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Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Lab leak conspiracy theory rears its ugly head again: this time it's Nicholas Wade of the New York Times

Nicholas Wade used to be a serious science writer but he lost that title many years ago when he proved that he was incapable of distinguishing fact from wishful thinking [Nicholas Wade on the Origin of Life ]. Now he's gone completely bonkers by promoting the ridiculous conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 pandemic was started when the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a lab at the Whuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) [Origin of Covid — Following the Clues].

Nicholas Wade claims that the virologists at the WIV, led by Dr. Shi, created the SARS-CoV-2 virus by genetic engineering. Their goal, according to Wade, was to make a virus that was as deadly to humans as possible in order to study its effects in the lab. Unfortunately, the virus escaped from the lab, according to Wade, and started the pandemic.

Shi Zhengli responded to those silly accusations in July 2020 [Wuhan coronavirus hunter Shi Zhengli speaks out].

On 15 July, Shi emailed Science answers to a series of questions about the virus' origin and her research. In them, she hit back at speculation that the virus leaked from WIV. She and her colleagues discovered the virus in late 2019, she says, in samples from patients who had a pneumonia of unknown origin. “Before that, we had never been in contact with or studied this virus, nor did we know of its existence,” Shi wrote.

“U.S. President Trump's claim that SARS-CoV-2 was leaked from our institute totally contradicts the facts,” she added. “It jeopardizes and affects our academic work and personal life. He owes us an apology.”

Why is this a conspiracy theory? Because the speculation has been investigated by WHO scientists who found no evidence to support it. They saw that the lab protocols at the Institute were very good, as you would expect for a world class lab that was studying dangerous viruses that were known to cause pandemics. Furthermore, none of the workers at the lab tested positive for COVID-19 and none of them were studying any virus that resembled SARS-CoV-19. So, in order for the lab leak hypothesis to be true there has to have been a massive coverup by a very large number of people. That's what makes it a conspriacy theory.

Nicholas Wade gets a lot of his information from Richard Ebright who has been promoting the lab leak conspiracy theory for the past year. Ebright thinks the WHO investigators "... were willing—and in at least one case, enthusiastic—participants in disinformation" [An Interview with Richard Ebright: The WHO Investigation Members Were “participants in disinformation”]. This is classic conspiracy theory stuff: everyone who disagrees with you is part of the conspiracy.

If you still think the lab leak conspiracy theory is true then I urge you to watch this video of a talk by Professor Edward ("Eddy") Holmes, the 2020 New South Wales (Australia) scientist of the year and an expert on human viruses, especially the coronoviruses [The Discovery and Origins of SARS-CoV-2]. He explains why the viruses are likely to orginate in bats and explains why this particular virus started off in bats but probably passed though an intermediate host before reaching humans. (His preferred intermediate host is racoon dogs and he explains why he thinks this is likely.) He explains why the sequence of the virus is entrely consistent with a natural origin. He describes his field work in China and Southeast Asia and his collaborations with the expert scientists in China, including those at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Holmes, addreses the conspiracy theory at 41:45 minutes into the talk so you can skip rght to there if you like—although I don't recommend it because there's lots of useful information in the first 40 minutes. Here's why he rejects that cosnspiracy theory and why you should too. These are the facts, according to Holmes. I agree with him.

  • There's "no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is engineered (and no reason to bioengineer a random bat virus)." Holmes calls this idea is "absolute nonsense." I'm guessing he won't be a fan of Nicholas Wade's article.
  • "Bat virus RaTG13 is not the direct ancestor of SAR-CoV-2—all the components of the virus exist in nature."
  • "No evidence of a secret SARS-CoV-2-like virus kept at the WIV (and no reason to keep it a secret before the pandemic)." The scientists at WIV say that they were not studying such a virus and Holmes says, "Frankly, I believe them." Nicholas Wade thinks they are lying but offers no proof and no reason to justify the lie.
  • The SARS-CoV-2 virus is probably not directly from bats and WIV was only studying bat viruses. Furthermore, the virus is probably not from Yunnan province where the Wuhan Institute of Virology is located.
  • "SARS-CoV-2 was not perfectly adapted to humans on first emergence and appears to be a "generalist" virus." Nicholas Wade is wrong about this as well.
  • "Cases near WIV only appeared later in the outbreak." The first cases in Wuhan appear in the market, specifically in the area where live animals are sold. This strongly suggests that the virus came from animals in the market and that it originated in those animals somewhere else. There were cases in December 2019 that were not linked to the market but they were nowhere near the WIV.
  • "No evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection at WIH—staff were PCR/antibody negative." Holmes says that if this is true then that rules out the lab leak hypothesis automatically. He's says that either this is the biggest coverup in history and they're all lying or there's no evidence at all that the virus was ever in the lab. He concludes that the virus did not come from the lab but he's sure that the conspiracy theory is not going to go away anytime soon.

Holmes is right. The conspiracy theory is not going away because its proponents think that all Chinese are evil and can't be trusted. Those conspiracy believers are wrong. Please don't spread this ridiculous idea; it makes you no better than QAnon cultists.

If you're really interested in the facts then there are several articles on the origin of SARS-CoV-2 that you should read before falling for the lab leak conspiracy thoery. Here's one.

MacLean, O.A., Lytras, S., Weaver, S., Singer, J.B., Boni, M.F., Lemey, P., Pond, S.L.K. and Robertson, D.L. (2021) Natural selection in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in bats created a generalist virus and highly capable human pathogen. PLoS Biology 19:e3001115. [doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001115]

Virus host shifts are generally associated with novel adaptations to exploit the cells of the new host species optimally. Surprisingly, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has apparently required little to no significant adaptation to humans since the start of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and to October 2020. Here we assess the types of natural selection taking place in Sarbecoviruses in horseshoe bats versus the early SARS-CoV-2 evolution in humans. While there is moderate evidence of diversifying positive selection in SARS-CoV-2 in humans, it is limited to the early phase of the pandemic, and purifying selection is much weaker in SARS-CoV-2 than in related bat Sarbecoviruses. In contrast, our analysis detects evidence for significant positive episodic diversifying selection acting at the base of the bat virus lineage SARS-CoV-2 emerged from, accompanied by an adaptive depletion in CpG composition presumed to be linked to the action of antiviral mechanisms in these ancestral bat hosts. The closest bat virus to SARS-CoV-2, RmYN02 (sharing an ancestor about 1976), is a recombinant with a structure that includes differential CpG content in Spike; clear evidence of coinfection and evolution in bats without involvement of other species. While an undiscovered “facilitating” intermediate species cannot be discounted, collectively, our results support the progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 being capable of efficient human–human transmission as a consequence of its adaptive evolutionary history in bats, not humans, which created a relatively generalist virus.


98 comments :

  1. I don't want to get into an argument over the lab leak theory, as I am not qualified to comment on the science. However, I don't think that your characterization is entirely fair and doesn't include reasonable criticisms from people who shouldn't be grouped with conspiracy theorists. We need to be careful about focusing on the most extreme proponents on one side to discredit more reasonable opinions and considerations. The question of a possible lab origin encompasses a variety of scenarios from bioweapons to simple accidental leaks during regular research. Saying that "China engineered a bioweapon and released it on the world" is clearly ridiculous, but asking if it was an accidental leak is less conspiratorial. Even the question of it being engineered has nuance, as China creating a virus to unleash on the world is a far cry from a lab leaking a virus modified in gain of function research. I mention these distinctions because each lab leak scenario should be treated separately.

    The WHO report is worth discussing, as I believe we should be careful about using it as an appeal to authority. The report has some major faults and even the WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hasn't ruled out the lab leak hypothesis entirely:

    "Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy," he told WHO members, according to a written statement."

    https://www.npr.org/2021/03/31/983156340/theory-that-covid-came-from-a-chinese-lab-takes-on-new-life-in-wake-of-who-repor

    While he did state that the lab hypothesis is the least likely, I don't believe that his statement puts it in conspiracy theory territory. When debating this hypothesis, we should be careful about the difference between claims that the virus definitively came from the lab or that it may have. Wade's article certainly approaches definitive statements, which he deserves criticism for.

    We need to keep in mind that we all have very limited areas of expertise. Most people here have a science background, but are probably more naive on the geopolitics side (this includes myself). There are a number of reasonable criticisms of the WHO report, such as the lack of independence and transparency. For example, the WHO scientists were not given direct access to the data and had to take the lab's representatives at their word. They were apparently under a gag order that prevented them from publishing finding without Chinese government approval:

    "China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the WHO-led team probing the origins of the pandemic, according to one of the team’s investigators, potentially complicating efforts to understand how the outbreak began.

    The team had requested raw patient data on 174 cases that China had identified from the early phase of the outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December 2019, as well as other cases, but were only provided with a summary, Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert and member of the WHO team, told Reuters."

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-idUSKBN2AD0FX

    "Since returning from China, however, some of the WHO investigators have qualified their conclusions, saying they didn’t have the mandate, expertise or data for a full audit of any laboratory. The team also lacked important data on the first confirmed cases, or on patients hospitalized with similar symptoms beforehand.

    A laboratory accident is “definitely not off the table,” Dr. Ben Embarek told a seminar last week. Dr. Tedros said in February after the team’s trip that “all hypotheses remain open and require further analysis.”"

    https://archive.is/9nIPJ

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    1. I don't believe that any of the WHO investigators deliberately downplayed lab leak hypothesis, but they made a poor choice by including researchers with a conflict of interest:

      "Daszak also has a potential conflict of interest: As The Post has reported, he has enjoyed a cooperative-funding relationship with the Wuhan Institute of Virology through his New York-based organization EcoHealth Alliance, which funded research in Wuhan through multimillion-dollar grants from the U.S. National Institutes of Health."

      In science, we value openness and transparency, and assume that what we read in papers is reported accurately. This may give us a blindspot regarding the pressures that other scientists face around the world. China is ruled by an authoritarian government that covered up the initial stages of the pandemic and downplayed its transmissibility (https://archive.is/2KAWb) and punished whistleblowers (https://archive.is/bOvOF). The cover up exceeded a month, which suggests that this wasn't just a case of a local official acting on their own:

      "For 40 days, Mr. Xi’s CCP concealed, destroyed, falsified and fabricated information about the rampant spread of COVID-19 through its massive state-sanctioned surveillance and suppression of data; misrepresentation of information; silencing and criminalizing of dissent; and the disappearance of whistleblowers – all of which reflect the breadth of criminality and corruption in the party."

      https://tinyurl.com/ebtd7m68


      The investigation was also delayed by over a full year from the start of the pandemic, which didn't exactly show a meaningful effort for more cooperation.

      I wouldn't get my hopes up for a thoroughly independent and transparent investigation, but there was a recent letter that proposes how one should be done. I would invite anyone to read their proposal themselves:

      https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/covid-origins-letter/5c9743168205f926/full.pdf


      "Why is this a conspriacy theory? Because the speculation has been investigated by WHO scientists who found no evidence to support it. They saw that the lab protocols at the Institute were very good, as you would expect for a world class lab that was studying dangerous viruses that were known to cause pandemics."

      It's worth mentioning that there have been safety concerns raised about this lab in the past (https://tinyurl.com/aazbfjhv) and lab leaks aren't unheard of (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC416634/).

      "Holmes is right. The conspiracy theory is not going away because its proponents think that all Chinese are evil and can't be trusted. Those conspiracy believers are wrong. Please don't spread this ridiculous idea; it makes you no better than QAnon cultists."

      Dr. Moran, I'm a big fan of yours, and your blog has made a big impact on how I approach science myself, but this comes off as a very bad faith argument. I enjoy your blog in part because you are often provocative, but stating that lab leak proponents "think that all Chinese are evil and can't be trusted" is a pretty distateful smear that shouldn't be used lightly. Every criticism of the WHO investigation above should be levelled at the Chinese government, not the Chinese people. We are talking about a very authoritarian government that is a major human rights abuser (including genocide at present). I ask you to consider how these types of statements affect science discourse? Will scientists be afraid to ask scientific questions involving foreign countries out of fears of being called racist? Could this post give an impressionable student the impression that asking heterodox questions or considering less probable explanations makes them a conspiracy theorist? Similarly, could this give a student the impression that the science is solved after a report from a major organization and not worthy of further investigation?

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    2. There is no evidence to support the speculation that SARS-CoV-2 was being studied in the WIV labs and no evidence to support the speculation that the workers at WIV were extremely careless about containment.

      The only way to sustain the lab leak speculation is to claim that respectable scientists are lying and covering up the truth because the facts are against the speculation. By definition, this is now a conspiracy theory and once you start advocating a conspiracy theory you are on very shakey grounds.

      As far as I can tell, your only grounds for defending the lab leak conspiracy theory is that you don't like the Chinese government and you think that all the Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology are lying.

      That looks like irrational bias to me.

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    3. "The only way to sustain the lab leak speculation is to claim that respectable scientists are lying and covering up the truth"

      Unfortunately we had plenty of examples of exactly that happening.

      Were prominent scientists publicly stating on TV that nobody should be wearing masks and did they admit later, again publicly that they lied and they did so deliberately?

      Yes, that happened.

      Were prominent scientists telling people that once they have a mild case they will be immune for life? Yes, and not only did they do that all throughout 2020, many are still doing it, even though we've almost certainly already had millions of reinfections (though nobody bothered to record them as such) and who knows how many people died from them. That was contrary to all available evidence prior to the appearance of the virus -- there wasn't a single example of a coronavirus for which natural infection confers lifelong immunity, but plenty of examples of immunity not lasting much more than a year, including for the four human CoVs.

      Were prominent scientists telling the public for a year that the HIT is at 60%, even though you can explain the 1-1/R_0 formula to a 5th grader, and the estimates for the brief period of unmitigated spread in February 2020 were for R_0 a lot closer to 6 than to 2.5 (and that was before the virus underwent further adaptation to the human host)? Yes, that happened, the claim was backtracked eventually, and it is quite clear that it was another deliberate lie to hide the truth from people.

      Were prominent scientists talking about how "yeah, antibodies don't last, but people have T cells, so nothing to worry about" even though the data was obviously telling them that CD8+ cells are seriously depleted while severe pathology is associated with hyperactive CD4+ cells? Yes, not only did that happen, but it still continues to this day.

      Etc. etc.

      At every step significant portions of the scientific community has played ball with the people whose interest it was in to downplay the situation and here we are now -- the virus is endemic, nobody has any intention to do anything about that beyond annual vaccinations for those who want them, the rest plus the unlucky 5-10% breakthrough cases be damned, and the population has been very successfully convinced that this is in their best interest (that it may well lead to a reduction of life expectancy by a decade or more is another truth that is being kept out of public discourse).

      Given all that, it is not in any way inconceivable that respectable scientists are "lying and covering up". Their credibility has been completely destroyed over the last 16 months by they themselves repeatedly giving incontrovertible proof that they lack the integrity a scientist is supposed to have.

      "As far as I can tell, your only grounds for defending the lab leak conspiracy theory is that you don't like the Chinese government and you think that all the Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology are lying."

      In my case I have nothing but admiration for the way the Chinese government handled this after mid-January 2020. I can only wish other governments had taken care of their people the same way, but they chose to literally sentence millions to entirely unnecessary and preventable deaths instead.

      And yet that does not change the fact that it takes a great many more improbable events to explain the properties of the virus as the result of a natural zoonotic jump and that it had never been grown in a lab on human cells before the pandemic started. Yes, it is possible that this is what happened, and yes, I have no concrete knowledge of what happened, but it is just not scientifically justified to conclude with absolute certainty that this was a direct zoonotic jump. The available evidence does not support that even as the most likely possibility.

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    4. Georgi, there's a difference between lying and incompetence or stupidity. We both know that scientists can be incompetent and stupid but everyone who knows Dr. Shi admires her and respects her. What makes you think that she is lying?

      It saddens me to see you going down this path.

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    5. I didn't say anything about Dr. Shi, there are plenty of ways this could have happened that do not involve her directly.

      I also told you I am not saying I know what happened, and I am not claiming I know either way.

      But, if this was a direct zoonotic jump, we have the old young earth creationist problem of having to believe in a lot more evolution than could realistically happen in the available time. Yes, it could happen, but we are talking about a quite improbable event.

      Meanwhile it leaking by mistake explains a lot more -- it readily infects human cells (and mustelids too) but not Rhinolophus cells, it happened in Wuhan and not in the many other places where it was actually quite a bit more likely to happen as a direct zoonotic jump, it is more contagious yet less lethal than SARS-1 (which would make sense if they were in certain stages of the process of making an attenuated vaccine), etc.

      There is a very wide space of possibilities and any particular scenario takes up a small chunk of the probability space, but it is certainly not the case that the pure zoonotic jump takes up the whole probability space.

      The only argument in favor of being 100% certain that this is a direct zoonotic jump is "This is a conspriacy theory" and "We have to trust the scientists involved". Which is not a good argument. As scientists we are supposed to question things, look at all possibilities in an unbiased way and arrive at the best explanation for the evailable evidence. That type of reasoning does not strike me as adhering to those principles.

      And I gave you plenty of examples of prominent highly respected scientists deliberately lying about COVID over the last 16 months, so there is that for the validity of the "respected scientists would never lie" argument.

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    6. P.S. "Scientists" have not come out of this looking good at all -- they have come out like partisan hacks whose primary concern are their immediate tribal allegiances, not "science" and certainly not the life and health of the regular people they are supposed to be helping. It started with the protests in June 2020 -- any gathering of people prior to that was a mortal threat to public health, then all of a sudden mass gatherings of people were perfectly OK. Why? Well, I think we all know why, and it had nothing to do with public health. That was the final nail in the coffin of containment -- big business and the people in power at the time had fought very hard to make sure there will be no prolonged lockdown with the goal of complete containment in the three months prior to that (because that would have meant setting the completely unacceptable precedent of taking from the rich to help the poor, and we can't have that, much better that millions die than to allow it), and that sort of hypocrisy destroyed any credibility of the idea of containment. By that point the propaganda campaign had done its damage (largely unopposed by the "scientific community" and actively helped by certain members of it) and many regular people were already convinced that the only available options were either endemic virus or them ending up on the street because of ineffective lockdowns causing mass unemployment, and once that fiasco happened, it was game over in terms of public perception.

      Then things were portrayed as absolutely apocalyptic during the winter surge, suddenly something changed, and now it is all over, problem solved with vaccination, nothing to worry about. And that way of presenting the situation involves more blatant lying. Classic example -- the other day Erik Topol was touting on Twitter how there wereas only 1,400 breakthrough infections in California out of 10.7 million vaccinated, so that means "1 in 100,000" chance of infection once you are vaccinated. Which, first, is a math mistake -- it is in fact 1 in 10,000, and second, it is schoolboy statistical error -- you have to compare against a control group, not look at the total numbers, because if you are not exposed, you are not going to be infected, and cases in California have been going down steadily recently. So I noted that the much more relevant question is what the breakthrough rate in India is (I hear from coworkers about a lot of vaccinated people getting sick there) because there is a lot of exposure there, and I got blocked. That is quite a prevalent mindset right now within "respected scientists".

      And now we have set up the precedent that whatever pathogen comes out next, we will not even try to contain it because we have vaccines so why bother. But what happens to the people who have no access to them and what happens when 100-200 years from now the ability to make these vaccines has been lost? Yeah, we don't talk about that in polite company.

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    7. Georgi says, "I didn't say anything about Dr. Shi, there are plenty of ways this could have happened that do not involve her directly."

      Don't you see what you doing? Every time someone raises an argument against your conspiracy theory you dig yourself deeper into a hole. Now, in order to avoid having to accuse Dr. Shi of lying you propose that there was some secret study going on at WIV that she knew nothing about. More conspiracies.

      That's not looking making you look credible in my eyes.

      You also say, "I also told you I am not saying I know what happened, and I am not claiming I know either way."

      That's a copout and you should know it. You also don't know whether SARS-CoV-2 was seeded by aliens or engineered in an American lab in order to discredit China but I don't see you defending those theories. The only reason you are defending the lab leak conspiracy theory is because you think there's a good chance that it's more reasonable than a natural origin. Technically, you can pretend that you are truly agnostic but given your rhetoric I'm not buying it.

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    8. I would have been saying exactly the same things as you did around the same time last year, but since then more information came out and I updated my priors accordingly.

      I am not inconsistent -- I do find it believable that it made a direct jump, but that is not remotely sufficiently likely that one should dismiss the alternative hypothesis, which is that it had been passaged on human cells for some time before the pandemic started, and which fits a number of observations better.

      It does not grow well on Rhinolophus cells, which suggests adaptation away from the original host. It also has not undergone all that much adaptation in the last nearly 18 months of spread in the human population -- the key variants so far appear to have all arisen within the same, likely immunocompromised, individuals as indicated by the long branches on which they sit in the trees, but not all that much evolution has happened through the serial passaging from human to human other than the D614G mutation.

      There were papers from China claiming it went through snakes and other papers claiming it went through pangolins. That makes no sense -- pangolins are solitary and so are snakes, so how exactly does a non-latent respiratory infection sustain itself in those populations for sufficiently long to undergo all that adaptation?

      Regarding Dr. Shi, we are again mixing the personal and political with the factual here -- this has gotten so much bigger than any one person that individual scientists in the middle of it all are not completely free to choose what to say and what not. And if I was in the place of the Chinese, and it had indeed leaked from the lab, I would never admit to it either.

      The actions of Chinese authorities -- treating it like an airborne plague, and still doing so after much of the world decided to just let it infect everyone -- have told us all that we needed to know about what to do, and they have been very transparent about everything else, including things that we can add to the list of extremely harmful deliberate lies by prominent members of the Western scientific establishment and formerly esteemed public health institutions, such as airborne spread. Our ruling class decided not to follow the example, because it sees us as expendable. The Chinese are not the bad guys in this story in my view, exactly the opposite, so please do not accuse me of peddling conspiracy theories because I hate the Chinese or anything of the sort. Many other people do peddle such conspiracy theories driven by that kind of motivations, but that does not apply in my case.

      P.S. If it indeed leaked, we have to deal with questions regarding whether such research should be carried out and other stuff of the sort, and I am firmly of the opinion that it should; it is extremely unlikely this was leaked deliberately to cause harm (though now that we have seen the devastation, and given how easy it is to make these things with current technology, I am not at all sure no virus will ever be leaked deliberately in the future). But I can't escape the suspicion that the dogmatic insistence that all the evidence points with 100\% certainty towards a direct zoonotic jump is driven by the fear of having that conversation -- it makes us look bad as scientific community and touches on deeply rooted fears within general society about unintended consequences of research, so it is not a topic we want to touch.

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    9. Georgi said, "Regarding Dr. Shi, we are again mixing the personal and political with the factual here -- this has gotten so much bigger than any one person that individual scientists in the middle of it all are not completely free to choose what to say and what not. And if I was in the place of the Chinese, and it had indeed leaked from the lab, I would never admit to it either."

      Got it! You don't trust anything that Dr. Shi says because she is afraid of her own government. You aren't accusing her of lying but when she says that the virus did not come from the WIV then she's probably lying. :-)

      Georgi also said, "The Chinese are not the bad guys in this story in my view, exactly the opposite, so please do not accuse me of peddling conspiracy theories because I hate the Chinese or anything of the sort."

      Got it!. You claim that the Chinese are possibly forcing their scientists to lie and cover up the fact that the virus was created in the Wuhan Institute for Virology and accidentally released to start a would-wide pandemic but it's wrong to suggest that you might be peddling conspiracy theories. :-)

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    10. Your whole argument/debate is telling him he's wrong because of what you FEEL; NOTHING you Know.
      ....While offering nothing but group think, parroting and insults to defend your points. You and your labels and perceptions......

      Delete
  2. Why is it not conspiracy theory to say those withg this idea all think the Chinese are evil? They simply might see the government as evil. It is a dictatorship and in the past was evil or bad or this and that.
    I like raccoon dogs and saw a great documentary on them. Maybe its just the bats. I don't think there is a cover up or even carelessness. its probably just bats bumping into a hugh population. Are there any more vurus coming/ I actually know people who got this even though its obscure in Canada.
    people don't realize many virus have come from Asia in the last 50 years. Just wiki it.

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  3. People seem to have this binary view of the situation and of course, because all this has been so politicized, in all sorts of ways (BTW, the scientific community bears a huge amount of the blame for the fact that 6-7 million have died already and many more will die in the future, by meekly acquiescing to the murderous genocidal agenda of big business to let the virus become endemic instead of do the only sane rational thing that could ever have been done about it -- eliminate it -- and this was again because politics trumped other considerations), few take a calm and rational approach to it.

    It is not "direct zoonotic transfer in the community" and "deliberately engineered and deliberately released" virus as the only two options, there is a very large space of possibilities in between.

    And we have to look at what is the most parsimonious explanation that accounts for all the facts with the least amount of miracles involved.

    The virus infecting some unfortunate Chinese wildlife trader within Wuhan, then undergoing a rapid series of very unlikely mutations very quickly to the point where the virus no longer grows in Rhinolophus cells but grows quite well in human cells and those of mustelids, then that seeding a pandemic, is not the most parsimonious explanation that minimizes the amount of miracles that need to happen to account for all the facts under that scenario.

    One can't escape the suspicion that the knee-jerk dismissal of any other possibility (most of which involve no malicious actions on anyone's part, just an unfortunate series of events) is motivated by a subconscious desire to protect the public image of the research community, not by a sincere quest for finding out what actually happened.

    But, again, the big scandal involving the scientific community here isn't that a virus might have leaked from a lab.

    It is that the scientific community refused to take a stand and demand that people in need be supported economically so that an elimination program be pursued the way it was in China.

    It instead went along with the oligarchic business interests that control society today, who would have been hurt by such a program. From the very beginning, e.g. by peddling the lies about how you cannot catch it twice, or if you do, it will always be "mild", and how herd immunity will eventually be reached (contrary to all available prior evidence, and it wasn't just the GBD crowd that did that, many respectable scientists did it too), and that support has only grown with time. These days I see a lot of such respected scientists, who were talking about the situation very differently four months ago, touting how we have solved the problem with vaccines, annual boosters for everyone in perpetuity, pandemic is over, nothing to worry about, we are done with this, even though "being done with it" thanks to vaccines may mean easily 100K+ extra deaths in the background in the US alone for the foreseeable future, and who knows how many millions in the less fortunate poorer countries.

    We have permanently added a very dangerous new pathogen to the disease burden of humanity, and have set a precedent that from now one we will be adding a lot more of these as we are not going to be doing anything to contain them when they make the jump because we have RNA vaccines that are as easy to work out as a software update, so why bother with containment?

    But what do they care, stock market is 15% up relative to what it was prior to the pandemic, and with it university endowments and the small part of it that they personally own, science has triumphed and shown its omnipotence in solving problems, which elevates scientists self-perceived social status, and that's all that matters.

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    1. Excellent points, thank you for writing on this blog. I learn a great deal from your comments

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  4. Larry, Rootclaim use a rigorous Bayesian analysis to give lab leak a 83% probability.
    You think they are wrong? Can you argue your case? They will pay you $100K.
    Go on, you seem very sure of yourself! Put your money where your mouth is!

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    1. Are you kidding me? The onus is not on me to prove that something didn't happen.

      Rootclaim considers this fact in their analysis.

      "No one from the Wuhan Institute of Virology was reported as being infected with, or dying from, COVID-19, and no one has come forward to give first hand testimony or evidence of any link between COVID-19 and a lab, even though some doctors and researchers have spoken out about other incidents where they believed that China mishandled information regarding COVID-19. There were also no published records of SARS-CoV-2 in virus databases or research grants."

      They don't consider it very important so it only reduces the probability of a lab escape from 88% to 83%.

      They also take into account the following information that has been discredited. It raises to probability of a lab escape from 81% to 86%.

      "The WIV explicitly stated that they were not working on SARS-CoV-2 prior to the outbreak.

      However, on December 30, when Dr. Shi Zheng-Li was informed of the COVID-19 outbreak, changes were made to her bat virus database, making it look like she was trying to dissociate her lab's research from the COVID-19 outbreak.

      Then, in January 2020, WIV researchers published a paper claiming to have found a previously unknown coronavirus named RaTG13 that was a 96% match with SARS-CoV-2.

      But RaTG13 is a new name given to BtCoV/4991, a coronavirus that the WIV discovered (along with many other viruses) when they examined a bat cave after six miners contracted a pneumonia-like disease and three died.

      This, and other anomalies surrounding WIV’s handling of RaTG13, are indicative of attempts to minimize WIV involvement."

      But the most important part of their conspiracy theory is the following ....

      "SARS-CoV-2 has a furin cleavage site - an amino acid sequence that causes the protease furin to cut the virus in a way that facilitates its entry into cells. This feature is missing in related coronaviruses, and its placement in the genetic code looks like an insertion rather than a mutation, making it less likely to develop in nature."

      This has also been discredited. There are several naturally-occurring coronaviruses that have a furin cleavage site and, furthermore, there's no evidence that anyone at WIV, or anywhere else,ever suspected that a furin cleavage site would enhance infectivity if humans (but not in some other species). This is the biggest factor in Rootclaim's "Bayesian" analysis, it increases the probability of lab escape from 21% to 68%.

      The data on the furin cleavage site is massive and contradictory but here's one conclusion.

      "The genomic features described here may explain in part the infectiousness and transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features, including the optimized RBD and polybasic cleavage site, in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible."

      And here's a recent paper demonstrating the natural occurrence of furin cleavage sites.

      Wu, Y., & Zhao, S. (2021). Furin cleavage sites naturally occur in coronaviruses. Stem cell research, 50, 102115.

      Delete
    2. "Larry, Rootclaim use a rigorous Bayesian analysis to give lab leak a 83% probability."

      This is quite silly though. When you are free to set your priors whatever way you want and update them with whatever partial evidence you want, you can come out with any number at the end.

      Delete
    3. Hi Larry, I think you misread the Rootclaim section on “Missing evidence”, (the 83% you mention.) In the subsection, they explain and provide links to “There were confirmed sicknesses at the WIV." Even the corrupt WHO have admitted this. Which is why Rootclaim give it 83% in favour of lab leak, along with other reasons.
      Also there is the case of Huang Yan Ling, the possible patient zero, who worked at WIV. The WIV claim she left in 2015, however a photo shows her at the WIV in 2018. Something is definitely not right at the WIV. Remember Lab leaks are very common.
      Keep an open mind. If you feel so strongly about Nicholas Wade, why not take the Rootclaim bet and prove him, myself and many others wrong?

      Delete
    4. Hi Georgi, Bayesian analysis is “silly"? well as Rootclaim say, not one of their claims have been proven or argued incorrect. A pretty good track record. Why not be the first to prove them wrong? You could win $100K.

      Delete
  5. "There is no evidence to support the speculation that SARS-CoV-2 was being studied in the WIV labs and no evidence to support the speculation that the workers at WIV were extremely careless about containment."

    I literally cited sources that showed that there were safety concerns about this lab prior to the pandemic. Other people have raised concerns that they were doing coronavirus research under BSL-2 level. I'm not a virologist, so I will leave that to others to judge if that was appropriate or not (to be fair Shi mentioned that other labs were doing the same), but it seems to me like many credible people had concerns.

    Given the total costs of this pandemic and the initial coverup, I believe that an independent audit should have been done to answer the question: COULD the virus have come from the lab? Not having published anything on SARS-CoV-2 prior to the pandemic provides evidence against the lab leak theory, but it doesn't rule out that they may have studied it without publishing it before the pandemic. The human costs have been enormous, and the world deserves to have a full investigation of all possible explanations, even those that are less probable.

    Where you see me defending a conspiracy theory, I see myself calling for openness and transparency. I ask you not to read between the lines. If you read what I wrote, I never even said that I believe it came from a lab. I'm fine admitting that I don't know. Everything that I argued was over the reliability of the WHO report and that it doesn't add much to this debate. Ultimately, I believe that genomics evidence will resolve this once and for all rather than any investigation. I would bet on a natural origin, but I won't dismiss the possibility of a lab leak at present.

    "The only way to sustain the lab leak speculation is to claim that respectable scientists are lying and covering up the truth because the facts are against the speculation. By definition, this is now a conspiracy theory and once you start advocating a conspiracy theory you are on very shakey grounds."

    I have no evidence that the scientists are lying, but I believe that we can't take them at face value because they are living under a very authoritarian government that already detained the first whistleblowers. This is a question of reliability, not of the ethics of these scientists. Those of us who live in the West often forget that many people around the world are denied the freedoms that we take for granted. These scientists are literally under a gag order from an authoritarian government that would have no qualms over throwing them in prison for speaking out. Do you believe that we can get trustworthy information from people living under those conditions?

    Here is how the Chinese government's actions surrounding the pandemic has been described:

    “China has a politically weaponized system of censorship; it is refined, organized, coordinated and supported by the state’s resources,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founder of China Digital Times. “It’s not just for deleting something. They also have a powerful apparatus to construct a narrative and aim it at any target with huge scale.”

    "Yet China’s censors decided to double down. Warning of the “unprecedented challenge” Dr. Li’s passing had posed and the “butterfly effect” it may have set off, officials got to work suppressing the inconvenient news and reclaiming the narrative, according to confidential directives sent to local propaganda workers and news outlets."

    "All Cyberspace Administration bureaus must pay heightened attention to online opinion, and resolutely control anything that seriously damages party and government credibility and attacks the political system …”"

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/19/technology/china-coronavirus-censorship.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no idea if they are being truthful. However, if they have information that could undermine their government's credibility, they don't live in conditions that allow them to speak out. I don't believe that information from people who face persecution for speaking out is reliable.

      "As far as I can tell, your only grounds for defending the lab leak conspiracy theory is that you don't like the Chinese government and you think that all the Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology are lying.

      That looks like irrational bias to me."

      You can be better than this. Everything that I argued was done respectfully without attacking you personally. You are correct about one thing, I don't like the Chinese government, which is one of the world's biggest human rights abusers (https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/china/report-china/). We all have our biases, but I believe that I separated my dislike of their government from the evidence that information from the CCP is unreliable. It is intellectually dishonest to dismiss my concerns over transparency and openness due to my hate of this government, especially considering all of the evidence that they covered up the pandemic and punished the scientists who spoke out.

      I also never said that this Wuhan Institute scientists are lying, but that they are under conditions that would cause them to. If they are lying, I wouldn't cast judgement considering that they could be penalized severely for saying things that their government wouldn't approve of.

      How would you feel if I responded to your arguments by claiming:

      "As far as I can tell, your only grounds for dismissing the possibility of a lab leak is that you are a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party and you think that all their actions that many consider human rights abuses are justified.

      That looks like irrational bias to me."

      I am correct that you would find this to be a dishonest argument?

      Delete
    2. Yes, that would be a dishonest argument because you don't really think that I'm a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party and you don't really believe that I would attempt to justify their human rights abuses.

      In fact, you have every reason to suspect that I'm objecting to the lab leak conspiracy theory IN SPITE OF the fact that I oppose many of the actions of the Chinese government.

      It's probably time to put an end to this debate but in closing I'd like to mention that I have been following the science on SARS-CoV-2 for the last 14 months and the Chinese scientists have contributed an enormous number of excellent studies that have been published in reputable journals.

      I don't see any evidence that the quality of their science is compromised. Do you? Do you have evidence for your claim that many reputable Chinese scientists, who frequently collaborate with Western scientists, are deliberately misrepresenting their data out of fear of their own government?

      Of course you can find a few isolated cases of government interference in China but there have also been cases in America in the past year and that doesn't mean we condemn all American scientists and accuse them all of lying. Scientists in democracies, including me, have a long history of working with scientists in totalitarion countries and our impressions, in general, do not conform to your view of the situation.

      Delete
  6. "Yes, that would be a dishonest argument because you don't really think that I'm a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party and you don't really believe that I would attempt to justify their human rights abuses."

    I agree. Why won't you extend the same courtesy to me?


    "I don't see any evidence that the quality of their science is compromised. Do you? Do you have evidence for your claim that many reputable Chinese scientists, who frequently collaborate with Western scientists, are deliberately misrepresenting their data out of fear of their own government?"

    This is a strawman argument. I never said that Chinese scientists are manipulating data in the scientific literature. I was clear that I was talking about the WHO report. I provided numerous examples that showed that the CCP interfered with dissemination of information surrounding the pandemic. I'm arguing against using it as a credible source.

    "Of course you can find a few isolated cases of government interference in China but there have also been cases in America in the past year and that doesn't mean we condemn all American scientists and accuse them all of lying."

    Another strawman. I never once said that we should condemn all Chinese scientists and accuse them of lying. I even explicitly stated that I don't know if they are lying. I said that we can't take their word at face value because they would face persecution if they had something to say that didn't fit with their government's narrative.

    "Scientists in democracies, including me, have a long history of working with scientists in totalitarion countries and our impressions, in general, do not conform to your view of the situation."

    If we are going to resort to anecdotes, I also work with Chinese scientists. In my experience, they are far more skeptical of the information coming from the CCP than we are. That's besides the point, as we don't need to argue about hypotheticals. I provided multiple examples of how the CCP covered up the pandemic, how they detained scientists that spoke out, and how Chinese scientists require government approval before circulating information. That erodes the credibility of information coming out of China surrounding the pandemic. Before you attack my character and motives, why won't you address the specific criticisms of the WHO report that I cited?

    This discussion hasn't been very productive, but I would challenge you to reflect on how you approached it. Do you really think that accusing people you disagree with of hating Chinese people or Chinese scientists is productive? Personally, I believe that accusations of racism are very serious and should not be thrown around without evidence. In the long run, it undermines true accusations of bigotry.

    Have you really given the arguments that call into question the reliability of data coming out of China a fair consideration? Looking back, do you really feel like you addressed them fairly?

    ReplyDelete
  7. A couple corrections and clarifications:

    Futhermore, none of the workers at the lab tested postive for COVID-19 and none of them were studying any virus that resembled SARS-CoV-19. So, in order for the lab leak hypothesis to be true there has to have been a massive coverup by a very large number of people.

    "No evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection at WIH—staff were PCR/antibody negative." Holmes says that if this is true then that rules out the lab leak hypothesis automatically.

    If it leaked by accident, it most likely did so by infecting only one person at the WIV, who may well not be there anymore, and quite possibly none -- it could have leaked through some improperly discarded biological materials and then the index cases was actually in the community, not in the lab.

    Furthermore, the virus is probably not from Yunnan province where the Wuhan Institute of Virology is located.

    Wuhan is in Hubei, not in Yunnan. I am not sure how that got mixed up or what it might be referring to exactly. However, Yunnan would be the top pick for the province from which such a virus would appear naturally.

    "Their goal, according to Wade, was to make a virus that was as deadly to humans as possible in order to study its effects in the lab."

    This is actually absurd. Sure, there are people who think this is what happened, but that is not what any serious theory about a lab leak would involve.

    The mystery here is not how the virus became so lethal, but why it is so benign.

    The CFR for SARS-1 was 10%, which, accounting for improvements in treatment, etc. translates to roughly 5X higher lethality than SARS-2.

    But that makes no sense. Because SARS-2 is much more transmissible, which is in large part because the affinity of the SARS-2 S protein for ACE2 is 10-fold higher than that of SARS-1. And we have seen how further increases in affinity in the SARS-2 variants have been associated with increased lethality. Which does make sense -- higher affinity, better binding, more infection within the body, higher lethality.

    ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...continued:

      But then SARS-2 should have been much more lethal than SARS-1, and it is in fact exactly the opposite. Why is that?

      I've been puzzled by that from the very beginning and I still don't have a good explanation, and I also don't see a lot of people asking that question, which is unfortunate -- there are many people much better equipped to answer it and it is in fact of huge importance for the future course of the pandemic. A couple months ago this paper came out:

      https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanmic/article/PIIS2666-5247(21)00027-6/fulltext

      And it looked like we had an answer -- SARS-1's ORF6 is a much more potent interferon antagonist than SARS-2's ORF6, and not only that but they were able to convert the SARS-2 ORF6 into an equally effective interferon antagonist as SARS-1's ORF6 with just two mutations.

      But then this one came out:

      https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/pdf/S2211-1247(21)00230-8.pdf

      And it claimed the opposite, even though it identified similar residues as being key.

      However, it wasn't the same experiments in the same cells under the same conditions, so who knows.

      In any case, that bigger question remains open.

      But still, people at the WIV playing around trying to make it more lethal for some nefarious reasons or just out of irresponsible curiosity does not make much sense. Because the virus is exactly the opposite of more lethal.

      Also, it is far from obvious that one would deliberately put the furin cleavage site there in order to make it more transmissible. This is discussed in more details here:

      https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6541/466

      But was pointed out quite a long time ago by other too. Initially, people picked on that as an obvious change in the S protein, and it did and still does appear to be very important for for transmission so it was automatically assumed by conspiracy theorists that it was deliberately engineered there for that purpose. But that was just simplistic thinking not based on detailed analysis of what is actually happening, and in fact it is not at all clear that one would deliberately put that site there in order to make it more transmissible/virulent.

      Delete
  8. Georgi Marinov said "It does not grow well on Rhinolophus cells, which suggests adaptation away from the original host."

    What evidence is there that it does not grow well on Rhinolophus cells? I found two papers which seem relevant. The first does not justify your claim. The second provides some indirect evidence against it.

    Differential Tropism of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 in Bat Cells
    Susanna K.P. Lau et al
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7706959/
    "Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 did not replicate efficiently in 13 bat cell lines, whereas severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus replicated efficiently in kidney cells of its ancestral host, the Rhinolophus sinicus bat, suggesting different evolutionary origins."
    There is only one Rhinolophus bat in this study. They say in their conclusion: "Other bat species, such as R. affinis, may harbor the ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 and can be tested for cellular susceptibilities in future studies."

    The Rhinolophus affinis bat ACE2 and multiple animal orthologs are functional receptors for bat coronavirus RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2
    Pei Li et al
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095927321000475

    There are 106 Rhinolophus species. I think it is going to be some time before we know that "It does not grow well on Rhinolophus cells" even if it is true. And the original host might have been a different kind of bat.


    ReplyDelete
  9. "The virus is probably not from Yunnan province where the Wuhan Institute of Virology is located."

    Geography is not your strong suit apparently.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Holmes calls this idea is "absolute nonsense." I'm guessing he won't be a fan of Nicholas Wade's article.

    Textbook example of appeal to authority

    ReplyDelete
  11. The scientists at WIV say that they were not studying such a viruse and Holmes says, "Frankly, I believe them."

    Opinion, not evidence

    ReplyDelete
  12. He's says that either this is the biggest coverup in history and they're all lying or there's no evidence at all that the virus was ever in the lab.

    Textbook example of false dichotomy

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Please don't spread this ridiculous idea; it makes you no better than QAnon cultists."

    Yet another completely false equivalence.

    Have you heard about the Tuskegee experiment? It's a crazy conspiracy theory that some respected scientists deliberately inoculated syphilis to black people in collusion with government agencies. Totally bonkers! Luckily we have skeptics like you to set the record straight.

    ReplyDelete
  14. "deliberately inoculated syphilis to black people in collusion with government agencies." You obviously imply that this is the truth and Larry is (by analogy) denying it. The Tuskegee experiment was a horrific violation of human rights, and did involve the experimenters looking the other way while syphilis was went untreated and was transmitted to spouses and even children. But no, it did not involve the experimenters deliberately inoculating anyone with syphilis bacteria. Do you have any evidence that it did? Wikipedia does not agree with you.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks Joe for the clarification, I stand corrected.

    The medical doctors pretended to provide treatment and instead applied placebos, but the infections were not induced. It's a fine line between infecting someone and feigning to treat someone, but for the sake of rigor your correction is pertinent.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I think we agree that viruses of bats are the ancestors of the virus causing COVID-19. Georgi Marinov writes, "The virus infecting some unfortunate Chinese wildlife trader within Wuhan, then undergoing a rapid series of very unlikely mutations very quickly to the point where the virus no longer grows in Rhinolophus cells but grows quite well in human cells and those of mustelids, then that seeding a pandemic, is not the most parsimonious explanation that minimizes the amount of miracles that need to happen to account for all the facts under that scenario." I agree that this is an unlikely scenario.

    However, "The bat virus infected some carnivore (mustelid? raccoon dog?) and evolved in that species for some undetermined length of time, eventually infecting some unfortunate Chinese wildlife trader within Wuhan, then seeding a pandemic" seems an entirely plausible scenario to me.

    I don't know what scenario is true. I'm just saying that lab leak is not the only plausible alternative to improbably fast evolution outside the lab.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Looks like te ugly head of conspiracy theories has reached Science:

    https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6543/694.1

    "Only 4 of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident"

    4 pages out of 313. Right.

    ReplyDelete
  18. The authors of that letter say that we should take the lab leak hypothesis seriously until we have more data. They also say,

    "Finally, in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost. We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue."

    What they neglected to mention is that many of these same Chinese scientists have said that they were not studying SARS-CoV-2 at the WIV nor were they studying any virus that was closely related. They also said that none of the workers at the WIH tested positive for COVID-19.

    Thus, in order to continue to take the lab leak hypothesis seriously you have to assume that the Chinese scientists are lying and trying to cover up the fact that they are responsible for the pandemic. In other words, the lab leak hypothesis has now become a conspiracy theory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You may want to take a closer look at the authors list of that letter, some very interesting names there.

      Delete
    2. "What they neglected to mention is that many of these same Chinese scientists have said that they were not studying SARS-CoV-2 at the WIV nor were they studying any virus that was closely related. They also said that none of the workers at the WIH tested positive for COVID-19."

      Some internet sleuths have argued that the WIV was working with viruses closer to SARS-CoV-2 than they have disclosed.

      https://twitter.com/Ayjchan/status/1392579690687250433

      https://twitter.com/TheSeeker268/status/1392575191763472388

      Any thoughts on this? I don't know enough virology to make any judgements, so I'll wait until some more qualified people chime in.

      Delete
    3. That's amazing: internet sleuths uncover a major conspiracy and post on Twitter!

      Who would ever have thought that could happen?

      Delete
    4. Why the snark? Should we not consider their arguments because they posted them on Twitter? Isn't it more important that their claims are based on theses of WIV students? There have been biologists involved as well.

      Delete
  19. Thanks very much for the arguments. I don't see how lab leak theory helps us in anyway for the future. It may generate traction against research and may actually go against our future survival. On the other hand, the fact that this developed fairly quickly in man made natural interactions and has been mutating ever since, should push for more research and possible solutions which may actually help us in the long run. Further it should pressurise our communities to preserve and protect wildlife and their habitats.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. " I don't see how lab leak theory helps us in anyway for the future. It may generate traction against research and may actually go against our future survival."

      I don't think that funding and support for science should factor in which questions we ask about the pandemic. Science is about truth seeking and we shouldn't be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. Millions have died and billions of people around the world have been affected. The public deserves a proper investigation. For sake of argument, let's assume that the lab leak hypothesis is correct. I think that the longer the hypothesis is dismissed, the larger the backlash will be among the public.

      Understanding the origin of this pandemic is of the utmost importance for public safety. When the wet market was believed to be the source of the pandemic, it raised important questions about food safety. If this resulted from a lab leak, we will need to completely reform biosafety practices worldwide. In fact, some serious biosafety problems have already been identified. A natural origin will also shape future policies regarding monitoring and we should consider how to limit human interactions with animals harboring pathogens.

      Delete
    2. "I don't see how lab leak theory helps us in anyway for the future. "

      True. All it does is give the die-hard conspiracy mongers ammunition to keep up there "search for the truth" (there aren't quotation marks large enough to indicate how laughable their search is).

      Delete
  20. This is a pretty laughable and emotional name-calling "BLOG"......
    All of your deflective and dismissive points are acknowledged AND already addressed by Wade in his article. Did you just "blog" so you could call people you don't know that don't agree with you "conspiracy theorists"?
    That's exemplary of most of the socially conditioned and indoctrinated group think we have all had to suffer this last year and change. Be well.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Here are some of the conclusions Nicholas Wade makes in his article:
    "Where we are so far. Neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can yet be ruled out. There is still no direct evidence for either. So no definitive conclusion can be reached.

    "That said, the available evidence leans more strongly in one direction than the other. Readers will form their own opinion. But it seems to me that proponents of lab escape can explain all the available facts about SARS2 considerably more easily than can those who favor natural emergence.

    It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice. This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged. The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study, and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory. So escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute. The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice. It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus, and this site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses. What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2’s creation?

    "Proponents of natural emergence have a rather harder story to tell. The plausibility of their case rests on a single surmise, the expected parallel between the emergence of SARS2 and that of SARS1 and MERS. But none of the evidence expected in support of such a parallel history has yet emerged. No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2, if indeed it ever infected bats. No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals. There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did. There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved. There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else. There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons. The natural emergence theory battles a bristling array of implausibilities."

    I assume that as the brilliant scientist you are, you will be able to provide a line-by-line rebuttal.

    Wade also rebuts the science and conclusions of both Daszak’s Lancet and Andersen's Nature Medicine letters. In 11,000 words of detail. As the eminent scientist that you are, you will have no problem providing an equally detailed and lengthy rebuttal, will you not? Onward good fellow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's start with the claim that no other beta-coronaviruses have furin cleavage sites. This claim is straightforwardly false, and is addressed in the presentation by professor Edward Holmes that Larry linked.

      Then there's the claim that no other beta-coronaviruses have double arginines in their furin cleavage sites. This too is false, and is also addressed in the presentation by Edward Holmes.

      Then there's the claim that the virus is somehow mysteriously well adapted to humans. But it's also just as well adapted to mink(it got into and spread throughout Danish minks leading to eradication of the Danish mink industry when the government decided to have them exterminated as a precaution, instead of letting it run wild), ferrets, ant-eaters, and raccoon dogs, all animals that live in asia, and have frequent contact with humans, indeed having large industries associated with them. And Wuhan is a large trading hub for these animals and their products.

      Wuhan has previously seen pneumonia-related viruses emerge there through zoonotic transmissions. And so on and so forth.

      Many previous pandemics in human history have come from viruses or microorganisms undergoing zoonotic transmissions. We are very physiologically and biochemically similar to innumerable other animals. Anyone remember swine-flu or bird-flu? Influenza viruses that come from different animal hosts that suddenly evolve the capacity to infect and transmit successfully between human.

      You really should watch that presentation by Edward Holmes who puts a lot of these things into a broader context. Sadly it seems like Wade, a journalist, either hasn't done his homework properly, or is not getting trustworthy, or is getting oversimplified information from the experts he relies on.

      I have to say the blather about the furin cleavage sites he expounds on is particularly egregious. The statements about there being no other furin cleavage sites in related beta-coronaviruses, or them having double arginines being exceptional, are just completely false.

      Delete
    2. @DJ Adams

      Dealing with conspiracy theorists is like playing wack-a-mole. No matter what "facts" you wack down another will pop up somewhere else - often the same "fact."

      You could have done a wee bit of research on your own before posting here. If you had done that you would have discovered some of the things that Mikkel just explained to you.

      You say,

      "I assume that as the brilliant scientist you are, you will be able to provide a line-by-line rebuttal.

      Wade also rebuts the science and conclusions of both Daszak’s Lancet and Andersen's Nature Medicine letters. In 11,000 words of detail. As the eminent scientist that you are, you will have no problem providing an equally detailed and lengthy rebuttal, will you not? Onward good fellow."

      Let's see if you have the courage to admit that you were wrong to fall for some of Wade's lies. If you do that, then we can have a serious discussion about some of the other points that Mikkel didn't cover.

      Onward good fellow.

      Delete
    3. Part Two:
      You state “Nicholas Wade claims that the virologists at the WIV, led by Dr. Shi, created the SARS-CoV-2 virus by genetic engineering.” Is this true? My understanding of his article, and I may be wrong, is that Wade outlines evidence for both theories and based on that evidence, he believes there is greater likelihood of a lab leak.

      You further state “Their goal, according to Wade, was to make a virus that was as deadly to humans as possible in order to study its effects in the lab. Unfortunately, the virus escaped from the lab, according to Wade, and started the pandemic.” Please correct me if I’m wrong, but Wade doesn’t ever draw that conclusion. He might hypothesize that that could be a rationale, but he never definitely states that is the case.

      You state Shi Zhengli responded to the accusations and dismissed them. No offense, but what else is she going to do other than dismiss them. Do you honestly think that she or her colleagues would admit to a lab leak, let alone that the might have been engaged in GoF research that led to a pandemic

      You state “Why is this a conspiracy theory? Because the speculation has been investigated by WHO scientists who found no evidence to support it.” Is this true? The a team of “World Health Organization–led scientists found a lab leak to be the ‘least likely"’hypothesis. However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said the possibility requires ‘further investigation’ because the team didn't have access to enough raw data to adequately analyze the likelihood of any single hypothesis.” Is this true? Please also respond to the evidence and questions others have provided above.

      You state “They saw that the lab protocols at the Institute were very good, as you would expect for a world class lab that was studying dangerous viruses that were known to cause pandemics.” Is this true? Others above in the comments have raised challenges to this issue. Why don’t you directly address their evidence? Refute it. Rather you simply declare “there is no evidence.” If you don’t want to address that evidence, how about discussing it with the US Officials, diplomats and scientists who reported raised concerns back around safety at the Wuhan lab in 2018 (https://www.businessinsider.com/us-officials-raised-alarms-about-safety-issues-in-wuhan-lab-report-2020-4?op=1).

      Delete
    4. Part Three:
      You state: “Futhermore (sic) none of the workers at the lab tested positive (sic) for COVID-19 and none of them were studying any virus that resembled SARS-CoV-19.” Is that true? According to the Wall Street Journal, a US intelligence report states that three employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care for covid-19/seasonal flu like symptons in November 2019, approximately when SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have started circulating in the Chinese city. Is this true?

      You state “in order for the lab leak hypothesis to be true there has to have been a massive coverup by a very large number of people.” is this true? Define “a very large number of people.” Is that 5, 10, 50, 100? What evidence do you provide that it would have to be “a very large number of people” for whatever number you decide?

      You dismiss Richard Ebright, without providing any evidence? Other than ‘he’s putting forth a “conspiracy theory” ergo he must be bat-shit crazy. Let’s first establish Dr. Ebrights’ credentials:
      Dr. Richard Ebright received his AB in Biology and his PhD in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from Harvard University. He has more than one hundred sixty publications and more than forty issued and pending patents. He is member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
      Dr. Ebright is a member of the Institutional Biosafety Committee of Rutgers University and the Antimicrobial Resistance Committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He is also been a member of the Working Group on Pathogen Security of the state of New Jersey, and the Controlling Dangerous Pathogens Project of the Center for International Security Studies. He was a founding member of the Cambridge Working Group, which advocated for biosafety, biosecurity, and risk-benefit reviews for gain-of-function research on potential pandemic pathogens.

      So, he’s got some credentials. How do yours compare?

      Delete
    5. Part Four:
      Ebright has said this in terms of the disinformation campaign you mention: “The pre-negotiated ‘Terms of Reference’ or the WHO study did not even acknowledge the possibility of a laboratory origin of the virus and did not even mention the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the Wuhan Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.” Is this true? Given that the terms of reference didn’t include the WIV how can the WHO conclude that such a leak was unlikely?

      Dr. Ebright has stated that “At least some of the NIH-funded research conducted at the WIV “unequivocally” qualifies as gain-of-function.” He further states “The Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses able to infect human cells and laboratory animals.” Is this true?

      Do you believe that given his involvement through EcoHealth, Peter Daszak, seemed to have conflicts of interest that should have disqualified him from being part of an investigation of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic?

      Please cite from the article you provide your evidence for Ebright’s participation in “classic conspiracy theory.” What makes it so? Specifically? You state “everyone who disagrees with you is part of the conspiracy.” Funny, Ebright disagrees with you and you dismiss him as part of a conspiracy of conspiracist theorists.

      I could go on to break down your blog. And then move onto Wade’s actually article but dinner calls. Why do we start with the above questions. As per my original post, the following questions based on Wade’s conclusions:
      “It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice.” Is this true?

      “This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged.” Is this probably or true?

      “The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study.” Is the true?

      “…and they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory.” Is this true?

      “So an escape of a virus would not be at all surprising.” Is this plausible?

      “In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute.” Is this true?
      “The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice.” Is this true?

      “It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus.” Is this true? Specifically, “SARS-related beta-coronavirus.” Is this true? My understanding is that there is only four SARS-related beta-coronavirus.

      “This site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses.” Is this true? What more evidence could you want, aside from the presently unobtainable lab records documenting SARS2’s creation?

      “No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2.” Is this true.

      “No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals.” Is this true?

      “There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did.” Is this true?

      “There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved.” Is this true?

      “There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else.” Is this true?

      “There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons.” Is this true?

      Onward good fellows, we go.


      Delete
    6. DJ, the fact that none of the WIV workers tested positive for Covid is worth further consideration. The proportion of Wuhan citizens that were infected was just under 5%. It's extremely unlikely that not a single WIV member tested positive unless they had a way to mitigate this risk in a way that was not possible for the general population. The odds of zero positive tests among several hundred workers was estimated as being about 1 in a billion if I remember correctly.

      Delete
  22. Part One:
    You're right it's important not to trust everything you read, including from scientific publications such as the Bulletin and Lancet. I welcome the opportunity to broaden the perspective. I will take a look at the video; given the length it may not be today.

    Part of the challenge with all discussions is that there is a propensity to cherry-pick our points and to spin 'the facts' according to narratives we identify with, regardless of who we are. Scientists or “conspiracy theorists.” As you write, “everyone who disagrees with you is part of the conspiracy.” I hope you can see that within yourself as much as you see it within others.

    So let's start with your blog post: Wade is "promoting the ridiculous conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 pandemic was started when the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a lab at the Whuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)." Is it true that the theory is “ridiculous”? You obviously think so. What about others? Fauci now admits COVID-19 could have originated in the Wuhan Lab. Based on US intelligence reports, the Biden Administration sees the situation as warranting a review. I could give other examples but that is not the point. Perhaps, we all need to temper our conclusions, until the full evidence emerges.

    Is it true that Peter Daszak’s organization, the EcoHealth Alliance, funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

    Is it true that that research included GoF? Depends upon which scientists you talk to.

    Regardless of whether GoF was happening, Daszak has a vested interest in a lab leak not being the source of the virus. If there was, he and EcoHealth are potentially culpable and liable.

    So, when Daszak published his letter in the Lancet, condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” he also stated that he had no competing interests. Was that true? Why did Dasnak not declare his obvious conflict of interest?

    Given Dasnak’s financial and professional relationship to the Wuhan lab, why did he not recluse himself from the WHO delegation, investigating the origins of the virus?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, now Daszak is part of your conspiracy theory?

      Read what you just wrote. You haven't presented a shred of evidence that the scientists at the WIV were studying SARS-CoV-2 before the pandemic but you still think the lab leak conspiracy theory is worth investigating.

      It has to be a conspiracy theory because it absolutely requires that the scientists at the WIV are lying and covering up.

      You are the one who is not trusting anything you read except those unsubstantiated rumors that support your bias. You go out of your way to dismiss any evidence that doesn't fit your agenda. That's classic conspiracy theory stuff.

      Delete
    2. "You haven't presented a shred of evidence that the scientists at the WIV were studying SARS-CoV-2 before the pandemic but you still think the lab leak conspiracy theory is worth investigating."

      That is a strawman though -- of course they were not working on "SARS-CoV-2", nobody was because SARS-CoV-2 did not exist prior to the pandemic.

      They were, however, the main world center for studying SARS-type coronaviruses. Which is, dare I say, a highly suspicious coincidence. Had this whole thing started in Kunming and not in Wuhan, the "conspiracy theories" would indeed be fringe, and even more so had the virus been very similar to SARS-CoV-1, but unfortunately, neither is true -- it started in Wuhan out of all the major cities in the south of China, and on top of that while the disease is broadly similar to SARS, the virus has a lot of strange properties that are most parsimoniously explained by passage in cell culture for quite some time (and forget about the furin cleavage site, that is important but in the larger context it's a red herring -- it is a lot more than the FCS that is very puzzling and hard to explain if this was a direct zoonotic transfer; this virus is probably dead on arrival in a wild bat population).

      It has to be a conspiracy theory because it absolutely requires that the scientists at the WIV are lying and covering up.

      This is just sad to see from you, and one has to speculate why you say it.

      Your whole argument here rests on "scientists would never lie". Scientifically you have not presented anything that refutes the argument that the most parsimonious explanation for the origin of this virus is that the progenitor was collected some years ago from some bat cave, then passaged through cell culture in a lab where maybe it was, maybe it was not directly manipulated, then some accident happened and it leaked. Every single step along that chain is something routine that happens all the time (including, unfortunately, the lab accidents with viruses).

      We went through this a couple weeks ago and I gave you a long list of obviously deliberate lies by extremely prominent Western scientists and highly respected key scientific/public health institutions, lies that are continuing to this day, lies that have caused the deaths of some ten million people worldwide by now (speaking of which, here is another obvious deliberate lie -- a lot of countries are faking their statistics, and it is "scientists" in charge of those too), and lies that will kill many times that in the future. Most of the victims of COVID lie in the future, not the past, especially if, as can well be expected, it becomes much deadlier in the future. Which, BTW, is why it does matter where it came from and how -- reversion to wild type over time if this was indeed some sort of a inactivated vaccine is extremely extremely bad news; on the other hand, if this was a direct zoonotic transfer then it can still learn how to fight the innate immune response as well as the related viruses do -- it does have mostly the same set of accessory proteins, they are just a bit less efficient at it now, but they could evolve in that direction -- but it is somewhat less likely to go there. If/when that happens you can forget about "kids are unharmed" and "oh, it's only 1% IFR", we're back where the original SARS virus was in terms of virulence but with something 10 tiimes as contagious. Of course, we would have probably gotten there anyway cumulatively on reinfection rounds 5 to 10.

      In the face of indisputable evidence that scientists would in fact lie and cover up on literal matters of life and death for millions, you keep saying "scientists would never lie, that is impossible, I refuse to even consider the possibility".

      Delete
    3. So one has to speculate about why you steadfastly refuse to consider the possibility? Is it the case that no paper has ever been retracted for deliberate falsification of data? No. So why?

      You are worried that the reputation of science will suffer?

      Or you are worried about the reputation of scientists as a social class, part of the broader PMC phenomenon?

      Well, both of those have suffered a lot more as a result of the willingness of scientists to pander to political and economic interests in the last 18 months -- that has killed millions and wrecked the lives of many more. Honesty and transparency is the only way to maintain reputation and respectability.

      P.S. There is another verbal sleigh of hand trick here. A "conspiracy theory" in this case would be that someone deliberately engineered and released the virus to wreak havoc on the world for nefarious purposes. That is not impossible, but it is unlikely and is certainly not what is suspected. A virus leaking from a lab is just an unfortunate accident, and there is nothing conspiratorial about it. By calling it a "conspiracy theory" it makes it easier to steer people in the direction of imagining such more convoluted and sinister possibilities, which are also much easier to reject as lunacies.



      Delete
    4. First, you actually haven't answered any of the questions. You simply dismiss everything as "conspiracy theory". Isn't that what you accuse Ebright of doing? "Everyone who disagrees with you is part of the conspiracy" of conspiracy theorists.

      You say "You go out of your way to dismiss any evidence that doesn't fit your agenda. That's classic conspiracy theory stuff." Look in the mirror.

      You won't consider for a moment a lab-leak. Why? Because "it absolutely requires that the scientists at the WIV are lying and covering up." Yeah, what's your point. Cover ups have happened throughout history in a spectrum of settings, countries, etc. Why might this be any different? Serious question. What makes the WIV and this situation special or any different then the documented myriad of cover ups that have happened in human history.

      And before you go to the "well too many people would have to have known" argument let me point out that history is full of examples where shit's gone down and people don't know. 130,000 people were engaged in a project in the USA over multiple sites. It went on for years. Security was of essence. And there were zero compromising breaches. Of those 130,000, I am wildly guessing that less than 200 probably understood the full nature of what was going on. That initiative was the Manhattan Project. You may have heard of it.

      So to argue that too many people would have had to known, are lying, covering things up, for there to be a leak is not supported by history.

      Second, Daszak and EcoHealth are at the center of the NIH funding, which if a lab leak did happen they would be ground zero for those being involved. So, yeah, he's part of the picture. call it what you will.

      Furthermore, a conspiracy just means that two or more people conspired to commit a crime. A conspiracy theory is just the theory as to how that conspiracy took place. The now popular interpretation is to assume that conspiracy theories have a sinister component to them.

      It's convenient for you to label/frame what MAY or MAY not have happened as a conspiracy.

      What if there was no conspiracy to commit a crime? What if the researcher such as those funded through Daszak we're doing research on the coronavirus -maybe or maybe not as GoF. And they simply made a mistake. For whatever reason they fucked up. Not with any malicious or criminal intent. There's no conspiracy there. They simply made a mistake.

      Perhaps, they got sloppy in terms of security -as US diplomats, officials and scientist expressed concern in 2018. There's no conspiracy there. It's just a group of people who may have done nothing wrong, legally, ethically or otherwise.

      Or maybe they started taking chances, pushing the envelope a bit, figuring as Fauci did in 2012 when he argued for GoF research that the risk of an outbreak was remote... and then they pushed the shortcuts too far and...well there's a leak.

      You nor I do not know for sure. We may never know. The only ones who truly know are the ones in the lab -and guess what, they're refusing to share the data. They're refusing access.


      Who knows. All Wade and others are saying is that 1) it's plausible. 2) there is sufficient evidence to support the theory.

      What Wade states -very explicitly I might add- in great detail is that he's not arguing one way or another. He is saying is that when one looks at the evidence it favors a lab-leak. He presents evidence for why he thinks that.

      I as with Wade as with a host of other scientists, officials, and others are simply weighing the various theories and possibilities to determine which ones seem most plausible.

      If you disagree, prove him wrong. Refute his evidence. Perhaps, start with the points of his argument I outline above.

      Delete
    5. Georgi says,

      "That is a strawman though -- of course they were not working on "SARS-CoV-2", nobody was because SARS-CoV-2 did not exist prior to the pandemic."

      Nope, that's not a strawman. It's exactly what the lab leak conspiracy theory postulates. You are suggesting that the scientists at WIV were working on SARS-CoV-2 in their labs and that it somehow escaped to start the pandemic.

      Do you have any evidence to support that claim other than vague suggestions that it is possible?

      You also say,

      "Your whole argument here rests on "scientists would never lie". Scientifically you have not presented anything that refutes the argument that the most parsimonious explanation for the origin of this virus is that the progenitor was collected some years ago from some bat cave, then passaged through cell culture in a lab where maybe it was, maybe it was not directly manipulated, then some accident happened and it leaked. Every single step along that chain is something routine that happens all the time (including, unfortunately, the lab accidents with viruses). "

      It's sad to hear that coming from you. It's not up to me to "refute" an extraordinary speculation. It's up to you to provide evidence to support your accusation against the scientists at WIV.

      It's also possible that YOU created the pandemic because you are quite capable of doing all the experiments required to engineer an infectious virus. What if I told you that I will continue to accuse you, in spite of your denials, until somebody else can prove that you DID NOT do it?

      Delete
    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    7. "It's not up to me to "refute" an extraordinary speculation."

      The whole point is that it is not at all an "extraordinary speculation", but rather the most parsimonious explanation for what happened, i.e. the one that does not require anything but routine events that happen all the time.

      The alternative is also plausible (I told you before I am 65-35 on a lab leak vs. direct zoonotic transfer, not 100-0) but it requires quite a few more miracles.

      Delete
    8. You state: "It's not up to me to 'refute' an extraordinary speculation. It's up to you to provide evidence to support your accusation against the scientists at WIV."

      Yet, Wade presents evidence in his article. I've outlined a few of his points above. And you refuse to address that evidence. If you have the courage go refute his points. Go refute the rest of his article. Point by point.

      Up until now all you've done, is dismiss the lab leak theory as a "conspiracy theory." You don't actually provide any evidence as to why it's a conspiracy theory.

      Rather you state, "it's not up to me to "refute" an extraordinary speculation." You say it's up to others to provide evidence. They do. And then you refuse to engage with the evidence, because it's just "conspiracy theory."

      As to your last point, if you provided evidence to support your accusation that Georgi created the pandemic then the scientific and reasonable approach would be to look at the evidence, test the theory, look at alternative theories, and develop a hypothesis as to what happened. And then put it out for discussion. Wade and others have done that.


      If you have the courage to look at the evidence and refute it, then do so. Don't hide behind the deflection of 'It's just conspiracy theory and extraordinary speculation.' Especially when you provide zero evidence as to why it is conspiracy theory and extraordinary speculation.

      Otherwise, you're just blowing smoke.

      Delete
  23. Oh, man. What a ride.

    I've been here before: ask a question of authority figures and you are told you are wrong to think they might be less than perfectly honest, then attacked for personal badness rather than answering the question.

    And after back and forth, you come back to the very first issue you raised.

    Scott Adams calls this the "denial tunnel" and it comes from cognitive dissonance, when contrary facts are too threatening to one's view of the world and himself. Here, the integrity of "scientists " and their inability to be corrupted looks like the key item. The blog author needs to believe what recognized authorities say is the unvarnished truth. His world is nailed to the ground.

    Sad. Ivory tower ideals, not downtown experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your talking about Scott Adams who thinks that evolution is bunk and we’re all living in a computer simulation designed by aliens, right?

      Nobody, especially not me, thinks that scientists are perfectly honest. I’ve been challenging the honesty and integrity of scientists for almost four decades.

      However, you can’t accuse scientists of dishonesty just because other scientists are dishonest. You have to provide evidence to.back up your claim and in this case there is no evidence to support the claim the scientists at WIV were working with SARS-CoV-2 before the pandemic started.

      Delete
    2. Larry, You keep saying you need evidence. Yet when evidence is presented you refuse to address it, let alone refute it.

      Instead you say "there is no evidence to support the claim the scientists at WIV were working with SARS-CoV-2 before the pandemic started." How do you know when you won't even addressed the examples and evidence already provided.

      This is crazy-making. Attempted gas-lighting.

      Is this your version of a "serious discussion"? Evasive cowardice? I hope not.

      If you have the courage to look at the evidence and refute it, then do so.

      If you can't then I would expect that you would broaden your mind and perspective to say, maybe there's something here I need to look at. Maybe I need to adjust or reevaluate my perspective. Maybe I need to open to the possibility that maybe just maybe my world isn't as it seems.

      This is actually how science works and the world evolves. I'm sure at some point, people had to wrap their heads around Darwin, and do the same.


      Delete
    3. Wade's "evidence" has been addressed repeatedly and shown to be false or misleading. He has a history of making mistakes like that.

      Why don't you pick the best "evidence" you think you have and we can discuss it? What I'm looking for is real evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was present in the WIV labs before the pandemic began. I'm not interested in speculations and wild guesses.

      Delete
    4. Where has it been "addressed repeatedly" Because neither you nor Mikkei address Wade's points in their entirety.

      You say he has a history. Even if it was true, and I haven't seen the evidence one way or another, that doesn't preclude that he's telling the truth. No offense, I'm also not going to just take your word for it. If it exists, where? Other than in differing opinions.

      At this point, you're not going to get "real evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was present in the WIV labs before the pandemic began." Nobody is. If the Wuhan lab would release their data maybe we might. In the same way nobody has at this point conclusive evidence that it was a direct zoonotic transfer.

      So the best we can do is look at all aspects of the evidence and determine which makes the most sense, which seems most plausible. Which is exactly what Wade tried to do.

      Don't get me wrong, I don't think he's got it completely 100 percent right. But that doesn't mean he's got it 100 wrong either. Could be 95 percent wrong. Or it could be 5 percent. 1 percent. Only way to find out is to look at what he said and assess his individual evidence (and wade's not the only one who's presenting evidence, he's just the topic of your blog and this discussion).

      I've listed above the individual points from just Wade's concluding statements (not even the entire article). I've asked which are true; which are not. There's a starting point.

      Delete
    5. I guess that means that you are not going to pick the best "evidence" that you think you have, right?

      BTW, as far as I know the scientists at WIV showed their data to the WHO investigating committee when they visited the labs a few months ago.

      Delete
    6. "BTW, as far as I know the scientists at WIV showed their data to the WHO investigating committee when they visited the labs a few months ago"

      The WHO team were not given access to any raw data. That was a major flaw, which some of the WHO team later admitted.

      Delete
    7. "I guess that means that you are not going to pick the best "evidence" that you think you have, right?"

      There's lots of evidence right there. As stated, many times before, let's start with that. Or is the volume overwhelming?

      Delete
    8. Yes, the volume is overwhelming. It's a lot easier to make accusations than to refute them; besides, as I've already said, most of Wade's stuff has already been dismissed.

      Pick your best "evidence." How hard can that be?

      Delete
    9. there's so much to choose from.

      Delete
    10. “It’s documented that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were doing gain-of-function experiments designed to make coronaviruses infect human cells and humanized mice.” Is this true?

      Delete
    11. “This is exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged.” Is this probable or true?

      Delete
    12. “The researchers were not vaccinated against the viruses under study.” Is the true?

      Delete
    13. “Were they were working in the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 laboratory.” Is this true?

      Delete
    14. Given there are numerous documented escapes at labs throughout modern history, an escape of a virus would not be at all surprising. Is this plausible? If not why not?

      Delete
  24. “In all of China, the pandemic broke out on the doorstep of the Wuhan institute.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
  25. “The virus was already well adapted to humans, as expected for a virus grown in humanized mice.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
  26. “It possessed an unusual enhancement, a furin cleavage site, which is not possessed by any other known SARS-related beta-coronavirus.” Is this true?

    Specifically, “SARS-related beta-coronavirus.” Is this true?

    My understanding is that there is only four SARS-related beta-coronavirus.

    ReplyDelete
  27. “This site included a double arginine codon also unknown among beta-coronaviruses.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
  28. “No one has found the bat population that was the source of SARS2.” Is this true.

    ReplyDelete
  29. “No intermediate host has presented itself, despite an intensive search by Chinese authorities that included the testing of 80,000 animals.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
  30. “There is no evidence of the virus making multiple independent jumps from its intermediate host to people, as both the SARS1 and MERS viruses did.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete

  31. “There is no evidence from hospital surveillance records of the epidemic gathering strength in the population as the virus evolved.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
  32. “There is no explanation of why a natural epidemic should break out in Wuhan and nowhere else.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
  33. “There is no good explanation of how the virus acquired its furin cleavage site, which no other SARS-related beta-coronavirus possesses, nor why the site is composed of human-preferred codons.” Is this true?

    ReplyDelete
  34. Is it true that if a virus has been manipulated, whether with a seamless method or by serial passage, there is no way of knowing that this is the case? If so, how could Andersen et al claim that their analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus?"

    ReplyDelete
  35. More rationale from Wade:
    1) The place of origin. Start with geography. The two closest known relatives of the SARS2 virus were collected from bats living in caves in Yunnan, a province of southern China. If the SARS2 virus had first infected people living around the Yunnan caves, that would strongly support the idea that the virus had spilled over to people naturally. But this isn’t what happened. The pandemic broke out 1,500 kilometers away, in Wuhan.

    Beta-coronaviruses, the family of bat viruses to which SARS2 belongs, infect the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus affinis, which ranges across southern China. The bats’ range is 50 kilometers, so it’s unlikely that any made it to Wuhan. In any case, the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic probably occurred in September, when temperatures in Hubei province are already cold enough to send bats into hibernation.

    What if the bat viruses infected some intermediate host first? You would need a longstanding population of bats in frequent proximity with an intermediate host, which in turn must often cross paths with people. All these exchanges of virus must take place somewhere outside Wuhan, a busy metropolis which so far as is known is not a natural habitat of Rhinolophus bat colonies. The infected person (or animal) carrying this highly transmissible virus must have traveled to Wuhan without infecting anyone else. No one in his or her family got sick. If the person jumped on a train to Wuhan, no fellow passengers fell ill.

    It’s a stretch, in other words, to get the pandemic to break out naturally outside Wuhan and then, without leaving any trace, to make its first appearance there.

    For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer. Wuhan is home to China’s leading center of coronavirus research where, as noted above, researchers were genetically engineering bat coronaviruses to attack human cells. They were doing so under the minimal safety conditions of a BSL2 lab. If a virus with the unexpected infectiousness of SARS2 had been generated there, its escape would be no surprise.

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  36. 2) Natural history and evolution. The initial location of the pandemic is a small part of a larger problem, that of its natural history. Viruses don’t just make one time jumps from one species to another. The coronavirus spike protein, adapted to attack bat cells, needs repeated jumps to another species, most of which fail, before it gains a lucky mutation. Mutation — a change in one of its RNA units — causes a different amino acid unit to be incorporated into its spike protein and makes the spike protein better able to attack the cells of some other species.

    Through several more such mutation-driven adjustments, the virus adapts to its new host, say some animal with which bats are in frequent contact. The whole process then resumes as the virus moves from this intermediate host to people.

    In the case of SARS1, researchers have documented the successive changes in its spike protein as the virus evolved step by step into a dangerous pathogen. After it had gotten from bats into civets, there were six further changes in its spike protein before it became a mild pathogen in people. After a further 14 changes, the virus was much better adapted to humans, and with a further four, the epidemic took off.

    But when you look for the fingerprints of a similar transition in SARS2, a strange surprise awaits. The virus has changed hardly at all, at least until recently. From its very first appearance, it was well adapted to human cells. Researchers led by Alina Chan of the Broad Institute compared SARS2 with late stage SARS1, which by then was well adapted to human cells, and found that the two viruses were similarly well adapted. “By the time SARS-CoV-2 was first detected in late 2019, it was already pre-adapted to human transmission to an extent similar to late epidemic SARS-CoV,” they wrote.

    Even those who think lab origin unlikely agree that SARS2 genomes are remarkably uniform. Baric writes that “early strains identified in Wuhan, China, showed limited genetic diversity, which suggests that the virus may have been introduced from a single source.”

    A single source would of course be compatible with lab escape, less so with the massive variation and selection which is evolution’s hallmark way of doing business.

    The uniform structure of SARS2 genomes gives no hint of any passage through an intermediate animal host, and no such host has been identified in nature.

    Proponents of natural emergence suggest that SARS2 incubated in a yet-to-be found human population before gaining its special properties. Or that it jumped to a host animal outside China.

    All these conjectures are possible, but strained. Proponents of a lab leak have a simpler explanation. SARS2 was adapted to human cells from the start because it was grown in humanized mice or in lab cultures of human cells, just as described in Daszak’s grant proposal. Its genome shows little diversity because the hallmark of lab cultures is uniformity.

    How about we start with the above.

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    1. Nobody questions the fact that COVID-19 began with a single source, called the index case. You can estimate the time of the index case by doing coalescent studies based on the sequences of the exiting viruses and the best estimate is early November, 2019; probably in Wuhan. It's not possible to estimate how long the progenitors to this index case might have been circulating before the pandemic was ignited because all those lines went extinct. Pekar et al. (2021) suggest from their modeling that more than two-thirds of naturally occurring infections would have been self-limiting.

      Those authors also modeled the scenario where the original infections were less fit variants and the index case is a mutated version that was more fit. According to their models, the results can be explained by a low level of circulation of less fit variants in October 2019 and the probability of igniting the pandemic ranges from a few percent to 30%. In other words, at least 70% fizzled out before igniting a pandemic.

      Pekar et al point out that this is what you expect. The start of a pandemic is an improbable event so, naturally, a retrospective analysis is going to look improbable. They suggest, based on some previous work, that in any given year there are a number of embers of potentially pandemic coronavirus infections at various spots around the world that fizzle out and become extinct before causing a pandemic.

      Pekar et al.(2021)
      Timing the SARS-CoV-2 index case in Hubei province.
      https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abf8003

      There's an important point here. If the origin of SARS-CoV-2 was a completely natural event then retrospectively it would look like an extremely improbable event because it was. Pandemics don't happen every day. You can't use the improbability, on its own, to accuse the WIV of creating the virus.

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    2. SARS-CoV-2 is the 7th coronavirus known to infect humans. The origin of the original SARS virus (SARS-CoV-1) was unknown for 11 years until related viruses capable of binding to human ACE2 were discovered in horseshoe bats in China (Ge et al., 2013). This work demonstrated that new coronaviruses capable of efficient binding to human can evolve naturally in bats.

      SARS-CoV-2 is most closely related to bat RmYN02 but their common ancestor dates back to 1976. The two viruses differ significantly in the spike protein gene and there's evidence of a recombination even that gave rise to this difference. Such recombinations have been widely documented in natural coronavirus evolution.

      The evidence suggests that the evolution of human ACE2 binding took place in bat populations prior to the emergence of the virus in the human population (MacLean et al., 2021). The authors of that study say,

      "That SARS-CoV-2 can readily transmit to other animals (pangolins, mink, cat, and others) is strongly indicative this generalist property evolved in the bat reservoir species and not as a consequence of adaptation to human-human transmission."

      This is an important point since most people think that SARS-CoV-2 is uniquely adapted to humans and that belief has led to widespread speculation that it was created/enhanced in the lab. The experts think that SARS-CoV-2 is a generalist virus that infects a number of species.

      MacLean et al. (2021) Natural selection in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in bats created a generalist virus and highly capable human pathogen.
      https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001115

      Zheng-Li Shi ("bat lady") and her coworkers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology went back and looked at the coronaviruses they isolated from a cave in Yunnan - the same cave where they found RaTG13 in 2013. They found a number of viruses that are more closely related to SARS-CoV-2 in the spike protein gene and their spike proteins bind bat ACE2, but not human ACE2. Thus, unlike SARS-CoV-1, none of the bat viruses in the SARS-CoV-2 lineage discovered so far can bind human ACE2 effectively.

      Gua et al. (20120) Identification of a novel lineage bat SARS-related coronaviruses that use bat ACE2 receptor.
      https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.05.21.445091

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  37. I am more than willing to hear where Wade's got it wrong. I've seen enough already to now that his argument isn't 100 percent. That said we're not going for 100 percent. Only which theory is more plausible.

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  38. Wade (circa 2014...)
    https://savageminds.org/2014/08/11/geneticists-think-nicholas-wades-a-troublesome-inheritance-is-wrong/
    "Over 130 geneticists have signed a letter to the New York Times saying that Nicholas Wade’s book A Troublesome Inheritance is inaccurate and misrepresents their work. This includes the authors of articles that are central to Wade’s argument. When the very scientists your book relies on announce that that book is wrong?"
    In the letter, the scientists say:"..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 I.Q. test results, political institutions and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not"
    Apparently for these 'views' held by him, the article states that "...Nicholas Wade is well-loved by Nazis and white supremacists,". Not necessarily making him a direct sympathizer

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  39. Also Circa 2014..:
    https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-troublesome-ignorance-of-nicholas-wade_b_5344248
    "Wade argues that it is genetic differences and separate evolutionary histories that help us understand why Chinese dynasties lasted so long, why it was so difficult for the U.S.A. to instill democratic social institutions in Iraq after the war and why so many Jews win Nobel prizes."
    This totally obliterates the man's credibility

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  40. The author above notes:
    "Wade makes two assertions that underlie all the rest of his arguments:

    1. Humans are divided into genetically identified “continental races” (three, five or seven, depending on where you are in the book).

    2. Significant differences in genetically based social behaviors are observable between these “races” as a result of the last 50,000 (or 15,000) years of human evolution.

    He’s wrong on both counts....." and goes on to destroy Wade's assertions

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  41. Have fun reading this one:
    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/06/the-lab-leak-theory-inside-the-fight-to-uncover-covid-19s-origins

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    1. I read the whole thing ... twice. It's an excellent summary of all the various conspiracy theories, misleading facts, and innuendo.

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    2. You know for a fact that Vanity Fair hasn't done its homework when you read this.

      "The ground began to shift on May 2, when Nicholas Wade, a former New York Times science writer known in part for writing a controversial book about how genes shape the social behavior of different races, published a lengthy essay on Medium. In it, he analyzed the scientific clues both for and against a lab leak, and excoriated the media for its failure to report on the dueling hypotheses. Wade devoted a full section to the “furin cleavage site,” a distinctive segment of SARS-CoV-2’s genetic code that makes the virus more infectious by allowing it to efficiently enter human cells.

      Within the scientific community, one thing leapt off the page. Wade quoted one of the world’s most famous microbiologists, Dr. David Baltimore, saying that he believed the furin cleavage site “was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus.” Baltimore, a Nobel Laureate and pioneer in molecular biology, was about as far from Steve Bannon and the conspiracy theorists as it was possible to get. His judgment, that the furin cleavage site raised the prospect of gene manipulation, had to be taken seriously."

      The natural origin of the furin cleavage site has been well-established. It's a relatively inefficient site resulting from an insertions that no scientist would ever create. Furthermore, lots of other viruses have furin cleavage sites and cleavage sites for other proteases so there's no reason at all to reject the idea that it arose naturally.

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