You surely remember last year when the “conspiracy theory” was broached that the coronavirus, which was thought by nearly all the media to have come from a Wuhan wet market, might have actually come from a virology lab in Wuhan, with some even suggesting that it might have been released on purpose.
Well the “deliberate release” scenario is dumb, since how could one contain an easily-spread virus targeted at an enemy? But the “accidental release” theory is gaining more and more credibility, with the Biden administration deciding to launch its own investigation. The story below, from Newsweek (yes, a conservative site), recounts how a group of amateur Internet sleuths pieced together from publicly available data what is the most likely story: an accidental release of a virus stored in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). That virus seems to have come from a Chinese cave in which 3 men shoveling bat guano died in 2012, and died from a virus that was remarkably similar to the coronavirus responsible for the pandemic.
It’s thus likely that the Chinese repeatedly lied about the origins of the virus and the U.S. government, suckered in, didn’t do due diligence in following up. After all, if a bunch of amateurs can piece together this tale (and I emphasize that we don’t know if it’s true for sure), why couldn’t the government?
Click screenshot to read the story:
It was a group of amateurs, following the lead of an young Indian called “The Seeker,” who determined that the sequence of the pandemic virus was almost identical to that of the virus stored in the WIV (they managed to get the latter sequence), and that that virus was likely the one who killed the three men nine years ago. They also found out, through diligent labor, that the WIV was actually studying the virus despite their denial, and had made seven trips to the guano mine to collect samples. The amateurs found grant proposals from the WIV, which was apparently testing the infectivity of the collected viruses, possibly with the hope of producing a vaccine against them.
As Newsweek notes, “The ongoing effort to cover this up implies that something may have gone wrong.” What went wrong, if the story is indeed true, might never be known, as the Chinese either might not know themselves and at any rate haven’t been exactly forthcoming about what they do know. Now professional journalists and epidemiologists are on the case, so we should get some answers—at least about whether the virus came from the WIV.
The episode of course makes China look bad (the article is replete with the WIV’s and Chinese government’s lies), but it also makes the U.S. look bad. It makes the press look bad: newspapers and websites had to go back and change months-old headlines that the lab-escape theory had been debunked. And it makes science look bad. To dismiss a theory without having investigated it first, and dismiss it so, well, dismissively, is only going to make people trust scientists less. It’s even worse when you realize that had the Chinese been open about what they were doing, and were studying the sequences of viruses related to the pandemic organism, a vaccination might have been developed—or at least been in the works years before the outbreak.
Again, this is just a theory, but it’s a theory that’s become so plausible that nobody dismisses it as lunacy any more, and our own government is taking it seriously. If it turns out to be true, what will be the upshot? We’ll know to trust Chinese assurances even less (apparently the U.S. government was too credulous), and perhaps this can ensure more cooperation with the Chinese in future cases. But I wouldn’t count on it. At least we know that science works best when it’s at its most open.
At any rate, you owe it to yourself to read this fascinating amateur detective story.