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The New York Times goes all in on “lab leak”

Earlier this week, the New York Times op-ed page ran an article by Alina Chan, Queen of lab leak conspiracy theories. How is it wrong? Let me count the ways…

Three years ago, I described how the idea that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, had escaped from a laboratory (which had already become known as the “lab leak” hypothesis) was fast becoming a conspiracy theory. I noted at the time that, while it was certainly not impossible that the source of SARS-CoV-2 had been a laboratory, specifically the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the weight of evidence at the time was far more in favor of a more mundane, common origin for viral pandemics, zoonotic spillover. In other words, the “boring” hypothesis that the virus had, as so many viruses before it had done, acquired the ability to infect humans and then to be transmissible between humans, was far more likely to be true, based on the totality of existing scientific evidence, than a “lab leak.” I also noted that every outbreak or pandemic of a new pathogen over the last several decades had spawned conspiracy theories that the pathogen was a “bioweapon” that had escaped (or been intentionally released from) a laboratory, a list that included HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and H1N1. For instance, there was a major conspiracy theory about HIV/AIDS that involved its creation at Fort Detrick when scientists supposedly spliced together two other viruses, Visna and HTLV-1 and then tested on prison inmates. (Interestingly, this turned out to be a Russian propaganda operation codename Operation INFEKTION designed to blame the AIDS pandemic on the US biological warfare program.)

In fairness, I also note that “lab leak” didn’t necessarily start out as a conspiracy theory, as lab leaks have happened before—although none had ever caused a pandemic that has thus far claimed millions of deaths worldwide, over a million in the US alone. However, it did rapidly take on the characteristics of a conspiracy theory such that even those advocating the “lab leak” hypothesis often had difficulty avoiding interspersing their more serious scientific arguments with what can be only described as a heaping helping of conspiratorial thinking. As time went on, if anything, the lab leak hypothesis drifted further and further from legitimate science and deeper and deeper into conspiracyland, such that, try as I might, I can no longer find examples of lab leak advocates who don’t add conspiracy mongering narratives to their arguments; for example, Alina Chan.

I mention Alina Chan here because over the three years period since I first noted that lab leak had become a conspiracy theory more than a serious scientific hypothesis to explain the origin of the pandemic, Alina Chan has become the queen of lab leak conspiracy theories, even though, as a Human Frontier Science Program fellow at the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, she really should know better. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop her from coauthoring with formerly good science writer turned conspiracy theorist Matt Ridley a book entitled Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19, which tries (and fails) to prove their conspiracy theory that COVID-19 arose as the result of a lab leak. Worse, earlier this week the New York Times inexplicably gave her a very prominent bit of op-ed real estate, complete with help from its graphic department, to produce a very slick rehashing of lab leak conspiracy theories entitled Why the Pandemic Probably Started in a Lab, in 5 Key Points. Depressingly, Chan’s article not only rehashes old debunked lab leak conspiracy theories, complete with mis-cited and cherry picked studies to support them, but it was published right before a conspiracy-charged hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic at which Anthony Fauci was deceptively attacked as the author of “lab leak” and therefore the COVID-19 pandemic:

WTF, NYT? WTF?

If I were conspiracy-minded myself, I would almost think that the publication of Chan’s conspiracy disinfofest of an article right before every COVID crank in Congress ganged up to attack Anthony Fauci for having made possible the “lab leak” and having covered it up had been—shall we say?—engineered. Indeed, you’ll forgive me if I suspect that. Maybe my delving into conspiracy theories so much is starting to affect me. However the decision to publish this dreck was made, the NYT did its readers a severe disservice publishing old nonsense in a trusted venue such that conspiracy mongers (like one on this very blog) say things like:

Yeah, the “conspiracy theory” that Sars-Cov-2 came out of a biolab, is now becoming a point of consensus, supported by major newspapers such as the New York Times and even acknowledged by Tony Fauci.

No, just because the NYT op-ed page published a bullshit article by Alina Chan does not mean that lab leak is becoming a “point of consensus,” and all Tony Fauci did was to say that he keeps an open mind regarding the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and to deny that he tried to “suppress” research into a lab leak as the origin of the viral pandemic. Left out is what Fauci also said:

“I don’t think the concept of there being a lab leak is inherently a conspiracy theory,” Fauci said. “What is conspiracy is the kind of distortions of that particular subject, like it was a lab leak and I was parachuted into the CIA like Jason Bourne and told the CIA that they should really not be talking about a lab leak. That’s the conspiracy.”

Or maybe like the conspiracy theory promoted by people like Jeffrey Tucker, who thinks that SARS-C0V-2 was an accidental lab leak as a result of US bioweapons research in China (seriously?) that was used as a pretext to promote mRNA vaccination and suppress “natural herd immunity” approaches to containing the pandemic so that the vaccines could get the credit. Chan’s article is only marginally better than Tucker’s; she’s just better at wrapping her conspiracy theories in a patina of science just good enough to impress the rubes, also wrapped in the respectability of the Old Gray Lady‘s op-ed page. Unfortunately, the NYT gave her article the opportunity to succeed at beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.. Let’s dig in.

Why Alina Chan is the queen of lab leak conspiracy theories, in 5 key points

So let’s get back to Chan’s article, Why the Pandemic Probably Started in a Lab, in 5 Key Points. I must confess that the title made me wonder if the headline editor insisted on inserting the word “probably” into the headline, all in order to soften the message a bit and avoid charges of conspiracy mongering. If so, the tactic failed. Early in the article, Chan, being the Queen of Lab Leak, asserts bluntly:

Although how the pandemic started has been hotly debated, a growing volume of evidence — gleaned from public records released under the Freedom of Information Act, digital sleuthing through online databases, scientific papers analyzing the virus and its spread, and leaks from within the U.S. government — suggests that the pandemic most likely occurred because a virus escaped from a research lab in Wuhan, China. If so, it would be the most costly accident in the history of science.

Notice that nowhere does Chan provide any direct evidence. It’s another example of double standards. What do I mean? Lab leak conspiracists frequently criticize the scientific evidence base pointing to a natural origin for SARS-CoV-2 through zoonotic spillover because it is largely a circumstantial base, in which disparate lines of evidence point in the same direction but which also contains a number of holes. Yet, they love to point to a much less comprehensive evidence base that relies largely on anomaly hunting, cherry-picked data and evidence, plus a whole lot of speculation as slam-dunk evidence (or a “growing volume of evidence”) for lab leak. Of course, a “growing volume of evidence” means nothing if what is growing is largely crappy evidence and speculation. However, it’s not even that; in reality the evidence base for lab leak has remained largely unchanged since I first started writing about it three years ago, other than lab leak aficionados like Chan making like this the famous Pepe Silvia rant that has become a meme:

Pepe Silvia conspiracy meme lab leak
Lab leak advocates basically do this with the same bits of evidence they’ve been using since 2020.

The first point is the only thing that Chan says that is inarguably true: “The SARS-like virus that caused the pandemic emerged in Wuhan, the city where the world’s foremost research lab for SARS-like viruses is located.” Yup. She’s got us there! Back in late 2019, SARS-CoV-2 caused the first major outbreak of viral respiratory pneumonia that ultimately beyond China to spread to become the COVID-19 pandemic. Chan also goes on to make the following assertions:

  • At the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a team of scientists had been hunting for SARS-like viruses for over a decade, led by Shi Zhengli.
  • Their research showed that the viruses most similar to SARS‑CoV‑2, the virus that caused the pandemic, circulate in bats that live roughly 1,000 miles away from Wuhan. Scientists from Dr. Shi’s team traveled repeatedly to Yunnan province to collect these viruses and had expanded their search to Southeast Asia. Bats in other parts of China have not been found to carry viruses that are as closely related to SARS-CoV-2.

The idea, of course, is that it must have been those careless scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who had those samples from bats that they’d been tinkering with using “gain-of-function” methods and then somehow let one of the viruses get out, all because the bats harboring the viruses most similar to SARS-CoV-2 weren’t in the immediate area. The further implication is that there’s no way natural zoonotic spillover could have happened.

However, Angela Rasmussen notes:

The Wuhan Institute of Virology is, of course, central to lab leak conspiracy theories; so conspiracists do their damnedest to portray it as utterly unique and special, the only possible place where the “lab leak” could have occurred. It’s not. It just happened to be in the city where the first major outbreak due to the novel coronavirus happened.

Next up is the point that initially wasn’t a huge part of the lab leak conspiracy theory but has since become central to it, because it allows conspiracists to blame Anthony Fauci, a scientist named Peter Daszak, and, of course, the Chinese:

The year before the outbreak, the Wuhan institute, working with U.S. partners, had proposed creating viruses with SARS‑CoV‑2’s defining feature.

What, you might ask, was that “defining feature”? Lab leak aficionados will immediately recognize what she’s talking about:

  • In 2021, The Intercept published a leaked 2018 grant proposal for a research project named Defuse, which had been written as a collaboration between EcoHealth, the Wuhan institute and Ralph Baric at the University of North Carolina, who had been on the cutting edge of coronavirus research for years. The proposal described plans to create viruses strikingly similar to SARS‑CoV‑2.
  • Coronaviruses bear their name because their surface is studded with protein spikes, like a spiky crown, which they use to enter animal cells. The Defuse project proposed to search for and create SARS-like viruses carrying spikes with a unique feature: a furin cleavage site — the same feature that enhances SARS‑CoV‑2’s infectiousness in humans, making it capable of causing a pandemic. Defuse was never funded by the United States. However, in his testimony on Monday, Dr. Fauci explained that the Wuhan institute would not need to rely on U.S. funding to pursue research independently.
Prions again!
Furin cleavage sites. Why did it have to be furin cleavage sites? Again.

After conceding that the furin cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2 could have arisen naturally through evolution, Chan tries to convince you without evidence, using an argument to personal incredulity, that the site in SARS-CoV-2 could not possibly have arisen naturally and therefore the site must have been engineered:

While it’s possible that the furin cleavage site could have evolved naturally (as seen in some distantly related coronaviruses), out of the hundreds of SARS-like viruses cataloged by scientists, SARS‑CoV‑2 is the only one known to possess a furin cleavage sitein its spike. And the genetic data suggest that the virus had only recently gained the furin cleavage site before it started the pandemic.

What is a furin cleavage site? In brief, as I explained three years ago, the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2 consists of two subunits. Between those two subunits, S1 and S2, sits a site that a human protein called furin recognizes and uses to cleave the protein, resulting in its the two functional subunits. Chan appears to be recycling Nicholas Wade’s argument about the SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site in which he basically argued that, because a furin cleavage site of this sort hadn’t been seen in SARS-related beta coronaviruses before, it must have been engineered. It was basically a huge argument to incredulity. The problem with that argument is that such furin cleavage sites are common in a wide variety of viruses, including coronaviruses, and that scientists already had identified plausible mechanisms by which it could have ended up where it did in SARS-CoV2:

Moreover, contrary to the implication that SARS-CoV-2 was “engineered,” the result of “gain of function” research on SARS-CoV-1 and other coronaviruses got wrong, everything we know strongly suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is natural, the result of viruses doing what viruses unfortunately do in the wild, evolving to be capable of infecting more hosts. If you want a detailed history of the scientific hunt for the origins of SARS-CoV-2 that is accessible to the layperson, you’d have a hard time doing much better than reading Philip Markolin’s recent post, Treacherous ancestry: An extraordinary hunt for the ghosts of SARS-CoV-2. Let’s just say that the evidence base for a natural zoonotic origin of the virus is far more extensive and complex than represented by lab leak enthusiasts.

More importantly, though, the grant was never funded. Indeed, I laughed at one of the scientists’s responses to Chan’s article because, seriously, she must know how ridiculous and out of touch with the realities of grant funding her conspiracy mongering sounds, given that she works at the Broad Institute:

It’s even more hysterical to those of us who have been awarded federal research grants and also have submitted lots of federal research grants that didn’t make the cut to be funded. Of course, a little fact like an unfunded grant never stopped a good conspiracy theory, which is why lab leak conspiracists claim without evidence that scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology did the proposed experiments anyway. Unfortunately for them and Chan, not only is there no evidence that such work was carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but, even if the grant had been funded, the gain-of-function work was to have been carried out in the US, under US biosafety regulations:

Also in this point, Chan does her damnedest to convince you that those Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were so reckless and careless that they didn’t use appropriate lab safety protocols for work with viruses like coronaviruses. She also insinuates a conspiracy in which the scientists there hid what they had:

By 2019, Dr. Shi’s group had published a database describing more than 22,000 collected wildlife samples. But external access was shut off in the fall of 2019, and the database was not shared with American collaborators even after the pandemic started, when such a rich virus collection would have been most useful in tracking the origin of SARS‑CoV‑2. It remains unclear whether the Wuhan institute possessed a precursor of the pandemic virus.

“Remains unclear”? Again, let Dr. Rasmussen explain why all of this is deceptive:

I also like how biochemist Larry Moran addresses point 2 very succinctly:

This is extremely misleading. The researchers at WIV worked in collabortion with scientists in other countries, including the United States, on investigating the features of coronaviruses that could lead to infection of humans. That’s exactly what you would expect them to do. They never created a virus that could be infectious.

Conspiracy theorists gonna conspiracy.

Onward to key point three: “The Wuhan lab pursued this type of work under low biosafety conditions that could not have contained an airborne virus as infectious as SARS‑CoV‑2.” First, see Dr. Rasmussen’s rebuttal above, as well as Larry Moran’s rebuttal:

The labs followed all the standard procedures for work of this type and passed an international inspection.

In brief, if the virus or a close precursor wasn’t there, even if there were a “lab leak” from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, it couldn’t be SARS-CoV-2 or a close precursor that could easily acquire the mutations that would make it transmissible between humans.

In an exceedingly weak swing for the fences, Chan also adds:

One alarming detail — leaked to The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by current and former U.S. government officials — is that scientists on Dr. Shi’s team fell ill with Covid-like symptoms in the fall of 2019. One of the scientists had been named in the Defuse proposal as the person in charge of virus discovery work. The scientists denied having been sick.

This is an old claim from at least three years ago that I characterized as “some really thin gruel.” It isn’t even known if these researchers actually had what is now called COVID-19. They could easily have had influenza or another virus. I also cited Michael Hiltzik, who quite reasonably pointed out:

Virologists point out, moreover, that it would be unlikely for COVID to affect only three people seriously enough to warrant hospital care without infecting hundreds of others in the lab or their households. The other victims might have had milder symptoms, but an outbreak of that magnitude would have been difficult to keep under wraps.

The virus, apparently, is exactly as transmissible at every time point as lab leak conspiracy theorists need it to be, no more and no less.

Key point four just made me laugh out loud:

The hypothesis that Covid-19 came from an animal at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan is not supported by strong evidence.

Bullshit. I’m sorry, but this is the purest bullshit. The evidence was actually quite strong three years ago and has gotten only stronger since that the outbreak arose at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. An April 2024 review article published in in the Annual Review of Virology by Edward Holmes is the currently most recent and comprehensive summary of the evidence regarding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, although a review article published in the Journal of Virology by Alwine et al in 2023 that concludes the same thing is also quite good. (It’s just more than a year old.) I’m going to quote a key passage from the Holmes article explaining why scientists believe that the virus arose at the animal market:

There are sound reasons to conclude that the Huanan market inWuhan was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. A detailed analysis of the geolocations of the residences of the earliest COVID-19 cases—155 patients who experienced COVID-19 during December 2019—revealed a strong spatial clustering around the Huanan market (44) (Figure 2). This clustering not only applied to those who had direct contact with the Huanan market but also applied to those with no known links to the market (45) (Figure 2). The latter is expected if the Huanan market was indeed the pandemic epicenter. Although there are likely earlier cases than those documented to date, there is no evidence for any spatial clustering away from the Huanan market, nor of outbreaks in other parts of Wuhan. Similarly, there is no evidence of systematic sampling bias toward the Huanan market, of the Huanan market being part of the early case definition, nor of the Huanan market only representing an amplifying event (44, 45). Indeed, the Huanan market had relatively low visitor numbers compared with other locations inWuhan, even other markets and shopping malls (44).What it did have were wildlife, including those known to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 (see below).

Phylogenetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences also points to the Huanan market being the epicenter of the pandemic, with the Huanan market sequences falling at the root of the SARS-CoV-2 tree. The earliest split in the SARS-CoV-2 phylogeny, which seemingly oc- curred in Wuhan, is between the A and B lineages that differ by two nucleotide substitutions (45) yet gave rise to many descendent lineages. Remarkably, despite its relatively low number of visitors, both these lineages were present at the Huanan market (44, 46, 47). The odds of this co-occurrence without the market being the global epicenter are extremely low. Molecular clock studies of SARS-CoV-2 evolution also point to a market origin. Estimates of the time to the most recent common ancestor (tMRCA) for the epidemic as a whole, of the specific outbreak inWuhan, and of the sequences from the Huanan market overlap with a time span encompassing November and December 2019, again suggestive of an outbreak that started at the Huanan market (47). This timescale also means that the virus was circulating for only a short interval before it was first de- tected by physicians in Wuhan. Additionally, these observations fit the available epidemiological and serological data from Wuhan, which provide no evidence for SARS-CoV-2 in that city prior to December 2019 (44, 48).

Holmes addresses lab leak as well:

The allegation that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from a research laboratory comes in a wide variety of often mutually exclusive forms, from a willfully engineered bioweapon to an accident during genetic engineering or a routine laboratory procedure and even to a worker infected during bat fieldwork (68–73) (Figure 3). Whether such an escape is deliberate or accidental, the laboratory in question almost certainly must have known that an incident had occurred, such that their denial necessarily indicates a cover-up (74).

This is a master class in calling lab leak a conspiracy theory without actually using the term “conspiracy theory.” Holmes also notes that, if the Wuhan Institute of Virology were the origin, there should be cases associated with the site; there are not. As this post is already getting long, I might discuss this article in more depth another time. Suffice to say that Holmes addresses the furin cleavage site and why it almost certainly evolved naturally, as well as just how weak the evidence is for an lab leak.

Chan was also busted mischaracterizing papers that she cites:

pair of papers published in Science in 2022 made the best case for SARS‑CoV‑2 having emerged naturally from human-animal contact at the Wuhan market by focusing on a map of the early cases and asserting that the virus had jumped from animals into humans twice at the market in 2019. More recently, the two papers have been countered by other virologists and scientists who convincingly demonstrate that the available market evidence does not distinguish between a human superspreader event and a natural spillover at the market.

Greg Tucker-Kellogg calls her out for this misuse of the studies cited:

That would describe Alina Chan.

Finally, she argues: “Key evidence that would be expected if the virus had emerged from the wildlife trade is still missing.”

This is true, but (1) deceptively incomplete and (2) risibly stupid when compared to the amount of evidence that is missing that would be expected if the virus had emerged from a laboratory. As is always the case with lab leak believers, there is an extreme double standard at work regarding the level of evidence they require to start to accept a natural zoonotic origin for SARS-CoV-2 compared to what they accept to convince them of lab leak.

As Larry Moran puts it, saying basically what I said above, just even more sarcastically:

It’s true that the exact infectious animal carrying SARS-CoV-2 has not been identified but the circumstantial evidence is strong—just as strong as the circumstantial evidence that sends some people to jail. It’s crazy to say that evidence for animal transmission is missing when ALL the evidence for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 at WIT is also missing.

And as Angela Rasmussen puts it:

Indeed, and it’s only been a little over four years since the pandemic hit.

Alina Chan is a conspiracy theorist, and the NYT screwed up, bad

I already knew three years ago that lab leak had become a conspiracy theory. Indeed, I’ve been documenting attempts by conspiracy theorists to claim that SARS-CoV-2 had been “engineered,” starting with James Lyons-Weiler’s risibly nonsensical (from a molecular biology standpoint) claim that there were plasmid sequences in the published sequence of the virus, which indicated that it had been engineered. He went on to claim that SARS-CoV-2 had been the result of a failed attempt to make a vaccine against the original SARS (now SARS-CoV-1) that had escaped. When was this? Early February 2020, shortly after the nucleotide sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was first published.

Even so, before I close, let me just reiterate that it is not impossible that SARS-CoV-2 arose in a lab, either due to scientists carrying out modifications on existing coronaviruses or from a collection of natural coronaviruses, in which the virus escaped. The claim is not impossible, like the claims made for homeopathy. However, as I like to say, just because a hypothesis is possible does not mean that it is equally possible (or even more so) compared to a competing hypothesis. You have to look at the evidence. Lab leak conspiracy theorists love to point out missing evidence that would make a natural zoonotic origin for SARS-CoV-2 an unquestioned slam dunk, even as they gloss over the fact that their evidence base is nothing but holes that they try desperately to fill with appeals to personal incredulity that the virus could have arisen naturally, wild speculation as to how it might have escaped from a lab, conspiracy mongering about “cover-ups” everywhere, and lots and lots drawing links between facts and observations that are probably unrelated. Moreover, if there’s one thing that all versions of lab leak share, it’s suspicion and constant finger pointing at the Chinese for being less than enthusiastic and cooperative about letting investigators into the Wuhan Institute of Virology to try to determine if a lab leak happened. This is, of course, not surprising and not in and of itself evidence for a lab leak. China is an authoritarian regime, and such regimes tend to be secretive.

Also, as I pointed out before, what country would welcome investigators with open arms into one of their major research institutions to look for evidence that its scientists had screwed up and caused a worldwide disaster that’s killed millions of people and counting? Even if a government were confident that no such error had occurred, it might not be too thrilled with such an investigation, particularly when it’s coupled with what can only be called very hostile accusations of wrongdoing by high ranking legislators of a nation that is, at best, a competitor and, at worst, a geopolitical global rival, meaning that the investigation is being proposed by powerful people profoundly hostile to your country. Again, that the Chinese have been less than enthusiastic about cooperating with such accusatory investigations is not in and of itself a strong argument in favor of a lab leak. Sure, it could be a sign of a coverup, but it could also just be the normal human reaction to accusations of sloppiness, recklessness, wrongdoing, and even malfeasance by those who are less than friendly to one’s country. We just don’t know.

I can’t help at this point from quoting again Dan Samorodnitsky, as I did three years ago, regarding what lab leak really is. He started by asking a question about the plausibility of lab leak versus natural zoonosis, and then continued:

If the question is “are both hypotheses possible?” the answer is yes. Both are possible. If the question is “are they equally likely?” the answer is absolutely not. One hypothesis requires a colossal cover-up and the silent, unswerving, leak-proof compliance of a vast network of scientists, civilians, and government officials for over a year. The other requires only for biology to behave as it always has, for a family of viruses that have done this before to do it again. The zoonotic spillover hypothesis is simple and explains everything. It’s scientific malpractice to pretend that one idea is equally as meritorious as the other. The lab-leak hypothesis is a scientific deus ex machina, a narrative shortcut that points a finger at a specific set of bad actors. I would be embarrassed to stand up in front of a room of scientists, lay out both hypotheses, and then pretend that one isn’t clearly, obviously better than the other. 

Besides the hazy science, there is an undeniable political aspect to this argument. When violence against Asian people in the US is spiking, it’s naive at best and violent gaslighting at worst to pretend that supporting an evidence-free hypothesis that clearly adds fuel to the idea that China inflicted COVID-19 upon the world, that they did this to us, is noble scientific dispassion. There’s a choice being made here between two ideas — one that falls neatly within the world of biology, and the other that knots together conspiracy theory, political intrigue, and xenophobia.

Nothing has happened in the last three years that alters that, nor has any evidence been presented that changes my conclusion (or Dan Samorodnitsky’s conclusion) that the lab leak is a conspiracy theory. Without compelling evidence, lab leak is indeed nothing more than a scientific deus ex machina, an idea that eliminates the need for any real scientific investigation and, conveniently enough, provides a villain, something that all conspiracy theories require. Samorodnitsky was very prescient too, observing:

And since we will never be able to prove the exact moment that SARS-CoV-2 jumped from an animal to a human, this is instead going to devolve into a culture war. We are witnessing the real-time birth of a new axis of half-truths, convenient omissions, and quackery.

Three years later, that culture war has only increased in intensity and that axis half-truths, convenient omissions, and quackery only become more impenetrable by science, evidence, and reason. Indeed, it’s grown and metastasized to eat the brains not just of conspiracy mongering hacks like the members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic (like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ronnie Jackson, Brad Wenstrup, and, heck, every Republican on the Committee), but of PhD postdoctoral fellows who really should know better, like Alina Chan, and even more senior scientists (e.g., molecular biologist Richard Ebright and microbiologist Bryce Nickels). Indeed, it’s the COVID-19 conspiracy theory that appears to have become almost equally attractive to the left as well as rightwing nutjobs. The weaponized uncertainty behind the lab leak hypothesis (now conspiracy theory) worked and continues to work to stoke fear. Moreover, if you don’t believe that lab leak is a conspiracy theory, check out this article by Stephan Lewandowsky, Peter Jacobs, and Stuart Neil contrasting the scientific method with conspiracy theory:

Revising or rejecting failed hypotheses in light of refuting evidence is central to the scientific process. Not so with conspiracy theories and pseudoscience. One of their hallmarks is that they are self-sealing: as more evidence against the conspiracy emerges, adherents keep the theory alive by dismissing contrary evidence as further proof of the conspiracy, creating an ever more elaborate and complicated theory.

Sound familiar? This is what lab leak has become; this is what lab leak adherents are doing, building an ever more complicated and unfalsifiable edifice. Lewandowsky correctly compared it to climate science denial; the similarities are striking. No matter how many scientific studies are published supporting a zoonotic origin for SARS-CoV-2 (or how high quality they are and strong the evidence is) lab leak believers always find reasons to reject them in favor of lab leak, without ever producing any evidence for lab leak that is anywhere near as high quality or strong as the evidence for zoonosis.

Indeed, Alina Chan herself is an excellent example of how wondering about a potentially reasonable explanation led her down the road away from reason and deep into pseudoscience, science denial, and conspiracy. In 2021, she was at least still capable of expressing a bit of doubt about whether her “lab leak” conspiracy theory might be the correct explanation for the pandemic:

“I have days where I think this could be natural. And if it’s natural, then I’ve done a terrible thing because I’ve put a lot of scientists in a very dangerous spot by saying that they could be the source of an accident that resulted in millions of people dying,” she says. “I would feel terrible if it’s natural and I did all this.”

Today, I don’t see even this much acknowledgment of doubt from her, and she should feel bad. My prediction is that, having been totally captured by her audience, she won’t. Meanwhile, as former ScienceBlogs colleague Ethan Siegel put it:

By following the evidence, we have learned that is precisely the case. It is natural. The observed recombination patterns that exist in the genome of SARS-CoV-2 must have been left behind by recombination events between parental lineages in the wild: where all of these different viral strains were able to meet and interbreed. Importantly, those patterns that are written in the genome of SARS-CoV-2 cannot be produced, simulated, or faked by any means in a laboratory environment.

Given that information, and the fact that this information is now nearly three full years old, it’s long past time to move past the ever-changing conspiracy theory of the lab leak hypothesis, and embrace reality. The genome of SARS-CoV-2 demonstrates it has a natural origin, whether we ever find the original virus in a wild population of animals or not. The misinformation being spread, and the scientists being vilified, over gain-of-function research has no basis in reality. A lot of scientists are, and have been for a few years now, in a very dangerous spot due to proponents of the lab leak hypothesis, as they are being accused of creating an accident that started the COVID-19 pandemic when in fact they were the proverbial firefighters working to extinguish it. It’s time to replace our conspiratorial fears with scientific truths, and to invest resources where they belong: in scientists who work to understand the Universe as it is, and to help humanity cope with the cold, hard reality that we all face.

As Siegel put it, we knew this three years ago, and in the interim the evidence bas supporting a natural origin for SARS-CoV-2 has only grown. In marked contrast, little regarding the evidence base for lab leak has changed in the last three years except that, increasingly, mainstream news outlets are giving space and fuel to conspiracy theorists like Alina Chan. The New York Times should be ashamed for lending its reputation to a conspiracy theory and the attacks on science and scientists resulting from it, but, sadly, it is far from alone when it comes to mainstream news outlets publishing credulous takes on this conspiracy theory. Even the usually reliable Pro Publica published a “train wreck” conspiracyfest of an article promoting lab leak. Apparently there’s something about this particular conspiracy theory that leads those who think they’re not prone to conspiratorial thinking to don a tinfoil hat.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

125 replies on “The New York Times goes all in on “lab leak””

Orac,
This post of yours is by far the richest piece of Oracian drivel you have yet published.

You, like most people these days, are so indoctrinated in a mindset you loose all objectivity, and thus insist yours is the only one and true point of view. That, or you are just a run of the mill propagandist.

I agree with all the “evidence” you cite to support the wet market theory of COVID origin….but, given the fact no animal vector has been found to explain how the transmission occured, you got nothing but circumstantial evidence. Yes, some of the “evidence” appears compelling….but, there are too many “what ifs” that could explain your revered circumstantial “evidence”.

Such as (of course you will immediately and rabidly dismiss this point as “conspiracy thinking”, but, no Orac…this is how a good detective or scientist actually thinks) what if the virus was in fact a bio weapon, and was in fact deliberately released in the wet market?

Any plausible circumstantial “evidence” for such a possibility? Hmmm, Level 4 bio lab 17 miles away that was at the time doing gain of function research on bat viruses, check. Chinese stonewalling of the WHO and any other body asking for documentation and free access to investigate the lab and what they were doing at the time, check. Plenty of geopolitical consequences to such an event, much it damaging to the West, check. A host of “experts”, including Fauci, who have said quite clearly there is not yet any conclusive evidence as to how the virus infected humans, and more investigation is needed, check.

So, yes Orac, the above is pure conjecture and circumstantial, just as is all the “evidence” you rave about. But, answer this: if the above theory were true, that the virus was deliberately released in the wet market (a site chosen specifically to give plausible cover for how the release happened)….if it happened, would all the “evidence” you cite remain plausible? One would in fact expect to see all the data you cite to support natural origin. So, you have proven zero, and your typical derisive, cynical, and sarcastic tone regarding anyone who dares to question the dogma is very rich indeed.

Given how much effort your posts appear to exemplify, are you really oblivious to what is self evident to anyone with a functioning brain and an attention span beyond that of a gnat? And that is, all mainstream media ESPECIALLY the New York Times is pure BS propaganda. You have the audacity to proclaim the NYT is a “trusted” source? Hillarious! Really? That says it all, imo

A much more interesting and apropos question is why did the NYT publish a piece that puts China in a bad light? Why now? Imo, the answers to those questions are what the purpose of the article is….it certainly isn’t to enlighten the public or shed any light of truth on the origins of the virus.

Oh, one other piece of “circumstantial evidence” to consider against your assertions …just consider for a moment the implications if the public had smoking gun evidence of the Chinese biolab having been involved in the engineering and escape of the virus. Would that not create a rather large headache for the powers that be, that, apparently, believe genetic research and manipulation of pathogens are smart ideas….for many reasons…and thus would abhor any public interference with such activities and funding? Would such a potential headache not be a mighty motivator to ensure that no conclusion that implicated a lab in the COVID pandemic could ever be allowed, and thus plenty of propaganda from “reliable sources” would be required and issued in copious quantities?

And, wouldn’t any insinuation that a lab was involved be met with derisive, cynical and sarcastic dismissal

So, yes Orac, the above is pure conjecture and circumstantial, just as is all the “evidence” you rave about

Thank you for admitting that the evidence for “lab leak” is “pure conjecture and circumstantial.” It is definitely that, mixed with a huge dollop of outright conspiracy mongering. However, you are, sadly but predictably, quite incorrect that the assessment holds true for the evidence for zoonotic origin and spillover from an animal reservoir. It only shows how little you understand science and reinforces the similarity between lab leak conspiracy theories and other science denial, especially climate science denial. Indeed, you should read the article by Lewandowsky et al that I cited, in which he even shows how the two forms of denial share the blatant misuse and selective quoting of emails to portray a “coverup” and conspiracy.

One would in fact expect to see all the data you cite to support natural origin. So, you have proven zero, and your typical derisive, cynical, and sarcastic tone regarding anyone who dares to question the dogma is very rich indeed.

I love how you falsely equate the evidence base for zoonotic spillover with that for lab leak by, essentially, ignoring all the evidence for zoonotic spillover and saying I didn’t lay it all out. Here’s the thing. I didn’t have to. Instead I cited a very recent (April) and very extensive review article that summarized the evidence for both a zoonotic origin and for lab leak. Guess what? There’s lots of evidence for zoonotic origin and basically none (other than “pure conjecture and circumstantial”) for lab leak. He even points to examples of “close call” zoonotic spillovers, one a coronavirus, that (thankfully) didn’t turn into pandemics. If you don’t have access to it, I can email you a copy. It’s quite the comprehensive summary of the state of the evidence in spring 2024.

As for my “derisive, cynical, and sarcastic” dismissal of Alina Chan’s article, let’s just put it this way. Lab leakers have had close to four years to produce concrete scientific (and other) evidence for lab leak. They have utterly failed, and today’s version of lab leak is damned near identical to the version I first discussed three years ago. More importantly, no new evidence has been produced, just rearrangement and different emphasis on the same “pure conjecture and circumstantial” evidence that was circulating for lab leak three years ago. The Select Committee on the Coronavirus Pandemic just added an email dump and vile attacks on Anthony Fauci by Marjorie Taylor Green, all based on a lack of understanding of how the NIH and the NIH grant process works. You want to me to stop being derisive and sarcastic about lab leak? Show me evidence that is convincingly more than just “pure conjecture and circumstantial,” evidence that at least approaches the level of the evidence base for zoonotic spillover in quality and quantity (and, once again, no, the evidence base for zoonotic spillover is not just “”pure conjecture and circumstantial”), and I’ll start to rethink.

Orac,

You are completely disingenuous and intellectually dishonest to claim the article you cited summarized the evidence for zoonotic origin of COVID…most obvious is the fact your link doesn’t link to the article you cite. It links to a brief summary of the article….I looked and looked for a way to read the article, but I didn’t find any such link. So, I guess we just take your word for what the article says?

More to the point, the text you quote from that article asserts that the evidence shows the wet market was the origin of the virus. So what? The clustering of early infected patients around the wet market is indeed good evidence that the market was ground zero of the pandemic. But in no way is that evidence of zoonotic transmission. It is purely circumstantial, and as you know, correlation is not causation. In no way does the fact the wet market was likely ground zero “prove” anything, other than it was likely ground zero of the pandemic. Yet, you attempt to assert the location of ground zero “proves”, or, “bolsters the case” that zoonotic sourcing is more likely than lab leak. Why? Because there were all sorts of animal pathogens in the market? That is a relevant detail for sure…but it is a spacious BS assertion to claim in proves much of anything. I can make an identical spacious BS case if I asserted the fact the virology lab is 17 miles from the market “proves” or “bolsters the case” that a lab origin is more likely than not.

My point is, we don’t know…and neither do you. You don’t have any “science” that remotely proves diddley. You simply gloss over the fact there is no actual smoking gun evidence of how, exactly, zoonotic transmission occurred…after 4 years of research trying to find the association, by making the lame assertion that, 4 years after the start of pandemic, no evidence shows direct lab involvement. Brilliant Orac, but your assertion is spacious since your logic applies equally to those promoting a lab origin.

You also blissfully dismiss the lack of transparency from the Chinese and US government regarding the virology lab as being “understandable” because the Chinese regime is “authoritarian”. Really? So, that means they get a free pass? Nothing to see here, move along…. hillarious.

Sorry Orac. While you may understand science, at least when it flatters your bias, you don’t appear to be well versed in basic logic. This post about the NY Times article refutes the article with conjecture and half truths. It is hardly a recitation of science fact that proves anything regarding the origin of the virus. I am not advocating for either zoonotic or lab leak at this point….it is obvious the necessary evidence to reach a “science based” conclusion does not yet exist, and, call me cynical…but I suspect it never will.

More to the point, the text you quote from that article asserts that the evidence shows the wet market was the origin of the virus. So what? The clustering of early infected patients around the wet market is indeed good evidence that the market was ground zero of the pandemic. But in no way is that evidence of zoonotic transmission. It is purely circumstantial, and as you know, correlation is not causation. In no way does the fact the wet market was likely ground zero “prove” anything, other than it was likely ground zero of the pandemic.

As I thought. You have nothing other than conspiracy mongering. Zero. Zilch. Nada. You also clearly didn’t read the review article I cited; again, maybe if you can’t get access to it I’ll email it to you so that you can misunderstand and misrepresent it in more detail.

You also misunderstand the concept “correlation does not equal causation.” In reality, it should read, “correlation does not necessarily equal causation,” because sometimes it does. When is this the case? One example is when a lot of disparate lines of evidence from different disciplines and kinds of investigations all suggest the same thing, particularly when that same thing has happened many times before in the past. Zoonotic spillover tends to be the default, because it is a well known natural phenomenon. Moreover, the virus has no signs of having been engineered, and, believe me, many lab leakers have tried, starting with James Lyons-Weiler in February 2020, to argue that there were telltale signs of human engineering in the nucleotide sequence of the original SARS-CoV-2. (Hint: The furin cleavage site is not a sign of human engineering. Such sites are found in a number of related coronaviruses; so it’s not implausible that SARS-CoV-2 could have acquired one naturally through recombination and evolution.)

I am not advocating for either zoonotic or lab leak at this point…

You could have fooled me. Your arguments are only ever about how you think zoonotic origin is unlikely and lab leak likely, along with rants about how “they” are suppressing evidence and I am unjustly mocking lab leak conspiracy theories. No, you’re a lab leak believer through and through.

…it is obvious the necessary evidence to reach a “science based” conclusion does not yet exist, and, call me cynical…but I suspect it never will.

Ah, doubt that we can ever know anything with sufficient certainty, in this case about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. That is the sine qua non of a science denialist. Moreover, no one—not me, not those who accept current science indicating that the virus almost certainly is of natural origin—claims that we know with 100% certainty (or will ever know with 100% certainty) how the virus arose. That is, of course, a straw man. What we do say is that there is so much more evidence for a natural origin than for lab leak and that that evidence comes from disparate sources, including genetic phylogeny, that all point in the direction of natural origin, with the epicenter of the outbreak that ultimately became a pandemic being the Hunan market. Yes, there are gaps in the evidence base for zoonotic origin, but that is true for pretty much every virus for which zoonosis is accepted as its origin. Again, contrast that to lab leak, where the evidence base is basically nothing but gaps that conspiracy theorists try to fill in with speculation, insinuation, and conspiracy mongering, even pointing to the lack of evidence for lab leak as evidence of a coverup.

Oops, wrongly placed (again) …
Reaction to Portnoy Bliss.

Peter Miller won, i guess for about the same reasons brought here and in the other links provided.

A combination of lableak and market-spillover would only neccessitate even more (almost) totally assumed scenarios then the lableak-idea needs on itself already. This time about how (for heaven’s sake) the virus went from lab to market without infecting anybody along the way.
This while the evidence that is known, combined with past experience, all naturally and plausibly points to just another spillover.

Given the evidential picture at the moment, it is more strange to still hold on to the idea of a lableak, then to skip it, at least for now.
(but hopefully forever, i guess..)
In spite of the possibility not excluded with total certainty.
Just like with the space-origin-idea.

“all mainstream media ESPECIALLY the New York Times is pure BS propaganda.”

Classic denialist tactic. “Don’t listen to any reputable news source* or the great majority of experts with relevant training and experience. “What if” is all the evidence I need!”

*Sadly for these chuckleheads, the future of Infowars is in doubt. 🙁

So Dangerous… regarding your assertion NYT is a “reputable” source….fyi, I am a born and bred NYC guy….subscribed to NYT for 35 years. Read it everyday of my life for those 35 years. Now, I get NYT,.like all media has a bias of some sort….that’s a given. However, the NYT, imo, crossed the line from being remotely journalistic to pure hyperbolic propaganda in 2016 in its coverage of the Trump “grab her by the p—y story. It was a Saturday…the day after the story broke…front page, under banner “News Analysis “, NYT asserted that, Trump’s words didn’t merely prove he was borish, but, proved he was a sexual predator.

Now, perhaps you are of simplistic mind, and have no issue with such an assertion in the front page of the so called “paper of record”, under a banner of “News Analysis ” ( not the editorial page, the front page), based on a recording that was dubious at best in terms of proof of misconduct…but I do have a problem with such hyperbolic BS being passed off as legit “journalism”.

So test for being non partisan is not to publish anything bad about Trump ?
As for your specific claim, Trump is indeed very fond of women. They may not be fond of a middle aged man, Result may be some grabbing.

Except that Donald Trump is nowhere near “middle aged” anymore. His 78th birthday is next week. He’s an old man, only slightly younger than Joe Biden, but somehow the media seem only to focus on Joe Biden’s age.

“based on a recording that was dubious at best in terms of proof of misconduct”

Lol – nothing dubious about it. Another Trump cultist who believes he didn’t actually say the things he’s on tape saying.

However, the NYT, imo, crossed the line from being remotely journalistic to pure hyperbolic propaganda in 2016…NYT asserted that, Trump’s words didn’t merely prove he was borish, but, proved he was a sexual predator.

Donald Trump has always demonstrated behaviours consistent with being a sexual predator. Witness his numerous short affairs with a multitude of women and his behaviour when he was the owner of the Miss Universe Pageant.

This tape was also consistent with comments about women Trump had made in numerous previous interviews. Donald Trump consistently objectified women in his recorded comments to the point of suggesting women were there for his pleasure.

You should follow the evidence, rather than having a conclusion and looking for evidence to support it.

The main problem is that so much of the evidence against the lab leak hypothesis is based on information provided by the Chinese government as well as one of the main partners organizing funding to the lab, Peter Daszak (who extremely likely had a fat percentage of the funding going into his own pocket), who incidentally also was the only one the Chinese government allowed to inspect the lab afterwards (and even that was after they’d been scrubbing the lab and all its data for a year first). This same Peter Daszak was also the main force behind (and even co-author of) the main “lab leak debunking” papers.

Funny, but even if it were true that all of the evidence against lab leak comes from the sources you claim (it doesn’t), where’s the positive evidence for a lab leak? It doesn’t exist. Similarly, even if it were true that all of the evidence “against” lab leak comes from the sources you claim (it doesn’t), the quantity and quality of evidence for a zoonotic origin is compelling and far surpasses anything that lab leak proponents have ever been able to muster.

Nice use of classic denialist and conspiracist tropes though, in which you try to impugn the source of inconvenient evidence that you don’t like, while ignoring the utter lack of positive evidence supporting the hypothesis (actually, conspiracy theory) that you believe.

You claim that Chinese would not punish people causing such disaster in China, Is this probable ?
There are of course many papers debunking lab leak, not coauthored by Daszak. Read them, Orac has a link for you.

So the guy who actually saw the lab didn’t think it came from there. This is not shocking. All you’ve done is say that the people pushing the lab leak theory have zero knowledge of the lab.

Wow – way to ignore the very long, very detailed, very logical piece you’re responding to.

Right now we’re watching a strain of flu spilling over from cows into humans right here in the United States. Are you going to go off on your conspiracy wagon Portnoy and claim this is all deliberate as well? You’re like the person who has a hammer and everything must be a nail because all you have is a hammer.

Wait a second. You are actually claiming that the virus was deliberately distributed in the wet market as a plausible coverup? With the intention of what – spreading to the west? The only thing you could guarantee spreading in the wet market was immediate problems for people in and around that market. Then a decreased probablility for causing the whole city problems, then the region and so forth. Whatever your lab modelling shows there is no way you could really guarantee any effects on Western countries whilst pretty much definitely guaranteeing an effect on your own country. In addition as a coverup story it has a serious problem – namely that being close to a bio lab researching this type of virus makes lots of people think it was deliberate! If the Chinese really wanted to try to disseminate a virus into the West and retain plausible deniability I think they’d chose something like an aerosol sprayed round various tourist spots in London.

It is nice to know that the Old Gray Lady, the New York Times has stepped up to assume the mantle of Science that used to be held by the World Weekly News.I don’t know how labs were able to function without the updates that were available from their pages. We used to look forward to modeling our experiments on the data they reported, tossing aside information that we had collected by those old time false methods of doing science.

More like, “all the news they find convenient.” The NY Times won’t tell you about Trump’s cognitive failings, for example, but keep beating the drum about Biden’s age, ignoring that Trump is almost as old.

I suspect, at the risk of falling into conspiracy theory, that the Times is repeating the lab leak nonsense because it fits a political agenda.

They aren’t even doing unreasonable “both-sides” stuff about the origin of COVID. They’re only presenting the side they like, the side there’s no evidence for. It’s only when they discuss actual science and effective medicine that they then say things like “but on the other hand, reiki practitioners say.”

And Bernie’s even older than Biden. But both of them seem to be in better health, cognitively and otherwise, than Donald.

a side comment before I read the post/ comments in detail…

what do we call the wall chart with yarn connectors used to designate outlandish CTs/ plans
which I first saw in A Beautiful Mind when the protagonist’s wife discovers his secret work?

There’s also almost complete overlap between those claiming “lab leak” and those who don’t think we need to take precautions about what allegedly leaked out of the lab. But that’s psychiatry, not virology.

I believe you are correct, Mark.

If I were a betting man (and I am) I’d bet our “lab leakers” up-thread subscribe to the delusion that COVID-19 is not a dangerous disease and vaccines, masks, distancing, and other PH measures are not needed and are just measures by TPTB (The Powers That Be) to exert control over us.
Loons often entertain two conflicting beliefs at the same time with no effort.
– It is important to determine who is at fault for the development and release of the dangerous SARS-CoV-2 virus.
– The SARS-CoV-2 virus is not dangerous nor deadly and therefore doesn’t require vaccination nor other public health measures.

Geniuses… All of them.

It is indeed reassuring that people tend to be fairly consistent in their kookiness. What is the overlap between covid minimization and creationism, for example, or climate change denial? When you use bad reasoning in one area of science, should we be surprised that you also do it in other areas?

Chan is clearly in the “COVID is a big deal” camp…. the ‘biosafety’ camp. They actually make up a substantial portion of the lab leak advocates (as I recall off the top of my head, Wade, Ebright, and UK Right to Know), though their powerful backers (Republicans) are often minimalists.

Orac, thank you for mentioning me. One of your best posts even though I do not agree with it.

Please do not treat the question of the “origin of Sars-Cov-2” as only a scientific problem that can only be resolved by scientific method of looking at genes, market swabs etc. Asking “virologists” whether the pandemic that killed millions was due to “virologists” may not necessarily yield truthful, unbiased answers.

This is ultimately a forensic problem needing tools such as investigations, subpoenas, analysis of known facts outside of pure science etc.

China’s reaction to the virus very early in the pandemic is a good sign that China knew full well what happened, realized the lab origin and pathogenicity of Sars-Cov-2, and conducted almost insane steps to keep its population away from it.

While I do not doubt that Sars-Cov-2 is a lab product, just about everything else about the origin of the pandemic is a mystery. Who and under what orders designed this virus? What was the design’s objective? Was the release and accident or an intentional act? None of these questions have good answers.

A typical zoonosis story currently unfolding is H5N1: while it circulates among animals and occasionally infects humans, it does not yet transmit from human to human. (the mRNA H5N1 vaccine currently discussed, will likely promote such transmission). Plenty of evidence of its circulation. Sars-Cov-2 was the opposite, suddenly emerging and perfectly suited to airborne transmission, with no evidence of its previous existence.

To people saying “but it could be more efficient if genes XXX were swapped for genes YYY, so for sure it was NOT a lab design” let me remind you that Covid-19 infected the entire world, many people several times over, so yes it was good enough.

The “COVID vaccine” in the works, was, of course, the biggest reason for the coverup of lab origin: convincing people to take a “vaccine” developed by the same people who financed the virus, would be much more challenging.

Overall, I am glad that my predictions are becoming mainstream!

Hate to break it to you, Igor, but Orac’s article is about Alina Chan.

Despite your craving for attention, you’re a very minor figure in the chorus of conspiracy dingbats.

Quote from Orac’s post:

However the decision to publish this dreck was made, the NYT did its readers a severe disservice publishing old nonsense in a trusted venue such that conspiracy mongers (like one on this very blog) say things like:

Orac quotes my comment: Yeah, the “conspiracy theory” that Sars-Cov-2 came out of a biolab, is now becoming a point of consensus, supported by major newspapers such as the New York Times and even acknowledged by Tony Fauci.

NYT article does not make any consensus. Fauci just says that lab leak is possible.

That is, of course, all that Fauci has been saying all along going back to 2020, that lab leak is possible and that he keeps an open mind towards the evidence. He has never endorsed it and has made it clear that he doesn’t consider it as likely as zoonotic origin. He has also made a point to distinguish between lab leak as a scientific hypothesis and the conspiracy theories surrounding lab leak. Of course, as I have argued, lab leak long ago stopped being a scientific hypothesis and became a conspiracy theory.

I am, however, grateful to Igor to demonstrating my point about dedicated lab leak adherents, specifically how they are now nearly all conspiracy theorists. Unfortunately, lab leak is the conspiracy theory that seems to appeal to the left almost as much as it does to the right. Some otherwise reasonable propke, some self-identified movement skeptics, have shown a depressing affinity for lab leak conspiracy theories, accepting a level of evidence for them that they’d laugh at were it any other topic.

Igor, of course, is not one of those people. It is utterly unsurprising that he basically believes the same conspiracy theory about the virus, lab leak, and vaccines that Jeffrey Tucker does.

Without getting into specifics as to with whom I disagree, my core belief is that Covid-19 is a terrible pandemic that impacted a lot of people, not only by killing some but also by creating a lot of long Covid and disability.

I sometimes question whether I have long Covid, possibly not based on some timing, but I cannot shake off the suspicion.

All of this is indeed is a conspiracy theory. this time even without The Man and the purpose. Tell us who designed it and when. “They” is not enough.
SARS CoV 2 is not good enough for bioweapon. In addition, one on most inprobable things in the world is US and China developing weapons together,

“China’s reaction to the virus very early in the pandemic is a good sign that China knew full well what happened, realized the lab origin and pathogenicity of Sars-Cov-2, and conducted almost insane steps to keep its population away from it.”

No, tacking on ‘realised the lab origin’ to ‘realised the pathogenicity’ doesn’t make it a fact. Still a guess and assumption.

I could just as well say that the proximity of a biolab, studying coronaviruses, meant that the Chinese had experts on hand with a full understanding of the dangers. These experts recognised the possible impact in a city with a dense population and the Chinese government (with its authoritarian powers) took that information and ran with it.

Now, since guesses and assumptions are, apparently, replacements for evidence and science. My version of events is true and anyone who believes differently is wrong, a slave to the right wing Chinese hating media and being paid by politicians to discredit who the f@#k knows.

A brickspace friend of mine likes to point out that “the lab as ground zero for the outbreak” and “the lab as the origin point of the virus” are two very different things. He fully believes that the virus was zoonotic in origin, but also suspects that someone was sloppy with their lab techniques and got infected and carried it out into the community. Of course, he works in IT Security and has a very low opinion of people’s ability to follow procedures as a result. He’s a strong believer in the Pratchett quote ” If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying ‘End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH’, the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry.”

Pro Publica six months ago is a conspiracy theorist, too, Orac?

I know this is partially based on BlueAnon-type tribalism on your part, though your tribalism goes back years before this. Horgan pegged you well, along with the Novellas and others.

Others who have talked about a lab leak seriously, speaking of “Blue Anon,” include Bill Clinton NSC staffer Jaime Metzl. Why don’t you try reading some stuff with an open mind?

Thanks for reminding me of Pro Publica, as I had forgotten about that one and shouldn’t have, given that I cited Vanity Fair‘s promotion of lab leak. I’ll add Pro Publica to my list of mainstream sources that went down the conspiracy rabbit hole.

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2022-11-01/column-propublica-vanity-fair-covid-lab-leak-expose-train-wreck

Unfortunately, a lot of people whom you might not have expected have shown themselves susceptible to lab leak conspiracy theories. (The same is true of “gender critical” rants about gender-affirming care of trans adolescents, but that’s another story.) Interestingly, your ridiculous bit about “BlueAnon” tribalism as a reason to dismiss my post, coupled with your inability to provide a single bit of positive evidence for lab leak or cite specific errors in fact, science, or reasoning tells me all I need to know: You are not a serious person on this issue; therefore I do not need to bother to treat you as a serious critic with legitimate criticisms of what I’ve written. It does, however, sadden me to see that you’ve basically fallen into Igor Chudov territory, considering your past blog reputation ~15 years ago.

@ Igor:

“Intelligent people” can be mislead, naive and use motivated reasoning. Orac is being extremely patient with you because he believes you can benefit from interaction with him and others here. He’s an educator and doesn’t want to throw you away.
I believe that you have native intelligence but often waste it by pursuing CTs and mis-information.

I appreciate being allowed here and I agree that Orac is an educator and a very intelligent man. By the way, I am also an educator and try to popularize good science.

By the way, I am also an educator and try to popularize good science

No you don’t. You push unsubstantiated conspiracies, lie about research that doesn’t match your preconceived ideas, and lack even the slightest background needed to begin to understand the science and statistics of the things you say are false. You are the online version of someone who says the full moon influences psychotic actions of people.

@ Igor:

You may be well versed in mathematics but you don’t educate people on Substack or here about vaccines, PH policy or VPDs any more than Kirsch, Wolf, RFKjr, Bigtree, Null, Adams etc do.
You don’t understand basics and fall into common traps.

Why do these fabulous investigators fail to find volumes of research about how autism actually develops and cite important researchers? I can cite many. Why do these intrepid reporters fail to cite the studies Orac/ commenters discuss about why zoonosis is more likely?

Why do universities NOT teach about vaccines-causing-autism or
chronic illness ( RFKjr), societal breakdown (Wolf) or millions of deaths ( Adams)? Because those claims are fantasies and not supported by data.

You can do better than this.

@Denice:

Why do these fabulous investigators fail to find volumes of research about how autism actually develops and cite important researchers?

The only post I ever made about “autism” was discussing how the Covid vaccines cause autism in lab rats. In that post, I stated:

The context of such discussions usually is whether vaccinations after birth can make children autistic. I do not have an opinion on this. I am not required to have an opinion on everything and find such discussions lacking substance and definitions.

It is possible that the term “autism,” usually referring to a lifelong developmental pattern beginning with birth, is the wrong one to apply to sudden problems arising shortly after childhood vaccinations.

Numerous confident authors present “definite proofs” of how vaccines cause autism, but I have not yet been convinced of the quality of those “proofs.” I also read several official studies demonstrating that vaccines do not cause autism, and they always rely on data unavailable to the public.

So, I am not the one running around screaming about “childhood vaccines causing autism”.

Now the Covid vaccine, causing autism in lab rat fetuses, is the absolute evil to whose destruction I am so glad to have contributed.

You may be well versed in mathematics…

I don’t believe that at all. He’s never demonstrated any level of understanding of mathematics beyond the basics. There’s no reason to believe his claimed degree in economics required any math beyond basic algebra, and the “math website” he supports is essentially worthless.

“the Covid vaccine, causing autism in lab rat fetuses”

It is indeed shocking that the MSM and scientific establishment suppress alarming findings of autistic behavior in vaccinated lab rat fetuses, so that we must depend on brave Substack dingbats to sound the alarm.

Great. So Igor, in addition to comically mistaking a study on rat “pups” for one on fetuses, fails to notice gross defects in the study (including a human vaccine dose for rats weighing 1/280 of a human, tiny number of study animals, lack of evidence of blinding of investigators) and as rancid icing on the cake, an unreported conflict of interest.

Even a brief online course in how to evaluate research would help Igor avoid such embarrassments in the future.

@Ldw56old:

What a surprise: just after pointing out Igor routinely lies and misinterprets consequences about studies he spreads BS about vaccines causing autism in rat fetuses.

I am actually mentioned in that fact check! Hooray!

As an aid to Igor, here’s a link to a short video explaining how to determine whether a research article is credible, and why it’s important to use credible sources (so you don’t continually look foolish by reglurgitating* from the Epoch Times).

https://lib.ku.edu/video-tutorials/evaluating-sources-credibility

*I may need to patent “reglurgitating” as a term to describe uncritical spewing of secondhand glurge.

Igor:

By leaving out half of my paragraph, you entirely miss the point:
BOTH vaccines-cause-autism believers AND lab leak aficionados MISS volumes of relevant evidence.

Autism is largely prenatal: anomalies in the PFC occur before birth. Images, brain waves and abortions/ autopsies show this. Genes have a role. Meds, poisons, lack of vitamins, pollution, starvation and infection during gestation are linked to autism.We can COUNT cells, connections and layers that form in the second-third trimester. Trained observers can see kids act differently in early infancy before vaccines.
See Courchesne, Lein, Pierce, Ozonoff, Aldridge.100s of studies.

Orac et al show here and elsewhere why zoonosis is a better guess. See TWIV as well.

But somehow your investigations miss all that.

“More and more intelligent people fall into “Igor Chudov territory””

Intelligent, but not necessarily knowledgeable.

If you WANT to live in a world where the opinion of a vetinarian and a physicist are treated as equal when it comes to the correct treatment of canine kidney disease, then you’re going the right way about it.

It was absolutely a completely baffling choice to mainstream a conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist. But I was also baffled recently when WaPo published a whole piece on ‘reincarnated’ children. What is going on? Media: you ok?

I guess they are trying to match the Epoch Times oeuvre, which was profitable…. Oh, wait. We used to joke that all the conspiracy theories and crankery were free and you had to pay for real news. But I guess we’re switching that up now!

And yet at the same we are seeing actual consequences for conspiracy theorists and cranks–bankruptcy, convictions, jail time, Bahlon cutting off the funding of cranks… I can’t figure out where we stand: punish crankery or mainline it…?

I’m, personally, sick of ideologues on both sides of this issue certain they know the facts (Note I do not count our host among them.) Did it leak from the lab? Maybe. Who knows? We’ve accidentally released crap, so did the UK, the Soviets, etc. Researchers working in BL4 get sick on accident. It happens. Happened at a nearby state lab a couple years back. Did a lab staffer get sick and spread it to that wet market? Maybe. Did it come from a zoonotic event? Maybe. Right now the evidence says probably. Is that evidence irrefutable? Hardly. This is where cranks and agenda-driven loons come in.

Maybe. Did it come from a zoonotic event? Maybe. Right now the evidence says probably. Is that evidence irrefutable? Hardly. This is where cranks and agenda-driven loons come in.

The word “probably” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. I’m afraid your whole comment is false balance between the two hypotheses that elevates lab leak far beyond what the evidence would support and, by saying that a zoonotic origin is only “probably” more likely than lab leak, suggesting that, in terms of evidence, the two hypotheses are much closer than they in fact are.

Providing a visual for the point you have tried to make in your artlcle and in this discussion I think this meme is appropriate to the lab-leakers who are unable to see a difference between the two:

Have fun… if possible.

The evaluation of the evidence by lab leakers is absurd.

Could you imagine the howling and mockery that would ensue if the best evidence in support of a zoonotic spillover was a proposal to build a wildlife market in North Carolina, and then that proposal was never funded?

Rumour milling and imaginary scenarios are treated as proof of a lab leak, while similar events that actually did occur at the market are dismissed as mere trivialities.

For example, there has been speculation and rumours about three sick workers at WIV. Then it was changed to a hospitalized worker with ‘ground glass opacities’ in their lungs who also had his wife die. Then it was changed to specifically named Ben Hu as patient zero (a fabrication from well-known propagandist Michael Shellenberger). I think there was even early speculation that someone was bit by a monkey in the lab. There was no proof that any of this happened.

Meanwhile, we had actual workers at the Huanan market actually get sick. They were the first known infections. But to lab leakers, this is not evidence in support of the natural spillover. Imaginary infections are proof of a lab leak, but actual infections at the market can be disregarded.

To lab leakers, there are imaginary scenarios where the Chinese government marched into WIV and helped destroy all the evidence of the lab leak. All this despite the scientists at WIV saying there were no incidents, including a foreign worker that worked there. This is held up as proof that a lab leak must have happened and there was a coverup.

Meanwhile, the Huanan market was actually scrubbed down and bleach. Animals were actually culled. And nearby wildlife farms were actually culled. Evidence of a natural spillover (nefariously or not) was actually destroyed. To lab leakers, this doesn’t matter. An imaginary coverup at WIV is proof of a lab leak, but actual destruction of evidence at the market can be disregarded.

And then there are the claims of potential safety issues at WIV. Maybe there were. But there was still far more safety measures in place at WIV than at a wet market where animals are handled with bare hands, and free to piss and crap all over each other in cages.

And they treat suspicious behaviour by the Chinese government as proof that there was a lab leak, but do not realize that the Chinese government would have had just as much reason to suppress a natural spillover. Any suggestion that the Chinese government attempted a coverup does not provide stronger evidence of a lab leak than it does a natural spillover.

And, bizarrely, pointing out that there was is no evidence in support of the lab leak there will invariably be accusations of being a China shill. These lame accusations disregard that a natural spillover could be considered entirely the fault of China. While the lab leak theory manages to spend an awful lot of time focusing on the US government and US (and other) scientists, instead of on China.

And they treat suspicious behaviour by the Chinese government as proof that there was a lab leak, but do not realize that the Chinese government would have had just as much reason to suppress a natural spillover. Any suggestion that the Chinese government attempted a coverup does not provide stronger evidence of a lab leak than it does a natural spillover.

This is a key point that I should have included in my post. I might have to add it to my discussion of the secretiveness of the Chinese government, because, yeah, they didn’t want to be blamed for COVID-19, regardless of where in their country it started, but also the wet markets are also a bit of a source of embarrassment given the conditions there and the cruel trade in animals.

I’m sure there are other sources, but I believe this article discusses how China’s strategy has become ‘anywhere but here’, and pointed to theories such as the virus was shipped in on frozen food:

https://www.science.org/content/article/pandemic-start-anywhere-but-here-argue-papers-chinese-scientists-echoing-party-line

And, I don’t have a good source, but I believe the sale of wild animals in the wet markets is supposed to be illegal. Because, of that little outbreak known as Sars-1 that started in a wet market.

According to this thread, there were stalls in the Huanan market that were fined for selling wildlife:
https://nitter.poast.org/mstandaert/status/1534282591767076871

At least to me, I would think it would be a greater source of emabarrassment if a second Sars virus outbreak happened in the exact same way as the first one, particularly after you were supposed to stop the type of trade that led to it some 20 years ago.

Almost as embarrassing as if an avian flu pandemic was emerging in farms, while the government was in the middle of political theatre in an attempt to smear scientists, and some farmers were refusing to allow tracing because they are worried about how it might affect their profits and they no longer trust various scientific institutions after 4 years of influencers, clout-chasers and thought-leaders poisoning the well.

I have been a vegan since last December. (today is exactly six months).

Even though I heard some things about animal cruelty before, I was kind of dismissive, but since going vegan I looked into it again. Your own “ground beef” you buy at the supermarket was obtained with about as much cruelty as what is happening in the wet markets. Ghastly stuff. (plus cows eating chicken manure etc)

I am vegan for health reasons, but to be honest ethical reasons are also something not to dismiss outright.

An antivaxer who claims to be a vegan “for health reasons”.

The comedy routines write themselves.

Since I became vegan, I am re-evaluating a lot of my prior beliefs. (possibly a coincidence)

Why ‘ground beef’? I doubt the cows are minced alive, so surely minced beef is no more cruel than any other beef products?

Just to get a dig in, animal welfare/humane slaughter standards sound exactly like the the sort of thing that the freedom lovers would shout ‘government interference’ about.

https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-1121/

TWiV 1121: SARS-CoV2 still didn’t come from a lab
June 9, 2024
TWiV rebuts a recent opinion piece which falsely claims that the COVID-19 pandemic began in a lab (it began in Nature), followed by a discussion of Paride bacteriophage, which has the unsual property of being able to kill dormant, antibiotic-tolerant cells by direct lytic replication.

SARS-CoV-2 origin discussions previously on TWiV:
TWiV 1019: Eddie Holmes on SARS-CoV-2 origins
TWiV 1017: From Nature, not a lab
TWiV 995: Viral origin stories
TWiV 940: Eddie Holmes in on viral origins
TWiV 876: Spillover market with Michael Worobey
TWiV 762: SARS-CoV-2 origins with Robert Garry
TWiV 760: SARS-CoV-2 origins with Peter Daszak, Thea Kølsen Fischer, Marion Koopmans
TWiV 774: Kristian Andersen, Robert Garry, and the deleted SARS-CoV-2 sequences

Ha! I wish they’d done the podcast before I wrote my post. I might have to watch the segment and perhaps add points to this post, if there are any that weren’t covered.

They aren’t equivocal at all. Strongly recommend.

One suggests that finding two strains of SARS 2 at the wet market virtually rules out lab leak.

Not to mention the evidence for community spread to people not affiliated with the market. (Listening to the podcast now – thanks for linking)

We have our own wet market here in the US namely dairy farms where there are outbreaks of H5N1. It is making the jump to people but hopefully doesn’t become contagious. But since the first strains of H5N1 were discovered in China, I’m sure the conspiracy theorists will jump all over that as some sort of 1996 lab leak. You can’t win with these nut jobs.

Seriously, measles came from livestock. A thousand years ago.

I often refer readers to Orac’s RI post of 8/8/22. Easy to find.

Scoffers remind me of alt med advocates, anti-vaxxers and contrarians who harshly critique SBM/science/ news to an adoring audience:
they proclaim points authoritatively and insult realists/ Orac et al as inferior, uninformed or compromised ethically
then, they say things that I know to be false, lies, errors or misunderstandings such as
—-Nazis are socialists or communists
—-inflation is now worse than ever in the US/ UK/ EU
—-there was a great Italian artist called Titan
—-the duel between Hamilton and Burr took place in West Virginia
—-hiv/aids are not real but energy medicine is
—- meds are deadly, diets cure all

In more detail, supposedly great investigators discuss vaccines causing autism but miss volumes that show how it actually arises from brain studies and developmental research over decades.Research from Jain et al. KiGGS. Hviid.
They don’t understand clinical equipoise or why we need very large numbers of subjects or why to avoid surveys.Or how to correct like Bonferroni. Or how to look at volumes of research not single studies.

A head of an investigation into Covid vaccines’ deadly effects once wrote than thousands or women died annually from eating disorders and was off by orders of magnitude and misinterpreted data about jailed men dying when they were actually released.

Not only does a minimal amount of study obliterate their claims BUT a look at how they earn money reveals much more about them.
You don’t have to be an expert in bio/ med to spot most errors. Believe it or not, people who study these topics can spot BS easily and some can evaluate general ability from written/ spoken material as well.

Since you’re on today, could you name the yarn entangled imbroglio/ flow chart illustrated in the OP ?

I forget the technique you claim that conspiracy theorists use where they bury you in so much bullshit that it’s impossible refute. This blog’s discussion of the lab leak theory is exactly that.

Would you like to explain the evidence you have? I mean, the proponents of the lab leak as the definite cause have already admitted that they have nothing. So you must be special. Come on, all we need is something that could be presented in court without the judge sniggering.

It’s called the Gish Gallop, but it is really only effective in debates, where time is limited. This ain’t that. You are welcome to attempt well-reasoned arguments here should you ever come up with any.

Why most scientists think COVID did NOT leak from a lab

Debunk the Funk with Dr. Wilson

Why most scientists think COVID did NOT leak from a lab

Debunk the Funk with Dr. Wilson
39.4K subscribers

9,274 views Premiered Aug 10, 2021
I rarely ever read YouTube comments these days, but this is how you can contact me:
[email protected] or
/ docwilsondebunks or Twitter @Debunk_The_Funk

(functional links at the YouTube page)

Coronaviruses have been observed jumping from animals to humans for decades:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti

Animals known to carry coronaviruses were sold live at the Huanan seafood market for years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic: https://www.nature.com/articles/s4159

History of viral zoonotic origins: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti

Environmental samples taken from the Huanan seafood market tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in areas consistent with an infected population of animals: https://www.who.int/publications/i/it

Early SARS-CoV-2 sequencing reveals two lineages: https://www.who.int/publications/i/it

Several lines of evidence indicate that the virus was evolving to become better adapted to humans early in the pandemic (and continues to evolve):
https://www.cell.com/action/showPdf?p
https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd
https://journals.asm.org/doi/epub/10….

Good summaries of the data: https://zenodo.org/record/5075888#.YQ
https://virological.org/t/early-appea

There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered:

• No, the coronavirus still was NOT mad…

• Bill Maher enabled COVID conspiracy t…

Furin cleavage sites are common in beta-coronaviruses: https://www.virology.ws/2020/05/14/sa
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/arti

The “deleted sequences” story has been sensationalized: https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-774/
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/

The “sick WIV workers” story has been sensationalized: https://www.nature.com/articles/d4158

There was no gain of function research at the WIV and Fauci’s emails added nothing new: https://journals.plos.org/plospathoge

Like to follow the money? China’s wildlife animal trade market is worth $74 billion: https://www.businessinsider.com/china

Nice set of references Mark.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen viral diseases that made the jump from animals to humans recently ( I’m being sarcastic AF).

In the developing world, roads connect formerly isolated forested areas as more people migrate to cities, hunters acquire animals and sell them in markets. Animals live in close quarters before being sold. There is climate change- drought, higher temperatures, AND increased poverty.

Many of the new viruses have traceable animal origins- HIV, SARS, Ebola, Covid etc. We can estimate roughly when each one “emerged”- e.g. HIV is older than most people probably think. It could infect people but did not become common until the 1980s. People travel more, interact and spread emerging viruses.. I referred to an article ( 2006) that outlined the processes involved.

As a commenter here noted, it’s more reassuring to believe in evil lab workers than the nearly uncontrollable natural/ social global events that lead to emerging viruses affecting humans.

It’s scarier to realize that we’re unlikely to stop destroying the last bits of Wild Nature than to claim the WIV lab leaked SARS 2. Those addicted to the adrenaline rush of scary claims might want to remember this, but it’s not a horror movie, but reality.

I’ve been a little surprised how few people, not even the anti-vaxxers, have said they know what a “zoonosis” is.

I really hate to get political but this is such a perfect fit.
Reminds me of someone who has been in the news:

“That was Mr. Giuliani.”
“And what exactly did he say…”
“My recollection he said “We’ve got lots of theories we just don’t have the evidence.”

Kooks don’t understand that non-evidenced speculation carries virtually zero weight against any hypothesis which does have evidence.
Even without an evidenced hypothesis a non-evidenced speculation is essentially no better than a wild ass guess.

I am so tired of non-scientists, and real scientists forgetting their basic high school education on what makes a good scientific hypothesis, theory, law, etc.
Richard Feynman save us, please.

Exactly. If you’re using the same tactics as creationists, maybe you need to reevaluate your commitment to your “theory.” I’m reminded of a great quote by a scientist about the fatal flaws in intelligent design creationism: “It [IDC] isn’t right. It isn’t even wrong.” It gets right to the heart of the idea of falsifiability.

David Gorski, you could have simply gone unnoticed in history. Perhaps a few people would remember you for your blog challenging homeopaths, enemies of your same intellectual caliber. However, you decided to delve into topics you do not master (like this one) and make a complete fool of yourself, wasting all your misogyny on a brave and much more prepared (and graceful) woman than you. What a pathetic human being you are.

It is the case for the vast majority of us in the end that, within a few decades after we die, no one remembers us. So it amuses me that you would think that I care that much about being remembered.

That being said, let’s just say I’d rather be totally forgotten after I’m dead than to be remembered as someone who rose to brief fame during life for spreading an increasingly ridiculous conspiracy theory, as Alina Chan has. (Or not being known at all during life, like an anonymous troll such as yourself.)

One notes that you did not cite specific examples of what I got wrong or point me evidence for lab leak that I might have missed. Instead you tone policed me and played the misogyny card just because I sarcastically referred to Alina Chan as the “queen of lab leak conspiracy theories.” (One might note that Nicholas Wade is arguably the king of lab leak conspiracy theories.) That tells me that, like most lab leak fans, you have nothing. All you have are attacks on those who refute your misinformation. Sad.

I’ll suggest there’s another reason the usual know-nothings who post here are still pushing the lab leak conspiracy crap: bashing China is in vogue now. Witness the spittle-flecked language about the “danger” of tik-tok and Chinese made electric vehicles. It’s a fair guess (IMO) that “those who refuse to learn” (SocraticBS, Igor, and PortnoyignoranceisBliss) jump on those other bits of sinophobic behavior.

I have often described the key lab-leak arguments as arguments from personal incredulity, as many take the form of this could not happen naturally. I recognised that as a fallacy right at the beginning when the first suggestions of SARS-CoV-2 being manufactured in the lab surfaced. As someone who works on strange events that occur at low frequencies, but then have large impacts, I am aware that rare events are more likely to occur the larger the numbers are. Large numbers of wild animals at a wet market provide more opportunities for a spillover event to occur than research with a small number of viruses by a small number of researchers in a laboratory.

Secondly, with the lab leak hypothesis was how to account for the 2 initial strains. Not a single version of the lab leak conspiracy deals with this. That is before you even get to the location of the initial cases. The lab leak conspiracies wave this away by positing some earlier release that seeming infected almost nobody.

Finally, the behaviour of China over COVID-19 is better evidence for a natural spillover than a lab leak, despite the conspiracy theorists ramblings. China has been hypersensitive to criticism of its wet markets since SARS 1 arose. They invested far more effort into cleaning up the Hunan market than they did over any actions taken at WIV.

Secondly, with the lab leak hypothesis was how to account for the 2 initial strains. Not a single version of the lab leak conspiracy deals with this. That is before you even get to the location of the initial cases. The lab leak conspiracies wave this away by positing some earlier release that seeming infected almost nobody.

Referring to Woroby/Pekar, Chris? Try this..

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/delete-deny-destroy-chinese-western-strategies-erase-latham-phd

A key assertion of the Pekar preprint is its proposal that extant lineage A and lineage B viruses represent the descendants of two independent SARS-CoV-2 spillover events (Pekar et al., 2022). To succeed, this double spillover claim must explain why numerous genome sequences exist that are intermediate between lineage A and lineage B. To overcome this challenge, Pekar et al. propose that such intermediates are all either artifacts from sequencing errors or irrelevant to the origin question for other reasons. Sequencing errors are common enough, but Pekar et al. only demonstrate them convincingly in a minority of instances. For example, for most of their suggested sequence artifacts they rely on an unverifiable ‘personal communication’ from a single scientist (L. Chen) in China. To make a case for the irrelevance of others they have to suggest, for example, that two genomes sampled in February in Beijing are irrelevant–as if early sequences cannot have spread elsewhere or persisted. Ultimately, their bold suggestion that the phylogeny of SARS-CoV-2 is best explained by resolving it into two independent spillovers is very poorly supported by evidence.

And, this….

https://europepmc.org/article/ppr/ppr603269

You need to do better than that. An article published of all places on LinkedIn and a preprint first uploaded in 2022, but never accepted for publication anywhere.

I see from the LinkedIn piece that Jonathan Latham has gone from being a conspiracy theorist about genetically-engineered crops to a conspiracy theorist about COVID-19. Crank magnetism is truly alive and well.

Dealing with just one claim of Latham’s:

To succeed, this double spillover claim must explain why numerous genome sequences exist that are intermediate between lineage A and lineage B.

The distribution of COVID-19 sequences makes all alternative explanations untenable. Among the early sequences, less than 3% of sequences are intermediates. For many of these intermediate sequences, it is clear that sequencing artifacts are a problem. If you had ever done PCR, you would understand why. The distribution of sequences is clearly bimodal – the vast majority falling into either A or B, with a small fraction falling outside. There is no way this could happen if one of the lineages was evolving from the other in humans. The only way to explain the distribution of sequences is if there were 2 events, one involving lineage A and one involving lineage B.

Notably, both lineages were found in environmental samples at the market, but no intermediates.

Chris, is that the best from you? Attack the messenger followed by an unsubstantiated argument? Chris, what do you also have to say of this…..

Recently, a different method has been applied to the SARS-CoV-2 origin question (Kumar et al., 2021). This method is new to virology but it is widely used in cancer research (e.g. Miura et al., 2018). Using it, Kumar, Pond, and colleagues were able to infer the existence of viral strains that are older (i.e. ancestors of) Wuhan-hu-1 (the standard SARS-CoV-2 reference genome) and the other market sequences by at least 3 mutations, which is a lot.

………………..

As is apparent from Fig. 1, unlike Pekar et al. (2022), MOA identifies a single root virus (μ1, top left, is its first mutant). A single root virus means the pandemic began with only one initial spillover. A single spillover event is a crucial observation because it strongly implies a lab leak (since scientists tend to work with pure cultures); whereas equivalent evidence for multiple and/or genetically diverse spillovers would have implied a natural source. MOA also shows that all lineage B viruses are descended from one lineage A virus.

Chris, what about the claim that ‘duplicate, Missing, and Biased Data in the Worobey et al.study undermines their main r_esult’? Must I remind you that you started this by asserting that the lab leak folks have no response to Worobey/Pekar?

One obvious problem is that MOA looks after single ancestral genome. What if there is none ? Like double spillover.
Not mention that single ancestor does not mean that said virus comes from lab leak.

Aarno, I see Chris is shy, so you’ve decided to step out for him

One obvious problem is that MOA looks after single ancestral genome. What if there is none ? Like double spillover.

Hugh? MOA doesn’t just look after single ancestral genome; it proves it!

Not mention that single ancestor does not mean that said virus comes from lab leak.

Correct, but it essentially buries Worobey/Pekar and the natural spillover theorists’ best argument.

So, here we have it; despite this meandering, incoherent mush from Orac in which he tries to hypnotize by using ‘lab leak conspiracy’ enough times, it really is all hocus-pocus from him as others have pointed out. The actual evidence is simply not on the natural spillover pushers’ side.

Must I remind you that you started this by asserting that the lab leak folks have no response to Worobey/Pekar?

In fact I didn’t. I pointed out a couple of facts that all lab leak theories have failed to explain. There are others.

That you have attempted to move the goalposts and attempted to claim these facts do not exist based on some bottom of the heap opinion says more about you than me.

Using it, Kumar, Pond, and colleagues were able to infer the existence of viral strains that are older (i.e. ancestors of) Wuhan-hu-1 (the standard SARS-CoV-2 reference genome) and the other market sequences by at least 3 mutations, which is a lot.

Kumar et al. is an entirely in silico process. Nobody has ever seen this supposed virus. There are very large fundamental problems with their claims. For Kumar et al. to be correct that there was a single spillover event, this virus would need to have been circulating in humans for many months, with no one getting ill and no one noticing. There is no way this could have happened. Within weeks of the first reported cases, there were deaths and within 3 months there were thousands of deaths in China, Italy and the US. There is no way this disease could have gone unnoticed for many months.

However, the odds are even worse than that, because to explain the observations there would need to be 2 separate populations with COVID-19 circulating in with no mixing and these two happened to come together near the Wuhan wet market within a couple of weeks of each other. So a disease which spread across the world within a couple of months of the first known cases, apparently circulated in 2 separate populations for many months without anyone noticing and without mixing.

Frankly the hypothesis of Kumar et al. is a complete load of bulldust. For someone who has spent a career involved in evolutionary biology there are some ideas that are self-evidently nonsense.

You are choosing these poor quality references rather than using high quality evidence because you have an agenda and are looking for evidence to back it.

Hey! Looks like Chris is back! And he couldn’t be more disengenuos. You argue…..

In fact I didn’t. I pointed out a couple of facts that all lab leak theories have failed to explain. There are others.

And aren’t those ‘facts’ Worobey/Pekar’s claims that the virus originated in the wet market and there were two circulating lineages from the get-go?

Kumar et al. is an entirely in silico process. Nobody has ever seen this supposed virus. There are very large fundamental problems with their claims. For Kumar et al. to be correct that there was a single spillover event, this virus would need to have been circulating in humans for many months, with no one getting ill and no one noticing. There is no way this could have happened. Within weeks of the first reported cases, there were deaths and within 3 months there were thousands of deaths in China, Italy and the US. There is no way this disease could have gone unnoticed for many months.

So, you’re not actually criticizing Kumar et al’s actual science in using MOA to find a much earlier, single circulating lineage, you just have an incidental criticism that an earlier circulating virus couldn’t have been missed? Did you miss Latham’s detailed argument that there was ample evidence that the virus was circulating much earlier? If you did, I suggest you go back and read the article.

Anyway, my time on this stage is up, but, before I leave, I can’t help reflecting on a comment up-thread where it was suggested that those denying that the virus started in the wet market are harbouring racism against China. I must ask, are the Chinese scientists such as Gao who argue that the virus did not start in the wet market and the wet market was just an amplifying event being racist against themselves?

Fred you did not get it, of course. Read this:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question
MOA searches for single originator So it assumes that there is one. So it does not prove that there is one. Originator could a theoretical construc.
Original paper:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32995781/
A comparison of proCoV2 with Wuhan-1 genomes revealed three differences in the 49 positions, which was also true for other reference genomes (Fig. 2c).
and
Importantly, three closely-related non-human coronavirus genomes (bats and pangolin) all have the same base at these positions as does the proCoV2 genome, suggesting that the ancestral genome did not contain α variants.
So heavy in theory, but you should not like the direction of it.
Secondly I said that single originator can as easily be zoonotic. Answer to this.

And aren’t those ‘facts’ Worobey/Pekar’s claims that the virus originated in the wet market and there were two circulating lineages from the get-go?

Completely incorrect. The facts are that all the early cases occurred in proximity to the Wuhan wet market. This fact is completely independent of Worobey et al. Worobey et al. proposed a hypothesis to explain this fact and then ran some statistical models using the known population density of Wuhan to test whether this clustering could have been entirely random.

Likewise, the fact is that the early sequences of SARS-CoV-2 occurred as two lineages. This is independent of Pekar et al. Pekar et al. created a phylogenetic tree and posited the hypothesis that there were two spillover events. They then ran statistical modelling to test whether a single spillover event could produce the phylogenetic tree.

Not a single lab-leak hypothesis has been able to adequately explain these two facts. What they have done is to attack Worobey et al. and Pekar et al. just as you have done as a way of trying to make these uncomfortable facts go away. Even if both Worobey et al. and Pekar et al. were wrong, the two facts remain.

So, you’re not actually criticizing Kumar et al’s actual science in using MOA to find a much earlier, single circulating lineage

I didn’t specifically criticise Kumar et al.’s approach, because it was 1) self-evidently wrong and 2) the hypothesis they proposed failed to describe the known facts. Not only could the hypothesis not describe the known facts, it required a miracle to occur which I pointed out (in fact there needs to be more than one miracle). When your hypothesis relies on miracles, it is time to give it away.

The method Kumar et al. used is based on trying to identify when tumour mutations first occurred. As all the cells in a tumour are descended from the original mutant cell, this method presupposes that there will be a single original mutation. If you use a method that presupposes a single event, it will give you a single event, regardless of how ridiculous that result is. This method is completely inappropriate to use on organisms because you never know which of the organisms is more closely related to the ancestral sequence. This is why I described the paper as a load of bulldust. It used a completely inappropriate method to come up with an answer that was unable to get close to explaining the known facts.

@Chris Preston,

Thank you for your responses to Fred. I think it’s pretty clear you’re never going to get through to him, but your responses have been very helpful to me as an interested third party in understanding the issues involved.

I am back! How it itch trying to refrain from responding to this bs. Someone should invent a pill for it.

Chris, as to the ‘fact’ that that all the early cases were identified around the wet market, the has already been dismissed as ascertainment bias. Here is no other than Chan discussing it.

https://ayjchan.medium.com/evidence-for-a-natural-origin-of-covid-19-no-longer-dispositive-after-scientific-peer-review-af95b52499e1

(3) The paper still fails to acknowledge that early Covid-19 cases, regardless of whether the patient had a known link to the market, had been identified with ascertainment bias — reinforcing the initial perception that the Huanan seafood market was the early epicenter of the Wuhan outbreak.

Multiple reports from the early days of the pandemic and even the China-WHO joint study tell us that, due to the initial suspicion that the virus had spilled over from illegal wildlife sold at the market, the retrospective identification of December 2019 coronavirus cases included in their case definition a link to the Huanan market and early surveillance focused on hospitals near the market and the neighborhood of the market; this market bias was only removed from the criteria for identifying potential Covid-19 cases on January 18, 2020.

Chris, as to the ‘fact’ that two distinct lineages were found at the market, again, intermediate lineages were also found that has been poorly accounted for if the two weren’t related.

One obvious problem is that MOA looks after single ancestral genome. What if there is none ? Like double spillover

Perhaps this is a valid criticism of whether Kumar et al identified the correct ancestral strain or strains, but it has absolute no bearing on the fact that their computation found lineages A and B to be related and with B originating from A. Second, it has no bearing on their computation that the ancestral strain (or strains!) started before the wet market. Aarno, yes, taken together while not completely disputing a zoonotic claim, it definitely disputes the wet market one.

Then there was also this from Aarno that you also alluded to..

Fred Does the MOA ancestor really exist ? MOA will find a single ancestor by definition, because that is how it works.
Worobey says this:
We show here that the earliest known COVID-19 cases from December 2019, including those without reported direct links, were geographically centered on this market. We report that live SARS-CoV-2–susceptible mammals were sold at the market in late 2019 and that within the market, SARS-CoV-2–positive environmental samples were spatially associated with vendors selling live mammals
there were cases without reported direct link to wet market.

Fred Does the MOA ancestor really exist ? MOA will find a single ancestor by definition, because that is how it works

Aarno, let me explain why that criticism is not valid as it pertains to Kumar et al findings. Let’s imagine that Covid-2 started with multiple spillover events caused by ancestral lineages A, B, C, and D. Along come Kumar et al using their MOA scanning in search of an ancestral strain. If their starting point was a sample of A offsprings and they run it back, of course it would only find the A ancestral parent while missing the B, C and D parents. Yet, that problem aside, Kumar et al nevertheless found that lineages A and B were related with lineage B being the offspring of A and implying there was no B spillover. Lineage A was also calculated as originating in October 2019, much earlier than the wet market samples, and which again challenges the claim that the pandemic started in the market.

Hoping Aarno will provide clarification on this…

Genomic background of the variants preceding them in the reconstructed mutation history with a very high propensity (co-occurrence index, COI > 96.7%; Fig. 1). This suggests a strong signal to infer a sequential mutational history. Indeed, a bootstrap analysis involving genome resampling to assess the robustness of the mutation history produced high bootstrap confidence levels (BCLs) for key groups of mutations as well as many offshoots (Fig. 1; BCL > 95%)

Would we expect a strong sequential mutational signal if there were multiple progenitor viruses? MOA may be based on the assumption of a single progenitor, but does the above quoted passage not suggest that Kumar et al actually tested for it?

Actually, if there one ancestor, there would just one strain. There iis no reason to think double spillover strains should otseem to be related.Both were infectious to humans.
As Chris Preston said, the originator virus should have circulated worldwide without anybody getting sick.
Did you read this part of Kumar’s article:
This timeline puts the presence of proCoV2 in late October 2019, which is consistent with the report of a fragment of spike protein identical to Wuhan-1 in early December in Italy, among other evidence (Giovanetti et al. 2020; Li, Wang, et al. 2020; van Dorp et al. 2020; Amendola et al. 2021).
Italians are leaking, or perhaps not:
The sequenced segment of the spike protein is short (409 bases). It does not span positions in which 49 major early variants were observed,

Even within one infected individual, there is a “swarm” of virions whose genetic code is not necessarily identical. Look up “viral swarm”

I’m in the “open mind” camp and fully accept that, like most laypeople, I have a limited ability to understand all the scientific nuance involved.

Something bothers me, however.

Apparently the lab in question had a number of critically important databases of viruses, including related genetic sequencing information. It was mentioned in passing in the post above:

“By 2019, Dr. Shi’s group had published a database describing more than 22,000 collected wildlife samples. But external access was shut off in the fall of 2019, and the database was not shared with American collaborators even after the pandemic started, when such a rich virus collection would have been most useful in tracking the origin of SARS‑CoV‑2. It remains unclear whether the Wuhan institute possessed a precursor of the pandemic virus.”

This database was deliberately taken offline, in apparent contravention of Chinese law, on Sept 12th, 2019 – several months BEFORE SARS‑CoV‑2 publicly emerged. Asking why is a fair question. This database contained all the virus collecting the lab did, along with a whole lot more. In the post above, Orac goes on to discuss the point about whether the Wuhan institute possessed a precursor of the pandemic virus, but does not address the take down of this very important database. In fact, it wasn’t just this one database, but all 16 viral databases that the Wuhan lab managed.

A investigation into the databases that were taken offline was done in 2021, and the findings published (available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349073738_An_investigation_into_the_WIV_databases_that_were_taken_offline).

The main database held more than 22,000 samples and sequence records, including for all WIV sampling trips going back many years.

A key finding of the investigations was:

“The database contains data on seasonal epidemics of viruses crossing the species barrier, data not provided by DBatVir (for bats) or DRodVir (for rodents).

This makes it potentially the best database for investigating whether the theory of natural spillover of SARS-CoV-2 is plausible. emphasis mine.

The database includes samples and sequences of bat beta-coronaviruses gathered by the WIV on trips to Yunnan including Mojiang (whereRaTG13 was sampled), sequences that have not all been made public”

It’s one thing to not allow foreign oversight into the lab itself. (To Orac’s points that authoritative governments gonna authoritate, and all.) Hiding these databases, on the other hand, gives off more than a minor stench of a coverup. Why else hide them? Especially when allowing outside scientists to review the data could help exonerate the lab as the source of SARS‑CoV‑2. Some other things that are not open to conjecture. Once SARS-CoV-2 was spotted, the Chinese government closed the market and researchers were not allowed access to the lab.

This is where my mind gets admittedly into pure speculation. When, as Orac noted, you are dealing with massively authoritative government like China – the kind of government that can stand up a world class 1,000 bed, 645,000 square foot hospital in 10 days (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-s-coronavirus-hospital-built-10-days-opens-its-doors-n1128531); or the kind of government that routinely makes dissidents “disappear” (https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-sports-entertainment-health-beijing-d9aeeb571e4c1d4cb8f4efb469e9faa2) — Is it a stretch to then imagine said massively authoritative government covering up a mistakenly escaped virus at one of their labs by then “planting” said escaped virus into a logical place such as the Wuhan wet market?

I’m not strident that this is the case one way or the other. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it was the case, because almost all of the circumstantial “evidence” could easily support this theory.

“Not strident”? OK, maybe. Funny, however, that you aren’t equally suspicious of the known efforts by the Chinese government to clean up the wet markets, destroy animal samples, etc. After all, they promised to do away with such markets after the first SARS arose from them, and a second viral epidemic, this one turning into a pandemic, arising from the same sort of source in their country was highly embarrassing.

Gonna quote a commenter further up the comment list:

To lab leakers, there are imaginary scenarios where the Chinese government marched into WIV and helped destroy all the evidence of the lab leak. All this despite the scientists at WIV saying there were no incidents, including a foreign worker that worked there. This is held up as proof that a lab leak must have happened and there was a coverup.

Meanwhile, the Huanan market was actually scrubbed down and bleach. Animals were actually culled. And nearby wildlife farms were actually culled. Evidence of a natural spillover (nefariously or not) was actually destroyed. To lab leakers, this doesn’t matter. An imaginary coverup at WIV is proof of a lab leak, but actual destruction of evidence at the market can be disregarded.

And then there are the claims of potential safety issues at WIV. Maybe there were. But there was still far more safety measures in place at WIV than at a wet market where animals are handled with bare hands, and free to piss and crap all over each other in cages.

And they treat suspicious behaviour by the Chinese government as proof that there was a lab leak, but do not realize that the Chinese government would have had just as much reason to suppress a natural spillover. Any suggestion that the Chinese government attempted a coverup does not provide stronger evidence of a lab leak than it does a natural spillover.

Basically, as I said, authoritarians gonna authoritarian, but I do find it funny that you aren’t at least equally suspicious of the known efforts by the Chinese government to clean up the wet markets, destroy animal samples, etc. After all, they had promised to do away with such markets after the first SARS arose from them, and a second viral epidemic, this one turning into a pandemic, arising from the same sort of source in their country would be highly embarrassing. Basically, an authoritarian government like China authoritarianing is not evidence one way or the other for lab leak versus zoonotic spillover. It’s just not.

Of course, those claiming an “open mind” (like you) always focus like a laser on any suspicious coverup activity by China that (they think) supports lab leak and tend to ignore or downplay any suspicious coverup activity by China that might suggest an attempt to cover up the market as the original source. Let’s just say I am…skeptical…that your mind is truly as “open” as you claim it to be.

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Orac. In reading your post and the comments, there is a lot of good discussion. A powerful aspect of the scientific method is that it’s okay to say: “I don’t know”, something I love about the rational thought process. And maybe instead of saying I’m open minded, I should have just said I don’t know.

Based on all that you’ve written above and your further comments, it seems fair to say that you are a clear supporter of the “animal spill over” theory. That very well may be correct.

I note that your response to my comment was to essentially entirely avoid discussing the actions of the Chinese government and the possibility that they engineered a cover up, and instead, point out that I wasn’t outwardly equally suspicious of their efforts to clean up the markets. To your point, there is evidence that they took an interest in getting live animals out of these markets after SARS.

My understanding is that the Wuhan market, in particular, was shuttered overnight at the end of Dec 2019. I’m not aware of any information on what happened to the animals there or any other post closure actions that the government took. The government’s public statements said it was closed because four cases of a mystery pneumonia were linked to the market. The justification for those actions could equally support an actual concern about a new unknown virus or be to provide cover for lab leak, or to your point, be to cover up an animal spill over.

It would be one thing if we were dealing with an honest government in China. The problem is, we aren’t. And that speaks to the credibility of any information provided by them. In addition to the points I made about the databases, and access to the lab in my original post, it’s been well documented that the Chinese government mounted a massive propaganda campaign claiming the virus came from the US. Further, the director of the Wuhan lab publicly came out with a ludicrous theory that the virus arrived at the market via tainted foreign meat. She never said from where, or why the virus was not in circulation at the source of the tainted meat.

While there is widespread agreement among scientists that the market was the epicenter of the origin, it is also true that almost all the information about the emergence and early spread of the virus comes from the Chinese government. It is further true that we are dealing with a bad state actor in the Chinese government.

From the information that’s publicly available, it seems most all the circumstantial evidence and data could support either a lab leak with Chinese governments covering it up, or the market spill over theory. Probably the strongest data point supporting the market spill over theory is the apparent appearance of two early strains. But even that can’t be 100% relied on because the only source of this data is, once again, the Chinese government. It is also worth noting that only now – fully four years after the virus appeared, did the Chinese government release this genetic information. Not particularly encouraging as to veracity.

Even if the data the Chinese Government recently released is legit, according to Scientific American the data sources don’t line up with the timeframe:

“But these newer findings from the market don’t quite fit the time line of the pandemic, a problem that researchers critical of the wildlife spillover theory are quick to point out. The samples were taken nearly a month after symptoms appeared in the first confirmed COVID cases, around December 10, 2019—and evolutionary genetic analyses suggest the virus began circulating in humans as early as mid-November of that year. It’s impossible to know if the same animals were at the market then or whether they had been infected prior to the first human cases. “I think the major limitation is that, unfortunately, the sampling was being done in January 2020,” not the beginning of December 2019, Bloom says. “It’s difficult to interpret what the correspondence between the animal and human content of these samples and the SARS-CoV-2 content means.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-new-evidence-from-the-wuhan-market-tells-us-about-covids-origins1/

In criminal investigations we generally look for three things: motive, opportunity and means. Taken as a whole, the observable actions of the Chinese government are consistent with them having all three. As I said, this bothers me.

Maybe the recent data out of China will give scientists a better idea of where to look next for animals upstream of the market and they can home in on the definitive source vector. That would certainly be welcome and wouldn’t bother me at all.

Just FWIW, I suggest doing a post on Dr Sabine Hazan, who has a book out about the benefits of eating feces and claims it cures Covid-19.

And considering what she eats, she didn’t even have a good grin in the picture I saw.

It’s a natural progression from urine drinking to poop-eating.

If “purebloods”‘ body fluids can go for premium prices, their dung should command top dollar too.

Anticipating some wild Craigslist ads…

Orac, since you are calling Chan “the queen of conspiracy theorists”, can you provide documentation of her participation in conspiracy theorist behavior? The NYT article doesn’t show much. I mean this as a sincere request. I’ve seen her develop a persecution complex over the years on Twitter and make wild accusations against those who disagree with her. She also openly cooperates/celebrates with hard-core conspiracy theorist running DRASTIC. But it’s not obvious to the casual reader, and it just sounds like name calling. I assume that she also happily works with the information provided by the conspiracy theorists at US Right to Know (I don’t know how I feel about doing that) and the ‘stop the steal’ House Republicans (not that she’s an advocate for ‘Stop the Steal’, but if you don’t want to be called a conspiracy theorist, it’s best to not surround yourself with conspiracy theorists).

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