A letter signed by 18 prominent U.S. virus experts and appearing in Science magazine on Thursday is calling for a new investigation into the origins of the coronavirus—one that investigates all possibilities.
What makes this particular letter different from others is that it doesn’t advocate for either the lab-leak hypothesis or a natural explanation. The scientists are saying that there isn’t enough evidence to confirm any theory about the origins of the virus, which is why another investigation is badly needed.
The organizers of the letter, Jesse Bloom, who studies the evolution of viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University, said they strove to articulate a wait-and-see viewpoint that they believe is shared by many scientists. Many of the signers have not spoken out before.
“Most of the discussion you hear about SARS-CoV-2 origins at this point is coming from, I think, the relatively small number of people who feel very certain about their views,” Dr. Bloom said.
He added: “Anybody who’s making statements with a high level of certainty about this is just outstripping what’s possible to do with the available evidence.”
It’s not the first letter to be published demanding an open and independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. An open letter by 20 prominent researchers asking for another investigation was released in April. And there has been heavy criticism of the expert group of scientists who went to China in January to investigate. They mostly hit a brick wall. They didn’t investigate any Chinese labs and were prevented from interviewing lab personnel. They weren’t allowed to view the medical records of the first victims of Covid, and the Chinese Communist government refused to give the investigators other documents vital in uncovering the truth.
The report they issued not only dismissed the lab-leak theory but strongly recommended that the WHO drop any research in that direction.
Is it any wonder real scientists are calling for a real investigation?
Unlike other recent statements, the new letter did not come down in favor of one scenario or another. Recent letters by another group of scientists and international affairs experts argued at length for the relative likelihood of a laboratory leak. Previous statements from other scientists and the W.H.O. report both asserted that a natural origin was by far the most plausible.
Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, said he signed the new letter because “the recent W.H.O. report on the origins of the virus, and its discussion, spurred several of us to get in touch with each other and talk about our shared desire for dispassionate investigation of the origins of the virus.”
“I certainly respect the opinion of others who may disagree with what we’ve said in the letter, but I felt I had no choice but to put my concerns out there,” he said.
It should be clear by now that China is not going to cooperate with any investigation. It doesn’t appear that any sort of pressure by scientists or governments will force them to change. They have no interest in even the possibility of a lab leak. Indeed, there is very little hard evidence for a lab leak causing the pandemic. There is speculation and massive distrust of China. But the kind of “smoking gun” in the coronavirus itself that would prove it was tampered with by humans is lacking.
Regardless of that, there is a compelling and urgent need to discover the origins of this virus.