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America’s official scientific establishment is in a huff over the CCP Virus origins theory controversy. “There’s sniping going on in all directions,” groused National Academy of Sciences president Marcia McNutt to a Washington Post reporter. “Her message to everyone,” correspondent Joel Achenbach continued, “cool it.”

Added McNutt:

“If anyone is going to come out strongly on one hypothesis or another, the scientific method says that there should be evidence to back it. I worry when some people are very willing to be firm about one origin or the other but fail to either have the evidence or the expertise to back it up.”

All of which I strongly endorse. But a recent statement of hers, co-signed by her counterparts at the National Academies of Engineering and Medicine, let off the hook the main culprits in turning this debate over whether the pandemic came directly from nature or escaped from a Chinese lab into a brawl. For the record clearly shows that the mudslingers who have sown “public confusion” and risk “undermining the public’s trust in science and scientists, including those still leading efforts to bring the pandemic under control,” first came from the national and global scientific establishments themselves.

Possibly worse, even if you ignore compelling evidence of their powerful self-interest in brushing off the lab leak theory (see, e.g., here) Washington’s own science leaders apparently put up no resistance.

Let’s use for documentation a recent lab leak-related timeline compiled by the Washington Post, which – as compiler Glenn Kessler shows – was one of many mainstream media outlets that portrayed this view as a wild and crazy notion.

According to Kessler, two of the first four presentations of lab leak claims and potentially related views (in January, 2020) came from an apparent Hong Kong democracy supporter on Twitter, and from a study by Chinese researchers published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet and actually funded by Chinese government agencies.

This study found that, in Kessler’s words, “13 of the 41 cases [of the CCP Virus], including the first documented case, had no link to the seafood marketplace that originally was considered the origin of the outbreak.” In other words, at this admittedly early stage, the natural origin supporters had some major explaining to do.

The other two reports that linked the Chinese facility in question – the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) came in the British newspaper Daily Mail and the American newspaper The Washington Times.

The former simply noted that a 2017 article in the (also prestigious) science publication nature reported that “A laboratory in Wuhan is on the cusp of being cleared to work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens” and that “Some scientists outside China worry about pathogens escaping….”

The latter, titled “Coronavirus may have originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program,” was based on an interview with a former Israeli intelligence officer with a biowarfare specialty and a microbiology Ph.D. who contended that “Certain laboratories in the [WIV] have probably been engaged, in terms of research and development, in Chinese [biological weapons], at least collaterally….”

He turned out to be right – as even the Biden administration has acknowledged.

Yet this specialist, Dany Shoham, also said that “In principle, outward virus infiltration might take place either as leakage or as an indoor unnoticed infection of a person that normally went out of the concerned facility. This could have been the case with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but so far there isn’t evidence or indication for such incident.”

So no conspiracy-mongering there, either.

Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton, as Kessler noted, has been widely accused of “repeating a coronavirus fringe theory that scientists have disputed.” But as already made clear, many non-fringe-y types had been making similar statements, too, by the time he spoke out in late January.

Moreover, all Cotton said at various time then and in mid-February was:

>”…Wuhan has China’s only biosafety level-four super laboratory that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”

>”…super-lab is just a few miles from that [Wuhan seafood] market. Where did it start? We don’t know.” He did add more provocatively that “China lied about virus starting in Wuhan food market.”

But he also argued that “burden of proof is on you & fellow communists” – a claim that was eminently unreasonable given the secrecy with which China had been handling virus-related issues and its outright intimidation of a Chinese researcher who had posted a paper charging that “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan” and who (in Kessler’s words) “pointed to the previous safety mishaps and the kind of research undertaken at the lab. He withdrew the paper a few weeks later after Chinese authorities insisted no accident had taken place.”

>And on February 9, after Beijing called his remarks “absolutely crazy,” Cotton tweeted the following description of four possible virus origin scenarios:

1. Natural (still the most likely, but almost certainly not from the Wuhan food market) 2. Good science, bad safety (e.g., they were researching things like diagnostic testing and vaccines, but an accidental breach occurred). 3. Bad science, bad safety (this is the engineered-bioweapon hypothesis, with an accidental breach). 4. Deliberate release (very unlikely, but shouldn’t rule out till the evidence is in). Again, none of these are ‘theories’ and certainly not ‘conspiracy theories.’ They are hypotheses that ought to be studied in light of the evidence.”

Sorry, but there’s no fear-mongering here, either.

But how did the scientific community respond? Twenty-seven of its members published a statement in The Lancet declaring: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that covid-19 does not have a natural origin.” Scientists, they continued “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.”

This statement, however, suffered fatal conflict of interest flaws in that, as Kessler writes, “it was drafted and organized by Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, which funded [coronavirus] research at WIV with U.S. government grants.” That is, the statement was the product of someone who had everything to lose either if a naturally occurring virus leaked from a lab in a country whose dodgy safety procedures were no secret, or if this lab had – and possibly in cooperation with the Chinese military – created this pathogen and lost control of it (or, as indeed currently seems less likely, at least to me, let it loose).

And although the 27 signers of Daszak’s statement certainly didn’t represent the entire U.S. or global virology or bio-sciences communities, evidently no one in these larger communities’ ranks thought to point out Daszak’s thoroughly compromised position. (Unless – improbably – none of them knew anything about his relationship with the lab?). Even more damningly, neither National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins or U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony S. Fauci (who approved these grants) called out Daszak, either.

Nor were Daszak and the other signers (three of whom have now endorsed investigating the lab leak theory) the only scientists smearing all lab leakers. Last week, a USAToday probe of Fauci’s role in the early stages of the virus origins debate showed that Kristian Anderson, an infectious disease expert at California’s Scripps Research Translational Institute belongs on the list, too. And again, Fauci himself maintained a conspicuous silence.

It was Anderson who first alerted Fauci at the end of January, 2020 to the possibility that the virus might have been a human creation. He subsequently changed his mind – which is perfectly fine, except that his own explanation for the switch contains some contradictions – but for some reason, Anderson wasn’t content to set forth his own views. Just a few days later, in very early February, according to USAToday author Alison Young, he was “telling another group of scientists” that “suggestions of engineering [were] ‘fringe’ and ‘crackpot’ theories.”

Indeed, Anderson went so far as to suggest to the top career U.S. government science officials drafting a letter on the virus (including its origins) that they “be more firm on the question of engineering. The main crackpot theories going around at the moment relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case. Engineering can mean many things and could be done for either basic research or nefarious reasons, but the data conclusively show that neither was done…”

Anderson continued, “If one of the main purposes of this document is to counter those fringe theories, I think it’s very important that we do so strongly and in plain language….”

To the credit of the government scientists (and possibly Fauci, who was involved in the drafting) Anderson’s proposals were rejected. But as the controversy over the virus’ origins continued, and scornful dismissals of the lab leak theory hardened into conventional wisdom, instances of the scientific community, especially inside U.S. government, warning “Not so fast” simply can’t be found. In fact, as detailed in Kessler’s timeline, the only such examples from the professionals that appeared in public during this time came to the in the form of research outside the federal government explaining why the lab leak theory retained varying degrees of plausibility. 

As I’ve previously written, I’m fine with “following the science” when dealing with crises like the pandemic – though not with leaving policy decisions with far-reaching and gigantic ramifications outside science to this particular group of specialists.  But if “the science,” or at least the current group of government officials and advisers, wants continued major input, a much better job will need to be done in carrying out what should a priority responsibility – recognizing and encouraging legitimate scientific debates.  That is, they’ll need to “follow the science” and the actual evidence themselves, instead of simply parroting conventional wisdoms and especially narratives whose origins require thorough investigations themselves.