Matt Ridley’s steady descent into dangerous British loonhood


Matt Ridley is definitely a smart guy, and he also writes well. I enjoyed some of his earlier books, like The Red Queen and Genome, but I became less appreciative as he became more openly libertarian, and espoused a Whiggish view of the world that was only a rationalization for why he was so wealthy and privileged (he’s kind of the British version of Pinker, only worse). He’s the 5th Viscount Ridley, don’t you know, he is to the manor born (Blagdon Hall, Northumberland, specifically), he’s a member of the House of Lords, he endorsed Brexit, he owns coal mines, he used to own a bank, but he ran it into the ground and it was taken away from him and nationalized. On climate change, he’s argued that global warming is going to be a net benefit, increasing rainfall and the growing season, and that human ingenuity will overcome any minor disruptions. He even coauthored a book with Anthony Watts and Bjorn Lomborg and a host of the usual denialist suspects, Climate Change: The Facts 2017, which ought to alarm anyone who wants to think he’s just being objective. I guess that comes of owning coal mines and being an enthusiastic endorser of fracking — when your prosperity is a product of spewing as much fossil carbon into the atmosphere as you can, your very smart brain will work very hard to find excuses.

That doesn’t explain why he’s become such a dedicated proponent of the lab leak “theory” for the origin of COVID-19, though. He’s not an epidemiologist, and it shows, but now he’s authored a book, with a post-doc, Alina Chen, titled Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19. Unfortunately for him, it has been dissected by the formidable Lindsay Beyerstein.

The lab leak theory, for the uninitiated, is the notion that the Covid-19 virus that has now devastated the globe is not of purely natural origin but rather escaped from a lab after it was harvested from the wild or engineered by Chinese scientists. It’s not actually a single theory but, rather, a grab bag of possible scenarios by which the virus might have been unleashed on the world—all of them implying some level of shady or incompetent behavior by Chinese scientists. And in trying to take each of these scenarios seriously, Viral’s authors have unintentionally exposed the entire farce of the lab leak discourse—showing both the exceptional flimsiness of the lab leakers’ narrative and also why this very flimsiness makes the lab leak conspiracy theory so hard to eradicate. By relying on an ever-growing arsenal of seemingly suspicious facts, each pointing in a slightly different direction, lab leaker discourse renders itself completely unfalsifiable.

Like I said, Matt Ridley is a smart guy, and he knows he can’t take a strong stance on any idea, whether it’s climate change (he calls himself a “lukewarmer”) or this lab leak nonsense, where he practices a performative neutrality. It’s his evasiveness that reveals his biases — he tries so hard to dodge around his beliefs that the shape of them is recognizable.

The book is structured around a set of themes, which I hesitate to call arguments because the authors decline to argue for anything in particular. (In this sense, the book aligns perfectly with what academics have been saying about conspiracy theories for years: that the theories rely on people poking holes in the official narrative without committing to a single plausible alternative.) First, the authors attach great importance to a mysterious pneumonia outbreak linked to the abandoned Tongguan mineshaft in Mojiang, China, in April 2012, which lab leak theory adherents see as a critical episode in the history of Covid-19, because researchers with the Wuhan Institute of Virology later found the bat virus RaTG13 in that same cave, and RaTG13 was briefly the closest-known wild relative of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. Second, the authors focus on the purported evidence of “preadaptation” of Covid-19 to human hosts. Finally, they examine gaps in the epidemiological record that purportedly call into question the current scientific consensus that the pandemic began in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, following a “spillover” event in which the virus passed from a live animal to a human.

That’s a good tell for recognizing that you’re dealing with a conspiracy theorist — they spend all their time trying to find errors or inconsistencies in good theories, which they can use to claim their unsupported, extremely wobbly, speculative alternative must be the correct answer, an illogic that they never quite grasp. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s exactly what creationists have been doing for decades. Intelligent design creationism, in particular, relies on Ridley’s strategy. They’re not about to give you positive evidence for what they’re claiming, they trust that finding gaps or even errors in modern biology will give their supporters sufficient excuse to lapse into what they’re biases predispose them to believe.

Ridley’s mistake here is that he gave away enough of his own beliefs that holes are being poked in them in turn. There is a heck of a lot of work being done on bat viruses now, which Ridley has no competence to address.

A series of recent discoveries, however, has undermined Viral’s central themes: Newly discovered wild bat viruses from Laos have proven not only more genetically similar to the Covid-19 virus than any previously known to science, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s RaTG13 sequence, but also directly infectious to humans via the same mechanisms that the Covid-19 virus uses to infect human cells. These findings make Viral’s breathless speculation about the Mojiang mine and the origins of RaTG13 completely obsolete. This discovery also suggests that whatever “preadaptation” was needed to make Covid-19 infectious to humans could have happened in the wild over many years of natural selection. The Laos bat preprint was published in mid-September, by which time it may have been too late to address it in the book.

Meanwhile, a reanalysis of early Covid cases published in November in the journal Science has confirmed the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market as the likely site of a zoonotic spillover event. Another paper, which gets a brief discussion in the book, established beyond a reasonable doubt that, contrary to Chinese government denials, live wild-caught animals that could be prime viral vectors were illegally sold at the Huanan market through November 2019—including raccoon dogs, hog badgers, and Siberian weasels, all members of the carnivorous mustelid family, which is known to be susceptible to SARS-like coronaviruses.

Every time Ridley opens his mouth on the pandemic he exposes his own ignorance. Back in the fall of 2020, Ridley was arguing against basic health measures.

It is counterintuitive but the current spread of Covid may on balance be the least worst thing that could happen now. In the absence of a vaccine, and with no real prospect of eradicating the disease, the virus spreading among younger people, mostly without hitting the vulnerable, is creating immunity that will eventually slow the epidemic. The second wave is real, but it is not like the first. It would be a mistake to tackle it with compulsory lockdowns (even if called ‘circuit breakers’), whether national or local. The cure would be worse than the disease.

If you cannot extinguish an epidemic at the start, the best strategy is for the healthy to get infected first. Lockdowns ensure that the vulnerable and the healthy both get infected with similar probability.

Yeah, similar reduced probability. Ridley endorsed that lump of Libertarian poppycock, the Great Barrington Declaration, a massive bit of misguided stupidity that killed people.

The alternative to lockdown is not ‘letting the virus rip’, as Boris Johnson puts it. The Great Barrington Declaration, signed by over 20,000 doctors and medical scientists (but disgracefully censored by Google’s search engine), calls for focused protection: help the elderly and vulnerable stay at home, but let the young and invulnerable go out and achieve immunity for us all, while earning a living. The extraordinary truth is that a student catching Covid might be saving Granny’s life rather than threatening it.

In support of that claim, he cites the example of Sweden, which refused to enforce any lockdowns. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see what a mistake that was: Sweden has had more cases and deaths than neighboring Scandinavian countries.

Ridley doesn’t have to worry, though. He still has plenty of high profile supporters.

That man just keeps embarrassing himself. I wish he’d stop.

Comments

  1. fergl says

    I think if I wanted to read a book about the origin of the covid virus, I would prefer the author to be a virologist.

  2. raven says

    Second, the authors focus on the purported evidence of “preadaptation” of Covid-19 to human hosts. The actual data we have shows that the Covid-19 virus wasn’t in fact, “preadapted” to humans.

    .1. The original virus in Wuhan infected humans. It was soon overrun by a fitter variant with a novel mutation. Which was overrrun by Alpha. Then Delta swept through the world, making up 99% of all US cases in late summer and recharging the pandemic. Omicron is now pushing Delta out to Delta-who status.
    There is no reason to believe Omicron is the last Covid-19 virus.

    What we are watching is evolution in Real Time.
    It isn’t preadapted, it is evolving to adapt itself. Just like Darwin said.

    .2. It isn’t mentioned above but we do know something about the Covid-19 virus’s history. It’s a recombinant of two other closely related bat viruses. We know this by sequencing and the mechanisms of recombination in RNA viruses.

    .3. Speaking of preadaptation, the Covid-19 virus early on swept through other mammalian species at impressive speed with impressive ability. It resulted in the deaths of millions of minks.
    It is currently spreading through US white tailed deer.

    Smoking gun here. It’s obvious that the Covid-19 virus was preadapted to kill minks and white tailed deer./s. The commies are well known for targeting mink and deer to bring down our entire civilization. (This is sarcasm. Big Mink and Big Deer are really targeting humans. Anyone who lives around deer and has a yard knows this for a fact.)

  3. says

    That doesn’t explain why he’s become such a dedicated proponent of the lab leak “theory” for the origin of COVID-19, though.

    Actually, it kinda does point to two objectives libertarians are known to have: to incite hatred against government and blame them for all of humanity’s problems; and to keep Americans and Chinese hating each other so we never manage to cooperate on any “collectivist” solution to any problems that libertards and their donors don’t want to admit or deal with.

  4. raven says

    There is one other point, that the conspiracy theorists always miss.

    We don’t have to blame a lab leak or Bill Gates for a novel virus entering the human population.
    It happens all the time.
    We see it all the time as well.
    Where did measles, RSV, the Black Death, or smallpox come from? Bill Gates and Soros weren’t even alive back then.

    In the 21 st century we’ve seen West Nile virus, Bird flu, Swine flu, Zika, Ebola, SARS, and now SARS-CoV-2.
    Roughly one novel virus outbreak occurs every year or two.

    Occam’s razor by itself makes this idea unlikely. It is certainly unnecessary to explain where the Covid-19 virus came from.

  5. unclefrogy says

    Ah yes that is how I would phrase it if I could, and I suspect that as this guy illustrates their is may be an element of class in it which is supported by class envy.

    It does seem to me that as the virus mutates that it’s strength is it’s ability to mutate so quickly to maintain it’s ability to infect new hosts. The variety of life and its ability to adapt is really amazing, and why not some agent like this one we already encountered one that directly infects the immune system itself and is highly infectious in particular ways. there is no need for convoluted paranoid fantasy speculation nature it all by itself is powerful enough to kill us all or most of us. Its not like it hasn’t done it before

  6. birgerjohansson says

    The Swedish cock-up was caused by many factors, but one of them is, the responsibility us split between two authorities. One of them argued for applying the precautionary principle, the other (Folkhälsomyndigheten) made a different interpretation.
    This may in part have been caused by the Bird flu and swine flu scares, that got norhing as bad as feared, and the data from the Spanish flu was heavily relief upon – we now know COVID does not behave in a similar way, it is much more contagious for a start.
    So it was a very Swedish cock-up, with overlapping authorities clashing and the politicians deferring to the dominant set of experts to avoid taking responsibility.
    Not a good model to emulate.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Typo : spell check altered was to us
    Norhing should be nothing
    Relief should be relied.
    .
    Raven @2 is making a good point about evolution in real time.
    Add “deep time” and you go from tiny diapsid reptiles to humans In 330 million years.

  8. christoph says

    @Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden: “Immature humorists ‘borrow.’ Mature humorists steal.” -Mark Twain

  9. jrkrideau says

    Matt Ridley has a long and rather dubious history as a climate change denier. Seeing his name as co-author on the book was a real red flag.

    I missed his book with Anthony Watts and Bjorn Lomborg, etc. I would have thought even Ridley would have avoided Watts.

    Larry Moran at Sandwalk discusses Michael Hiltzik’s blistering rewiew in the the LA Times Lab Leak.

    Canadian journalist and author, Elaine Dewar, has a similar book out. , On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An Investigation out on the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis .

    I heard a rather sympathetic review of it on a CBC morning show and got the opinion it was on par with Chen & Ridley but I have not heard or seen anything since.

  10. PaulBC says

    Crip Dyke@4 I agree, though I admit I was skimming too fast to notice. It reminds me a lot of invisibility tropes in film and TV. You spot the invisible person by spraying paint or maybe watching how smoke or vapor moves around them (that image is so clear in my head I must have seen it).

    I remember a talk by a famous author (maybe Vonnegut) who explained that the people who make a living writing aren’t the best writers, just the ones who can’t make a living some easier way. PZ could fall in that category.

  11. says

    From the cited review:

    But despite their performance of neutrality, the authors’ allegiances clearly lie with some version of a lab leak. The first clue to this is that the primary intellectual partners Chan and Ridley select for their quest to understand the origins of the pandemic are not virologists or epidemiologists but, rather, a group of self-styled internet sleuths known as Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating Covid-19, or DRASTIC.

    And this, folks, is a common trait of nearly all conspiracy theories: diss, dismiss and disregard all relevant experts and experience, and go with a bunch of “self-styled sleuths” with no demonstrable expertise instead, just because they’re the ones telling the cranks what they want (and may even be paying) to hear.

  12. PaulBC says

    I would like to see definitive, positive evidence on the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and I believe we will, but it may be years in coming. Until then, I’m under no obligation at all to take a stand one way or the other. The case for a wet market origin seems stronger now but my biases may be showing.

    My cynical take is that most people who promote the “lab leak” theory are hoping that the listener will conflate it with the lab origin of an engineered virus. Statements about gain of function or the unusual furin cleavage are geared towards creating that impression. Nicholas Wade’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article was polemic masquerading as a “balanced” account. That doesn’t make his conclusion inaccurate, but his rhetorical maneuvers are easily identified.

    I am pretty certain there is nothing engineered about the virus. Again, I would prefer more actual evidence, but this virus has clearly become more adapted to humans as it spreads through the population. Normal viral adaptation is clearly a more effective way to produce human pathogens than anything anyone in the lab may try to do.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    I would argue the tory persons recently elevated by BoJo to the house of lords for political reasons will be dumber and certainly more criminal than Matt Ridley.
    (This is not to be seen as a defence of MR)

  14. nomdeplume says

    I first came across Ridley through “origins of virtue” which I seem to remember disagreeing with every sentence in the first chapter and then throwing it away.

    The Dawkins endorsement is saddening. I once admired his work on explaining evolution, and his atheism. But it has been a rapid decline in recent years to a caricature of “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.

  15. djb57 says

    The Daily Telegraph has reported that Alina Chan gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee today suggesting that Covid-19 was the result of a lab leak from Wuhan. Ridley was also a witness on the same panel as Chan according to the UK Parliament website

  16. KG says

    I haven’t read Ridley’s book, nor do I intend to given his record, but (unlike PZ and many here) I remain open-minded about whether SARS-CoV-2 crossed from some animal at the seafood market (this would not be a “purely natural” event, since none of the species mentioned as possible intermediates between bats and humans would naturally have much contact with people), or was in some way the result of research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The discovery of close relatives of SARS-CoV-2 in Laos, and the reanalysis of early Wuhan cases in Science push the balance of evidence in the direction of the former, but are by no means conclusive.
    1) PZ (and Lindsay Beyerstein) complain that the “lab leak” hypothesis is vague, not well-specified, in practice unfalsifiable. True – but so is the “natural zoonosis” hypothesis. No-one seems to doubt that bats were the original source, and it has been suggested that someone collecting guano from a bat roost acquired the virus and then spread it at the seafood market, which, again, no-one seems to doubt played an important role in spreading it. But if the first human infection was from some other species and that infection was acquired at the market, what species, and how, when and where did it acquire the infection from a bat? Was the virus that crossed to the first infected human essentially the same as that from the earliest known human case, or had there already been significant evolution in one or more human hosts? IOW:

    It’s not actually a single theory but, rather, a grab bag of possible scenarios by which the virus might have been unleashed on the world

    2) Beyerstein defends the scientists at the WIV, and claims that if there was a lab leak, it is implausible that nothing has come out about it. But various “risky” and “vaguely shady” activities do seem to have come to light – for example, that there was work on creating chimeric bat coronaviruses at WIV, under the NIH-supported Research Grant to EcoHealth Alliance*, and it has not been denied that “a database listing animal samples and viral sequences developed by the WIV” went offline in September 2019 – according to the linked article, a WIV spokesperson claims this was done because of “cyber attack concerns”, which makes no sense to me, but perhaps someone among those certain there was no lab leak can explain it. Moreover, the Chinese authorities are well-practised at lying, and persecuting those who give out information they would rather the world did not have – Beyerstein cites their false denials that various species that could have been the source of SARS-CoV-2 were sold at the seafood market. If anyone at WIV did report any suspicion that the lab or its sample collectors might have been the source of SARS-CoV-2, does anyone doubt they would have been told in menacing terms to keep their mouths shut?

    Actually, it kinda does point to two objectives libertarians are known to have: to incite hatred against government and blame them for all of humanity’s problems; and to keep Americans and Chinese hating each other – Raging Bee@6

    Certainly, the possibility that WIV was in some way responsible for the emergence of Covid-19 has been weaponised by the right – but that does not mean that it is false. The plain truth is that we don’t know how SARS-CoV-2 emerged.

    *Peter Daszac, of EcoHealth Alliance, has been prominent among those dismissing the possibility of WIV involvement, but is hardly an impartial observer, since EcoHealth Alliance was a close collaborator in WIV’s work on bat coronaviruses.

  17. KG says

    Incidentally, anyone who thinks raising the possibility that the pandemic resulted from a lab leak or sampling expedition is the exclusive property of the right should take a look at this September 2021 article from The Intercept, which reports on an FOIA lawsuit and links to two EcoHealth/WIV grant proposals, with Daszak (apologies for misspelling his name @20) as PI. The infection of humanized mice (specifically, some with human ACE2 receptors, p.126) with bat coronaviruses seems particularly relevant. (The Intercept article claims this work was done at the University of Wuhan’s Center for Animal Experiments, but it looks to me as if they have got this wrong – the mice were to be bred there (p.132), but p.126 definitely says the infection experiments will take place at WIV.)

  18. chrislawson says

    KG, your comment is an outright fucking lie. Stop spreading bullshit.

    The paper you linked to was an experiment where they replaced the spike protein from one bat coronavirus with another to see how it influenced infectivity in mice. We know the sequence of COVID19 and it contains precisely zero genetically engineered/chimaeric spike proteins swapped in from other coronaviruses, which means that the experiment you mention is 100% irrelevant to the COVID19 outbreak, and your comment is yet another example of exactly what PZ was pointing to: using conspiratorial reasoning even when the evidence clearly rules it out. In fact, the report you linked to contains the fucking evidence that you are a fucking liar. “Questions have been raised about whether this NIH-funded research had a role in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. In this regard, the chimeric viruses that were studied (i.e., the WIV-1 virus with the various spike proteins obtained from bat viruses found in nature) were so far distant from an evolutionary standpoint from SARS-CoV-2 (Figure 1) that they could not have possibly been the source of SARS-CoV-2 or the COVID-19 pandemic.” So fuck right off, you lying racist arsehole.

    “Peter Daszac, of EcoHealth Alliance, has been prominent among those dismissing the possibility of WIV involvement, but is hardly an impartial observer, since EcoHealth Alliance was a close collaborator in WIV’s work on bat coronaviruses.” Fucking shithead. If you falsely accuse someone of a major crime against humanity, you don’t then get to dismiss their response with “they’re hardly an impartial observer.” What a fucking slimeball you are.

    “The plain truth is that we don’t know how SARS-CoV-2 emerged.” Can you hear yourself? This is exactly the same bullshit creationists use. “The plain truth is we don’t have a continuous and complete sequence of fossils for every single species that ever existed on earth, therefore evolution is wrong.” Go play with the alt-right scumbags you clearly aspire to be with.

  19. KG says

    One more comment, just to reiterate the most basic reason for not dismissing the possible involvement of WIV in the emergence of the pandemic. There are “wet markets”, selling live wild animals, all over China and in other countries too. Would it not be a remarkable coincidence if the wet market where SARS-CoV-2 crossed to human hosts happened to be the one 9 miles from the very research institute carrying out work involving the creation of chimeric bat coronaviruses and the infection with bat coronaviruses of humanized mice with genes for human ACE2 receptor proteins? This isn’t stuff that’s done everywhere: WIV is the centre for work on bat coronaviruses in China (University of Hong Kong is perhaps comparable, but nowhere else, try putting “bat + coronavirus + China” into Web of Science), and AFAIK nowhere else in the world was carrying out those types of work. Obviously, it could be a coincidence. But would any honest investigation not look very closely at the possibility that it is not? Daszak, of course, was a member of the WHO investigatory team.

  20. KG says

    I think you stand condemned out of your own pen, chrislawson@23. You can look through my entire comment history here, and not find a single example that supports your ridiculous and offensive characterization. I suggest you go and stick your head in a bucket of cold water until you’ve come to your senses. I have not accused Daszak of “a major crime against humanity” or anything like it, but it’s the plain truth that he cannot be an impartial observer.

  21. chrislawson says

    KG, stop your fucking racist anti-Chinese lying, you absolute prick. Don’t think I didn’t notice that you have wilfully ignored the fact that your own quoted paper contradicts your lies. What the fuck is the matter with you? Do you enjoy feeling superior to people who actually understand more than you do? Do you not give a single flying fuck that your deliberate and deceitful language inflames conflict and hatred and antagonism to important public health measures?

    I have had a very difficult week, working 50% longer than usual hours trying to deal with my usual workload plus the extra from COVID prevention, and at least half of that extra work is educating people down from the fucking lies spread by humungously entitled arseholes like yourself. Frankly, if I had a magic wand that could take a COVID infection from some unlucky person in ICU and transfer it to someone like yourself who gets emotional satisfaction from making it harder to keep people safe, I would use it without hesitation.

  22. chrislawson says

    You suggested that Daszak was part of a lab leak that killed millions of people and that he is covering up his responsibility. This, by any imagination, is a crime against humanity. So fick off with yet another of your fucking lies. Do you give a single flying fuck about anything you say? You utter arsehole.

  23. chrislawson says

    “The Central Park Five can hardly be an impartial observers in their own defence.” You utter shit.

  24. chrislawson says

    Maybe, KG, you could try working in healthcare or medical research instead of smearing people with patently false accusations of conspiracy. Go fellate Andrew Wakefield while you’re at it.

  25. chrislawson says

    Does it make you feel like a superior human to spread egregious bullshit that your own sources contradict? I mean, it’s not like it’s difficult. That NIH article contains a total of FOUR paragraphs, and yet you couldn’t even be arsed enough to find the two very clear sentences in it that made your comment a lie.

  26. KG says

    chrislawson,
    As it happens, I am currently working in Covid-related research, in a project concerned with nosocomial infections of health-care workers. Even if WIV was the source of the pandemic, it’s quite possible that neither Daszak nor anyone else knows that – and if so, they would be desperately hoping that it was not. I did not suggest that the specific experiment referred to in this paper could have led to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, but cited it simply to show the obviously relevant fact that WIV was undertaking work infecting humanized mice with chimeric bat coronaviruses. Do we know that was the only such experiment carried out there? Does Peter Daszak?

    Now do stop being so silly.

  27. KG says

    Frankly, if I had a magic wand that could take a COVID infection from some unlucky person in ICU and transfer it to someone like yourself who gets emotional satisfaction from making it harder to keep people safe, I would use it without hesitation. – chrislawson@26

    I suppose the words “magic wand” mean that doesn’t actually count as a threat to commit attempted murder, but it comes pretty close, since there are presumably people you might be in a position to infect with SARS-CoV-2, depending on exactly what your work consists of, and you appear to have the motiviation to do so if they express doubts about the origins of the pandemic.

  28. chrislawson says

    COVID19 IS NOT A CHIMAERIC VIRUS. Which means neither Daszak’s research nor any other research with chimaeric coronaviruses could have been the source of the outbreak. And yet you keep on pumping the lie that scientists doing chimaeric research is evidence for a lab leak of a non-chimaeric virus. Arsehole or moron. You choose.

    Since you link to papers and articles you clearly don’t know how to read and continue to perpetuate deceitful errors, you will excuse me for not taking you at your word that you are working in “COVID-related” research, at least not in any meaningful way. What is exactly is your role in this research? Are you there for your knowledge of virology? Does your “COVID-related” work on nosocomial infections actually have anything directly to do with COVID or is it so general that it applies to many nosocomial infections in hospital and has nothing of note to say about COVID specifically? Is the trial registered? If it is not registered, why not? I have zero interest in doxxing you, but on current form I’m not sure you understand anything beyound basic virology concepts. Do you have any professional virologists on the team? Did you think to ask them about your hypothesis before spouting it in a public forum?

  29. chrislawson says

    KG@33–

    Seriously, more lies? Of course a “magic wand” is not a threat, especially since I clearly made it about taking the infection away from people who are just unlucky. Which you know is impossible. But, you know, just keep on lying to yourself to maintain your conspiratorial victim mentality. Oh, I’m sorry. You think it’s OK to suggest that Daszak and other researchers are responsible for a multi-million-death lab leak, and that they’re now suppressing evidence, but you can’t cope with a clearly magical expression of exasperation. Oh what a pathetic little ego you have. You are allowed to lie and dissemble, but god forbid anyone should express their frustration with your fuckery with anything other than perfect politeness. Arsehole.

  30. chrislawson says

    And I note again — YOU STILL REFUSE TO ADMIT YOU ARE LYING ABOUT CHIMAERIC VIRAL RESEARCH BEING EVIDENCE FOR A NON-CHIMAERIC LAB LEAK AND A CONSPIRACY TO COVER UP. Arsehole.

  31. chrislawson says

    Also, another lie. I am not disposed to treating people with this level of contempt just because they think a lab leak is a possibility since that would include myself. BUT YOU POSTED DECEPTIVE, CONSPIRATORIAL LIES. You are quite clearly 100% incapable of being truthful on this subject. Fuck off.

  32. chrislawson says

    But, you know. You do you. Keep lying and then treating the responses you get as evidence that you can just keep digging deeper.

  33. says

    Certainly, the possibility that WIV was in some way responsible for the emergence of Covid-19 has been weaponised by the right – but that does not mean that it is false. The plain truth is that we don’t know how SARS-CoV-2 emerged.

    All the more reason NOT to go about spouting unfounded accusations that only incite hatred and undermine cooperation.

  34. says

    I did not suggest that the specific experiment referred to in this paper could have led to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, but cited it simply to show the obviously relevant fact that WIV was undertaking work infecting humanized mice with chimeric bat coronaviruses.

    Yeah, right…”shady stuff happened, therefore my conspiracy ‘theory’ is true!” That is, again, typical lazy conspiracy-buff thinking. I’m with chrislawson on this: KG can fuck right off with his obvious bullshit.

  35. says

    I suppose the words “magic wand” mean that doesn’t actually count as a threat to commit attempted murder, but it comes pretty close…

    Only to someone who actually believes in magic. Or to someone who’s absolutely desperate to pretend he’s being “persecuted” and has no other straw to grab. Go to bed, KG.

  36. madisonburnett says

    The more Dawkins talks, the more I am embarrassed by the amount of respect I once had for him.

  37. chrislawson says

    Thank you, Raging Bee. I needed a little bit of validation.

    Sorry to all on this thread about my intemperate language. I try to limit myself a little better even when I’m infuriated. But it’s been a crappy time recently trying to manage vulnerable older patients who have been frightened off vaccines, mask-wearing and sometimes even basic infection prevention, as well as people asking for medical exemptions when they’re not even remotely eligible, and also the occasional person who has felt the need to explain their conspiracy theories as if their Facebook group knows more about viruses, vaccines, or public health than all the world’s leading specialists combined. One person who has kept trying to persuade me over recent months, even in non-COVID-related consults, when I said that multiple independent trials have shown the effectiveness of the available vaccines replied, “Why on earth would you believe the scientific literature?”, whereupon I promptly moved the conversation onto other clinical concerns. This is an extreme case of course, but these interactions tend towards a kind of cumulative vexation.

    I think I burnt up all my politeness and moderation in the face of exasperation for the week.

  38. snarkrates says

    KG and Chris Lawson,
    Look, neither of you is covering yourself with glory in this thread.
    Chris, while I share your frustration with KG’s continual drumbeat of irresponsible accusations under the guise of Just-Asking-Questions (aka the passive-agressive technique of JAQing off), threats–even those involving magic wands–are not really appropriate. Just call KG on his bullshit and and let that stand–or if you are incapable of doing this in a dispassionate way, maybe let someone else do it.

    KG, you risk becoming the Gerrard of Corona conspiracy theories. I think perhaps you need to ask yourself why you are so invested in the lab leak conspiracy theory that you feel the need to defend it whenever it faces even the mildest of criticism.
    A couple of things–and you’ve had this pointed out to you before.
    1) The chief criticism of the lab leak theory is that it is utterly unnecessary to explain the emergence of SARS-CoV2. The coronaviruses have been on the radar of virologists and epidemiologists as a threat for decades. That such a threat would eventually be realized was inevitable, requiring no intervention of any human hand.
    2) That the virus should emerge in a wet market close to a virology institute is hardly surprising. One tends to locate research institutes in regions where they will have something interesting to study. Your “unlikely coincidence” likely explainable in terms of accountants trying to minimize travel budgets. That you, who are normally fairly astute in seeing such potential explanations, failed to see it in this case ought to make you worry about your objectivity on this subject.
    3) You also need to understand that this debate is not being conducted in a political vacuum. People on both sides of this debate have a stake in the outcome. Anti-China sentiment is prevalent on both the political right and the left. Hell, there are calls every week for China to pay reparations for “unleashing” the virus.
    4) Politics of science is also in play. There are a lot of scientists who would like to see an end to the so-called “gain of function” research. There are even more who see such research as essential if we are ever to gain a leg up on understanding how outbreaks and epidemics come about and how we can stop them more quickly.

    I think you need to look at your own motivations closely if you want to avoid fooling yourself and becoming the sort of monomaniac you, yourself, deplore.

  39. consciousness razor says

    KG, stop your fucking racist anti-Chinese lying, you absolute prick.

    It’s pretty bizarre that you would find racism or anti-Chinese sentiment in “lab leak,” which puts the focus squarely on the scientific/public health establishment (internationally, in China and the US and elsewhere) and has nothing specifically to do with Chinese people, their cultural practices, or anything of the sort. The only thing even vaguely approaching that is the simple fact that the virus seems to have had its origins in China, which nobody has any good reason to dispute regardless of which type of origin story they’re telling. Meanwhile, you somehow don’t detect racism in “wet market” theories that lean heavily on long-held stereotypes about ordinary Chinese people. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

    If we’re supposed to believe you’re being serious (not just dishonestly flinging whatever shit you can at someone you disagree with), then I think your racism detector is in dire need of repair. And if you’re not being serious, you really shouldn’t do that with something like racism, because people ought to regard it as a legitimate social problem and not as a convenient way to hurt your opponents with baseless accusations. So, if you really do care at all about that, then please don’t undermine it in that way.

    You suggested that Daszak was part of a lab leak that killed millions of people and that he is covering up his responsibility.

    Well, of course, there’s no way for us to know everything he might have been covering up, but here’s a slightly more polite way to summarize what we do know from Newsweek:

    For whatever reason, they chose crisis-management mode instead. The WIV went into lockdown. Databases were taken offline. Daszak launched his preemptive campaign to prevent anyone from looking behind the curtain. And EcoHealth and the NIH tried hard to keep the details of their collaboration private.

    Maybe they went to all that trouble because they’re so enthusiastic and committed to the cause of anti-racism?

    … Nah, that’s just silly.

  40. says

    It’s pretty bizarre that you would find racism or anti-Chinese sentiment in “lab leak,” which puts the focus squarely on the scientific/public health establishment (internationally, in China and the US and elsewhere) and has nothing specifically to do with Chinese people, their cultural practices, or anything of the sort.

    The anti-Chinese sentiment is pretty obvious, and predates COVID-19 by over a century. And the lab-leak allegations are being used by, and pandering directly to, anti-Chinese bigots, regardless of the facts you cited. Do you really think racists will be thinking about those complex facts? All they need to know is that the alleged lab leak allegedly happened in China, therefore they can use it to bash China and their Commmunist(ish) government, both of which the bigots already held in contempt.

    Unsubstantiated allegations and conspiracy-theories are routinely seized upon and used by bigots to justify bigotry. That’s why it’s important to pounce on them and call out whoever is hawking them.

  41. says

    chrislawson: no need to apologize. Your anger, and that of everyone else dealing with Retrumplitarian-incoted insanity, is fully justified. It’s the loons, and especially those who are inciting and manipulating them, who should be apologizing. To everyone, including their marks.

  42. consciousness razor says

    And the lab-leak allegations are being used by, and pandering directly to, anti-Chinese bigots, regardless of the facts you cited.

    Wet market allegations are being used by and are pandering directly to anti-Chinese bigots. So there’s also that. But what do you think any of this guilt-by-association crap is supposed to demonstrate anyway?

    Do you really think racists will be thinking about those complex facts?

    Which “complex facts”? I’m sure racists think about lots of things in any case, but I don’t know what you’re trying to ask…. I didn’t think I was saying anything that’s particularly hard for anyone to grasp. Which part would you say is the hardest for you?

    All they need to know is that the alleged lab leak allegedly happened in China, therefore they can use it to bash China and their Commmunist(ish) government, both of which the bigots already held in contempt.

    As I already said, nobody worth taking seriously is proposing that the virus originally emerged in any other country.

    So, unless you’re actually going to deny that it came from China (also not a smart move), this argument is pure nonsense, because your appeal to the consequences apply just as much to your own claims as it does to those you’re criticizing.

  43. PaulBC says

    cr@45

    Meanwhile, you somehow don’t detect racism in “wet market” theories that lean heavily on long-held stereotypes about ordinary Chinese people.

    These theories “lean heavily” on the fact that these markets bring large numbers of humans in contact with wild animals carrying diseases humans have not been exposed to before. There’s evidence that past diseases such as the first SARS emerged there, some of it presented by Chinese researchers.

    To acknowledge that such markets exist is not making a cultural judgment. Personally, I am not interested in exotic meat, but I get why some people might find it appealing. Beyond that, it’s the equivalent of a farmer’s market, and probably an excellent place to get very fresh ingredients, direct from the producer. Yes, an anti-Chinese racist might consider such a market a self-evident object of disgust, but most people would simply acknowledge it as a place to buy food, as its patrons do. That it might also be a source of contagion is independent of that judgment. E.g., food borne illness happens even at the best restaurants, and it is not leaning on stereotypes to acknowledge this.

    By the same token, lab leaks also happen, so that’s not a cultural judgment either in itself. Although depending on how it’s presented, it could carry the implication that Chinese scientists are incompetent or too careless to carry out such work.

    Either explanation can be used to drum up hatred of Chinese, so I don’t see how that’s the salient issue. I think we will eventually have a clearer explanation of what’s going on, but consensus may wait until years after the narratives have already sunk in and done their damage in much the same way it panned out with Yellow rain.

    I haven’t read Ridley’s take on it. I still remember my seemingly reasonable FB friends swallowing Nicholas Wade’s article hook line and sinker, expressing how “balanced” it was and I think probably feeling a kind of inner relief that they could embrace a lab origin theory after all. Wade’s article was the opposite of balanced. It started by asserting he’d present facts neutrally and let the reader decide, and then actually presented them as point, counterpoint with the snide tone of: well it could have happened that way… but it probably didn’t.

    So if people I think I respect can’t spot obvious polemic, then my main conclusion is that this entire discussion is poisoned for now and the truth will be a long time in coming, and mostly irrelevant by the time it arrives.

  44. says

    By the same token, lab leaks also happen, so that’s not a cultural judgment either in itself.

    Spouting vague unfounded allegations of what amounts to, at least, gross negligence causing millions of deaths, and ignoring facts that contradict such allegations, IS, or at least is part of, a “cultural judgment.” Please do not try to equate such nonsense with the far more reasonable and evidence-based belief that COVID-19 may have come from a large food-market, as many other diseases have jumped to humans before. Documented experience and vague conspiracy-theories are not “the same token.”

  45. says

    As I already said, nobody worth taking seriously is proposing that the virus originally emerged in any other country.

    You sound like Donald Trump when he insisted on calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or “Wu-flu,” ‘cuz it came from China. And of course there was nothing at all bigoted in that, he was just stating a fact, right?

  46. PaulBC says

    Raging Bee@50 That’s why I wrote “in itself.” Yes, in combination with vague unfounded allegations, it’s a vehicle for anti-Chinese bigotry. I can’t think of a serious source that has 100% ruled out the possibility of an accidental lab leak. I am not drawing an equivalence and I think that should be clear from the other 95% of my comment.

  47. says

    Where did anyone say a lab leak had been “100% ruled out?” We can dismiss obviously bogus and unfounded conspiracy-stories without “100% ruling out” a lab leak; just like we can dismiss all manner of asinine conspiracy-theories about JFK without “100% ruling out” the possibility of some sort of conspiracy.

  48. PaulBC says

    Raging Bee@53

    Where did anyone say a lab leak had been “100% ruled out?”

    I just said that nobody said this, so I’m baffled about what we’re arguing about.

    First off, an engineered virus can be ruled out for practical purposes, but there is still plenty of insinuation about that (and Wade’s article didn’t help). The scientific consensus runs towards a zoonotic origin but isn’t dismissive of the possibility of an accidental lab leak. E.g. see this Nature article:

    In theory, COVID-19 could have come from a lab in a few ways. Researchers might have collected SARS-CoV-2 from an animal and maintained it in their lab to study, or they might have created it by engineering coronavirus genomes. In these scenarios, a person in the lab might have then been accidentally or deliberately infected by the virus, and then spread it to others — sparking the pandemic. There is currently no clear evidence to back these scenarios, but they aren’t impossible.

    While this runs against the prevailing view, it is not in von Däniken territory either. It’s worth keeping an open mind.

    And if you don’t think it is worth keeping an open mind to the possibility of a lab origin, that’s your choice. I prefer to. Whereas, say I am not open-minded to the view that ancient astronauts built the Egyptian pyramids.

    Finally, my point was not that two hypotheses were equivalent, which they’re not, but that neither in itself promotes cultural bigotry, though they can be spun that way (i.e. live animal markets are unsanitary or lab leaks demonstrate incompetence). In fact, no matter what the actual origin of SARS-CoV-2, anti-Chinese bigots are going to find a way to spin it in to favor their bigotry.

  49. snarkrates says

    There is a risk of prejudice creeping into any explanation we advance at present for the origins of the novel Corona virus. If we assert that it originated in the market, we are potentially affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of poor people not just in China, but throughout the developing world where wild game (and unfortunately no little amount of poaching) provides money for the poor villagers. OTOH, the lab leak conspiracies are positing gross incompetence on the part of China’s high-tech sector and the country’s contention that it is a modern, high-tech economy. So, the question is, since we lack enough information to reach an informed opinion, why back any origin story? Lab leaks happen, but they are not common, and since such an event is in no way required to explain what we do know, why bring it into the picture unless you have an agenda?

  50. PaulBC says

    snarkrates@55

    There is a risk of prejudice creeping into any explanation we advance at present for the origins of the novel Corona virus.

    FWIW, that was my point as well.

  51. consciousness razor says

    You sound like Donald Trump when he insisted on calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” or “Wu-flu,” ‘cuz it came from China. And of course there was nothing at all bigoted in that, he was just stating a fact, right?

    How ridiculous are you going to be? Tell me you believe it came from somewhere else, because you think that actually distinguishes your view from mine, or just shut the fuck up because you have no point.

  52. consciousness razor says

    OTOH, the lab leak conspiracies are positing gross incompetence on the part of China’s high-tech sector and the country’s contention that it is a modern, high-tech economy

    It’s very weird (and often purposeful, I think) to ignore the fact that much of the ire has very explicitly been directed at people like Fauci and Daszak, as well as organizations like EcoHealth and the NIH and so on. They’re not Chinese, obviously, and it shouldn’t have to be said that none of that is about bigotry or whatever.

    But strangely, it’s like people often just refuse to pay any attention to the major piece of the allegations that some in our own government were at least partly responsible, in order to be able to boil it all down (wrongly) to something like “Chinese scientists are incompetent or too careless” (as PaulBC put it). That way, all you have to do is point at the “racism” you just invented for your opponents and call it a day. Pay no attention to the incompetence and carelessness behind the curtain of US officials/organizations who allegedly played some role…. It’s somehow all about Chinese people, but not according to you, just according to those who you claim are actually racists, even if you know basically nothing about them or what they’re thinking.

    I realize you didn’t actually claim there was no US involvement (not even allegedly). But … well … why didn’t you say anything about that? Why doesn’t that play any role at all in the story as you understand it?

    I mean, I think it’s reasonable to assume you’ve been listening at least a little bit to what lab leak people have actually been saying. (Not just constructing a convenient narrative on their behalf, which might suit you just fine, even if it has nothing to do with their actual views.) If you haven’t been, then shouldn’t you have started there?

    So, the question is, since we lack enough information to reach an informed opinion, why back any origin story? Lab leaks happen, but they are not common, and since such an event is in no way required to explain what we do know, why bring it into the picture unless you have an agenda?

    But you’re still acting like the default is to reject a lab leak, which is definitely not the same as ignorance or impartiality.

    I could just as well ask why would anyone bring some other hypothesis into the picture, unless they have an agenda…. But come on, if your agenda is to understand how this pandemic started (because the discussion wasn’t about anything else to begin with — not China or racism or the elections or our political parties or anything else), then you’re going to have to bring something into it. Or, I don’t even know, it sounds like you just won’t engage with that topic at all.

    But of course, you didn’t say that there are such questions which should not be asked (like whether god really exists, say). Instead, it was that one of the possible answers (like atheism) is to be avoided because it’s suggestive of some kind of agenda, while the same thing isn’t being claimed about the alternatives (like theism). So not quite “just don’t ever go there, because I don’t like where this is headed” but it does have a lot of those flavors.

  53. Rob Grigjanis says

    chrislawson and Raging Bee: Your knees jerk really well, but your reading comprehension leaves a lot to be desired.

  54. says

    But strangely, it’s like people often just refuse to pay any attention to the major piece of the allegations that some in our own government were at least partly responsible…

    That’s because we were busy paying attention to the fact that all those conspiracy-theories were UNFOUNDED and IRRATIONAL.

  55. says

    But you’re still acting like the default is to reject a lab leak…

    No, our “default” is to reject conspiracy-stories that are UNFOUNDED.

  56. chrislawson says

    snarkrates — I appreciate the ideological support but you can leave off with the tone policing. In no way was what I said any sort of realisable threat and you’re just fuelling KG’s burrowing for victimhood.

  57. chrislawson says

    Rob Grigjanis — unsupported claims of poor reading comprehension are smug and lazy, adding nothing of value to the thread except to preen your own sense of superiority. When you so do to defend a clear series of conspiratorial lies, then you are just as bad as the original liar.

  58. John Morales says

    [chrislawson, you were intemperate, but you acknowledged that explicitly.
    And for good (human) reason.
    And I for one appreciate your frustration and your work.]

  59. chrislawson says

    And just to make this absolutely clear: nobody can completely exclude either the lab leak or the wet market hypothesis at this time. The current weight of evidence is clearly in favour of a wet market, but it is not a slam dunk and as such it is perfectly reasonable to discuss the possibility with appropriate caveats. My objection here is to a deceptive, conspiratorial misrepresentation.

  60. Rob Grigjanis says

    chrislawson:

    unsupported claims of poor reading comprehension…

    That you grossly misread KG’s first comment is blindingly obvious to anyone who can read, and actually takes the time to do so. I’m certainly not wasting more time ‘supporting’ the fucking obvious.

  61. says

    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/18/health/covid-wuhan-market-lab-leak.html

    A scientist who has pored over public accounts of early Covid-19 cases in China reported on Thursday that an influential World Health Organization inquiry had most likely gotten the early chronology of the pandemic wrong. The new analysis suggests that the first known patient sickened with the coronavirus was a vendor in a large Wuhan animal market, not an accountant who lived many miles from it.

    The scientist, Michael Worobey, a leading expert in tracing the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, came upon timeline discrepancies by combing through what had already been made public in medical journals, as well as video interviews in a Chinese news outlet with people believed to have the first two documented infections.

    Dr. Worobey argues that the vendor’s ties to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, as well as a new analysis of the earliest hospitalized patients’ connections to the market, strongly suggest that the pandemic began there.

    Several experts, including one of the pandemic investigators chosen by the W.H.O., said that Dr. Worobey’s detective work was sound and that the first known case of Covid was most likely a seafood vendor.

    But some of them also said the evidence was still insufficient to decisively settle the larger question of how the pandemic began.

    “I don’t disagree with the analysis,” said Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “But I don’t agree that any of the data are strong enough or complete enough to say anything very confidently, other than that the Huanan Seafood Market was clearly a super-spreading event.”

    Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist at EcoHealth Alliance who was part of the W.H.O. team, said that he was convinced by Dr. Worobey’s analysis that they had been wrong. “That December the eighth date was a mistake,” Dr. Daszak said.

    In May, two months after the report by the W.H.O. and China was published, 18 prominent scientists, including Dr. Worobey, responded with a letter in Science complaining that the W.H.O. team had given the lab-leak theory short shrift. Far more research was required, they argued, to determine whether one explanation was more likely than the other.

    An expert on the origins of influenza and H.I.V., Dr. Worobey has tried to piece together the early days of the Covid pandemic.

    Dr. Worobey said that the medical records shown in the video might hold clues to how the W.H.O.-China report wound up with the wrong date. One page described surgery Mr. Chen needed to have teeth removed. Another was a Dec. 9 prescription for antibiotics referring to a fever from the day before — possibly the day of the dental surgery.

    On the video, Mr. Chen speculated that he might have gotten Covid “when I went to the hospital” — possibly a reference to his earlier dental surgery.

    In Dr. Worobey’s revised chronology, the earliest case is not Mr. Chen but the seafood vendor, a woman named Wei Guixian, who developed symptoms around Dec. 11.

    Dr. Worobey found that hospitals reported more than a dozen likely cases before Dec. 30, the day the Wuhan authorities alerted doctors to be on the lookout for ties to the market.

    He determined that Wuhan Central Hospital and Hubei Xinhua Hospital each recognized seven cases of unexplained pneumonia before Dec. 30 that would be confirmed as Covid-19. At each hospital, four out of seven cases were linked to the market.

    By focusing on just these cases, Dr. Worobey argued, he could rule out the possibility that ascertainment bias skewed the results in favor of the market.

    Still, other scientists said it’s far from certain that the pandemic began at the market.

    “He has done an excellent job of reconstructing what he can from the available data, and it’s as reasonable a hypothesis as any,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a virologist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “But I don’t think we’re ever going to know what’s going on, because it’s two years ago and it’s still murky.”

    Alina Chan, a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and one of the most vocal proponents of investigating a lab leak, said that only new details about earlier cases — going back to November — would help scientists trace the origin.

    “The main issue this points out,” she said, “is that there’s a lack of access to data, and there are errors in the W.H.O.-China report.”

  62. says

    Far more research was required, they argued, to determine whether one explanation was more likely than the other.

    Horsemuffins. It’s pretty clear that a virus mutating and jumping from animal to human is, indeed, considerably more likely than a lab leak. This doesn’t mean a lab leak is impossible or didn’t happen, of course, but it is less likely than a zoontic transfer at a large food market.

  63. chrislawson says

    @68–

    Did I misread KG using the existence of research into CHIMAERIC VIRUSES as evidence supportive of a lab leak KNOWN NOT TO BE CHIMAERIC?

    @69 and 70 —

    Oh FFS. I was responding to KG’s misuse of evidence, in particular, that WIV research into chimaeric viruses was somehow supportive of the lab leak hypothesis for a non-chimaeric virus. Dr Worobey’s work is completely unrelated to that point.

    What he did was trace back the known cases and showed that an error had been made in the timeline. Worobey’s correction actually strengthens the evidence for the wet market being the start of the pandemic. He says so himself in the article you posted. He showed that the WHO’s identified index case was wrong. The first case was not an accountant who lived many miles away who came down with a fever on Dec 8. The first identified case was a seafood worker at the market who presented a few days later. The accountant did come down with COVID, but not until Dec 16 when the virus was spreading through the community. The WHO’s mixup came from not realising that the Dec 8 presentation was due to an unrelated dental infection. That is, the WHO’s error made the wet market hypothesis less likely and correcting the error made the wet market more likely to be the source of the outbreak — if you want to read Worobey’s excellent Science paper about it, it’s at https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abm4454 and unlike the NYT story about it is not behind a paywall (and is actually much clearer and better-written even if you don’t have a biomedical background than the NYT piece). Using several lines of evidence not included in the NYT piece, Worobey goes on to conclude that there is “strong evidence of a live-animal market origin of the pandemic.”

    Note that this still does not exclude the possibility of a lab leak for reasons very well explained in that same Science paper and in the open letter Worobey cosigned asking for transparent access to data to help investigate the origin of the pandemic. And I completely agree with that.

    Just to reiterate: I am not dismissing the possibility of a lab leak. I agree with Worobey. But did you notice what Worobey and his cosignatories didn’t do in their open letter? They didn’t use irrelevant information, such as the WIV’s research on strains of coronavirus that were unrelated to the current pandemic, to impute that a lab leak hypothesis was more likely.

  64. snarkrates says

    CR, ah, so we want to dissociate ourselves from the racist conspiracy theories, which are bullshit, and instead promulgate the even more groundless, anti-science flavor of conspiracy, which is bullshit of the purest ray serene!

    There is zero evidence of any sort of manipulation of the virus in the lab. All the evidence points to the genome of the novel corona virus being entirely of natural origin.

    Wow, CR, you are the last person I would expect to jump on the Rand Paul bandwagon.

  65. Eli Rabett says

    Just a minor bit of useful snark, the Ridley’s of the world are not lukewarmers, but luckwarmers, best explained here (https://rabett.blogspot.com/2015/02/luckwarmers.html} and here (http://theidiottracker.blogspot.com/2010/09/between-science-and-hard-place.html)

    “The real contrast here is not between “activists” and “skeptics” but between deniers and everybody else – between the science and the right-wing lunacy. But lukewarmers are exploiting the shift in the Overton window brought about by voluble climate deniers to position their radical views as a sane middle ground.”

  66. says

    “What he did was trace back the known cases and showed that an error had been made in the timeline. Worobey’s correction actually strengthens the evidence for the wet market being the start of the pandemic. He says so himself in the article you posted.”

    Yes, I know that and the rest of what you wrote. Are you just fucking stupid, or what?

  67. says

    Oh, and in re your insane response to WG, they cited this in their very limited comment about chimeric viruses: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/coronavirus-bat-research

    Questions have been raised about whether this NIH-funded research had a role in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. In this regard, the chimeric viruses that were studied (i.e., the WIV-1 virus with the various spike proteins obtained from bat viruses found in nature) were so far distant from an evolutionary standpoint from SARS-CoV-2 (Figure 1) that they could not have possibly been the source of SARS-CoV-2 or the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Now accuse me of being an alt-right racist and fabricate non-analogous quotes of mine about the Central Park Five, you fucking loon.

  68. says

    @74 Yet another comment that completely misrepresents what someone said and tosses an absurd accusation at them based that misrepresentation. Also, learn what “evidence” means, because your statement about it is false.

  69. snarkrates says

    @77 Yet another evidence free assertion from someone who doesn’t understand the genetic studies of the SARS-COV2. It astounds me that you can in the same post admit that the “gain-of-function” studies could not possibly have contributed to the emergence of the novel corona virus and still assert that there are questions about the role of the research.

    You don’t logic good, do you?

  70. chrislawson says

    Jim Balter–

    I get the feeling you’ve come into this thread having not quite got KG’s original comment. The reason I say this is that I have agreed with the stance you quoted of Worobey’s — to be clear, I believe the evidence is very strongly in favour of a zoonotic crossover via the Wuhan Seafood Market, but there are still gaps in the evidence and a lab leak cannot be ruled out. Since I agree with you (and Worobey) on this, and said so, why on earth would I attack you over it?

    If you go back to KG’s original comment, the problem I had with it was that he was grossly misrepresenting the evidence. Not Worobey’s — you introduced that — but Daszak’s. KG was using the paper you just linked to as supportive of a lab leak. Really. Please go back and reread KG’s comment if you don’t believe me. This is how he described the research: “But various ‘risky’ and ‘vaguely shady’ activities do seem to have come to light…” Obviously there are risks associated with any live virology research so I can let “risky” go as a difference of opinion even though I see this particular research as significantly less risky than leaving these hypotheses untested. But “vaguely shady”??? There was nothing even remotely shady about it at all. The study was applied for through normal channels. The NIH funded it. The paper was submitted, went through peer review, and was published in Nature in 2013. The entire process was standard operating procedure for science, done completely in the open, and it seems a very peculiar idea that a scientist doing dodgy, secretive research would go through the NIH for funding and submit the report to one of the most prominent scientific journals, with links to the DNA sequences used in the study.

    Do you regard this paper of Daszak’s as “vaguely shady”? From what you’ve written, I don’t get the feeling you do. If you happen to agree that Daszak was involved in something sinister, I would appreciate an explanation as to why.

  71. snarkrates says

    Chris Lawson: “…the evidence is very strongly in favour of a zoonotic crossover via the Wuhan Seafood Market, but there are still gaps in the evidence and a lab leak cannot be ruled out.”
    A more concise way of saying this is that
    1) there is zero evidence of a lab leak
    2) Absolutely none of the facts or occurrences are more easily explained if a lab leak occurred
    3) Why bring up the hypothesis of a lab leak unless you have some sort of anti-science or racist agenda?

    I would argue that the subsequent rapid evolution of the novel corona virus provides additional evidence that natural origin is perfectly capable of explaining the cross-over of the virus from bats to humans. Hell, it’s even shown that it can infect dogs, cats, lions and even hippos!

    I suspect that the real reason some folks are still banging on the drum of a lab leak is that they fear the sorts of research being done on the evolution of viruses to become human pathogens. However, this research is essential if we are to understand the threats posed by zoonotic viruses and avoid tragedies of the type that is still unfolding with SARS-COV-2.

  72. chrislawson says

    snarkrates@80–

    We can’t completely exclude a lab leak so I’m not prepared to dismiss any discussion of the possibility, especially when it comes from reasonable scientists who are using the opportunity as a learning exercise so that even if (as seems likely) this was not a lab leak, we can still review safety procedures to see if the research can be made even safer. I am, however, prepared to dismiss discussion of the lab leak hypothesis framed with misrepresentation and conspiratorial logic.

  73. KG says

    It is of course unpleasant and stressful to be accused of racism and lying, even when the accusations are obviously ludicrous to anyone with an ounce more sense than a cuckoo-clock, which (along with other commitments) is why I’ve avoided this thread for a few days. I’ll answer a few substantive points the absurd numpty chrislawson has made, and then cite numerous relevant people who consider a lab leak a possibility.
    1) My Covid-related work is modelling aspects of health-worker behaviour in non-clinical areas of a hospital, which appears to have led to most of the staff infections. It does not require any virological expertise. The PI is a virologist, whom I do not consult about comments I make on blogs and who, obviously, has no responsibility for them.
    2) Here’s a quote from my oriiginal comment@20, which caused chrislawson and RagingBee to make absurd and offensive attacks on me because they couldn’t be bothered to read for comprehension:

    But various “risky” and “vaguely shady” activities do seem to have come to light – for example, that there was work on creating chimeric bat coronaviruses at WIV, under the NIH-supported Research Grant to EcoHealth Alliance*, and it has not been denied that “a database listing animal samples and viral sequences developed by the WIV” went offline in September 2019 – according to the linked article, a WIV spokesperson claims this was done because of “cyber attack concerns”, which makes no sense to me, but perhaps someone among those certain there was no lab leak can explain it. Moreover, the Chinese authorities are well-practised at lying, and persecuting those who give out information they would rather the world did not have – Beyerstein cites their false denials that various species that could have been the source of SARS-CoV-2 were sold at the seafood market. If anyone at WIV did report any suspicion that the lab or its sample collectors might have been the source of SARS-CoV-2, does anyone doubt they would have been told in menacing terms to keep their mouths shut?

    So:
    2.1. In talking about “risky” and “vaguely shady” activities, I was quoting Beyerstein, whose excoriating review of Chan and Ridley’s book PZ linked to – that’s why those words are in quote-marks.
    2.2. I did not say, or suggest, that the reported work on creating chimeric bat coronaviruses with WIV1 could have produced the SARS-CoV-2 virus; I used it as an example of “risky” work at WIV, especially as some work with live bat coronaviruses was carried out under BSL2 conditions (and there are certainly relevant experts who agree with that assessment, e.g. Richard Ebright). My example of “vaguely shady” was the WIV database going offline – no-one here has ventured to defend what seems to me a nonsensical “explanation” for its disappearance.
    3) I’m not sure why chrislawson is so certain SARS-CoV-2 is “not chimeric”. First, chimeric viruses can occur without human intervention, and a lot of early work on SARS-CoV-2 suggested it was a chimera of a bat and a pangolin virus – although I understand this is now considered very unlikely. Second, while David Baltimore (who I would hazard a guess is an even more eminent virologist than chrislawson) has resiled from his statement that the furin cleavage site is a “smoking gun” for an engineered origin for SARS-CoV-2, he still says:

    I believe that the question of whether the sequence was put in naturally or by molecular manipulation is very hard to determine but I wouldn’t rule out either origin.

    FWIW, I consider a far more likely “lab leak scenario” than anything to do with creating chimeric viruses to be that a sample collector or processor became infected with a naturally occurring virus.
    4) I’m certainly not alone in considering that Peter Dazsak has been less than candid in his responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and cannot be considered an objective observer. I haven’t previously speculated about his motivation; my guess would be that he is keen to preserve his good relations with the researchers at WIV, and the Chinese authorities. Similarly, the WIV researchers naturally would not welcome outsiders coming into their institute and disrupting their work, even if they are confident nothing linking it to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 would be found. But such disruption is in my view necessary (although it would have been much better done nearly 2 years ago).

    I need to break off here. Part 2, on the continuing necessity for keeping an open mind about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, will follow.

  74. KG says

    I haven’t refreshed this page between my #82 and now, so if further insults – or even rational arguments – have come my way, I won’t have seen them; I want to finish what I’d planned to say before deciding whether to read any more on this thread.

    First, thanks to consciousness razor, Jim Balter and Rob Grigjanis for calling out the absurd misrepresentations of chrislawson and Raging Bee.

    I was myself going to cite the open letter chrislawson links to @73. Others who consider that further investigation of the possibility that some form of lab leak was responsible for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 include the WHO and its Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Fiona Godley, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and even the authors of the February 2020 statement in The Lancet which condemned “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” – an ambiguous phrase: if a WIV sample collector caught SARS-CoV-2 and that started the pandemic, is that a “natural origin”?. Many certainly interpreted it as meaning that any consideration of the possibility that an accident at WIV or in sample collection for WIV was in any way responsible was a “conspiracy theory”.

    It’s not clear to me that the evidence for the first human infection of the pandemic occurring at Wuhan wet market from some animal of unknown species is that strong. While Worobey’s paper, referred to above, is a fine piece of work, this paper claims sequencing data indicates that the last common ancestor of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses in humans likely dates from October or even September 2019. No-one denies the place of the Wuhan wet market in spreading the infection. Incidentally, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has promoted the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 originated in the USA, and was imported to Wuhan during the World Military Games, which took place in October 2019. He has also called into question what goes on at the US military biomedical research station at Fort Detrick. He would hardly do so without official sanction, so either the Chinese authorities are themselves not convinced that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 took place at the Wuhan wet market, or they are willing to muddy the waters for political gain. In connection with which, I’ll just say first that the World Military Games and Fort Detrick are worth a look in any new investiagtion, and second that anyone who does not believe that the Chinese authorities would conceal information about the origins of the pandemic, and coerce scientists to do the same, if doing so was politically advantageous, is a fool. I wouldn’t trust any government to be honest in such a case, but China is a totalitarian and highly nationalistic state.

  75. KG says

    I haven’t refreshed this page between my #82 and now, so if further insults – or even rational arguments – have come my way, I won’t have seen them; I want to finish what I’d planned to say before deciding whether to read any more on this thread.

    My comment went into moderation, which I guess is due to too many links, so I’ll try reposting in two parts, of which this is the first.

    First, thanks to consciousness razor, Jim Balter and Rob Grigjanis for calling out the absurd misrepresentations of chrislawson and Raging Bee.

    I was myself going to cite the open letter chrislawson links to @73. Others who consider that further investigation of the possibility that some form of lab leak was responsible for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 include the WHO and its Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Fiona Godley, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, and even the authors of the February 2020 statement in The Lancet which condemned “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” – an ambiguous phrase: if a WIV sample collector caught SARS-CoV-2 and that started the pandemic, is that a “natural origin”?. Many certainly interpreted it as meaning that any consideration of the possibility that an accident at WIV or in sample collection for WIV was in any way responsible was a “conspiracy theory”.

  76. KG says

    This is the second:

    It’s not clear to me that the evidence for the first human infection of the pandemic occurring at Wuhan wet market from some animal of unknown species is that strong. While Worobey’s paper, referred to above, is a fine piece of work, this paper claims sequencing data indicates that the last common ancestor of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses in humans likely dates from October or even September 2019. No-one denies the place of the Wuhan wet market in spreading the infection. Incidentally, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has promoted the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 originated in the USA, and was imported to Wuhan during the World Military Games, which took place in October 2019. He has also called into question what goes on at the US military biomedical research station at Fort Detrick. He would hardly do so without official sanction, so either the Chinese authorities are themselves not convinced that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 took place at the Wuhan wet market, or they are willing to muddy the waters for political gain. In connection with which, I’ll just say first that the World Military Games and Fort Detrick are worth a look in any new investiagtion, and second that anyone who does not believe that the Chinese authorities would conceal information about the origins of the pandemic, and coerce scientists to do the same, if doing so was politically advantageous, is a fool. I wouldn’t trust any government to be honest in such a case, but China is a totalitarian and highly nationalistic state.

  77. says

    KG:Nothing you’ve said justifies hawking unfounded conspiracy theories WRT COVID-19. Oh, and your whining about how stressful it is to have your motives questioned doesn’t impress us either.

  78. PaulBC says

    Raging Bee@86

    Oh, and your whining about how stressful it is to have your motives questioned doesn’t impress us either.

    KG was providing an explanation for not responding earlier, namely that he’s a human being. I don’t see how this qualifies as whining. (Though I’d add that nobody is under any obligation to return to an old thread.)

    I doubt very much that KG is motivated by anti-Chinese racism, though I don’t think the case for a lab leak is as strong as he clearly thinks. If you want my honest assessment of any ulterior motives (his and cr’s), it’s probably a more general interest in clamping down on gain of function research everywhere, not just China. That has been my takeaway from reading his comments on these threads.

  79. snarkrates says

    KG, since we are bringing up possible causes of COVID for which there are zero facts in evidence, perhaps you would care to discuss the hypothesis of the disease being caused by 5G or by aliens?

  80. KG says

    snarkrates@89, RagingBee@90,
    You’re a pair of fucking idiots. Cross-species transfer of pathogens, and lab leaks of pathogens are both things that have happened multiple times. Can you point me to examples of pathogens being spread by telecommunications equipment, aliens, or supernatural entities. Until you can, shut your sodding stupid mouths.

  81. KG says

    PaulBC@88,
    Thanks. Yes, I do think that work with dangerous or potentially dangerous organisms should be much more regulated and carefully monitored than is currently the case. I also think the breeding and sale of livestock for food or fur (as in mink farms) should be much more strictly regulated than it is now. We don’t know which of these human activities led to the Covid-19 pandemic, but anyone who is not a slave to prejudice of one kind or another should be able to see that either could have been responsible. It’s important to find out which, and where, if we can, but in any case to reduce the risks of both as far as possible.

  82. snarkrates says

    KG, that you cannot see how disingenuous it is to use COVID-19 as justification for mounting your pet hobby-horse and charging into battle–despite the fact that there is zero evidence for your implications and innuendo–is a testament to the sort of purblind ignorance of anti-science ideologues. You are no better than the Rethug antidemocracy idiots hiding behind banners of “election integrity”. After all, they also justify their idiotic proposals by claimin that “electrion fraud does occur”. I fully expect you’ll keep pushing your solution even as you keep looking for a problem it will solve.

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