We’ve learned a lot about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the last year and a half but we have little evidence on its origin. The origin story for Covid-19 is profoundly important if we are to understand the virus and how it works. That, in turn, could prevent the next pandemic.
Animals have been transmitting their diseases to humans since we began to domesticate them — about 11,000 years ago. So when many reputable scientists tell us that the coronavirus probably originated in bats and was transmitted to humans in some unknown way, it makes perfect sense. But there was no compelling evidence of that.
So why were alternate theories censored? From a scientific point of view, it didn’t make any sense. Science is a process and one of the basic processes in investigating this disease is gathering all possible evidence. It’s crazy to close off a line of investigation for any reason.
In this case, it’s politics. Global power politics. China is flexing its muscles and any suggestion that it was somehow responsible because of a leak of the virus from one of its labs has been brutally and savagely attacked by Beijing and its supporters.
Social media went so far as to censor those who suggested China is involved in a coverup of the virus’s origins. The mainstream media equated the lab-leak theory with QAnon conspiracy theories. The WHO decreed that there would be no more research into the lab leak theory.
But slowly, over the past few months, that attitude has changed. It’s no longer verboten to openly speculate about a lab leak hypothesis. An editorial that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday said, “If the laboratory leak theory is wrong, China could easily clarify the situation by being more open and transparent. Instead, it acts as if there is something to hide.”
Indeed, the blue ribbon investigative team named by the WHO were delayed for weeks as China blocked the visas of some members. Once there, the scientists and researchers hit brick wall after brick wall.
Recently, 18 scientists wrote a letter that appeared in the prestigious Science Magazine calling for another, independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus with or without the assistance of the Chinese Communists. And censorship of the lab leak theory on social media has eased.
I think what was most bothersome in the response to that very early look at the evidence were the knee-jerk, non-thinking dismissals of the concept. Start with the insistence that the Wuhan scientists were too careful to make such a consequential mistake. The history of lab accidents says otherwise. I made this point, again and again, with more and more examples of comparable lab accidents involving dangerous pathogens, and yet there was this brick wall of disbelief, an insistence that these scientists in these labs were just too careful and too diligent to ever have one screw-up, ever. That is a contention on par with “car accidents never happen” or “plane crashes never happen.”
At that point, we hadn’t even known about the U.S. State Department memos warning about a lack of trained personnel at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Or the claim that cell-phone use in part of the WIV stopped for three weeks in October 17, suggesting a potential evacuation or decontamination. Or the World Health Organization investigation concluding that some Wuhan Institute of Virology staffers got sick with flu-like symptoms in autumn of 2019, but that it’s “not a big thing,” because the Chinese government said they tested negative for COVID-19.
As for the transmission of the virus from bat to human, some scientists have proposed an “intermediate” step where the virus infected another animal that then infected humans. But, according to the Washington Post, “already, more than 80,000 wildlife, livestock and poultry samples were collected from 31 areas in China, and none tested positive for the virus before or after the outbreak.” Geraghty adds, “This virus spreads like wildfire in human beings; why is it so hard to find it in other animals?”
There is a ton of circumstantial evidence pointing to a lab leak origin theory. So why was it so hard to write about without being censored? Even if China gave its full cooperation, a “smoking gun” would likely never be found. What is everyone so afraid of?
What’s at work here is simple “groupthink,” where like-minded people have all come to the same conclusion and resent having their conclusions challenged. And in this incendiary, hyper-sensitive age, that means silencing opposing viewpoints. The justification is to stop “disinformation” or “prevent racism.” The reality is that some people have staked their careers and reputations on a zoological transmission of the virus.
In service to that, all other theories must be squelched.