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Friday, June 14, 2024

Anti-science New York Times doubles down on the lab leak conspiracy theory

On June 3, 2024,the New York Times published an opinion piece by Alina Chan in which she promoted the lab leak conspiracy theory about the origin of COVID-19. Her views are not shared by the scientific community and the newspaper was criticized by many who pointed out the many flaws in Chan's arguments and her lack of objectivity.1

I suspect that some people at the NYT might have been somewhat embarrassed by the response to their reckless behavior so they prepared a response. It was written by David Leonhardt who identifies himself as "a senior writer at the New York Times who runs "The Morning", our flagship daily newsletter." He published his article on the website that he runs and the title sounds like it might be an objective appraisal of the evidence in favor of a natural origin of COVID-19 originating in the Wuhan market: Two Covid Theories.

Don't be fooled by the title. Leonhardt makes no attempt to summarize the massive amount of evidence in favor of a natural origin. Instead, he treats the scientific view and the lab leak conspiracy theory as equally probable.

Do you find both explanations plausible? I do.

As I’ve followed this debate over the past few years, I have gone back and forth about which is more likely. Today, I’m close to 50-50. I have heard similar sentiments from some experts.

“No one has proof,” Julian Barnes, who covers intelligence agencies for The Times, told me. “Everyone is using logic.” Julian’s advice to the rest of us: “Be wary, keep an open mind, rule nothing out.”

Let's be clear about what's necessary in order for the lab leak conspiracy theory to be probable.

  1. There has to be evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was present in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) before the pandemic started. There is none.
  2. The graduate students, post-docs, scientists, and research technicians at WIV all deny that they were working with SARS-CoV-2 or any closely-related virus before the pandemic started. In order for the lab leak conspiracy theory to be true they must be lying and engaging in a massive coverup. This is totally inconsistent with their behavior over the past two decades. (The woman in the photo is Shi Zhengli, an internationally renowned scientist who Alina Chan accuses of lying—a claim that David Leonhardt thinks is quite possible.)

The latest opinion piece looks to me like an attempt to defend the NYT against accusations that it is anti-science. You would think that in such a defense, the author would be able to present good scientific evidence for the lab leak conspiracy theory, right? Here's the three arguments advanced by David Leonhardt in support of this massive conspiracy.

  1. COVID-19 was first detected near the market in Wuhan and the Wuhan Virolgy Institute is in Wuhan.
  2. Leaks happen.
  3. China controls the evidence (i.e. conspiracy).

I think we are fully justified in claiming that the NYT is anti-science. I think the newspaper owes the scientific community an apology for ignoring the evidence of a natural origin and disparaging the reputations of reputable scientists who reject the lab leak conspiracy theory in favor of a natural origin.

1. [The New York Times promotes the lab leak conspiracy theory] [Real scientists destroy the Alina Chan lab leak conspiracy theory] [The New York Times goes all in on “lab leak”] [No, gain of function research did not cause COVID-19]


Anonymous said...

Scientific evidence and criteria is usually the weaker partner when confronted with the interests and ideological beliefs behind political will.
Another very recent example from a very long list:

Anonymous said...

This entire COVID affair has undeniably impacted the credibility of our regimes in the rest o the world.

A journalist making a definitive statement like "it's fifty-fifty" is a clear example of overstepping their role by assuming the mantle of experts, driven by presumptuousness or hidden agendas

Notwithstanding that China operates under an extremely opaque totalitarian regime with no independent civil society; unfounded criticism of this sort is just a poor veil for our own shortcomings, specifically the more than inadequate protection provided by our health systems.

Blaming others for our own limitations is like trying to blame the ocean for a leaky boat.

Huinca said...

I think you missed this bit of the story:

Larry Moran said...

@Huinca: What part of the story did I miss? I don't see anything in your link that addresses the key issues in the lab leak conspiracy theory or casts doubt on the scientific evidence of a natural origin.

Anonymous said...

Scientific Evidence of Natural Origin

1. Zootonic transfer of COVID has an historical basis – MERS – COVID (bat- camel), SCARS –COVID (bat –civet) .
2. The transition of COVID from SCARS – COVID to SCARS – COV -2 does not display any known lab techniques.

This is strong evidence that SCARS - COV – 2 has a natural origin.