprit.


> When a lot of "coincidence" add up, they cease being coincidences.

The internet doesn't handle subtlety well, so just to spell it out...

If we admit things are coincidences then they can't be added up to get evidence. Lots of coincidences isn't evidence. The point is these things aren't coincidences. If a new coronavirus breaks out next door to a lab studying coronaviruses, then the lab is a possible source of the virus and the proximity is evidence. It is weak evidence and still unlikely, but evidence nonetheless.

However, when the lab is very close and the closest known bat virus (RaTG13) is a very long way away as is the case for SARS-CoV-2 then that is starting to get quite murky as evidence goes. It would be much easier for RaTG13 to travel the rather large distance from its natural location to Wuhan in a freezer/test tube than in a bat.


And there are three completely plausible explanations for why Shi Zhengli and Peter Daszak's research could have led to the outbreak:

(a) It was successfully created in the lab using gain of function research they were developing

(b) It was accidentally or purposefully cultured naturally from one of the many strains they had collected from the field

(c) A researcher, assistant, or contractor was infected in the field as they were doing field work

Option (c) is particularly compelling because it doesn't require much additional complexity beyond the "official explanation". It still maintains that the origin of Covid-19 was a zoonotic spillover event, but points to the research as the direct cause of that event. And it's not necessarily the case that if the virus was in the bat population already that it necessarily would have spread. Rural populations might become briefly infected with a pandemic-level virus, but the spread is naturally quarantined since they have little contact with major metropolitan areas.


"A lot of small things adding up" is also how conspiracy theories are formed and sustained. Be it Qanon, GME, Pizzagate, 9/11-was-an-inside-job, etc. They all rely on small details that are not individually damning, but in aggregate fit a compelling narrative. You have to be extremely wary of this sort of thinking.

I don't think that a lab leak is implausible, but your statement that the small pointers "cease being coincidences" because they fit a narrative imparts far, far too much certainty to the lab leak theory.


Which other coincidence is there apart from the proximity of the lab to the initial detection site?


Well, there is the similarity between features of the virus and research being proposed in a grant application written half a world away just a couple of years before the virus spread to humans. That's a coincidence of note.


Yea agreed this seems like an additional data point, that looks suspicious, but it is very new (at least to me) and I will wait to see what experts make of this.


You're correct, however after years of examining blood samples from hospital patients it was possible to trace the phylogeny of SARS to a zoonotic origin. This has not been possible for SARS‑CoV‑2, least of all because the government doesn't want such an investigation to take place. I can't think why.


>SARS was first discovered in a major city too.

How many major cities are there? hundreds. How many with a research center experimenting on coronavirus? (1 china, 2 in the USA) Just in China there are more than 100 cities with 1 millions people. Odds are 99+% that it has something to do with the research center. A very generous take would be that it has 1% chance of being unrelated.


Was the first SARS discovered in the vecinity of a lab studying SARS?


The “zero evidence” claim is fun because every day there is a failure to discover an origin species is de facto evidence of a non-zootonic origin, since that evidence is not subject to being hidden and is highly incentivized to find given it would be exculpatory.


The "zero evidence" claim is a blatant attempt to shift the burden of proof. In my opinion the burden of proof remains with those hypothesizing zoonotic origin.


I’d suggest the opposite. [edit: not the opposite, the same!]

If it’s conceivable that gain of function research can release a virus that kills millions, then the burden of proof is with the researchers to prove that they’re safe and this didn’t happen.


Please read my comment again. Perhaps you aren't suggesting the opposite.


Oops! Thanks.


> since that evidence is not subject to being hidden and is highly incentivized to find given it would be exculpatory

Why? The wet markets in Wuhan were sterilized and emptied (meaning that the animals inside were removed, killed, and their carcasses disposed of) at the very start of the outbreak - several days before anyone had definitive evidence that SARS-CoV-2 could be transmitted by person to person contact.

I'm sure that the Chinese government would love to have definitive evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is zoonotic, but that evidence likely went up in smoke (January 1st, 2020) weeks before anyone realized that COVID-19 would turn into a legitimate pandemic (January 23rd, 2020).


I can't find the reference right now but the evidence can be gathered from hospital records. There is a progression in cases and some particularities that can be studied to establish the origin of a disease.


> I can't find the reference right now but the evidence can be gathered from hospital records.

This is why there has been a lot of attention on certain animals, such as raccoon dogs and minks. It turns out that a lot of the early infections linked to the various Wuhan markets were from shop owners and employees who either sold or were in close contact a small number of animal species. It also turns out that these animals can be infected by SARS-CoV-2. See https://ncrc.jhsph.edu/research/animal-sales-from-wuhan-wet-....

The issue is that (as far as I'm aware) there's no immediate evidence that SARS-CoV-2 jumped to humans from any of these animals, only that there was an (again, as far as I'm aware) unknown intermediary species. However, because the animals at the wet market were disposed of, there's no way to definitively link SARS-CoV-2 to them.


Could a recombination be possible? So lab virus meets wild virus in zoonotic environment and sars-cov-2 appears?


For SARS ans MERS the evidence were “we found a variant of the virus before its mutation allowing it to jump to humans in civet/Camel”.


> It's like seeing smoke billowing out of a building and refusing to accept that there's a fire until you see the flames.

The stuff you cite is circumstantial at best. Yes, given the seriousness of covid i would like someone to investigate it, but i would hardly call it billowing smoke.

> Very convenient that your standard of evidence surpasses anything we can possibly obtain after the CCP scrubbed everything.

Is that really relavent? Say CCP would in theory destroy evidence if such a situation arised. That's not an argument that says it is china's fault, its just an argument that we might not ever know. Its not like the people arguing that it was natural aren't using lack of chinese whistleblower as the evidence for naturalness.

At the very least i'd like evidence that suggests there is a higher probability that it was a chinese experiment than a natural occurance. Occam's razor and all. Arguing that it might be impossible to know what happened, increases uncertainty, but doesn't affect the relative probabilities.


Occam's razor works against your argument...given everything we know so far, the simplest explanation is that a chinese lab leaked a virus and it's covering it. There is no jump in logic needed. It's actually easier to explain why the virus was so close to the Wuhan lab.


Maybe it's the other way around. They put the lab in Wuhan because it's easy to get many samples of the zoonotic viruses of concern due to the presence of many natural reservoirs and wet markets, and you want a lab near the action because you want to be able to study the hot spots.

In other words, your argument is like saying occam's razor concludes that fire extinguishers start fires because they are always found in the vicinity of fires.

Also I think many on this thread greatly underestimate the adaptive and evolutionary capabilities of nature. Having done some wet lab myself, I'm impressed at the ability of nature to do lateral gene transfer, and also it's damn hard to make any experiments work. Plus there are multiple layers of safety and containment around any lab experiment. Movies make engineering look like AI robots in labs and biology experiments that work on the first try, and people who say lab near outbreak must implicate the lab have probably spent more time watching movies about outbreaks than trying to engineer organisms themselves. Having spent a lot of time trying and failing to engineer organisms, occam's razor screams to me that the most likely explanation is natural evolution.

The real lab of concern are the hundreds of millions of people living in close contact with animal reservoirs, performing millions of competitive, uncontrolled evolution experiments daily, with single hosts sometimes simultaneously infected by multiple viruses, thus facilitating lateral gene transfer... and this continues to be the status quo. If you can accept that MERS and SARS CoV-1 are naturally evolved, then occam's razor would indicate that SARS CoV-2 is just one point in a series, and yet another coronavirus outbreak is likely to emerge in the next decade or so, from a dense urban area near animal reservoirs.

Distracting ourselves by fantasizing that only humans could be so devious to create such a virus makes us miss a very important opportunity to try and prevent the next outbreak through careful monitoring and research.

So, if you believe that we should have fire departments and fire extinguishers near ignition sources then, maybe we should have /more/ labs like Wuhan's in high risk areas, not less. And we'd want to encourage more cross border cooperation, not antagonize it, because viruses don't give a damn about your politics.

It's concerning that threads like this, on a forum as ostensibly pro-science as HN, are pushing ourselves further away from science and transparency...


> the presence of many natural reservoirs and wet markets, and you want a lab near the action because you want to be able to study the hot spots.

The closest relative to this virus (it's not even that close, just 95% similarity) was found in a bat cave hundreds of miles away. They flew it in Wuhan and made experiments on it (this is all documented, not some crazy theory). Something tells me it's more likely to escape from the lab right there, rather than somehow infect people for hundreds of miles undetected. Your analogy is wrong, the lab is not really a fire extinguisher, because a fire extinguisher cannot cause fires on it's own! Lab leaks happen all the time https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_laboratory_biosecurity...

A better analogy is: a nuclear scientist works with heavy metals at a lab (far away from home), suddenly his family gets radiation poisoning. I wonder if it was the scientist that made a mistake, or should we focus all our search for natural radiation sources in the family's house? Sure, it's always a possibility, but what is it more likely? Also, you should at least acknowledge that the person is working with radiation and investigate that possibility thoroughly.

Those lab safety measure were criticized by the US state department https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/14/state-dep...

> And we'd want to encourage more cross border cooperation, not antagonize it, because viruses don't give a damn about your politics.

The Chinese took the virus database offline 2 months before the official outbreak...what a coincidence. And what a cooperation effort. Renaming the closest relative virus to hide it's trail. And a lot more.

Yeah, we need more cooperation, and China needs to do it first. They created this mess, the least they can do is cooperate rather than hinder investigations. We need better lab security and better protocols worldwide.


[flagged]


The goal should be to find the truth. Not “hold China accountable”. We can’t punish people for crimes we can’t prove they committed.


> The goal should be to find the truth. Not “hold China accountable”

In this case it is the same thing unless you are claiming Covid started in some other country and they tried to hide the evidence.


China hasn’t tried to hide the evidence that COVID stated there. But to “hold China accountable” implicitly makes the assumption that they did something wrong and should be punished.

There’s a number of perfectly reasonable ways for COVID to start without China doing anything, and making accusations based on thin evidence is not going to encourage collaboration.


[flagged]


> I dont understand why you keep saying there is thin evidence, we know Covid started in China

I’ve not said that. My comment is in relation to idea that COVID was released from a lab.

> They literally murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people and yet you still defend a dictatorial regime?

I’m not interested in defending the CCP, I just take offence at the idea of the search for the origin of COVID being a witch hunt. People seem to be much more interested in vilified China, and than they are in the actual origin of COVID.

If you wanna criticise the Chinese government, then be my guest, I won’t defend them. But if you’re going to allow a dislike of China to cloud our understanding of where COVID came from then I’m going to make an objection.

We should focus on evidencing the origin of COVID, not finding reasons to further demonise China. If China have intentionally made it difficult to do that, then criticise the action, but it doesn’t change the fact we don’t have strong evidence of a lab release. Certainly the evidence is currently stronger than the evidence suggesting a natural jump.


> We should focus on evidencing the origin of COVID

Who is we? Is China included as well?

> I just take offence at the idea of the search for the origin of COVID being a witch hunt.

China claims Covid started in the US, where is the evidence for that?

> we don’t have strong evidence of a lab release.

Please read my comments again, I never claimed it leaked from a lab.


> Please read my comments again, I never claimed it leaked from a lab.

What hell are we talking about then?

> China claims Covid started in the US, where is the evidence for that?

You bought this up not me. I personally don’t give a shit what China claims. I’ve certainly never claimed that COVID originated in US, nor supported the idea. I have no evidence, and have done no research on this claim because I think it’s completely irrelevant, why the hell do you keep putting words in mouth?

> Who is we? Is China included as well?

China can whatever the hell China wants. So no “we” does not include China, I’m only talking about us here on west. Specifically those who seemed to be determined to prove that China is guilty a crime greater than being the unlucky nation where COVID made the jump. Something that’s a naturally occurring event, which is expected to happen on a semi-regular basis. Indeed the lack of new novel virus in the 20th and 21st century is some what notable, especially when you consider how globalised we are as a species.


> China can whatever the hell China wants

So China can murder innocent people all over the world, hide or destroy evidence, buy all the PPE from other nations and not be held accountable and you support this, wow, just wow.

> Something that’s a naturally occurring event

Can you give some evidence for this wild claim that Covid was a naturally occurring event.


> Can you give some evidence for this wild claim that Covid was a naturally occurring event.

Sure: https://journals.asm.org/doi/pdf/10.1128/JVI.00902-20

Read it (and the referenced documents) until you truly, deeply understand the science well enough to explain it to someone else.

At that point, you will know why the consensus is for natural jump between species.

Oh, and calm down, ranting is unbecoming.


Read the link which you gave again but this time see who has funded it. It was funded by the Chinese govt which we have already established that it cannot be trusted.

Dont fall for such state sponsored propaganda and stop making personal attacks using a throwaway account, its very unbecoming.


Read the HN guidelines and stop being an arse.


Post some sources for your claim instead of attacking me.


Occams razor states "entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity"

It doesn't seem neccesary for a chinese lab to be involved, and the only evidence so far (afaik) is that it exists and was studying something similar. Meanwhile there exists (albeit definitely not ironclad) evidence that china wasn't involved.

If there is no evidence beyond circumstantial evidence that china had a lab near by, and there is a pretty much equally reasonable explanation that the event happened by chance, than i think occam's razor favours the one with less entities involved.

I'm not saying that china isn't involved. I'm saying that we basically have no idea and the argument that china did it is no more strong than the alternative. On the balance i find the natural explanation more compelling, but ultimately we have no idea. I also think there may be some cognitive biases going on - covid 19 has hurt, and we want scapegoat to blame. If it was natural, than we have only ourselves to blame for being underprepared. If china did it, we convinently have someone to hate.


If you take it like that, the it seems like the lab leak theory is even more probable. For the lab leak to work, we have all the entities we need: the bat fever a few years ago, ongoing studies on those coronaviruses, outbreak near the lab, very suspicious lab behavior, Chinese coverup.

If you take the other hypotheses, it goes like this: some bat coronavirus -> jumps to an unnamed animal -> jumps to a human. There is an unknown entity in this equation, which is the third party animal. This is necessary for the theory to work.

If you make me chose between a theory that has all the elements and one that might or might not find a mythical animal in the future...I think Occam's razor favors the one with all known elements. Otherwise, ad-absurdum, you can win any argument stating it's Occam's razor: you just introduce a single magic black box which can substitute any number of entities.

I am not doing this to blame China. I blame China for the opacity of the response, which at times seemed like they didn't care what happens with everyone else. I can blame China regardless of how this virus appeared. I also blame our top scientists, which covered their asses instead of coming out with everything they know and work for the greater good.

What I do want is better bio-labs safety protocols, something that can be monitor by third party inspectors, say from UN, just like we have for nuclear facilities. Lab leaks happen, it's not a Chinese thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_laboratory_biosecurity...


The specific claims here that are most compelling to me are:

"The grant proposal very specifically is concerned with using the WIV1 and SHC014 backbones, nothing related to SARS-CoV-2." The counterargument is "Well, they could have altered the proposal when they pursued funding elsewhere." The takeaway is that it is not likely this specific proposal was funded elsewhere, leading to SARS-CoV-2.

"If they actually carried out the research in this grant proposal you don't get from there to SARS-CoV-2, those are all SARS-1-like." I do not personally know how to evaluate the accuracy of this claim, but if true, it resonates with the first claim: this proposal funded elsewhere would not lead to SARS-CoV-2.

The argument claims about it being hard/expensive I think are less compelling, as there is a lead time of several years with experts in field performing research. A more compelling version of this argument would look like (completely making up numbers): "On average, it takes 4.5 years to develop the first samples of a novel virus using a selected backbone, CRISPR technology, and gain-of-function culturing. Therefore, even if this research was funded in 2018 we would not expect it to have led to SARS-CoV-2". I'm not saying that argument is accurate at all, just saying it's more specific than "it's difficult".

The argument claims about the evidence being missing I think isn't going to be motivating for a person who has a reasonable expectation that secret research is done and does not have trust in government transparency (either US, China, or otherwise). I'm not making a point here that evidence isn't needed (far from it, evidence IS needed). I'm evaluating from a polemic perspective what kinds of claims and arguments are useful for advancing the conversation with someone who holding a dissonant viewpoint.

Thank you by the way for making specific claims that can be fact checked such as the two referenced at the top of this comment.


> "Well, they could have altered the proposal when they pursued funding elsewhere."

It isn't as simple as altering the proposal. You're speculating a very large and hidden process using sequences that were kept perfectly secret and have not been leaked, with virus backbones that would take considerable effort to create but which were never shared publicly (and kept perfectly secret before SARS-CoV-2 happened before there was any need for perfect secrecy). We have this leaked information from 2018 about the proposal with the WIV1/SHC014 backbones which leaked because it was not kept with perfect secrecy. Yet they managed to do all that work in perfect secrecy without any leaks. That is the hallmark of a conspiracy theory. It requires a bit of a time machine because Daszak would have to have known in 2018 to tighten up his "OpSec" in response to the pandemic that hadn't happened yet and leaks that hadn't yet occurred.

Things are also getting worse for the lab leak theory on other fronts, I just stumbled across this a few minutes ago:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02519-1

If there's multiple lineages from multiple zoonotic spillover events that makes the lab leak theory a poor fit and will require a lot more mental gymnastics.


... but then you'd have to explain the infection geography in humans with two events. Not saying it's not possible, but lining it up with what's known epidemiologically speaking is different.

Also, I'm not sure why the lab leak hypothesis is suddenly trickier. They had all sorts of samples.

Labeling this all as "mental gymnastics" as in the article, or "a dagger in the heart of the lab leak hypothesis" is just the sort of motivated analysis confirmatory bias that caused all this in the first place. I'm not sure how arguing that SARS-CoV-2 involved two spillover events with crossover from multiple species is less mental gymnastics than "a lab had multiple samples".

Honestly I'd like to see more dispassionate discussion of this. That Nature piece is shameful.

At some level I don't care if it was a lab leak or not but I wish there wasn't this level of motivation behind both sides.

In any event, the grant proposal should raise a lot of red flags regardless. What bothers me often is this implied assumption that if the lab leak hypothesis is false, everything else is fine. It's all fine that a plausible biosecurity failure scenario was ridiculed, that major research groups clearly lied about and tried to cover up conflicts of interest, that we can trust these (GoF) lines of research are safe, that we can just trust the authority figures to not cause another pandemic, etc. etc. etc.


You should def care if it was a lab leak or not, because as we have learned the only way we are going to address these risks properly if it was. The way to see this is obvious is that we are not acting as if it was a lab leak, and we should be.


Just wanted to chime in and thank you both for an extremely interesting discussion. Carry on. Being a fly on the wall is fascinating here.


Really? I find it halfway interesting, as it is a discussion between someone who clearly understands the science and bureaucracy that surrounds that type of work, and someone who is chaining speculation and "what if's" like their life depended on it.


Definitely. Because companies need both types of people to succeed. I’ve also been on both sides of the table. It’s easy to underestimate the what-iffer and to overestimate the established senior —- and vice versa.

Better than TV.


Jaysus, I just wanted to say thanks for a convo. To confess my sins, I didn’t read it too closely on either side. I’m currently trying to fall asleep. The idea that people did know a thing or two about biology on HN was appealing.

I have to say though, the flagged reply was thoroughly entertaining. Thank you sir or ma’am for the high praise; I aim to please.


First, it really doesn't take major effort to make a viral backbone. You'd like to make a protocol that generates them in high multiplex (thousands, millions, billions) and then selects on that background to find functional ones. The current virus could descend from a recombinant generated with such an approach. It might never have been sequenced or observed directly because it was one of innumerable examples that were competitively cultured.

But, this nature piece is really problematic. When removing likely sequencing errors, the independent "spillover events" appear to fit perfectly into a single phylogeny with each node separated by a single mutation. And the A clade descends cleanly from the B clade. There are not enough mutations between them to support a complex explanation like multiple spillovers. This is linked but not explained properly by the nature piece https://virological.org/t/evidence-against-the-veracity-of-s...


That and a coupe authors already arrived at contrary conclusions before this nature piece was even released. It fails to even acknowledge their work, compare, or comment why there should be favor in their own claims above others with different approaches that might be better suited (biostatistical methods to model a progenitor and the probable evolution of the lineages).


You seem to be suggesting that because this 2018 grant was recently "leaked", we now have... perfect info on all other grants & projects, including any that are part of the 'black budgets' of the US or China.

But maybe some things just haven't leaked yet? Or were kept secret by others even more skilled at secrecy & misdirection than Daszak?


>Yet they managed to do all that work in perfect secrecy without any leaks. That is the hallmark of a conspiracy theory.

But nobody is alleging that they did all the work in perfect secrecy. Clearly we know about a lot of the work: you'd use the same equipment, location, and so forth. Only a few things are left that need to be secret; namely, the origin of the viral sequences that preceded SARS-CoV-2. And if those were present in the wild it seems not entirely surprising that WIV could have simply obtained them.

Furthermore, it is not really that surprising that research which potentially develops weapons of mass destruction is kept secret, pandemic or no. Whether it caused the pandemic or not, people are still generally concerned that this kind of thing was occurring.


I guess all the stuff the NSA kept perfectly secret before the Snowden leaks were the hallmark of a conspiracy theory, too.


That is a good example to consider: the conspiracy theories were around things like magic crypto-breaking boxes, men in black getting crypto keys, or deeply-hidden backdoors in Windows. What they actually kept secret was that they were tapping cables covertly using the same tactics against American companies that they’d used throughout the Cold War — the secret being that they were using them domestically.

Applying Occam, I’m going to bet that the origins of the virus will turn out to be entirely zoonotic or that someone got infected doing fieldwork rather than the lab engineering claims.


> The counterargument is "Well, they could have altered the proposal when they pursued funding elsewhere." The takeaway is that it is not likely this specific proposal was funded elsewhere, leading to SARS-CoV-2.

That sounds like a very tenuous line of reasoning to me. Almost like saying "We know that Mr. A proposed shooting Mr. B, so let's reconsider that Mr C. may have stabbed Mr. D."


These researchers were apparently simulating the process of spillover and host adaptation of recombinant coronavirus in the lab. Of course this process will resemble a natural event in some respects. In a natural event, we would expect some traces of the adapting virus to be left in the world. Here, there are none. The virus appears having already adapted completely to it's new host.


The only evidence that exists is indirect because of China's stonewalling. When International researchers are denied access to the EpiCentre of a global pandemic, you cannot use the argument that there is no evidence.


It's even worse than that. They did actually given access to Wuhan lab to WHO investigation team tasked with studying the possibility of lab leak, back in February/March last year. The team concluded that that it could not have leaked from Wuhan lab. The name of the lead investigator of the team? Peter Daszak, the very same one. I'm not making this up.


Yes - 60 minutes had a great piece on this


Calm down dude. Clearly you have some attachment to one theory over another, which is poor science.

The investigation will continue and those missing items you mention just might turn up since it appears from the leak that there are might be a significant number of unpublished sequences at WIV and EHA, etc.

If science is unsatisfied by what is found, actual scientists will move on and look elsewhere. This leak evidence is compatible with the man origin suspicions however.


People without something to hide don’t go to the lengths of coverup and propaganda campaigns that we have seen here. Perhaps Covid-19 was fully natural in origin, but what appears to be fairly obvious to me is that there are certain actors within the viral research community that are doing some things that the general worldwide public would view as extraordinarily dangerous. Things that might also be considered illegal in countries that are providing funds. Things that might be viewed reasonably by the general public as a possible cause of a worldwide pandemic.

There seems to be an extraordinary amount of CYA here.


You sound knowledgeable. Can you point us to any long-form discussions on these topics? As a layperson I’d like to know more.


At the end of the day we also have zero evidence of the animal transfer hypothesis. The SARS-CoV-2 virus was never documented in bats (prior to its spread among humans). No one has been able to demonstrate the capability of the virus to acquire it's current features in vivo in bats.

But that doesn't invalidate the animal transfer hypothesis. Because that isn't how science works -- or even just how KNOWLEDGE works. No one[1] operates under perfect certainty; we collect stronger or weaker evidence for various possibilities.

This grant application doesn't "prove" that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from a lab. But nothing "proves" it wasn't. The existence of this grant application is evidence supporting the lab leak hypothesis, demonstrating conclusively that someone in the world was thinking, prior to the pandemic, about performing modifications to coronaviruses similar to what we have observed in the virus.

[1] Except mathematicians: https://xkcd.com/263/


Interesting that the no lab peole keep beating the same "evidence" drum, conflating to the public eye evidence and proof meaning.

Every single denial comment around here hinges on this confusion in terms and then tries to stick the "no proof" meaning to all the evidence, instead of bringing whatever evidence there is that it was a natural strain evolution or debating the various points.

Funny how instead a meta analysis of the discussion show one side piling up evidences while the other insists in trying to convince people that no proof equals no evidence.


> 1. There is no viral backbone anyone knows of which would have been used in this research > 2. There is no spike protein anyone knows of which would have been used in this research

> 3. The PRRAR furin cleavage site is not one humans would have tried it is unlike any other known furin cleavage sites in coronaviruses

I believe what you mean to say here is that there is no published literature describing these things. That may be true. But the people doing this work are the ones who would develop and then publish such knowledge, if it were indeed something they were working on.

> It is not particularly suspicious that the thing which we were worried about happening and causing a zoonotic spillover event is the thing which actually happened.

It isn't. What is suspicious is the following:

1. It happened in the city that houses the lab where this research was proposed to take place.

2. The natural reservoir of these viruses is hundreds of miles from this city.

3. The outbreak occurred exactly 2 years after this research was originally proposed, in the city that it was proposed to take place in, in roughly the amount of time one might expect this research to take.

4. Peter Daszak, despite coming out forcefully against the lab leak theory, and purposely downplaying his involvement with the lab in so doing, and being inexplicably selected as a member of the WHO team to investigate the lab origin theory, completely neglected to mention having made this proposal a mere two years prior.

If I were a major virus researcher, and my proposal to investigate the exact thing that just caused a massive global pandemic had been denied by DARPA two years prior, I would be shouting it from the rooftops as vindication. See, had you just let me investigate this, maybe we could have avoided this pandemic! But he didn't do that. He didn't mention it at all, despite its obvious relevance to all that has gone on.

This is not the behavior of someone with nothing to hide. Whether or not this virus originated in this lab, it's pretty clear that Peter Daszak is up to something he'd rather the world not discover.


I think employing probabilities and likelihoods which are subjective and will needlessly cause back and forth arguments over their use and validity.

Could you provide some data to support the assertion that the virus was engineered? I'm hoping something like a leaked paper, or a lab notebook, or maybe hand written data on a piece of scrap paper that somebody found in the garbage bin in china.. I mean, I'll take anything.


Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It all comes down to burden of proof. The more circumstantial evidence of a lab leak piles up, the more reasonably open-minded people will tend to shift their priors in that direction.

You will only accept hard evidence, yet you are aware that parties in China have actively removed some possible evidentiary sources. And others in USA promoted a campaign to shut down lines of enquiry, whilst withholding relevant information.

Many disciplines use Bayesian statistical models. In this case it may be the only way to "prove" a lab leak - assuming that were actually true.

I understand how this makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist. I hate that. It would certainly be better to have hard evidence. I belive we have to reserve judgement in it's absence. And keep investigating both avenues.


For me the things that sticks out is that they found the origin of the original sars in mere months, but nothing when it comes to Sars-cov-2. I don’t know how big animal reservoirs can be tbh.

Btw A conspiracy theorist doesn’t change his conspiracy when new evidence comes to light. So if you are a critical thinker, you just want to know what happened there, whether lab or natural origin (or a combination of both?)


As I remember for SARS-1 it was bats via palm civets sold in wet markets.

It would be interesting to see an updating Bayesian model played out over 18 months of investigation into SARS-COV-19 natural origin with no result so far. Absence of evidence is not proof of non-natural origins, but it does shift one's priors.

Thanks. I guess beyond the stereotypes there's no actual conspiracy theorists. Just people reasoning imperfectly with imperfect data.


Statistical models work great for well defined problem spaces like the probability of rolling a die in a particular way. You can reason in your own mind the probability of aliens or extinction events or lab leaks or anything really, but it doesn't get you very far (IMO) in proving anything.

To paraphrase Wernher von Braun - "Hard data is worth a thousand expert opinions." :)


You seem to be conflating subjective and opinion on the one hand with statistical on the other.

Actually, Bayes statistics works great in poorly defined problem spaces where we can update our priors as new information becomes available. Just like in the issue under discussion.

Your example of rolling dice is Frequentist, not Bayesian. We wouldn't use Frequentist stats in this domain, for the reasons you mention.


>Actually, Bayes statistics works great in poorly defined problem spaces where we can update our priors as new information becomes available. Just like in the issue under discussion.

Can you give me a few comparable scenarios where it worked great?


One of the techniques is Bayesian search https://www.inf.ed.ac.uk/teaching/courses/dmr/Notes2019/7-Ba...

I don't know whether Bayesian search is currently being used to search for the unknown reservoir species from which SARS-COV-19 jumped to infect humans (assuming a natural cause).

Under this approach, the longer the search goes on, the more we may lessen our confidence in the prior assumption that it was a natural infection.


The viral phylogeny and history of it's evolution are a mountain of evidence. Why don't you trust them?

We don't see adaptation to the new host. This means that either the spillover happened a long time before it was detected (months, years), or the proximal host was a primate. Or, the virus could have been adapted to human cells and their surface proteins in relatively straightforward laboratory experiments. Then, if accidentally released, the phylogeny and virus adaptation process would look exactly like the one we are seeing with hundreds of thousands of viral genomes.

A spillover from nature would look like SARS1. There are rapid phenotypic adaptations in the beginning of the epidemic. The initial virus is infectious, but not anything like SARS2. In SARS2, it takes many months for real phenotypic change to appear. The rate of variation is clock-like because there are few easy phenotypic wins to be made.

This is hard evidence. What do you make of it? Maybe you have to understand genetics and evolution to "read" this material, but that doesn't negate it.


>A spillover from nature would look like SARS1.

Why do you say so? Co-evolving organisms/species and their cross-interaction in a large changing global environment is not a deterministic process, or rather is not a process that we can predict with any great degree of accuracy. What things would "look like" is extrapolation, not evidence.

In any case, my main objection to your argument is that you're drawing inferences from an imperfect dataset and them employing backwards reasoning "Well nothing else explains it except theory A". Sorry, but that doesn't satisfy me. I still want to see actual evidence of actual work being done in an actual lab that corroborates the hypothesis. It is pretty much impossible to keep such large multi-year scientific development projects secret in this day and age. There are dozens of people involved, past employees, lab assistants, etc, etc. I work in biotech (I'm not claiming to be any expert on anything) and maybe that's why I'm finding it difficult.


>The viral phylogeny and history of it's evolution

... point to it being a natural zoonotic spillover event. Wuhan had a virus institute because it is a place where novel viruses are found, not the other way around.


This is not true as far as I’m aware. Novel bat coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2 are usually found deep in bat caves in the south of China, ~2000km away from Wuhan. The WIV was established in the 50s, long before serious coronavirus research was a thing.


Heh good point. Maybe its proximity has helped it become important, or it could be an accident of geography.


> Could you provide some data to support the assertion that the virus was engineered? I'm hoping something like a leaked paper, or a lab notebook, or maybe hand written data on a piece of scrap paper that somebody found in the garbage bin in china.. I mean, I'll take anything.

Where did I say it was engineered? We have no evidence of its natural origin either. Can you provide its natural reservoir? An animal sample? Another coronavirus with this furin cleavage site? Anything?

What we are trying to do is ascertain the likelihoods of various scenarios given the evidence we have. Not the evidence we wish we had. I do not believe, nor have I anywhere asserted, that we have proven the virus was unnatural in origin. I also do not believe we have proven that the virus was natural in origin.

What I believe is that the evidence is presently insufficient to determine, and fairly ambiguous. What is unambiguous is the extraordinarily shady and self serving behavior of Peter Daszak. Why it is that he's doing that, I don't know. It could be because he participated in the engineering of this virus, but it could be for entirely separate reasons that pertain to him. I do think we should at least make a serious effort to find out, though.


Lab leak doesn't mean engineered. It could have been wild samples collected and brought to the lab which then were handled by a careless technician.


Yeah, because all those things weren’t scrubbed in the first 4 hours after this became globally known. All the evidence we have is by necessity circumstantial.


Any example where this has happened in the past on a global r&d science project? We're talking about scientists and lay people assisting them, not trained spies. Past employees, disgruntled employees, warehouse personnel, vendors/suppliers , bat handlers, emails, paper, nothing?


[flagged]


15.9 million per The Economist


There is a nearly identical RBD in the wild. But... without the furin cleavage site. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28649716

And you know what, northern Laos where the RBD was found, and south Yunnan, where the well documented sars outbreak happened (which presumably led to the discovery of ratg13), share a border with each other


What if EcoHealth (originally Wildlife Preservation Trust International) was infiltrated by eco-terrorists who did the reasearch anyway then released a depopulation virus to punish humans and 'restore balance' to the ecosystem, in a sicko 'Army of the 12 Monkeys'-style act of terrorism? But either they weren't that successful (only 5 million deaths is not depopulation) or their goal was lockdowns and reduced air travel to give the environment a breather.


Please don't pollute HN with mindless, needless speculation


What if it was Aliens? /s

One of the reasons i despise the Silicon Valley tone of conversation is how naive (read removed from the brutality that exists in the world outside the US' protected borders) the line is.

Like, are you kidding me? - Research Lab near outbreak - Connected to person that proposed a similar GoF research for a grant in the US and was turned down - History of loose ethical standards and evidence of published works connecting the CCP to military usage of viruses - Absolutely no evidence of natural origin circumstantial or otherwise in spite of over 18 months of looking

And we have people here closing their eyes, fingers in their ears going "la la la" with moronic arguments like : "Can you show me the evidence?"

I mean, can you constructively participate in the discussion with an attempt to push it forward and call out the clear risks of weaponizing infectious vectors instead of saying "Nothing to see here, show me more" in the face of all we've seen.

All that does is gives a pass to the people doing this in the dark. Accident or not, that work is ongoing and if a literal global mass casualty event doesn't help regulate it, what will ?


These are all very compelling claims. I am wondering if you can provide at least one reference for each. E.g. "There are now many known related sarbecoviruses which have been found with furin cleavage sites" is a claim that can be referenced pretty easily with a link to papers reporting said sarbecoviruses.



From your first link: "SARS-CoV-2 is the only virus in subgenus Sarbecovirus having this feature"

From your second link: "Finally, the poly-basic (furin) site present in SARS-CoV-2 is absent in both RshSTT182 and RshSTT200."

Your third link doesn't discuss furin cleavage sites very much.

Your fourth link literally doesn't contain the substring "furin".

Your fifth link literally doesn't contain the substring "furin".

Your sixth link at least partially supports your claim with a single mention of furin, saying "The two viruses shared part of the furin cleavage site unique to SARS-CoV-2", but the whole truth is that while they have insertions at the S1/S2 cleavage site in the spike protein, they do not contain the full furin cleavage site. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RmYN02

From your seventh link: "None of these bat viruses harbors a furin cleavage site in the spike."

(Protip: in this claim #4 of yours under discussion, you should change "sarbecoviruses" to "betacoronaviruses".)


I only reviewed the first link. What I took away from it is that furin cleave sites occur in the family of coronaviruses naturally, but have not been seen in those most closely related to SARS-CoV-2. This note about not having closely related coronaviruses having such a feature is also true of SARS-CoV-1, which also leads evidence to its ability to occur naturally within a given subgenus (unless we posit also original SARS was lab-leak, but I do not think anyone has posited this.)

I have not evaluated 2-7.


I believe the uniqueness has been established by the issue that the specifics of the 12-nt insertion is never found anywhere in a natural setting. Many papers have gone back and forth over this and there's no natural example.


Can you explain the importance of the 12-nt insertion, and also provide some references regarding it not being evolved naturally?


All valid points, but let’s be real scientists and work the other way? Can you conclusively rule out that this virus wasn’t engineered (and then maliciously covered up) in a lab? The reason this approach is important is because the stakes here are higher. This means people who should have been careful weren’t, and are responsible for the death of millions and they’re happy continuing to cover up their part in it.

The more important part here is an investigation on the origins of the virus is more about beurecracy than the actual science so unless you can conclusively prove that this virus could have never been engineered by a human you should stop bringing “improbability” of all of these processes as why we should trust these scientists.


Natural occurrence is how almost every known virus exists.

Given that prior, "can you disprove the lab" is the Russell's Teapot hypothesis. No, I can't. I also can't disprove it rode in on a meteorite or was beamed in by aliens. And I'm not about to start.


We haven't had the technology to create novel viruses for very long so you statement is meaningless.


And the novel technology to create novel viruses was being actively developed in this lab. They've proudly and openly published results to this effect. Further, they were trying to get tens of millions in grant funding to develop the technology further.


That is the wrong way to go about it. You have to approach it as you would in legal theory. Innocence is not something that is proven. The verdict is guilty or not guilty (which means evidence wasn't sufficient to convict, but that doesn't mean the defendant is innocent). In this case you have to prove that the virus was engineered by providing evidence.

>All valid points, but let’s be real scientists and work the other way?

What you're proposing isn't science and it isn't what 'real scientists' do.


Your parent said like scientists. Not like jurists.

And as far as I understand it, they are correct. Science doesn't convict an effect, it provides a lower bound on the likelihood of the effect's existence.


How about we at least agree that we can all imagine this having been a lab leak, and therefore should take the requisite changes to protocols, funding, and so on that we would do if it were proven as such.


Depends on which real scientists you are talking about.

I've worked with many "real scientists" who will consider possiblity unless they see conclusive evidence against it. On the frontiers, there is very little conclusive evidence; this is why they are the frontiers.

I have also met "real scientists" who actively dismiss conclusive evidence if it doesn't line up with what they think will get funded.

It doesn't seem the first flavor is the one you are talking about.


>I've worked with many "real scientists" who will consider possiblity unless they see conclusive evidence against it. On the frontiers, there is very little conclusive evidence; this is why they are the frontiers.

Oh sure, I consider the possibility that there might be aliens out there. However, we both know that this is very different than considering the possibility that Obama was a reptilian. In any case, scientific frontiers are areas of active research. So yeah, lets go spelunking!

>I have also met "real scientists" who actively dismiss conclusive evidence if it doesn't line up with what they think will get funded.

That is an all too common human flaw :)


I'd argue there is more evidence for the lab leak theory than either aliens or reptilians; it's a tremendously low bar. There is not even flimsy circumstantial evidence for aliens, yet many people believe.

Yes knowingly abandoning the princinples of science in order to acquire money is quite the flaw. For whatever reason it is basically non-existent among grad students, but not uncommon among successful professors. It's almost like our institutions select for and reward this behavior.


There's more than science here. This is also game theory, if a lab leak is still plausible. Why was this being researched? Who knew about it and why was it covered up, and to what extent was it covered up?

Personally I think it's naive that people are omitting human and government intentions from all this, as if they are not actors in complex political world. These huge world changing events don't happen in a vacuum, and government actors are usually aware of all these ongoing research efforts for agendas and specific goals, which of course includes misleading the public.


Game theory could plausibly explain why PRC keeps resurfacing their unsubstantiated US military origins theory.

Assuming an actual lab leak at WIV, from a US project similar to the one rejected by DARPA. And PRC is aware of all these facts.

Under these assumptions, this story/rumour could be seen as a threat, which re-emerges whenever PRC feels under pressure: "We won't go down alone for this"


Agreed, and it was unsubstantiated till now (and also with the funding of it, etc).

My point was mostly that we won't really be able to figure out the microbiology details of it in order to make reasonable conclusions. I think it would be like trying to figure out the physics of the nuclear bomb during the Manhattan project, and concluding no such bomb can be built because no physicist has figured out nuclear reactions yet.


There's nothing in that list that argues against SARS-CoV-2—and its spike protein and furin cleavage site in particular—being produced by serial passage through any of a variety of cell lines expressing human ACE-2.

It does seem unlikely that the SARS-CoV-2 genome, or spike protein, or even just a small segment including the furin cleavage site, was synthesized. Although without knowing what protein folding modeling capabilities and synthesis capabilities the WIV had, who knows for sure?


There's 1,000 nucleotide differences between the closest known progenitor and SARS-CoV-2. That is an evolutionary distance of 30-40 years in a coronavirus. You can't replicate that many years of evolution by serial passage in a lab. Serial passage isn't a magic wand.

And the rest of it is that you're arguing in favor of a science fiction explanation for the capabilities of the WIV lab.


30-40 years difference from SARS-CoV. However, the proposal actually says it would use other unpublished sequences for development. These unpublished sequences may have been much closer to SARS-CoV-2. I think you should read the leaks.


>However, the proposal actually says it would use other unpublished sequences for development.

Could you give the page # for this?


This is a question I've encountered a few times. How quickly, versus natural evolution, can serial passage evolve a virus?

Using this figure, we could have some parameters around how much time such a project must have taken and its latest start date (assuming its evolved from known or closely-related-to-known viruses).

Using this figure, and a theoretical timetable, we can also specify how close a cousin virus we would need to have for such a process to develop SAR-CoV-2.

This could give us a more specific understanding of the feasibility of such research.

For example, RaTG13 is closest known virus was discovered in 2013. Does the rate of serial passage enable evolution from RaTG13 over ~7 years? If not, this provides a factual argument allowing us to determine even if gain-of-function research was imposed on RaTG13 the moment of its discovery, it could not have been developed into SARS-CoV-2. (I don't know how to evaluate the actual accuracy of this, but provided as a example of how knowing the serial passage rate would be helpful).


Serial passage isn't magic, it is just what nature does.

In the lab you'll get a handful of mutations not thousands.

After serial passage through some large fraction of a billion humans, with large evolutionary pressures due to the recent species jump, the delta variant is still well over 99% homologous to the reference Wu-1 strain.

A 96.1% different would require serial passage through billions of organisms, but they measure this difference in terms of years of evolution in nature which is on the order of 30-40 years.


In the lab we can vastly exceed natural mutation rates, rendering this appeal to nature baseless.

The rate of evolution is a function of the mutation rate and the effective population size. There is no reason to believe that a lab setting, with highly parallel evolution on a very large, diverse population, will be as slow as passage through hosts in nature. The application of mutagens, and also the lack of selection by a host immune system can support much higher rates of change. And in coronaviruses, recombination is also very frequent, and this could easily give rise to multiple % levels of divergence in a single step. Finally, it's trivial to synthesize a genome of this size, and also to synthesize pools of related viruses based on common backgrounds.


Disclaimer: not a microbiologist.

The 30-40 year figure assumes the related virus is a direct ancestor and it stayed within the same species, which is quite a big if. It's useful as a metric within a single population, but not exactly evidence hard enough to play genetic detective.

If they just share ancestors that time is basically halved towards the most recent common ancestor, which puts it back somewhere in the mid 2000s. When evolving in parallel, within different species, the divergence grows really quick. Also when viruses jump species the mutation rate skyrockets at the beginning[0][1] to adapt to the novel host, which could easily account for most of the difference between RaTG13 and Wu-1 anyway.

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4223060/

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3714272/


> After serial passage through some large fraction of a billion humans

Wouldn’t this count as parallel passage though? Sure there’s more variability and evolutionary pressure on the mutations, but the speed of evolution (the number nucleotide mutations) is the same over the same period of time regardless of how many billions of people it infects in parallel.


Well said, also you have little control over which colonies will take over.


Then 'it was not serial passage' theory is unfalsifiable (sorry for the double negation):

* If a wild strain is too far away from covid, then it would have taken too long to do the passage.

* If a wild strain is almost identical to covid, then obviously covid derived from that without seeing the interior of a lab.

Under what circumstances would you consider that serial passage work done in a lab might have had something to do with covid?


> How quickly, versus natural evolution, can serial passage evolve a virus?

Look how many infections were needed to go from Covid Classic to the Delta Variant. What's that a billion?

Comment I read from someone that aught to know what they are talking about pointed out that gain function in a lab produces viruses that are good at infecting cells in petri dishes. Not ones that are good at infecting vertebrates with full fledged immune systems trying to kill it.


What is a viral backbone?


I doubt Wuhan GoF researchers will be publishing their findings anytime soon, until then it's all speculation.


Not really speculation any longer. Daszak made a bunch of statements that poured water on this potential concern, and so many other contradictor statements to this evidence. When there is a discrepancy or a number of discrepancies (in this case), there is a good chance of a valuable investigation.


A lot of comments against this, but I think this is a pretty good summary of why I think this is a zoonotic spillover event. To put it bluntly, evolution is much more creative than us and SARS-COV2 seems like a master stroke. Much of the arguments in favour of the lab escape hypothesis read like arguments made by people who are not virologists or related experts.


Guys, two points here. One, this proposal was rejected. This did not happen! Two, their proposal was for genetic manipulation of an existing virus, which research on the existing corona virus shows was not the case.

This has nothing to do with the corona virus strains we are currently dealing with, and more importantly, there has never been any credible research proving that Covid was made in a lab. The only paper that got any traction suggested it was non-manipulation based gain of function research, but that was disproved only a few weeks after the paper's release as well. I know we all want to know where it came from, but the odds against us ever having actual evidence of it being from a lab are virtually zero. And no, rejected research proposals do not constitute proof of anything.


As was stated elsewhere in this thread, researchers are often halfway done with something before they even write a proposal.

> Two, their proposal was for genetic manipulation of an existing virus, which research on the existing corona virus shows was not the case.

I think that’s invalidated if your first point is valid right? Since the proposal wasn’t accepted.

Doesn’t mean they didn’t go on to do it anyway (possibly in slightly different form), someone was clearly thinking about it.


> I think that’s invalidated if your first point is valid right?

No. There's evidence that COVID-19 was not created by direct genetic manipulation.

If they did it, it's not COVID-19.


> There's evidence that COVID-19 was not created by direct genetic manipulation.

There’s also evidence it cannot possibly (or well, with such a low chance it may as well be) have occured naturally.

What am I supposed to believe here? Even the people on my side of the fence, even the people that research this stuff themselves all seem to have an agenda and when research turns up one thing, I can practically guarantee that other research turns up the opposite.

There’s too much damn smoke in this whole thing for there to be no fire.


Yes the football players were on the field, they talked about kicking the ball, they requested to kick the ball but suggesting they might have kicked the ball is a conspiracy theory.


>There’s also evidence it cannot possibly (or well, with such a low chance it may as well be) have occured naturally.

Now, I remember reading about it most likely not being a result of direct genetic manipulation, and it sounded sound to me.

Do you have any sources for your assertion that there is evidence it cannot have occurred naturally?

As far as I read such viruses have a natural tendency to sometimes jump species, as was likely the case with SARS-CoV and MERS.


https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28649120

People have asserted in this thread that it would take 30-40 years for the closest known natural covid relative to aquire the necessary 1000 mutations and turn into covid. And yet here we are, almost 2 years since the pandemic started, with no identified natural reservoir for covid.

Where is the covid source?

-----

Consider https://www.cell.com/cell/pdf/S0092-8674(21)00991-0.pdf, a pro natural origins review of the literature. They tie themselves into knots to explain that the infamous furin cleavage site, while absent in the closest covid relative, could have naturally occurred, even if they admit they have zero actual evidence for that.

> Although the furin cleavage site is absent from the closest known relatives of SARS-CoV-2 (Andersen et al., 2020), this is unsurprising because the lineage leading to this virus is poorly sampled and the closest bat viruses have divergent spike proteins due to recombination (Boni et al., 2020; Lytras et al., 2021; Zhou et al., 2021). Furin cleavage sites are commonplace in other coronavirus spike proteins, including some feline alphacoronaviruses, MERS-CoV, most but not all strains of mouse hepatitis virus, as well as in endemic human betacoronaviruses such as HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 (Gombold et al., 1993; de Haan et al., 2008; Kirchdoerfer et al., 2016). A near identical nucleotide sequence is found in the spike gene of the bat coronavirus HKU9-1 (Gallaher, 2020), and both SARS-CoV-2 and HKU9-1 contain short palindromic sequences immediately upstream of this sequence that are indicative of natural recombination break-points via template switching (Gallaher, 2020). Hence, simple evolutionary mechanisms can readily explain the evolution of an out-of-frame insertion of a furin cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2 (Figure 2).

On the flip side, Nicholas Wade claims that Peter Daszak grant application proposes exactly that:

> The..grant proposal..now puts beyond doubt that engineering cleavage sites into SARS-like viruses was a technique to be explored at..Wuhan

https://nicholaswade.medium.com/new-routes-to-making-covid-1... (medium paywall, sorry) via https://twitter.com/R_H_Ebright/status/1441190122360225797.


>Where is the covid source?

Probably in bats or other animals prone to corona viruses. Likely some animal that naturally does not interact with humans a lot, and has significant populations in remote habitats. Basically everything that can live in difficult terrain is rather likely. Less likely, but far from impossible: it mutated over extended periods of time in some animal meat factory farm on an accelerated schedule thanks to how these farms operate, with animals showing few if any symptoms thanks to the young ages of the entire population (no old animals in your factory farm ;), until it finally made the jump to humans.

>to aquire the necessary 1000 mutations

They compared strains we already now about because somebody sequenced them; the important word there is "known". The thing about that is that there is a ton of strains we do not know about because nobody sequenced that particular local cohort of animals. Hell, we do not even know every species of animals are on planet at all, if the still hight rate of discovering new species is any indication - and we do constantly discover species that we can see with our naked eyes without having to whip out lab equipment.

>And yet here we are, almost 2 years since the pandemic started, with no identified natural reservoir for covid.

There is a real good chance that this "natural reservoir" is just a place nobody looked at with a sequencer hunting for virus strains, i.e. most of the Earth.

Or it might have been created in a lab.

The thing is, we do not know. But there is some evidence apparently that it was a natural origin because a) it looks like a natural progression from previously known strains and b) because there are no hallmark indicators for direct manipulation. Not entirely conclusive evidence, but sound argumentation making a case for the possibility of natural occurrence. And the theories you recapped arguing it cannot be natural just do not use a sound argumentation in my opinion as even I myself - not a domain expert and thinking about it for a few minutes - can poke gigantic holes in it.

Frankly, the "no natural source" argument as you presented it immediately reminded me of the pro-Creationist "missing link" argument.

All the while the evidence you mentioned is that there probably was a lab in Wuhan which probably did stuff with Corona viruses... which is rather vague argumentative. Sure, it's a clue furthering the lab theory a little, but it's hardly conclusive. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.


We don't know. That's the point. Very strange that the science establishment is adamant that they do know, specifically they do know it was zoonotic, even if they also admit they have no scientific evidence for such statements. What is a scientist supposed do, absent scientific evidence? Seek for evidence.

OTOH, there is the furin cleavage site issue. Have your read the OA?!

> Since the genetic code of the coronavirus that caused the pandemic was first sequenced, scientists have puzzled over the “furin cleavage site.” This strange feature on the spike protein of the virus had never been seen in SARS-related betacoronaviruses, the class to which SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness Covid-19, belongs.

> Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University who has espoused the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 may have originated in a lab, agreed. “The relevance of this is that SARS Cov-2, the pandemic virus, is the only virus in its entire genus of SARS-related coronaviruses that contains a fully functional cleavage site at the S1, S2 junction,” said Ebright, referring to the place where two subunits of the spike protein meet. “And here is a proposal from the beginning of 2018, proposing explicitly to engineer that sequence at that position in chimeric lab-generated coronaviruses.”

* None of the known coronaviruses closely related to covid have such a feature. There is a lot of FUD in this space, which amounts to saying: Horses and seals are mammals, seals have flippers, therefore that horse with flippers you just saw has occurred naturally. Those stallions might have been quite horny.

* The OA 2018 grant proposes to perform gain of function work and create a FCS in SARS viruses at WIH. This research proposal has not been publicly disclosed by scientists that supposedly are investigating covid origin. WTF?

* The OA 2018 grant proposal mentions a database of 180 coronaviruses that are not publicly disclosed to this day. Apparently WIH stopped publishing coronavirus sequences after 2015. WTF? https://twitter.com/franciscodeasis/status/14160891976650014...

The closer relatives of covid without a FCS at the S1/S2 junction we find, the more damning for the WIH and their American friends. And perhaps we'll find the genetic ancestors of covid in the wild, and the WIH (proposed) work might have been a bizzarre coincidence. We don't know. But the stonewalling and the sneering at the public asking legitimate questions must stop.


>Horses and seals are mammals, seals have flippers, therefore that horse with flippers you just saw has occurred naturally.

I raise you a platypus.

Your analogy doesn't really work in my opinion; a horse with flippers would be far more unexpected than that cleavage site. The cleavage site might be novel - as far as we know - but it's not jar-dropping surprising either, and something that can occur naturally in a reasonable time frame.

>But the stonewalling and the sneering at the public asking legitimate questions must stop.

I can agree with this sentiment. In fact, I think I was asking a legitimate question when I asked for sources to the assertion that there is evidence it was lab-made.

I already conceded it is entire possible it's lab made. However, with what I read thus far, personally I still think signs point to natural occurrence than lab.

Chances are we will never know. If it was naturally occurring, then we may never find the "natural source" even if we tried. And it's not like we dispatched an army of scientists to look for such a source. It's more or less the same few people who did the collection of samples before the pandemic who are the ones still doing it now, probably even less so with travel restrictions still in place in a lot of locations.

If it was a lab escape - or worse a deliberate unleashing of a lab made virus - then whoever is responsible will try to keep it calm and seems to be doing a good enough job plugging any leaks as there have been none.

I also have to admit that I confused you with the person to whom my original reply was made, who seemed far more adamant that there is actual evidence (a proposal is circumstantial evidence at best, and certainly not scientific evidence), and ended with

>There’s too much damn smoke in this whole thing for there to be no fire.


A fairly balanced account, if a bit dated (July), if you are further interested: https://ayjchan.medium.com/a-response-to-the-origins-of-sars...


Yes, I remember this being a big point of contention with scientists going both ways. I saved this link [1] with the quote:

>“I should mention that after discussions earlier today, Eddie, Bob, Mike, and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory,” Andersen added.

Although that was from Jan 2020 and I'm sure more evidence has come in since then to shed more light.

https://twitter.com/WendellHusebo/status/1400098956747718660


Not how probability works. What's the probability the entire universes atoms are arranged the way they are? The number is so finitely minute it's "impossible", because you're trying to make predictions on specific order out of chaos. The probability of any viruses currently existing would be equally infinitely tiny.

Research is not equivalent. Just because two people make an argument does not make them equally valid. Unless you are a medical researcher you're not meant to somehow know how medical research papers work and what their results are on your own. It's not black and white. It's the same as trying to take electrical engineering papers and base opinions on it without any knowledge of the math or how it works.


It's not the probability of any specific configuration, but the probability of a specific configuration over any other particular configuration.

All configurations could have an infinitesimal chance of occurring, but one configuration could still have a billion to one chance of occurring over another particular configuration.

Which is especially relevant if we have a relatively recent basepoint of comparison.

An infinite number of monkeys with typewriters might eventually reproduce Shakespeare, but 10000 monkeys doing it on their first try points to causation beyond "chance".


> There’s also evidence it cannot possibly (...) have occured naturally.

I feel this claim is simply not believable nor possible to take at face value, given that in order for a proof of impossibility to even be considered you need supporting evidence and a falsifiable model, which you have none.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_of_impossibility

Given this, do you have any reference that supports your assertion? I'd like to hear your rationale to claim that something like this is outright impossible.


You cut off the critical part of the parent's comment: "(or well, with such a low chance it may as well be)".

If you're objecting to the idea that well-accepted scientific theories can't put a "very low probability" on certain things being observed ... what? That's exactly what a scientific theory -- or indeed, any well-posed belief -- should do!


> You cut off the critical part of the parent's comment: "(or well, with such a low chance it may as well be)".

No, I left out the weasel words from the original claim.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_word

Either GP's claim is factual and indeed he is aware of proof of impossibility, or he is not and he's just knowingly spreading disinformation.

> If you're objecting to the idea that well-accepted scientific theories (...)

I object to the idea of random people on the internet knowingly spreading disinformation with baseless claims that fly on the face of critical thinking, and then resorting to vague appeals to authority, inversions of the burden of truth, and outright bullying to force-fed their disinformation.

If there is any proof whatsoever supporting the claim that such thing is impossible then just support your claim and present the evidence or source. Don't expect everyone to just take your word for it, specially after you tried desperately to invert the burden of proof.


>No, I left out the weasel words from the original claim.

It's not a "weasel word", "Scientific theories placing a low enough probability to match lay usage of 'impossible', and clarifying that you mean as much" isn't a weasel word; it's being precise, and scientific theories do classify things that way.

>Either GP's claim is factual and indeed he is aware of proof of impossibility, or he is not and he's just knowingly spreading disinformation.

There's a third possibility: OP is aware that some scientists think the mainstream scientific theory places a low probability on the claim in question, but does not rise to the level of an impossibility theorem.

>I object to the idea of random people on the internet knowingly spreading disinformation with baseless claims that fly on the face of critical thinking, and then resorting to vague appeals to authority, inversions of the burden of truth, and outright bullying to force-fed their disinformation.

I don't see how the parent did any of that, just how another commenter is overreacting to ideas they don't like.

Are you seriously telling me that if I look through your posting history, I won't find a single case of you suggesting something without posting links to rigorous proof?

If you're going to scream bloody murder at the idea that any unsupported idea would ever be uttered here, you could maybe glance at the sibling comments in the thread, like mine:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28653730


> It's not a "weasel word", "Scientific theories placing a low enough probability (...)

If that was the case then go ahead and just show the theory.

Just provide a single evidence that supports said claim. Any at all.

Don't just handwave after claiming something is impossible, otherwise you're just intentionally spreading lies and misinformation.


> What am I supposed to believe here?

Well, there are plenty of options that are not direct genetic manipulation and random evolution from a known virus.


The fact that the grant proposal was rejected does not mean the research didn’t happen. They could have got alternative funding. This happens a lot.


They would have had to be very quick though. Submission was end of march 2018, there would have been a review process and I think it's unrealistic to put that at under six weeks. So that takes us to mid may 2018. Then they would have to have got some money and ask someone else - again that's going to take three months or so unless they had the money in their account. Then the project would have to be stood up - lab space sorted and so on so that takes us to 2019 even on an express train. I think that the Darpa projects in this call were aimed at start in 2019 btw.

So then the work would have to have happened and the virus escape happened in 10 months. In the proposal they are looking at q5 of the project for the genetic engineering to happen.

I don't think that the time lines work - also the genetic engineering was slated to happen in North Carolina...


> also the genetic engineering was slated to happen in North Carolina...

This is honestly the most damning part of evidence.

China has shown over and over their current strategy is to snap up resources, countries and partnerships that the West, and specifically the United States, refuse or ignore.

China would have strong motivation to have SARS related research considering SARS originates in their country.

So we have a country with strong motivation, lots of money and a repeated willingness to ignore ethical & safety concerns... I don't see how it isn't a big question mark. Especially considering how quickly and forcefully China shut down the conversation and refuse to allow in investigators.


> This is honestly the most damning part of evidence.

What evidence? There was a grant proposal, and the proposal was rejected. Why do you feel that the fact that the rejected proposal referred to North Carolina is supposed to be "damning" at all, or even remotely relevant?

> China would have strong motivation to have SARS related research considering SARS originates in their country.

It has. They fund their own lab at Wuhan. Why is this damning in light of a failed grant proposal that never went off the ground?


You don't get it. just because tge grant was denied, does not mean the work was not done. The fact it was even written at all is evidence someone thought it'd work.

You're willfully blinding yourself to how the world actually works.


> You don't get it. just because tge grant was denied, does not mean the work was not done. The fact it was even written at all is evidence someone thought it'd work.

You should really pay attention to what you're claiming, specially as there is absolutely zero substance or evidence supporting your claim. Your accusation boils down to the same exact witch hunt logic that led angry mobs to burn innocent people at the stake: claim you believe someone happened without zero evidence at all, proceed to allege someone of having the means to do it, from a massive logical leap start to accuse someone who you alleged is capable of something of actually doing it in spite, again, of having zero evidence at all, and proceed to throw that victim to the fire.

I suppose our witch hunting days are behind us, but you're dragging them back to the present by repeating the same logical mistakes and in the process throw innocents into the fire.

Do the world a favor and cut out all the baseless accusations and unsubstantiated claims. It's one thing to argue that some bits should be investigated, but it's an entirely different thing to screw up logical and rational thinking so badly to the point that you make the same completely baseless and unsubstantiated claims you're making.


This novel virus started spreading pretty close to a lab that studies viruses. I think that counts as "actual evidence" that it came out of a lab. Of course, evidence != proof. And even if it did come from the lab, that in itself does not imply malice.


Exactly. It likely wasn't made in a lab, but it likely did escape from the lab accidentally.


possible that it did escape...


How does that follow? Where did the virus come from? Viruses don’t spontaneously come into existence in labs.

If it wasn’t made in the lab, then it was already naturally occurring. Which means it didn’t need to escape anything, on account of it existing in the wild before it ever got near a lab.


If something were naturally occurring in a remote location where not many humans were around to cause mass spread, and the virus was being studied (but not engineered or modified) and the virus escaped, that could be an example of a naturally occurring, non-manmade, virus which escaped a lab.


did you not read anything about the article, it talk about novel modification in a lab that is unlikely to occur in nature, not creation out of whole cloth


Let me correct that for you. Novel virus start spreading near a lab setup specifically to study those viruses, in an area where they’re known to be naturally occurring, and where it was suspected they could make the jump to humans.

The lab in Wuhan was studying Coronaviruses because of the threat they potentially posed to humans, and because the nearby bat populations were know to carry them.

Saying that the existence of a lab studying novel viruses in their natural habitat is evidence that I can from a lab, is like saying the existence of fire stations in a cities is evidence that fire fighters start fires.


"Came from a lab" in this context means "engineered in a lab".

There is only circumstancial evidence for it, but it is reasonable to suspect COVID-19 is the result of a researcher getting infected, not noticing, and introducing the virus to the human population. There is no evidence for, and it is very unreasonable to believe it was created in a lab.


That is not evidence! It is at best a coincidence. An even stronger coincidence would be that this lab had a genotypically similar virus stored prior to its detection. But even that is not evidence of release; it is just a stronger hypothesis.

If I was near a bank robbery at the time of occurrence, it does not count as evidence that I did it. Not even if I have a history of robbing banks. It must be combined with other, stronger evidence (I was inside the bank, my fingerprints were there, I was caught on camera) to build a case.


But it is the only evidence, coincidental or otherwise. No other evidences have been found.


Lack of evidence usually means something didn’t happen.

We don’t imprison people for crimes on the basis we couldn’t find any strong evidence, thus what ever shitty “evidence” we did find must be an acceptable basis for punishment.


I've seen enough police/crime/legal dramas to know that's 'circumstantial evidence'..! Of course that doesn't preclude it being a coincidence. (Hence the phrases 'that's just circumstantial' and 'that's one hell of a coincidence').

(I'm only commenting on the words, I don't think I care where it came from at this point, not sure I could ever really believe it, whatever was concluded. Unless perhaps a bunch of countries/labs agreed, including the blamed one if applicable.)


Friendly suggestion to all that Bayes Theorem is the right way to deal with this kind of weak evidence. We should not adhere to arbitrary legal standards in our own thinking about the truth.


At best a coincidence and at worst what? Evidence? I think being near or at a bank at the time it was robbed totally does count as evidence that you may have done it. Forgive me for pointing out little details in your post, but

> It must be combined with other, stronger evidence ...

This sounds like you agree. It's just weak evidence, and that's for darn sure.


I don’t agree that the virus appearing near a lab is evidence that it was released from a lab, no. Just like I don’t believe being near a bank robbery at the time of a robbery is evidence I did it.

The comment mentioning Bayes Theorem has the right idea. Your priors are exceptionally different from my own, so we do not see this the same way and maybe never will.


The novichok poisoning in Salisbury happened next to the UK's chemical weapon capabilities in Porton Down. This is evidence that it got out from Porton Down.

The Russian agents videoed wandering about with bottles of poison are evidence of another mechanism of introduction. Perhaps the presence of a market full of various wild animals known to carry coronavirus's is also worth considering.


You’re conflating came from a lab and created in a lab. It is very possible that the virus was leaked from a lab without being created there. Maybe not your intention, but your post comes across this way.


You’re saying that a research proposal that combines corona viruses and the very specific advantage from the virus that makes it so effective in spreading in humans is not a strong evidence?


> "This did not happen!" It did not happen, with DARPA money, upon this particular proposal. There are many other ways for that research, or similar, to have happened. This tells us there were researchers actively seeking to.


[flagged]


The votes were perfectly ordinary. So is the username.

Would you mind reviewing the site guidelines and sticking to them? You broke them badly with this comment.

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


Understood. I got carried away by the topic, will be more mindful in the future.


Appreciated!


Daszak should be compelled to reveal everything he knows and all relevant evidence --- all proposals, all emails, all files, any other documentation.

I'm mystified why this hasn't already happened. I mean, his career depends on government largesse so it shouldn't even require coercion. Full cooperation or no cash.


I've been extremely wary of how some of the evidence of Covid-19 origins have come about, particular because so much of it has been presented as "Well, we've never seen this before, so it must have lab origins."

That said, I think the context around this is extremely damning for Daszak. I didn't realize this until reading the Wikipedia article on Daszak, but he was the one that organized the Feb 2020 letter in the Lancet condemning suggestions of a lab origin for Covid-19 as conspiracy theories. But how could he do this while conveniently leaving out that his own organization was involved in highly risky coronavirus research?

Again, I don't think this news puts us much closer to uncovering the origins of Covid-19, but it does show how some of these folks leading the charge of "it had to be natural" were at the very least being duplicitous in their communications.


This whole narrative was revealed ages ago by internet reporters, particularly by Dr. Chris Martenson of peakprosperity.com.

What's not being reported even in this Intercept article is that Fauci and the Eco Health Alliance are heavily involved with each other. One week before Daszak et al released their ridiculous "lab leak is a conspiracy theory" Lancet article, as revealed in Fauci's emails (which supposedly revealed nothing), Fauci had a conference call with Daszak and other Eco Health folks, after discussing the fact that the lab leak hypothesis was gaining traction.

They have a big conference call, the Lancet article is posted a week later.

Here's all the details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNxoVFZwMYw

I know "Bro, just watch this youtube video" is lame-ass evidence in general, but Dr. Martenson has been incredibly data-driven and level-headed throughout the pandemic, is a pro-masker, and his views have evolved over time with new data.


I've never heard of peakprosperity.com, but it seems to be a site geared towards preppers/libertarians/those who are already predisposed to a lack of institutional trust. You can claim he's data driven and level headed, but the context that he's operating in--and the audience that he's speaking to--tells me that he's probably not being unbiased in his analysis.


Eh, regardless of what you think of the source, it's backed by hard, verifiable evidence.

Peak Prosperity was not about prepping much at all until Covid, as far as I know. Dr. Martenson started pushing home gardening and stocking up when covid hit--in fact, he started saying such things in like February 2020--pretty prescient.


please send me some good sites which produce unbiased analysis, thanks.


That's not my job, sorry.


It's easy to be a critic.


Sometimes, an issue needs to be called out even if you don't have the solution.


Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You can't hide behind the "go and look it up" response as is often uttered by science deniers.


The extraordinary claim is that the virus was man-made.

Edit to say: I don't think saying the virus came from nature requires any additional proof. The claim that requires extraordinary, indisputable proof is the claim that it was man-made. And I have yet to see it, from this or any source. Just a big compilation of weak, circumstantial evidence.


It's no longer an extraordinary circumstantial claim. It might never have been because this kind of research that very well could cause a COVID pandemic was being concealed by the very people that decided very early that there was no question the origin was natural. They were performing risky and highly similar research and they made huge contradictory statements that conflict with this leaked evidence, and they are very well connected to each other. You are going to need extraordinary reasons why these people don't deserve an investigation into what they had been doing and what they did know that wasn't being shared.


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Well while this is not indisputable proof there is a very relevant discussion on virological.org related to both Furin cleavage sites and orgins of SARS-COV-2. The damning part of the leaked research proposal is that they ALREADY had partner researchers located near caves in three different parts of Yunnan Province.

For a more detailed discussion of the origins of SARS-COV-2 while not directly addressing the leaked DARPA proposal please see: https://virological.org/t/tackling-rumors-of-a-suspicious-or...

They also discuss that the base virus was mostly likely linked to bats in Yunnan province. How it got from Yunnan to Wuhan is a matter of question.

However, if the research was being conducted in the US and accidentally leaked into the population it may have been in circulation for sometime (months) before causing serious illness or disease (mutations).


Also the state department knew of dangerous research taking place in unsafe conditions at 1-2 years before: https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2021/03/08/josh-rogin...


The original cable was published in the meantime [1]. I don't see any mention of "dangerous research taking place in unsafe conditions". Why don't you read it for yourself? It's only three pages.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/read-the-state-depart...


To my eyes, this cable confirms what the Politico article said. It says there is a "serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory". This is on Page 2, in the last paragraph. As for what's dangerous, Page 3 specifically mentions research undertaken with funding from NIH/NIAID studying SARS-like coronaviruses that can interact with ACE2 (transmittable to humans). Handling such viruses, particularly ones whose infectiousness has been increased (gain of function), in a lab without properly trained staff, seems pretty alarming to me.


>I didn't realize this until reading the Wikipedia article on Daszak, but he was the one that organized the Feb 2020 letter in the Lancet condemning suggestions of a lab origin for Covid-19 as conspiracy theories.

Tangent, but if it takes this long to learn a fact like that, consider a critical audit of your regular news sources.


Indeed. “Thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory” was how the lab leak was described earlier this year by the media.


Yeah, I'm always curious about this -- what would a good recommendation be to get a broad base of news while also relying on credible information?

E.g. I want to know the different reasonable perspectives on issues/events without entertaining every kooky idea. In this case, I feel like I lumped what seems a plausible concern in with kooky ideas, and so missed the entire non-kooky narrative.


It helps to be up to date with what the kooks think. Majority of conspiracy theories start with a factually-correct, compelling premise and only then go overboard with speculation.


You should stop outsourcing credibility evaluation to others and see what you think of the kooks. The kooks called the coronavirus sooo much better than everyone else, from the jump.

You'll get a lot more "noise", sure, but the signal you do get can be incredibly useful. You learn to place less trust on any individual thing you hear, and get a better bullshit detector as you go. It's well worthwhile, and you'll be surprisingly well informed all without some large entity telling you "what's really happening".


You've mischaracterized what I meant. When I was reading the Intercept article, and it first started talking about EcoHealth and Daszak, the names were familiar but I couldn't remember where I heard them, so I searched and found the Wikipedia article on him, and it was then that I was like "Oh yeah, it's this guy." It's not like some news sources were keeping this information from me.


Good call out; People should re-evaluate their sources. I had a similar epiphany 10 years ago, since then I'veve expanded my sources considerably, and if it's something I am interested in, then I will look for at least one counter view point


Yes, I have an open mind about natural vs lab origin, but either way, Daszak seems to have been engaging in a cover-up.


> while conveniently leaving out that his own organization was involved in highly risky coronavirus research?

Don't get me wrong, but in online discussions, all too often telling the whole truth makes people ignore your message. That's probably also why dishonest politicians can get populist votes from many people. Whenever you include the material to dig your grave with, people just take that by the horns and stop looking at the rest of your argument even if that disclosure is the reason why you are a qualified expert that should be weighing into the discussion on a given topic.

I don't know the details about this Daszak guy, I only know what you wrote and the comments above yours. Perhaps this does not apply in this situation; that's not for me to say. But I can see why they might not have dug their own grave while trying to communicate a message with honest intentions. It is extremely easy to have subtly wrong wording or just bad luck and get people to ignore everything you said before or after "my lab worked on coronaviruses".


Umm, wouldn't "I worked on coronaviruses, hence I know a lot about them" make his argument stronger?

Anyway, this was in Lancet, a scientific publisher, not a mass medium, disclosures of interest are mandatory. I know that in today's age it looks like science papers are just mass media because they're so easy to consume and distribute, but they are not. They're supposed to be rigurous, otherwise people would lose trust in them. Which is exactly what happened in this pandemic: it's a worldwide lack of trust in science, scientists, leaders, governments.


It ought to make the argument stronger, yes, but not everyone reads the full text. Especially if it will get third-party media coverage, you're dependent on what part the media will report or in which proportions because they always make a selection. With honest intentions the vast majority of the time I'm sure, but still a selection of what they think is the message their readers should be getting.


what he knows might embarrass or reveal dishonesty from others in the government or those seeking positions in the government


The government is not a monolith. The US Congress could do this and individual Congresspeople don't have an obvious interest in covering this up.

Edit: the problem looks like partisan politics to me. Republicans have been agitating to pressure Daszak, and therefore Democrats are against it.


I agree I think it is partisan. My take is that Democrats and the media built up Fauci’s credibility during the 2020 election and don’t want to see it be demolished by what could obviously be a massive scandal. If Daszak goes down it would ruin the credibility of the entire government on the subject of pandemics.


It’s not just Daszak. The NIH itself has refused to cooperate with members of Congress who’ve called for transparency. I’m not sure why the Biden administration is OK with agencies being secretive about something that like this that clearly deserves public scrutiny: https://www.newsweek.com/its-time-nih-transparency-wuhan-res...


Right now it looks like the U.S. might have been working with Wuhan on a vaccine. And Wuhan had an oopsies. We just have a confirmation statement from DARPA that they weren't working with WIV. I bet someone knows the rest of the details why we've been watching a circus act for a couple years now.


Because all of the major players, the Chinese Communist Party, the US government (DARPA & the NIH), and several universities and their IRB boards (UNC-Chapel Hill, WIV, and others), all had a hand in this, and the second they give legitimacy to this theory--that the hubris and recklessness of scientists and bureaucrats led to the deaths and suffering of millions--then they'll never be able to put the cat back in the bag.

They also know that if it was their fault, the CCP did a good enough job of scrubbing the evidence that we'll never meet the standard of evidence that would satisfy many of those who choose to take the authority at their word. We're seeing this first-hand in this thread.


Well, the good news is that either way we are still exposed to a lab leak of an airborne highly contagious coronavirus as much as we were before. Oh wait did I say good news?


Not either way. Investigations to find out whether this virus was in fact made in lab has tremendous utility. First it would seek reparation from all parties involved in creating this chaos. Second it will dissuade other lunatic research group or companies getting funny ideas in the future.


How can any reparation be meaningful on this scale of damages?


We don't ask this question when it comes to murder. Why would we in this case?


You're assuming the government has a different interest than him.


The stridency with which people attempt to shut down discussion of a lab origin points in the direction of a coverup.

An example of this happening is on Wikipedia where one editor in particular seems to have declared it to be a “conspiracy theory” and scrubs every mention of it. The editor in question scrubs talk pages and their own talk page, thus effectively preventing any kind of consensus forming, which is out of the ordinary for Wikipedia. They have remarkable stamina, and thus can our out-wait other editors.

Wikipedia seems to be one example of a much bigger effort to suppress discussion of a potential lab leak.


Wikipedia Talk pages are an underrated venue for restrained flame wars. If you’re looking for your two minutes of hate today, just go to any Talk page for a controversial subject that’s been “debunked” in the last year or so.


Link to the editor?


Some people:

>> Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, was adamant that the proposal did not change his opinion that the pandemic was caused by a natural spillover from animals to humans. “There are zero data to support a lab origin ‘notion,’” Racaniello wrote in an email.

There seems to be zero data to support his spillover idea too. But now we have documentation of people wanting to do the exact experiments that could lead to this, and he's still sticking to his fantasy.

I dont think the point here is to definitively determine the origin of this virus, it's to point to the fact that unchecked scientists are wanting to do exactly the kind of experiments that could kill us all. IIRC an Ebola gene was successfully put in a flu virus years ago but contained - hemorrhagic influenza anyone?

This stuff needs to stop.


The question is if it is possible to stop this kind of research at all, given the potential military applications. Will it not just push research from publicly known and inspected (like Wuhan) into secret military labs?


Perhaps the US could start by not funding the labs in question.


Daszak in a famous interview has said: "You can manipulate coronaviruses in a lab quite easily". It was a month or two before COVID outbreak in Wuhan.


Do you have a link to a source?


December 9, 2019

Interviewer: You say these are diverse coronaviruses and you can’t vaccinate against them, and no anti-virals — so what do we do?

Daszak: Well I think…coronaviruses — you can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily. Spike protein drives a lot of what happen with coronavirus, in zoonotic risk. So you can get the sequence, you can build the protein, and we work a lot with Ralph Baric at UNC to do this. Insert into the backbone of another virus and do some work in the lab. So you can get more predictive when you find a sequence. You’ve got this diversity. Now the logical progression for vaccines is, if you are going to develop a vaccine for SARS, people are going to use pandemic SARS, but let’s insert some of these other things and get a better vaccine.

source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdYDL_RK--w

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


At the very minimum we should not be funding this type of research. Just the act of going into a cave and looking for specimens is dangerous. Ideally there would be a worldwide ban on it. We should take the money and effort and redouble out efforts to create antiviral therapies.


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