I’m not gonna believe what isn’t there


This is cute. What’s the difference between politicians and scientists?

There are at least two ways to look at that, though. My first assumption was that gosh, politicians are simply innumerate. But another perspective would be that politicians have an agenda and interpret data to fit a desired conclusion.

And then I read all the nonsense about attempts to pin the pandemic on an intentional conspiracy. The latest news is that workers at Wuhan labs were coming down sick before the pandemic hit.

A State Department fact sheet released by the Trump administration in January said that the researchers had gotten sick in autumn 2019 but did not go as far as to say they had been hospitalized. China reported to the World Health Organization that the first patient with Covid-like symptoms was recorded in Wuhan on December 8, 2019.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on the intelligence surrounding the earlier hospitalizations.
Importantly, the intelligence community still does not know what the researchers were actually sick with, said the people briefed, and continues to have low confidence in its assessments of the virus’ precise origins beyond the fact that it came from China. “At the end of the day, there is still nothing definitive,” said one of the people who has seen the intelligence.

That last paragraph is the important one. I can believe that people were sloppy, that the labs may have been poorly managed, or that they were secure, but employed human beings who could get sick for reasons that had nothing to do with their work. But I have yet to see any evidence that the disease was engineered. There is no evidence that the workers had COVID-19. There is no reason to think this virus was the consequence of anything other than chance variation.

But that wouldn’t fit the teleological imperative!

Comments

  1. gijoel says

    Classic DARVO, America’s health care didn’t get ground to the bones because of tRump lack of leadership. It was the Chinese who did it all, not our Cheetos leader.

  2. says

    I was watching and worrying about COVID way back in January 2020. Most people didn’t know what I was talking about. I saw the lockdown in Italy and said “That’s going to be us next month”. Then Trump went up there as said there “Were a few cases and by summer it would go away”. I did study a bit of epidemiology in college though. Focused on food born illness not air born diseases. I know how fast things can spin out of control. The example I like to cite is an outbreak of Hep-A in Shanghai, China. The clam beds were contaminated with human waste and that created a nasty feedback loop. Hep infected the clams, People ate the clams and were infected. Then they pooped and the sewage infected more clams. By the time they locked down the bay, over 500,000 people were infected.

  3. Lee Drake says

    I don’t think the new reporting is conclusive, though I also think it points to an alternative, less exciting “lab hypothesis”. This would be similar to a lab leak of smallpox in 1978: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-birmingham-45101091

    Basically, this variant of coronavirus wasn’t engineered or a weapon at all. If you wanted to use a virus as a weapon, you’d prioritize high lethality and low contagiousness (to maximize strategic use and minimize blowback). But it very well could be the case that the lab had a program to survey coronavirus in other animals to try and identify the origins of SARS-CoV-1, and a dumb but understandable accidental led to the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

  4. PaulBC says

    Yeah, I noticed that at the very beginning of the pandemic. It was one of the few cases in my life that I could predict the future reliably and tell people things that were the obvious result of arithmetic but that they found surprising. By last summer, I was just too depressed to bother anymore.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    “It was one of the few cases in my life that I could predict the future reliably and tell people things that were the obvious result of arithmetic but that they found surprising”
    .
    It is much the same with the big economic downturns- A few voices warned about the bank crisis of 2008 but were ridiculed. Wishful thinking is a hell of a drug.

  6. raven says

    I was watching and worrying about COVID way back in January 2020. Most people didn’t know what I was talking about.

    Yeah, me too.
    I was boring the people around me in February talking about the oncoming pandemic with all the latest details from China.
    No one said anything but a lot of them looked at me like I might be slipping over the edge.
    I even went out and stockpiled a huge amount of food and essentials, which I explained as beating the crowds.

    In mid-March, a good friend caught the virus.
    A few weeks later, another one died from it in the ICU.

  7. PaulBC says

    raven@5 My wife is Chinese and was tuned into the situation from the start. We actually skipped a company holiday party in late January because of coronavirus concerns and she was surprised so many others went. Actually, anyone paying attention might have noticed the effort China was putting into building emergency hospitals and reasonably included something big was coming. (But wishful thinking wins out.) By mid-February, my company was taking it pretty seriously but nobody was quite sure what to do about it.

    For my part, I admit I put it in the same mental category as 2009 swine flu and stupidly took the CDC at its word about masks. My wife was just way ahead of the curve.

  8. stroppy says

    My first assumption was that gosh, politicians are simply innumerate. But another perspective would be that politicians have an agenda and interpret data to fit a desired conclusion.

    Not either or. Both. Plus politicians don’t look at the same data. The first graph would have other graphs supper-imposed on it; bounds of logistics, politics, policy etc. But yeah, in the case of the T***p Cult of Dim Bulbs, scribbled flourishes with a magic marker and a puff of smoke.

  9. PaulBC says

    stroppy@7

    The first graph would have other graphs supper-imposed on it; bounds of logistics, politics, policy etc.

    Same as any good Ponzi scheme. How long can we get away with this? Same math, different conclusion.

  10. stroppy says

    Well, the science is science, governing is an art, that’s why you want to put a firewall between politics and science. You want science to inform policy, not the other way around. They are two different layers of expertise.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    It seems increasingly plausible that Covid-19 originated in fur farms, especially mink…

    China is indeed the world’s leading market and leading producer of fur worldwide. The industry in China is worth more than $20 billion a year, and involves more than 50 million animals. … It has often been said that the animal spreading the first SARS was the masked civet (Paguma larvata), a member of the viverrid family… but in fact raccoon dogs were also infected and were equally likely to be responsible for the transmission to humans. … for months there has been no mention [in Chinese media] of foxes, minks or raccoon dogs being sold on the Wuhan market before it closed on 31 December, 2019. … in 2019 Shandong produced 6.5 million mink pelts, down from nearly 15 million in 2018. This means nearly 9 million mink disappeared from one year to the next, a 55% drop in production for just one province. … officially not a single Chinese mink farm has been contaminated by Covid-19, whereas farms all over Europe—north, south, east and west —and in the United States and Canada have been affected. …

  12. mistershelden says

    Since we have not (yet??) found the zoonotic origins and we know:
    1. The Wuhan lab had a very large collection of bat coronaviruses including the closest known to SARS Cov2, RaTG13
    2. The Wuhan lab was infecting humanised mice and human cell cultures with these bat coronaviruses, including serial passage, to select for viruses which might be virulent in humans
    3. The Wuhan lab was doing controversial gain-of-function experiments on viruses
    4. There is no significant population of wild bats in Wuhan
    5. The outbreak appears to have started almost next door to the lab
    6. Accidental escapes of lab cultures are common
    …it doesn’t seem a stretch to think that a lab escape is a pretty strong possibility.

    I realise that Nicholas Wade is persona non grata around here, and for good reason, however his survey of the evidence around an accidental lab escape is thorough and measured:
    https://thebulletin.org/2021/05/the-origin-of-covid-did-people-or-nature-open-pandoras-box-at-wuhan/
    And the following article is a very good accompaniment:
    https://www.currentaffairs.org/2021/05/the-stakes-of-finding-covid-19s-origins

  13. raven says

    Wikipedia:

    The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), also known as the mangut (its Evenki name), tanuki or neoguri, is a canid indigenous to East Asia. It is the only extant species in the genus Nyctereutes.
    Species: N. procyonoides
    Genus: Nyctereutes

    I had to look it up.
    Raccoon dogs are small canids found in East Asia.

  14. chris61 says

    I used to think it was natural but now I’m starting to consider it was dropped off by one or more of that multitude of alien ships that have started appearing in our skies.

    Seriously, it is difficult for me to imagine an engineered virus that wouldn’t have obvious traces of that engineering in its sequence.

  15. raven says

    6. Accidental escapes of lab cultures are common

    That isn’t the least bit true.
    In fact, accidental escapes of lab cultures are very, very rare.

    3. The Wuhan lab was doing controversial gain-of-function experiments on viruses

    This isn’t true either.

    https://www.factcheck.org/2021/05/the-wuhan-lab-and-the-gain-of-function-disagreement
    Claimed by such notable kooks as Rand Paul and Tucker Carlson on Fox NoNews. Not credible sources at all.
    This factcheck article is very long and I’m not going to post something no one will read.
    “Perlman told us that he thought Fauci’s response in the May 11 exchange was correct — that no money was given for gain-of-function research.”

    Stringing together false assertions without proof doesn’t make this claim proved or even probable.
    What it does is make it yet again, another B grade conspiracy theory by crackpots.

  16. PaulBC says

    mistershelden@12

    it doesn’t seem a stretch to think that a lab escape is a pretty strong possibility.

    Sure. If you’ll concede that it isn’t appropriate to bang this particular drum on nothing but circumstantial evidence.

    There is bias everywhere. The scientific consensus appears to be that lab escape is unlikely, but this consensus could be in error due to flawed reasoning or bias. Nonetheless, I trust working scientists a lot more than I trust Nicholas Wade.

    I read most of his Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article, and it is absolutely dripping with disingenuousness. He begins by saying that there are two different plausible explanations and he will give each a fair hearing. Then he shills his favorite, lab escape, and discusses the other with constant asides that amount to “maybe …but probably not.”

    It’s fine to hold different views, and Wade is entitled to his. If Wade wants me to take him seriously, he should write like an honest broker, not a propagandist. And least he should characterize his article ahead of him, i.e. something like “Here I’ll try to convince you the virus came from a lab. I’ll discuss the other side as well and explain why I find it unconvincing.” But that’s not what he said in the intro.

    Find a clear predecessor to SARS-CoV-2 either in nature or a lab sample, and you can make a case. Without that, you are most likely to be starting with your preferred conclusion and applying motivated reasoning. I do not need to decide which is true. I am allowed to say “I don’t know.”

  17. PaulBC says

    Show me some real evidence and I will be willing to concede that Tom Cotton had something right. It may take a couple of Fonzies to get there: “I was wrrrrr” “I was wrrrrr”. “I was ruh ruh ruh ruh”. But it will take more than a pop science writer blowing smoke about furin cleavage.

  18. raven says

    Viruses jump from animals to humans all the time.
    I read an article in the mid-1970’s that stated there was an emerging infectious disease from animals to humans, every 18 months on average.

    Here it is, 2021 and that is about right. Just lately we’ve seen HIV, Avian flu, Swine flu, Zika, West Nile virus, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Lassa, Hanta, Nipa, and I’m sure I’m leaving some out. Bubonic plague is found in rodents a few miles from my house and occasionally infects humans.

    We don’t have to blame the Covid-19 virus pandemic on a lab created and escaped virus.
    The Occam’s razor explanation is that the natural process we’ve been seeing happen often for decades, once again,…happened.

  19. PaulBC says

    raven@18 And it’s also not as if it’s even surprising. Anyone following news reports would expect a global pandemic to be nearly inevitable, probably with a natural explanation, and no surprise at all if it originates in China. It looks just like scenarios we had prepared for. We had the first SARS and thankfully, that was controlled in time, but it was a dodged bullet.

    Forest fires happen in California, and you don’t need Jewish Space Lasers to explain them. I’ve been spared a big earthquake since I have lived here, but if one happens, I am not going to look for a mad scientist with a graviton gun. While I don’t know the cause of SARS-CoV-2, I do know that the conditions of our globally connected world has made a similar pandemc a very clear risk for decades. It was just a matter of time.

  20. garnetstar says

    Wade had one point that is not thought of often enough: the Wuhan researchers went to caves with large bat populations and collected samples of guano to study in their labs.

    It is possible that one of the researchers was exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the caves, caught it, and transmitted it.

    A semi-Ebola strain (Marburg) infected two people who visited a cave in Africa, which has a large bat population, in separate instances . Virus-hunters strenuously surveyed and screened all the animals, plants, surfaces, guano, etc., in the caves for the source of Marburg, but didn’t find it. So far as I know, the source of Marburg in those caves has never been identified. (They’ve now identified Marburg in a species of bat in a different location.)

    So, it happened once before: two people caught a virus from independent visits to a bat-filled cave (and they were just tourists, not scraping up guano), but, at least on first strenuous investigation, the source of the virus couldn’t be identified.

    That’s just another unknown. All possibilities remain unknown, as of now. Might remain so for a long, long time.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    raven @ # 13: Raccoon dogs are small canids found in East Asia.

    They are also, according to the reporterre.net article I linked to @ # 10, raised for fur, in quantities of ~14 million.

  22. raven says

    Anyone following news reports would expect a global pandemic to be nearly inevitable, probably with a natural explanation, and no surprise at all if it originates in China.

    These pandemics have been predicted since the 1970’s.
    They’ve also been happening since the 1970’s.

    The big scary one happened in the early 1980’s and anyone alive back then has lived through it.
    HIV/AIDS has since killed 33 million people worldwide, including a few people I knew.

    The real driver for these pandemics is that we’ve turned the earth into a global monoculture of humans with 7.8 billion people. That is a huge target for any pathogens and they’ve taken advantage of it often.
    I once asked rhetorically if China really needed 1.4 billion people. Or does the USA really need 331 million people.
    We humans are just pushing the limits of the planetary life support systems here.

  23. PaulBC says

    garnetstar@21 Wade’s scenarios sound plausible enough, where I object is how he characterizes his own article:

    In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments.

    Uh, no. In what follows he makes a persuasive case for his viewpoint and follows it with a preemptive rebuttal to the opposing view. I mean, there is nothing wrong with this form of persuasive rhetoric, but when it starts with a lie in the first few paragraphs, why should I trust the rest of it?

    I get emails from MedPage and read other commentary about the pandemic. It’s clear that many of these sources are invested in the natural origin explanation, but they don’t try to trick me. Wade’s article is a bait and switch.

  24. garnetstar says

    PaulBC @24, I agree with you on Wade’s article just pushing the case for the engineered virus. He just mentions, and then ignores, the possibility of a researcher catching it in the wild, and does not note that animal virus reservoirs have, for some viruses, taken decades to identify. And, he doesn’t cite the Marburg case where that exact thing happened. He goes on and on about how the animal reservoir for the first SARS was rather quickly found, but no mention of the known example of a bat-carried virus that wasn’t found in the bats until decades later, even after a lot of searching for it.

    So yeah, he has his conclusion and he wants the readers to have that one, and that one only, as well. I suppose that drama and blame sell better than the same-old, same-old, boring truth that we are destroying the natural world and setting ourselves up for inevitable pandemics.

  25. garnetstar says

    And, I don’t think that Wade mentions at all the natural transmission to humans, and evolution within them, as a possibility. He’s so hyped on someone-introduced-this-human-thing that he ignores that a virus could, in fact, acquire it from evolution in a human.
    I don’t know if that’s possible with SARC-COV-2, but it’s certainly one thing that scientists are thinking about. And will be very difficult to trace, I would think, if so.

  26. unclefrogy says

    The real driver for these pandemics is that we’ve turned the earth into a global monoculture of humans with 7.8 billion people. That is a huge target for any pathogens and they’ve taken advantage of it often.
    even if that fact was not true and the the paranoia about the pandemic was some how true given the indiscriminate nature of this virus just how does that help in any way at all? If it was man made it clearly would be a colossal fuckup from every angle
    It is just a matter of time before some other new infectious agent arises that is highly contagious and far more deadly. Every lottery has at least one winner eventually.
    uncle frogy

  27. says

    An interesting interview (in French) with a virologist about this question (I’ve changed some of the punctuation):

    …CW : Quels arguments plaident dans un sens ou dans l’autre ?

    É. S-L : Il n’y a pas d’éléments scientifiques qui permettraient de différencier une zoonose naturelle d’une contamination accidentelle dans un laboratoire. En revanche, aucun argument ne plaide dans le sens d’une fabrication en laboratoire. On observe un virus qui, sur des aspects clés de son fonctionnement, ne ressemble pas à ce qui était connu par la science jusqu’alors, par exemple sur sa façon de se lier à son récepteur pour entrer dans nos cellules ou sur la question de la furine… Si c’était quelque chose qui avait été inventé, on peut faire le raisonnement inverse et se demander comment une personne aurait pu penser qu’en mettant quelques lettres dans cet ordre, cela allait donner un virus fonctionnel. [This is discussed in more detail later in the interview.]

    CW : Ce que vous voulez dire, c’est que le SARS-CoV-2 a un fonctionnement auquel aucun être humain n’aurait jamais pu penser de lui-même logiquement ?

    É. S-L : Exactement, du moins sur la base des connaissances internationales sur cette famille de virus à l’époque. Cependant, si c’est quelque chose qui s’est fait sans intervention humaine directe, par exemple si le virus a été isolé à partir de chauve-souris dans une grotte et que celui-ci a été cultivé en laboratoire pour l’étudier, peut-être en le cultivant en parallèle avec un autre virus dans un même tube et que des échanges de matériel génétique ont eu lieu – c’est ce qu’on observe très souvent dans cette famille de virus –, sans intervention humaine, il n’est pas possible de le détecter. Mais c’est aussi, précisément, ce qui arrive extrêmement souvent dans la nature, comme on le voit en étudiant les séquences de coronavirus détectées dans de nombreuses espèces de chauve-souris, et dont, à ce stade, nous n’avons clairement échantillonné qu’une toute petite partie.

    CW : Pourquoi la thèse d’une éventuelle fuite de laboratoire, qui était plutôt écartée par la communauté scientifique il y a un an, est-elle aujourd’hui davantage acceptée ?

    É. S-L : Il est malheureusement possible que ce soit en grande partie des problèmes de formulation : les personnes qui avaient listé les possibles événements ayant conduit à cette émergence ont immédiatement associé la thèse du laboratoire avec celle d’une fabrication intentionnelle, pour laquelle on n’a clairement aucun élément. Le mot ‘laboratoire’ a tout de suite été associé à une idée d’intentionnalité, de volonté. Il y a donc eu une réaction assez hostile à l’égard des théories liant l’origine du virus à un laboratoire. Peut-être que si les gens avaient mieux différencié la thèse d’un virus fabriqué en laboratoire à dessein, presque unanimement rejetée par la communauté scientifique, de celle d’une fuite accidentelle d’un virus naturel, cette dernière serait restée dans la discussion. C’est comme ça qu’on en est arrivé à cette vision peut-être un peu trop centrée sur ‘c’est naturel un point c’est tout‘, alors que la thèse de la fuite d’un laboratoire aurait dû être maintenue dans la liste des scénarios plausibles. Mais quoi qu’il en soit, il faut explorer ces questions par le biais d’une enquête….

  28. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC:

    There is bias everywhere. The scientific consensus appears to be that lab escape is unlikely, but this consensus could be in error due to flawed reasoning or bias. Nonetheless, I trust working scientists a lot more than I trust Nicholas Wade.

    If we leave the people out of it and look at the boring old evidence, your argument evaporates. I know a little (not much) about Nicholas Wade, but he’s hardly the only person to be concerned with here. In any case, his relevance in this is minimal at best…. I mean, if I have to go the circus and I’m paying full price, a sideshow like that is just not worth it to me.

    But the people you’re propping up are more directly involved. So let’s take a look at them, if we have nothing better to do. As you said, there is bias everywhere. Some of this “consensus” you speak of is invested in protecting itself and its goal of doing more of the type of biomedical research that is implicated in the lab leak claims. I’m not saying you can’t trust them about anything, of course. They do often know what they’re talking about. However, it’s also true that you can trust these “working scientists” (like many people) to want to continue their “work.”

    So there is that. Is this a compelling argument? I don’t think so, but it’s slightly better than yours, because their biases are more directly relevant to the actual events/circumstances we’re still trying to understand. It is at least something worth thinking about.

    To be more explicit about where I stand…. I just don’t think I personally know enough to form a reliable/probably-correct judgment here. I’ve thought about it for a while, and I haven’t gotten any farther than that. The whole fucking situation is just a mess, “trust” in anybody is not a solid foundation to build on, and it seems pretty likely that I may never get answers. That’s more or less where I am, definitely not in a place where I’m ready to go on the attack against “the other side.”

    I mean, there is nothing wrong with this form of persuasive rhetoric, but when it starts with a lie in the first few paragraphs, why should I trust the rest of it?

    Because the rest of it may be correct and well supported by the actual evidence, because the one doesn’t have anything to do with the other. That’s why.

  29. PaulBC says

    consciousness razor@29 It’s relevant because balt-and-switch pisses me off and I don’t choose to reward anyone who engages in it either with my money or my attention. If you lure me in with a promise of a 30% discount and it turns out it’s really 25%, I don’t care if it’s the best deal in town. You don’t get my business.

    I first saw Wade’s article linked by someone I trust on facebook. I also used to read Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and usually find them informative and trustworthy. But the article wasn’t what it claimed to be, so I am not interested in hearing it out. Wade does not have a monopoly on his hypothesis. I would be very interested in reading the article Wade claims to offer, namely present evidence and give the reader the distance to evaluate it.

    So yeah, it’s about people. If you want me to listen, don’t start out your argument by lying to me, which is what Wade did in his article.

    It doesn’t mean I’m convinced the virus has a natural origin. Circumstantially, the location of the virology lab looks suspicious. On the other hand, I find it persuasive that nature is for the time being better at producing contagious viruses than human beings and that nature is far less controlled than lab conditions.

    I had a chance to do a little bit of background searching on the furin cleavage question, and it was not nearly the smoking gun Wade suggests. So gee, despite what I said, I actually did give him that much attention.

    I’ll accept direct evidence. In fact, it there was a lab leak via human being, there’s some hope of tracing it back since the are a small number of candidates for patient 0. That’s complicated by the fact that China is unlikely to cooperate. Obviously, with full cooperation, the lab itself could answer whether or not they had any samples like the virus.

    If someone found a close enough virus in bats or other animals, that would be evidence for the other side.

    As I said, I don’t know. I may never know.

  30. PaulBC says

    In a few years, we may know. The Soviets were accused of using chemical weapons that fell as “yellow rain.” This was later explained convincingly as mass droppings from bee swarms. The Soviets (again) were accused of beaming microwaves into the US embassy for some nefarious purpose, either mind control or frying brains. In fact, there’s no question they were beaming microwaves, but the most plausible explanation is that they were triggering or powering surveillance devices, an explanation that makes sense and was not presented (as far as I know) when it was big news.

    If SARS-CoV-2 is the product of a lab, released accidentally or some other way, then maybe we’ll know the truth at some point. Right at the moment, it is hard to find an answer that reveals more about factual knowledge than it does bias. Has anyone’s mind really changed in a year?

  31. wzrd1 says

    I’m far from convinced that any lab workers were infected by COVID-19 that early, but I am convinced that articles claiming COVID-like symptoms revealed their bias.
    Given that most COVID symptoms are usually referred to as flu-like symptoms.
    Hear hoofbeats, expect horses, not unicorns.

    Then, much hay is tossed about with gain of function, which ignores the largest biolab around, which leverages gain of function incessantly – mother nature. Add in a congested living environment, serial passage through humans and other animal hosts is utterly inevitable.

    Finally, how does anyone wonder that a politician offered a microphone proceeds to use it to their own advantage?! You’d need to be new to this planet!

  32. consciousness razor says

    Finally, how does anyone wonder that a politician offered a microphone proceeds to use it to their own advantage?! You’d need to be new to this planet!

    Then maybe we can kill two birds with one stone, eh?

  33. says

    A reminder:

    In 2014, Wade released A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, in which he argued that human evolution has been “recent, copious, and regional” and that genes may have influenced a variety of behaviours that underpin differing forms of human society. The book was criticised in the New York Times Book Review of Sunday 13 July; David Dobbs wrote that it was “a deeply flawed, deceptive, and dangerous book” with “pernicious conceits”. Libertarian political scientist Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, praised it as scientifically valid, and predicted that opposition would be “fanatical” due to political correctness.

    Over a hundred geneticists and biologists categorically dismissed Wade’s view of race in a joint letter published in The New York Times on 8 August 2014:

    Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in Intelligence quotient (IQ) test results, political institutions and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork.

    Other scientists argued that Wade had misrepresented their research.

  34. consciousness razor says

    Has anyone’s mind really changed in a year?

    For what it’s worth, which I know isn’t much, I was immediately suspicious of the intentional/conspiratorial “leak” claims from last year. What I saw of this mainly came from conservatives with a xenophobic axe to grind against China — if I have to credit them with anything, it may be for being completely transparent.

    I was told that, whether or not it was intentional, it was unlikely the virus came from any lab. Granted, the explanations for that were never very clear to me, so I wasn’t too sure to begin with, but I’m less sure of it now. So, I’ve changed my mind that there is (at least for the time being) good, publicly available, empirical evidence to support that claim. If I’m made aware of any, I’ll change my mind again.

    There’s also the scientist SC quoted in #28, who is probably right about the way some people were conflating different types of claims, when they were attempting to address the issue with the public. Some have walked that back, I guess because they just want to honestly answer the right questions, instead of only those which may be easier to answer.

  35. Rob Grigjanis says

    There was a thread about this last June, with someone peddling a conspiracy theory about SARS-CoV-2 being engineered.

    Poking around, I came across a series of posts by Prof Bill Gallagher, from Feb 20 onwards, which was a fascinating demo of how people in the field work (I think!). It was enough to convince me of a natural origin, but then IANAB…

    Pros might sometimes be biased, but the opinions of amateurs are generally worth shit.

  36. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    The big scary one happened in the early 1980’s and anyone alive back then has lived through it.
    HIV/AIDS has since killed 33 million people worldwide, including a few people I knew.

    Bad example. That’s the one where there actually is really compelling circumstantial evidence that it happened as an accidental result of human activities – specifically the oral polio vaccine developed by Koprowski and delivered to half a million people in the Belgium Congo. See “The River” by Edward Hooper.

  37. Rob Grigjanis says

    Gerrard @37:

    In 2000, the Royal Society held a meeting to discuss data on the origin of AIDS; the OPV AIDS hypothesis was a central topic of discussion. At this meeting, three independent labs released the results of tests on the remaining stocks of Koprowski’s vaccine, which Edward Hooper had demanded in The River. The tests confirmed Koprowski’s contention that his vaccine was made from monkey, rather than chimpanzee, kidney, and found no evidence of SIV or HIV contamination. Additional epidemiologic and phylogenetic data was presented at the conference which undermined other aspects of the OPV AIDS hypothesis. According to a report in Science,[33] Hooper “did not challenge the results; he simply dismissed them.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_polio_vaccine_AIDS_hypothesis#Scientific_investigation

  38. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    @Rob
    The sample tested was not one of the ones manufactured, grown, amplified, in the Congo, and therefore its test results are irrelevant. The hypothesis says that the vaccines manufactured, grown, amplified, in the Congo were grown in chimps. It says nothing about how the vaccine was originally manufactured overseas. The testing of the overseas vial is an irrelevant test to the hypothesis.

  39. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    @Rob
    Are you seriously linking to an article written by one of the people directly involved in the creation of the vaccine, basically saying “I didn’t do it; I am not lying about it now”, and treating that as a conclusive rebuttal? Wow. Please.

    Practically all of the first section, and much of later sections. is irrelevant because addresses a much older hypothesis that Hooper and others advanced before they learned that the vaccine was amplified locally in the Congo, in Stanleyville. Initially, Hooper suggested that they used Chimp parts in the European lab. Later, Hooper learned that the chimps were used in the Congo lab. Therefore, this article is knowingly and willfully critiquing a disproven and outdated hypothesis and conflating this outdated and disproven hypothesis with the modern hypothesis. The author makes no distinction. The author is thus dishonest.

    The section on Staneyville is basically “the several doctors at Staneyville said that they didn’t amplify the vaccine locally, and they didn’t use chimps to amplify the vaccine locally”. Wonderful. All lies. It’s highly likely that they amplified it locally because that’s what other colonialist doctors were doing when experimenting on the local population. Also, Hooper has several eye witnesses to the contrary. It’s implausible that they would fly in all half million doses instead of amplification on site. Further still, Hooper has uncontested receipts and evidence that the camp in the Congo bought 400 chimps which were all killed. I’m sorry – you don’t buy and kill 400 chimps for a few side experiments. The only reason to purchase and kill 400 chimps on site is because they were used to amplify the vaccine for local distribution.

    As for the geographical and chronological correlation – the paper is nitpicking. The correlation is still quite strong in time and space. It happened in the same year that the vaccine was administered, in the same country.

    Look at the two competing hypotheses. One is that a few scientists directly involved in the initial accident are lying. The other is that HIV/AIDS just happened coincidentally at the same time that 400 chimps were being bought and killed for unrelated reasons, and coincidentally at the same time as a massive live virus vaccination program was happening in the same country and same year as the beginning of the HIV/AIDS outbreak in humans.

    PS:
    I’m pleased to see that he’s not relying on the ridiculous virus DNA dating. Or maybe this paper preceding that particular nonsense argument.

    I’m also pleased to see that he’s not making the nonsense argument that the virus could not have survived the vaccine amplification procedure, especially by his citation of SV-40 which did cross over into humans as a result of another vaccine.

  40. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Oh wait, he does mention the virus DNA dating in passing at the very end. Those datings are flawed because: 1- The dating technique assumes a single point of transfer, which is far from guaranteed when we’re talking about 400 chimps being used to prepare half a million vaccine doses. You could easily get multiple crossover events, which renders the entire analysis void. 2- SIV/HIV is a retrovirus that changes mostly from recombination instead of mutation. Their analysis cannot handle this. Their analysis claims that they identified and removed portions from the analysis to account for this fact, but other virus experts say that this is implausible, and that this is further implausible if the OPV-AIDS hypothesis was true with its potential multiple crossover events because most of the recombination could have happened at the beginning where it would be impossible to identify.

  41. raven says

    Bad example. That’s the one where there actually is really compelling circumstantial evidence that it happened as an accidental result of human activities – specifically the oral polio vaccine developed by Koprowski and delivered to half a million people in the Belgium Congo. See “The River” by Edward Hooper.

    Cthulhu, this is stupid.

    There is so much wrong with this that it was easily falsified decades ago.
    I’m not going to waste my time on something a lot less probable than UFO Shapeshifting aliens running pizza parlors.

  42. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    I’m not going to waste my time on something a lot less probable than UFO Shapeshifting aliens running pizza parlors.

    You do know that Bill Hamilton, the celebrated microbiologist, wrote the foreward to “The River”, right? I can understand a position like Rob that says it’s false because of such and such reasons, but this I cannot understand. How is an accidental crossover from human physician activities such an impossibility? The scientific community accepts that it already happened in the case of the far less harmful SV-40.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SV40

    This is not a cockamanie hypothesis as silly as any of the things that you named. Because of the danger of future pandemics, we need to take these things seriously, and arguably we need to take these things more seriously, regardless of the truth of the OPV-AIDS hypothesis or the Wuhan Lab – COVID-19 hypothesis.

  43. Rob Grigjanis says

    Gerrard @42: This is obviously one of those topics you’ve latched onto like a pitbull, so I’ll leave with just this;

    a 2004 study published in Nature found that the strain of SIV affecting chimpanzees in the area where Hooper claimed vaccine had been prepared using chimpanzee cells was genetically distinct from HIV strains. This refuted Hooper’s claims from yet another angle: even if SIV-infected chimpanzee cells from that area had been used to make the vaccine, they could not have been the source of HIV.

    Epidemiological studies also highlight a serious problem with Hooper’s claims of an OPV/HIV link: HIV-1 (the first of two known species of HIV, more infective and virulent than the second, HIV-2) was likely introduced to humans prior to 1940, and in a completely different part of Africa than the location of the polio vaccine trial, probably via infected chimpanzees in Cameroon. The Congo vaccine trials took place in the late 1950s—at least a decade after HIV had begun spreading in humans, and probably longer, according to more recent estimates (Worobey 2008). The vaccine could not have been the source of a virus that had already been infecting humans for many years.

    Hooper, for his part, stands by his claims and alleges an organized cover-up, but his argument has largely been relegated to the status of a debunked conspiracy theory. Yet even though his claims have not been found to have merit, they have still managed to damage global efforts to eradicate polio. Rumors of the current oral polio vaccine having been intentionally contaminated with drugs to cause sterility and “viruses which are known to cause HIV and AIDS” led to local refusals to accept the vaccine in parts of Africa. It’s likely that these rumors are related to the original OPV/HIV accusations. Partially as a result of these refusals, polio flared back up in parts of Africa after vaccination had led to positive steps toward eradication.

  44. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Gerrard @42: This is obviously one of those topics you’ve latched onto like a pitbull, so I’ll leave with just this;

    Is there something wrong with that?

    a 2004 study published in Nature found that the strain of SIV affecting chimpanzees in the area where Hooper claimed vaccine had been prepared using chimpanzee cells was genetically distinct from HIV strains. This refuted Hooper’s claims from yet another angle: even if SIV-infected chimpanzee cells from that area had been used to make the vaccine, they could not have been the source of HIV.

    We have receipts of chimps from over all of Africa being purchased and shipped to Staneyville.

    Also note that we are very far from testing all chimp populations in Africa and elsewhere, and so it’s premature to conclude that we have identified the original chimp population.

    Epidemiological studies also highlight a serious problem with Hooper’s claims of an OPV/HIV link: HIV-1 (the first of two known species of HIV, more infective and virulent than the second, HIV-2) was likely introduced to humans prior to 1940, and in a completely different part of Africa than the location of the polio vaccine trial, probably via infected chimpanzees in Cameroon. The Congo vaccine trials took place in the late 1950s—at least a decade after HIV had begun spreading in humans, and probably longer, according to more recent estimates (Worobey 2008). The vaccine could not have been the source of a virus that had already been infecting humans for many years.

    This was preemptively rebutted. It’s based on invalid molecular dating results. See earlier comment.

    Yet even though his claims have not been found to have merit, they have still managed to damage global efforts to eradicate polio. Rumors of the current oral polio vaccine having been intentionally contaminated with drugs to cause sterility and “viruses which are known to cause HIV and AIDS” led to local refusals to accept the vaccine in parts of Africa. It’s likely that these rumors are related to the original OPV/HIV accusations. Partially as a result of these refusals, polio flared back up in parts of Africa after vaccination had led to positive steps toward eradication.

    Actually, there is no evidence of this. Leading medical experts are afraid of this, but IIRC Hooper has looked through newspaper headlines (because those medical experts claiming this have not or have not provided citations), and IIRC Hooper was unable to find any newspaper or other article that actually mentioned his hypothesis in the context of modern efforts to eradicate polio. Instead, opponents of modern polio vaccines are going to cite nonsense theories like “it causes sterility”, or plausible claims based on historical precedent of people claiming to be doctors trying to eradicate polio are really CIA agents (thanks CIA!). Again, while it is a worry that the truth of the origin of AIDS might diminish modern effort to eradicate polio, or diminish the use of other vaccines, it’s not actually true yet.

    And furthermore, I don’t think this worry is a good argument to suppress the truth. The problem we have now with vaccines is some of the public doesn’t trust the medical establishment, and they see people like you supporting argument that are effectively saying “we should suppress the truth because we know better than them”, which is an incredibly paternalistic argument, and that leads them to be more distrustful of the medical community.

    Add on top how bad this looks. It looks like another coverup of colonialist white Europeans and Americans doing medical experiments on people of color without proper oversight. It looks like that because that’s exactly what Koprowski was doing, whether or not it’s true that his vaccine caused the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

  45. consciousness razor says

    Gerrard:

    Instead, opponents of modern polio vaccines are going to cite nonsense theories like “it causes sterility”, or plausible claims based on historical precedent of people claiming to be doctors trying to eradicate polio are really CIA agents (thanks CIA!). Again, while it is a worry that the truth of the origin of AIDS might diminish modern effort to eradicate polio, or diminish the use of other vaccines, it’s not actually true yet.

    The polio vaccine wiki page has a little more info and some sources, for those interested. There’s also the fact that there were severe (i.e., deadly, paralyzing) problems with a version of the vaccine that was released early on, as that page also describes, which of course is reason enough for some to distrust it later. Anyway….

    Polio vaccination programs have received resistance from some people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria (the three countries as of 2017 with remaining polio cases). Some Muslim religious leaders believe that the vaccines are secretly being used for sterilization of Muslims.[46] The fact that the CIA organized a fake vaccination program in 2011 to help find Osama Bin Laden is an additional cause of distrust.[94] In 2015, the WHO announced a deal with the Taliban to encourage them to distribute the vaccine in areas they control.[95] However, the Pakistani Taliban was not supportive. On 11 September 2016, two unidentified gunmen associated with the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, shot Zakaullah Khan, a doctor who was administering polio vaccines in Pakistan. The leader of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the shooting and stated that the group would continue this type of attack. Such resistance to and skepticism of vaccinations has consequently slowed down the polio eradication process within the three remaining endemic countries.[94]

    So, yeah…. It’s just bullshit to say “It’s likely that these rumors are related to the original OPV/HIV accusations.” Even if they are, you certainly didn’t look too hard to find other things they’re likely related to.

  46. PaulBC says

    Looking at the xkcd for the umpteenth time, it occurs to me that the way “scientists see it” is often as a straight line on semilog plot. At least if I saw any portion of the curve I’d think “looks kinda exponential” and then the next thing I would do if possible is set the y axis to log scale and see if it came out as a straight line, at which point I’d confidently conclude “exponential growth.” Another thing I did for a while was enter the numbers into a spreadsheet if they weren’t downloadable and confirm a roughly constant percent increase per day.

    That picture, while it’s dramatic, just isn’t very useful once the slope is nearly vertical.

  47. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    cr
    Could you read more carefully please? You have Rob and myself backwards. Rob and his source are making the accusation that the OPV-AIDS hypothesis is contributing to modern resistance to modern polio vaccines. I said that this claim is false. I agree with you.

  48. Rob Grigjanis says

    Gerrard @46:

    IIRC Hooper was unable to find any newspaper or other article that actually mentioned his hypothesis in the context of modern efforts to eradicate polio.

    Took me a couple of minutes to find a BBC article titled “Nigeria Muslims oppose polio vaccination“;

    A cleric told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that he was worried the polio vaccine might have been responsible for the spread of the Aids virus in east Africa.

    In his book The River, journalist Edward Hooper alleged that the vaccine was grown in chimpanzee kidneys and became contaminated with the simian form of HIV known as SIV.

    So that’s definitely an article that actually mentioned his hypothesis in the context of modern efforts to eradicate polio. I guess Hooper’s not so good at research.

  49. consciousness razor says

    Gerrard:

    Could you read more carefully please? You have Rob and myself backwards. Rob and his source are making the accusation that the OPV-AIDS hypothesis is contributing to modern resistance to modern polio vaccines. I said that this claim is false. I agree with you.

    No, I understand that. I was just replying to what you said, not trying to rebut it. Sorry for the confusion.

  50. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    cr
    Ah, k.

    Rob
    I stand corrected. Thank you. However, I still think that it’s a extreme minority who have even heard of this compared to the usual reasons which I and cr named.

  51. mistershelden says

    Raven wrote:

    6. Accidental escapes of lab cultures are common

    That isn’t the least bit true.
    In fact, accidental escapes of lab cultures are very, very rare.

    “Rare” and “Common” are words without a strict definition. Here’s a list of serious biosecurity incidents, I think it’s long enough to establish that ‘these things do happen’.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_laboratory_biosecurity_incidents

    3. The Wuhan lab was doing controversial gain-of-function experiments on viruses

    This isn’t true either.

    https://www.factcheck.org/2021/05/the-wuhan-lab-and-the-gain-of-function-disagreement

    Your linked article, which is pretty good, only demonstrates that US officials deny funding gain of function research. They might even be telling the truth, but it is a documented fact, backed up by published papers, that gain-of-function WAS being done in Wuhan:
    Wikipedia: “In 2014, Shi Zhengli collaborated on additional gain-of-function experiments led by Ralph S Baric of the University of North Carolina, which showed that two critical mutations that the MERS coronavirus possesses allow it to bind to the human ACE2 receptor,[13] and that SARS had the potential to re-emerge from coronaviruses circulating in bat populations in the wild.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shi_Zhengli

    Claimed by such notable kooks as Rand Paul and Tucker Carlson on Fox NoNews. Not credible sources at all.

    So what? This is a very poor argument and is not worthy of you.

    Stringing together false assertions without proof doesn’t make this claim proved or even probable.

    All the assertions in the list were provably true, and I hope I have demonstrated this. We can quibble over exactly how ‘common’ biosecurity accidents are, but a catalogue of incidents is linked to above. They happen.

    What it does is make it yet again, another B grade conspiracy theory by crackpots.

    Again, unworthy of you.

  52. says

    mistershelden @ #53:

    They might even be telling the truth, but it is a documented fact, backed up by published papers, that gain-of-function WAS being done in Wuhan:
    Wikipedia: “In 2014, Shi Zhengli collaborated on additional gain-of-function experiments led by Ralph S Baric of the University of North Carolina, which showed that two critical mutations that the MERS coronavirus possesses allow it to bind to the human ACE2 receptor,[13] and that SARS had the potential to re-emerge from coronaviruses circulating in bat populations in the wild.”

    That gain-of-function research appears, from the paper (linked @ #14 in the Wikipedia article), to have been performed in North Carolina. The Author Contributions section lists Shi’s participation as: “Z.-L.S. provided SHC014 spike sequences and plasmids.” Another WIV researcher is described as having “performed pseudotyping experiments.” I don’t know nearly enough to classify any particular contribution as properly GoF or not GoF, but the WIV portion here looks more peripheral. In short, that link doesn’t show that “gain-of-function WAS being done in Wuhan.”

  53. says

    The blending together of all of the various possibilities for the origins of the pandemic is incredibly frustrating! As I was writing my previous comment, Brianna Keilar was doing a report on CNN about the “natural” vs. the “lab-leak” hypotheses that’s bound to contribute to public confusion. I think people talking about “lab-leak” origins should have to specify the scenario they have in mind (a lab leak is different from intentional lab creation, and even within the “lab-leak” category there are a number of distinct scenarios, presumably with highly varying levels of plausibility and with different implications for biosecurity). There also needs to be much more information about the context of human-nonhuman animal interactions in the region so we can have a reasonable sense of the different possibilities of this sort of transmission.

  54. raven says

    Mistersheldon:

    6. Accidental escapes of lab cultures are common

    That isn’t the least bit true.
    In fact, accidental escapes of lab cultures are very, very rare.

    “Rare” and “Common” are words without a strict definition. Here’s a list of serious biosecurity incidents, I think it’s long enough to establish that ‘these things do happen’.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_laboratory_biosecurity_incidents

    Cthulhu, you just walked back your claim and thought we wouldn’t see it.
    First claim was that they were common.
    Now it is that they “happen”.

    Sure, they happen.
    Nothing is perfect in this world, especially when humans are involved..
    Your wikipedia link is worldwide and shows that there was for example, one case worldwide in 2018 of a lab worker exposed to Ebola, who didn’t develop symptoms.
    One case in the world in one recent year? It literally can’t get much rarer than that because then we would be at zero.
    That is as I said very, very rare.

  55. raven says

    Sheldon is doing classic conspiracy nonreasoning and I see it constantly.
    They say something “could” happen.
    And from there immediately conclude that it “did” happen.
    “Could” and “did” are two different concepts.

    What normal thinking people do is look at the data and evidence and look at the probabilities.

    The vast majority of “lab escapes” are one lab worker accidently infecting themselves and rarely go beyond that. And at that, we are talking about one or two incidents a year worldwide.

    What we do know is how common viruses jumping from animals to humans it. We’ve been tracking those for many decades.
    It happens about once every 18 months and we all see it. No one is hiding anything.
    The last two were Swine flu and Zika and outside the USA there was also Chikungunya and Ebola shows up every once in while.

    You don’t have to have a chain of improbable events to explain a new pandemic. Natural causes produce them every year or two.

  56. raven says

    What the conspiracy people call gain of function studies is usually misleading because they have no idea whatsoever what they are talking about.

    We, meaning scientists, have to be able to study these viruses in order to prevent, treat, and end these pandemics. This is why we were able to come up with drugs, vaccines, and public health measures to get the Covid-19 virus pandemic under control in one year with so far only a few million dead worldwide.
    This is a major accomplishment for science and has saved many millions of lives.

    So sometimes viruses are adapted to lab conditions. Recombinants are made or pseudotypes. Sometimes viruses are adapted to our common lab animals.
    To take one example, HIV only infects humans and very inefficiently Chimpanzees. Chimps are almost never used in the labs any more.
    The virus we use to study HIV in animal experiments is SHIV. A hybrid between HIV and a Simian virus.
    Because it can infect monkeys.
    Without that, we wouldn’t have all the HAART drugs that turned AIDS into a treatable disease.

    Background. Infection of nonhuman primates with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) or chimeric simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV) strains is widely used to study lentiviral pathogenesis, antiviral immunity and the efficacy of AIDS vaccine candidates.Oct 17, 2008
    Biomedicalcentral.com
    SHIV-1157i and passaged progeny viruses encoding R5 HIV …

    There is nothing sinister or scary about this sort of research. It’s necessary.

    What is sinister and scary and kills hundreds of thousands are conspiracy theorists who claim all sorts of nonsense about Covid-19 virus and the vaccines. Computer chips, demons, makes you sterile, shortens your life, etc.

  57. raven says

    What the Wuhan accidental lab release theory lacks is anything like evidence, data, and proof.

    What would really prove it would be if the Wuhan lab has the original stocks of the Covid-19 virus.
    If this theory is true, they had to have had this virus in their freezers.

    They’ve been asked this many times, since it is the first question that would occur to any investigators.
    Wuhan has always said No. They don’t have the last known ancestor of Covid-19 virus.

    The problem here is also obvious.
    What if they aren’t telling the truth?
    What if they did have proto-Covid-19 virus and destroyed it as part of a coverup.
    Humans aren’t very good at keeping secrets and this would be likely to come out sooner or later.
    But who knows, maybe for once, a secret remains a secret.

    I don’t completely discount the possibility of accidental release. But without proof, it isn’t very likely and not at all a useful idea.

  58. PaulBC says

    raven@59 I agree with your take. I think there’s enough circumstantial evidence to merit a close look at Wuhan Institute of Virology. There’s still nothing dispositive and no new evidence that improves the case for lab origin beyond where it was a year ago. While there may have been some conflation of intentional or accidental release (French language passage above and elsewhere), anyone getting into a serious discussion of scenarios would have considered accidental release as a possibility (either of an “engineered” virus or one that had been found in nature and mishandled).

    The first (old) argument that put me on the side of natural origin with nothing to do with the lab was that nature simply provides a much larger scale, uncontrolled experiment for getting a virus to move from animal to human. A virus that is present in a lab, even under less than secure conditions, is still a lot less likely to spread than one in nature. (The caveat being that the lab may have altered it to spread more easily to humans.)

    To “disclose my conflicts”, I’m emotionally invested in Tom Cotton being entirely wrong because he’s an anti-Chinese bigot. Show me the evidence. though. It’ll suck for me to admit it, but I will accept evidence (and Tom Cotton will still be a bigot and I’ll still hate him, but I digress). What I have seen so far is a lot of speculation.

    BTW raven, you may understand the significance of the furin cleavage better than I do. How much does that help Wade’s case?

    The big story surfacing now is that some WIV employees had COVID-like symptoms in Fall 2019. OK, more circumstantial evidence. If we were watching a crime show, we’d have a hunch about how this will play out. But reality is more complicated. In fact,

    Humans aren’t very good at keeping secrets and this would be likely to come out sooner or later.

    The more little connections add up to the virology lab, the more likely it should be to find actual evidence of a virus matching the pandemic. It’s a sign to keep looking, but not really a breakthrough.

    Finally, the tragedy unfolding in India right now should make it clear that nature’s lab at scale is much more effective in enhancing diseases than anything scientists know how to do. I find it hard to believe (alert: note my weasel words) that a virus with some novel engineered feature such as “furin cleavage” would be robust enough to improve its virulence naturally.

    It seems analogous to releasing a pack of pedigree dogs with some show trait. When they go feral, successive generations may be better adapted to the wild, but are they really going preserve the trait that makes them special? Note: I am not a biologist and I am probably glomming onto something I thought while reading PKD’s science fiction short story The Preserving Machine, which has always been one of my favorites.

  59. says

    PaulBC @ #60:

    While there may have been some conflation of intentional or accidental release (French language passage above and elsewhere)

    If by the parenthetical you mean to cite that Simon-Lorière describes in that passage how this conflation has been a problem, then OK. This conflation (and the related suggestion that a lab leak would mean it isn’t “natural” or zoonotic) has been a problem from the start, and it was created primarily by people pushing conspiracy theories about lab engineering of the virus. Ambiguity about what specifically is being claimed or debunked is helpful to them, so, like AGW deniers, they prefer to be slippery so as to be able to change positions as necessary while claiming to have been consistent all along and to claim evidence supports the more implausible claims when it doesn’t.

  60. raven says

    BTW raven, you may understand the significance of the furin cleavage better than I do. How much does that help Wade’s case?

    I haven’t read Wade so can’t answer directly.
    I really can’t spend too much time on what is obvious nonsense.
    In general, probably whatever he says about furin cleavage is irrelevant.
    Furin cleavage sites are naturally present in Coronavirus spike proteins and how they enter cells.

    The big story surfacing now is that some WIV employees had COVID-like symptoms in Fall 2019.

    I don’t find that all that unusual or interesting.
    People get sick all the time.

    In February, 2020 anyone paying attention knew Covid-19 virus was coming and soon. And in late February, an old friend ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. I dropped by to see him.
    Walked right up to his floor, said hi to the nurses on duty, and walked right into his room. He was laying in bed with an oxygen cannula stuck on his nose. No one was wearing masks including myself and no one cared that I walked right in.

    Given the timing and symptoms (pneumonia), he could have been an early Covid-19 virus patient. But probably not. He had COPD to start with and was sick but rapidly got better and a few days later was out and about.

  61. snarkrates says

    I think one point that may not be appreciated fully in discussions of this sort of thing is that as humans, when something bad happens, we automatically look for someone–anyone, even ourselves as a lost resort–to blame. Because, if there is someone to blame, if someone made a mistake, then we can avoid the situation repeating. A scapegoat preserve our illusions of control in a world that is largely out of our control.

    There is zero compelling evidence to suggest that the origin of the novel corona virus is anything but natural. Trying to force a conclusion of malfeasance is not only scientifically unwarranted, it is feeding into the demonizing of people from Asia and specifically China. It is an extraordinary claim–you’d better put up extraordinary evidence if you are making it.

  62. PaulBC says

    SC@61

    This conflation (and the related suggestion that a lab leak would mean it isn’t “natural” or zoonotic) has been a problem from the start, and it was created primarily by people pushing conspiracy theories about lab engineering of the virus.

    I read it pretty fast through Google translate (high school French was many years ago and I wasn’t up to the challenge).

    I may have misinterpreted the point by thinking the problem was accidental conflation: i.e., that the scientific community was so united in insisting on natural origin only because they thought they were rebutting the intentional release scenario, and somehow nobody thought to address accidental release. BTW, this doesn’t fit my memory. I think both possibilities were always on the table (also whether or not the accidental release was of a natural virus), and accidental release would have struck me as more plausible.

    The only “hill I’m willing to die on” right now is that Wade has not added anything new to the discussion. For some reason his article is being presented and linked on social media as if he has.

    I would prefer it to be of natural origin, though clearly my preferences are irrelevant. We certainly will need to deal with pandemics of natural origin in the future and they may look a lot like this one. In some ways, I’d say the only big story for the history books is that we field-tested mRNA vaccines successfully. (Not to downplay the tragedy, but that’s par for the course as history goes.)

    Other than natural origin? The connection to WIV is also a lot more plausible that the Jewish Space Laser theory of California forest fires. So where am I with this? Not really anywhere different from a year ago.

    And believe it or not, I had no preconception at all about Wade, but my reaction to his article without even paying attention to the author was “What an asshole.” He’s obviously pushing one side and lying about it. A friend on FB posted it as if it was really thought provoking and I took that at face value, which just left me feeling I had wasted 5 minutes skimming over more of the same BS.

  63. PaulBC says

    snarkrates@63

    Because, if there is someone to blame, if someone made a mistake, then we can avoid the situation repeating.

    Though in this case, even if we find a smoking gun of lab release, it does not mean we will avoid such a pandemic in the future. A pandemic resulting from natural animal-human transmission is going to look very similar.

    Analogously, even if Mrs. O’Leary’s cow really did start the Great Chicago Fire, this provides little actionable information about how to prevent urban fires.

  64. says

    Just to be clear:

    While there may have been some conflation of intentional or accidental release (French language passage above and elsewhere), anyone getting into a serious discussion of scenarios would have considered accidental release as a possibility (either of an “engineered” virus or one that had been found in nature and mishandled).

    The conflation isn’t of intentional vs. accidental release, but of, if a lab hypothetically played any role at all, a virus being engineered in a lab vs. possibly being accidentally altered by researchers (which still seems implausible and unnecessarily conjectural given the huge possibility of it just developing in the world, as they do) and then escaping through mishandling or just being collected/studied by researchers and escaping or being spread through mishandling. I haven’t read anything by a credible expert that suggests that the evidence comports with this virus having been engineered in a lab; they all say that idea can be discarded.

  65. PaulBC says

    SC@66 No disagreement from me, though I don’t have the expertise to evaluate the factual claims.

    Wade’s fixation with the furin cleavage site indicates that he’s pushing the “engineered” explanation. The fact that he presents his article as a balanced survey is what makes him a liar. Given his long experience as a writer, it is implausible that he could have segued by mere incompetence from the article he describes in the introduction to the one he actually delivers.

  66. says

    PaulBC:

    I may have misinterpreted the point by thinking the problem was accidental conflation: i.e., that the scientific community was so united in insisting on natural origin only because they thought they were rebutting the intentional release scenario, and somehow nobody thought to address accidental release. BTW, this doesn’t fit my memory. I think both possibilities were always on the table (also whether or not the accidental release was of a natural virus), and accidental release would have struck me as more plausible.

    I think the point he’s trying to make is that, from the beginning, public discussion of anything involving the WIV became linked to various conspiracy theories, many of them racist, about researchers engineering this virus. It’s still very much going on! The two people I’ve seen mentioned on threads here, Martenson and Wade, are both suggesting that humans created this virus. (Wade: “It cannot yet be stated that Shi did or did not generate SARS2 in her lab because her records have been sealed, but it seems she was certainly on the right track to have done so.”) That claim is what virologists reject, but when people hear about “lab-leak” hypotheses or evidence possibly in its favor they tend to think not just of the possible contamination or mishandling scenarios but of the conspiracy theories about genetic manipulation.

    So what he’s suggesting is that scientists, wanting to push back on the bullshit, maybe were too focused on emphasizing the natural origins of the virus to the point that they appeared to discount any possibility of a lab leak. But I’ll say two things: first, in any more nuanced discussion, from what I’ve seen, they’ve always been more or less open to the lab-leak possibility, even when they consider it unlikely; second, as I said above, the people primarily to blame for this are the conspiracy theorists and not the scientists trying to contest their dubious claims.

  67. says

    PaulBC:

    Given his long experience as a writer, it is implausible that he could have segued by mere incompetence from the article he describes in the introduction to the one he actually delivers.

    Well, his long experience as a writer includes the racist hackery @ #34, so I don’t think he deserves any presumption of honesty or integrity in any case.

  68. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To raven and snarkrates

    Preemptively: I think the idea of a purposefully engineered plus purposefully released virus is so low that we can ignore that as an extraordinary claim barring specific evidence, and there is no specific evidence for such a claim.

    You both mention that there’s zero evidence to suggest it’s an accidental lab release. There’s also zero evidence to suggest that it was a natural human-unassisted crossover.

    My initial reaction is that your form of argument is invalid. In particular, one cannot simply say “that explanation is unlikely” in isolation. One must always compare one explanation to competing explanations in terms of their likelihood. Saying “it’s unlikely in isolation” is invalid. Saying “it’s unlikely compared to competing explanations” is valid. In order for your form of argument to be valid, you also need to say “and I have background evidence to show that physician-caused crossover events are much more rare than human-unassisted crossover events”.

    This is now a discussion of prior probability, of background evidence. Basically, it’s a comparison of the rate of human-assisted crossovers to human-unassisted crossovers. Do you know how many accidental human-physician-caused animal-to-human virus crossovers there have been? There’s SV-40. I’ll argue that SIV/HIV should count as well. That’s a base rate of around 1 every 360 months compared to Raven’s base rate of 1 every 18 months. I feel like there are probably more examples of accidental physician-caused crossovers, but I can’t find any from a quick google search.

    Is that really a big enough difference to view accidental physician-caused crossovers as “extraordinary” as in extraordinarily rare relative to human-unassisted crossover events, as snarkrates claims? I don’t think so. It’s maybe 20 times more rare, but that doesn’t rise IMO to the level of extraordinarily-rare. (I also suspect there’s a few more examples of accidental physician-caused crossover events that I don’t know about, which would change the prior probability substantially.)

    PS: Anyone know of any other examples of physician-caused virus crossover events?

  69. Rob Grigjanis says

    PaulBC @60:

    BTW raven, you may understand the significance of the furin cleavage better than I do. How much does that help Wade’s case?

    The first post in my second link @36 presents the ‘problem’, and explains (in the clearest way I’ve seen) why it is not a problem. If Wade had anything new to offer, I didn’t see it. And the explanation was posted Feb last year.

  70. snarkrates says

    PaulBC, it’s not actual control, but the illusion of control we crave. There’s even a branch of psychology dedicated to the idea that if something terrifies us we will do whatever we can, including lie to ourselves, to make the terror go away. Look up Terror Management Theory.

  71. jack lecou says

    I see five possibilities:
    A: lab origin, deliberate release
    B: lab origin, accidental release
    C: natural origin, deliberate release
    D: natural origin, accidental release
    E: entirely natural origin and crossover

    It seems to me that (E) is clearly the null hypothesis. We know it happens, and has probably been observed something like an order of magnitude more often (@70) then the nearest runner up.

    So you’d need some solid evidence to justify switching even to to the otherwise entirely plausible (D), never mind (A), (B), or (C).

    But it also seem unlikely that we’ll get evidence for (D). Even if PRC authorities were in a sharing mood, it’s entirely possible they simply don’t know either. Maybe specific sequences from early patients could be compared to lab samples. But if the lab was studying wild strains from the area that could equally have crossed over on their own (or already been in circulation), and the actual release went unobserved (a mask slip or the like), and Covid 19’s incubation and symptomless spread characteristics make it hard to find patient zero candidates… It’s basically Schrodinger’s lab accident.

    And as @65 says, there’s not much practical difference between (E) and (D) anyway. An accidental release of a wild virus under study might reflect badly on the particular chap who neglected to wear his PPE correctly while cleaning a cage, or a lab administrator who left a gap in a procedure or whatever, but it wouldn’t justify any kind of generalized anti-China sentiment. It’d be a terrible lapse, and lessons should be learned. But virus research is necessary, and accidents can happen anywhere.

    All of which is why, perversely, I think a lot of the conspiricists pin their hopes on something more like B (A and C are [usually] too weird even for them). There’s at least faint hope for evidence, because if it was engineered, maybe there are fingerprints of tampering on the virus itself. And if China killed the world because they were doing irresponsible bioweapon research or sth., well, all the better to beat the war drums…

  72. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    It seems to me that (E) is clearly the null hypothesis. We know it happens, and has probably been observed something like an order of magnitude more often (@70) then the nearest runner up.

    So you’d need some solid evidence to justify switching even to to the otherwise entirely plausible (D), never mind (A), (B), or (C).

    This is a misuse of the “null hypothesis”. You’re begging the question. You’re assuming the conclusion. You’re stacking the deck against the other answers because … you feel like it? Basically, this is the standard rant of the Bayesian against the Frequentist. You’re doing epistemology wrong. Asserting by fiat that your preferred solution is the “null hypothesis” is a move that you’re not allowed to make.

    What you should be doing is gathering all of the evidence, and seeing how well the evidence fits each competing hypothesis, and doing standard Bayesian reasoning. If something deserves to be the “null hypothesis”, that means it has a lot of background evidence for it as the most likely explanation. The Bayesian approach forces you to quantify that evidence. No one competing hypothesis is “special”. Rather, each competing hypothesis should be evaluated according to the background evidence (Bayesian priors) and the specific evidence.

    The net result is often the same, but your rhetoric and approach is very prone to abuse.

    As I mentioned above, the base rate of natural virus crossover from animals to humans without direct human physician action may be about 1 every 1.5 years, and the base rate of virus crossover from animals to humans with some amount of direct physician action (like a lab leak) might be 1 every 30 years. These are grossly approximate numbers, and I welcome improvements to these numbers, but this is how you have to think to properly evaluate the evidence. Against these background rates, one then must look at the specific evidence at hand. Here, we don’t have strong specific evidence. We have weak circumstantial evidence – there was a virology lab nearby the initial outbreak, and it seems like the lab was working with the same sort of bat virus. That’s something. That some evidence in favor of the (accidental) lab leak hypothesis, but it’s really weak. Given this evidence, I think that the natural crossover explanation is still the most likely by a factor of 10x or more.

  73. jack lecou says

    Given this evidence, I think that the natural crossover explanation is still the most likely by a factor of 10x or more.

    Which is exactly why it’s the null hypothesis. Did I stutter?

  74. jack lecou says

    You’re right, but as a stutterer, fuck off.
    I’m sorry. Need to do some work on the expression library in my brain.

  75. mistershelden says

    So if anyone wants to start doing Bayesian calculations, we’re working with a natural crossover of zoonotic disease of once every 18 months. (the preferred explanation because it’s obviously quite common!)
    And a serious lab biosecurity lapse involving dangerous pathogens approximately once every 7 months (17 incidents listed in wiki article in 2010-2019) (‘very, very rare’)

  76. mistershelden says

    It should also be noted that the first strain of SARS leaked from labs THREE times in 2003-2004. So, rare.

    2003 Severe acute respiratory syndrome#Laboratory accidents SARS Singapore SARS Laboratory accident a 27-year-old doctoral student at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) developed symptoms consistent with SARS. An investigation found that the student was infected with samples from SARS coronavirus in the Department of Pathology, while it two BSL-2 and BSL-3 laboratories were undergoing renovation, which compromised safety practices.[14]
    2003 Severe acute respiratory syndrome#Laboratory accidents SARS Taiwan SARS Laboratory accident a 44-year-old senior scientist at the National Defense University in Taipei was confirmed to have the SARS virus. He had been working on a SARS study in Taiwan’s only BSL-4 lab. The Taiwan CDC later stated the infection occurred due to laboratory misconduct.[15][16]
    2004 Severe acute respiratory syndrome#Laboratory accidents SARS China SARS Laboratory accidents Two researchers at the The Viral Disease Prevention and Control Institute, part of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, China around April 2004, who spread it to around six other people. The two researchers contracted it 2 weeks apart.[17]

  77. says

    mistershelden
    26 May 2021 at 4:27 am

    we’re working with a natural crossover of zoonotic disease of once every 18 months

    citation needed.
    Even if that were true (it isn’t), you’ll need to add in “novel pathogen” to your calculation.

  78. jack lecou says

    @79-81: Yeah, we’re talking about a hypothetical accident that would involve both a novel pathogen (first evidence for human disease potential comes from a lab) and also goes uncontained, which I would hope is much rarer than the contained variety.

    It’s possible “uncontained accidental release of novel pathogen” is a one-off kind of event with no precendents, but we might be able to estimate a probability based on some combination of ‘how often do human pathogens turn up in labs first’, and ‘how many lab incidents are uncontained’.

  79. jack lecou says

    I think you can also look at this another way:

    Assuming something does exist in a zoonotic reservoir somewhere, then the number of “potential uncontrolled encounters” that could lead to an outbreak is bound to be much higher out in the wild than in the lab. With the possible exceptions of Greenland or Antarctica, there’s nowhere in the world where the frequency of mushroom hunters or bat milkers or whoever wandering around and blundering into things isn’t going to dwarf the frequency at which trained pathogen researchers forget to seal up a glove.

  80. PaulBC says

    The explanation for an increase in zoonotic origin is (to quote Wikipedia) “Human contact with bats has increased as bat habitats and human population centers encroach on one another, creating additional opportunities for spillover.”

    Suppose you want to hate China for one reason or another (Note: I don’t. My wife is Chinese and the best vacation I ever took in my life was to Chengdu.) Suppose the actual explanation for SARS-CoV-2 is that the developing Chinese economy has pushed more people into bat habitats. Isn’t “China” still to blame? I mean, you could hate the Chinese for that too, right?

    Alternatively, maybe one of their labs mishandled a sample. It’s another neutral explanation, but sure, go hate 1.4 billion Chinese people for that if you’re a hater. Though if anything, I would say that the steady of growth Chinese industry is a lot more likely to affect the rest of the world than isolated lab accidents.

    I mean, it is really interesting that the zoonotic vs. lab leak explanations are in head to head competition as if one carries more culpability than the other. It’s not obvious to me why there’s any distinction assuming both are unintentional consequences of developing economies. (Note: it’d be nice if the Chinese government would be more open though.)

    Obviously, if it’s an engineered virus, that’s a different issue, or if it’s the release of an engineered virus. There seems to be no evidence at all for this.

  81. mistershelden says

    OK but what if the outbreak happens next door to a lab which has a large collection of bat coronaviruses being studied for pandemic potential, (some of which are samples from the distant Yunnan cave/hospital where a SARS -like illness struck some miners in 2012), and this place also has basically NO wild bats?
    I think that tilts the priors somewhat. Especially since the extensively-tested animal market, next to the lab, was not found to contain zoonotic virus or bats.
    If the outbreak had started near some bat caves or in the countryside among people who could have been exposed to wild animals, that would be quite another matter.

  82. jack lecou says

    If the outbreak had started near some bat caves or in the countryside among people who could have been exposed to wild animals, that would be quite another matter.

    I don’t think anyone actually knows, with any precision, where the disease started. Last I checked, the earliest known cases are thought to already be examples of community spread. Perhaps patient 10,000 or so. Not patient zero. The first outbreak was noticed in Wuhan, so it’s logical to guess it may have started in Hubei province somewhere. Maybe. But that’s about all we really know.

    Also, bats are only one hypothesis. There’s some genetic similarity to bat-based strains, but nothing conclusive. I think minks (from fur farming) have also come up as a possibility. There may be others.

    Given all that, the fact that a virology research center happens to be nearby is only suggestive at best. A lot of Chinese cities probably have research centers. Without firm evidence about a lab accident, or specifically tracing the virus back to the lab, it’s just as likely to be coincidence.

  83. raven says

    Human contact with bats has increased as bat habitats and human population centers encroach on one another, creating additional opportunities for spillover.”

    It’s not just bats.
    The increase in animal to human crossovers is because we are now 7.8 billion people. A huge monoculture that dominates the large animal biomass of the planet. It’s simple Darwinian evolution.
    We are a giant all you can eat buffet for any pathogens that are capable of jumping from animals to humans.

    This happens a lot.
    This WHO article estimates that 20 of the 30 novel pathogens found in the last three decades, came from animals.
    Most of these jumps don’t result in worldwide pandemics but like with HIV, Swine flu, or Covid-19 virus, some definitely do so.

    http://www.emro.who.int/fr/about-who/rc61/zoonotic-diseases.html

    WHO Comité régional » Sixty-first session
    Zoonotic disease: emerging public health threats in the Region 2014

    It is estimated that, globally, about one billion cases of illness and millions of death occur every year from zoonoses. Some 60% of emerging infectious diseases that are reported globally are zoonoses. Over 30 new human pathogens have been detected in the last three decades, 75% of which have originated in animals [1]

  84. raven says

    36 percent
    Humans account for about 36 percent of the biomass of all mammals. Domesticated livestock, mostly cows and pigs, account for 60 percent, and wild mammals for only 4 percent.May 23, 2018

    Humans and Big Ag Livestock Now Account for 96 Percent of …

    Humans are 36% of the mammalian biomass on the planet.
    Our commensuals and food supply are another 60%.

    In evolutionary terms we are a huge target and opportunity.

  85. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    It should also be noted that the first strain of SARS leaked from labs THREE times in 2003-2004. So, rare.

    This was a strain which already infected humans, right? If so, you’re looking at the wrong sort of evidence. To do Bayesian reasoning, one needs to compare how frequently the facts can be explained by one story vs by another story. In this case, the story that needs to be explained is a novel virus from an animal population to a human population. In other words, the same sort of mistakes that lead to a lab leak of a virus that has already infected humans is not the exact same sort of thing that leads to a lab leak of a novel animal virus that has never infected humans before. I’m aware of only two examples in human history of novel animal virus crossover as a result of (accidental) physician activity, and those are SV-40 and SIV.

    Even if that were true (it isn’t), you’ll need to add in “novel pathogen” to your calculation.

    I was just using the numbers given to me by Raven. I don’t care enough to look up better numbers.

    jack lecou
    There is a precedent. SV-40 is a thing that did happen. Everyone agrees that it did happen. I’d also argue that SIV is another physician caused novel animal virus crossover event, but I understand that many people don’t want to look into the evidence themselves and they don’t accept it.

    PaulBC
    Wholeheartedly agreed.

    OK but what if the outbreak happens next door to a lab which has a large collection of bat coronaviruses being studied for pandemic potential, (some of which are samples from the distant Yunnan cave/hospital where a SARS -like illness struck some miners in 2012), and this place also has basically NO wild bats?

    No bats? What about the wet market? It also could have been multiple natural crossover events, from one species to a second species to humans. We know that this virus infects certain other species quite readily. This could easily happen in a wet market with multiple species housed closely together.

  86. jack lecou says

    @89: SV-40 is a thing that did happen. Everyone agrees that it did happen. I’d also argue that SIV is another…

    Even one or two cases though, over roughly the entire history of virology, doesn’t necessarily give you a statistically reliable rate.

    Have we just been lucky? Are these events likely to be growing more frequent (since presumably more people are working with viruses these days then in 1955) or less frequent (because we’ve learned most of the hard lessons already, can test vaccines for unwanted material more thoroughly, etc.)? One or two events from 50 years ago just can’t tell you.

    And even those incidents are not particularly close analogies. Nobody [sensible] is claiming that researchers actually injected thousands of people with Covid. Even inadvertently.

    What’s being postulated is, I think, something like a technician cleaning out an animal cage without putting on their mask properly. Or inadvertently spilling a sample on themselves. A mass-vaccination event isn’t necessarily a good model for the probability that a smaller lab incident like that can go unnoticed, break containment, and reach the general population.

  87. mistershelden says

    No bats? What about the wet market? It also could have been multiple natural crossover events, from one species to a second species to humans. We know that this virus infects certain other species quite readily. This could easily happen in a wet market with multiple species housed closely together.

    If you read the WHO report, they rule this out. No bats in the market, many animal samples tested, none found with virus. Virus settled on surfaces suggesting (according to report) human to human spread. Also a number of cases with no link to wet markets. They conclude no zoonotic transfer at the wet market.

    I don’t wholly trust the WHO report, but that’s what it says.

  88. jack lecou says

    @89, 92:

    Keep in mind that a zoonotic origin doesn’t necessarily even mean a proximate origin in Wuhan. AFAICT, it hasn’t been ruled out that the Wuhan strain itself was just a mutation of some earlier, less symptomatic/virulent strain that might have been circulating unnoticed in humans for some time. Much like new variants are popping in South Africa and so forth now.

    The most closely related bat strains are endemic to Yunnan and SE Asia, so it might well have crossed over down there, perhaps in that initially less virulent form. It’s also believed that the phylogenetic distance from the bat strains indicates some time spent in some kind of intermediate (probably mammalian) host before it spilled over to humans. It might even have entered the food supply through them, or spread into some other agricultural animal (like fur mink) and moved around that way geographically before entering the human population.

    My best guess is probably something like:
    bat corona virus [maybe from Yunnan/Cambodia/Thailand] –> unknown mammal –> less virulent human strain [optional] –> virulent Wuhan strain

    But that’s still just pure speculation, really. There’s still a lot that isn’t known — which is one of the reasons people claiming it must have been the Wuhan virology lab look so silly.

  89. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    The most closely related bat strains are endemic to Yunnan and SE Asia

    Have we done enough testing on bat populations to conclude this with any degree of certainty? I’m highly skeptical. AFAIK, it could easily be a bat population near Wuhan that simply hasn’t been tested yet.

  90. jack lecou says

    @95: AFAIK, it could easily be a bat population near Wuhan that simply hasn’t been tested yet.

    Point. I guess I should say “the closest strains that have been found suggest an origin in bats from Yunnan/SE Asia”. Obviously if the zoonotic origin theory is right, then it’s not only possible that there’s something out there (bat or otherwise) that hasn’t been tested, it’s a certainty. The viruses in Yunnan bats are the closest found, but they don’t appear to be close enough to be the proximate source.

    Bats and their viruses have been surveyed in Hubei (and all over China) though. I think this appears to be the definitive work thus far, and they conclude:

    Our phylogenetic analysis shows a high diversity of CoVs from bats sampled in China, with most bat genera included in this study (10/16) infected by both α- and β-CoVs. In our phylogenetic analysis that includes all known bat-CoVs from China, we found that SARS-CoV-2 is likely derived from a clade of viruses originating in horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus spp.). The geographic location of this origin appears to be Yunnan province.

  91. jack lecou says

    Also, I think the genetic distance between the closest Yunnan bat CoV and COVID-19 is still years or even decades worth of mutations. Whatever the unknown intermediate host, maybe a local weasel or something, that seems like plenty of time for it to spread at least a province or two before jumping to humans.

  92. Rob Grigjanis says

    jack lecou @97:

    Also, I think the genetic distance between the closest Yunnan bat CoV and COVID-19 is still years or even decades worth of mutations

    According to Bill Gallaher;

    We know from influenza H1N1, for which we have serial isolates from 1918 to the present, that wobble base mutagenesis occurs at a rate of 0.95% per decade. This permits an estimation of the TMRCA of the two sequences nCoV2019 and RaTG13 of 69.5 years ago – roughly 1950 +/- 10 years or so.

  93. mistershelden says

    Someone correctly pointed out that a link I gave earlier only showed that WIV staff collaborated on gain of function and that the experiment I linked to was actually done in the US.
    I was sure there were papers showing GOF experiments done in Wuhan :
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2258702/

    Third, the chimeric S covering the previously defined receptor-binding domain gained its ability to enter cells via human ACE2, albeit with different efficiencies for different constructs.

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