Paul Offit: Covid came from the Wuhan wet market

March 29, 2023 • 12:00 pm

Paul Offit is a pediatrician and infectious-disease specialized whose take on the Covid pandemic always seemed quite sensible.  He works at the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and is also, according to Wikipedia, “a member of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee and was a member of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.” He’s done a lot of work on vaccines, has written several books about them, has gone hard after anti-vaxers, and is highly respected.  So when he weighs in on covid, we should listen.

The “conventional wisdom” now, promulgated by both the DEI and FBI, is that the virus came from an accidental release in a Chinese lab. But I’ve never been fully convinced by that—especially because they found the virus in the Wuhan wet market and the first cases occurred around that market.  But now Offit musters the evidence for the wet-market hypothesis, and it seems pretty convincing.

I’ve never understood why it’s become such a big deal about where the virus came from—unless for some reason you want to blame the Chinese government, but knowing the original source is helpful in giving early warnings of pandemics and working out how to stem them. A wet-market origin would lead to a very different strategy from a lab-leak origin.

At any rate, Offit just started a new Substack site called “Beyond the Noise“, and I read the first post, “Lab leak confusion,” out of curiosity. (It’s expensive at $80 per year, so I probably won’t subscribe, but the first read is for free.) I just wanted to summarize why he thinks the virus came from the wet market, and then you can argue it out among yourselves.

Click to read:

I’ll just give his list of arguments for the lab leak hypothesis (these aren’t “theories” in the real sense, they’re just best guesses):

He first describes the popularity of the lab leak claim, and then dismantles it thusly:

If you believe Carl Sagan’s statement that “extraordinary claims should be backed by extraordinary evidence,” this was an extraordinary claim backed by no direct evidence.

On the other hand, SARS-CoV-2’s spillover from animals to people in a wet market in Wuhan is supported by an abundance of evidence:

• Photographs taken of the western section of the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market showed raccoon dogs and a red fox, both of which are known to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. A customer at the market, knowing it was illegal to sell certain wild animals, took these photos on December 3, 2019, and posted them on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website. The photos were immediately deleted, but not before a CNN reporter was able to pass them on to scientists in the United States.

• In that same area of the market, SARS-CoV-2 virus was detected in carts, drains, a feather-and-hair remover, a metal cage, and machines that process animals after they’ve been slaughtered.

• The first known human case of COVID occurred on December 10, 2019, in a female vendor at the Huanan Market; two of the first three cases had direct contact with the western section of the market. Indeed, more than half of the early cases had direct or indirect exposure to the Huanan market. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people. There are probably 10,000 places where a new virus could have arisen. Nonetheless, the first cluster of cases were restricted to the western section of a market that was selling live animals susceptible to the virus, exactly where you would have expected a spillover event to occur. The estimated chance that this pattern had occurred randomly, and not as a direct result of animals infecting people, is about 1 in 10 million.

• The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market is located north of the Yangtze River, about 9 miles from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is south of the river. If the pandemic virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute, it would have had to have leapt across the river without infecting anyone in between.

• The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 virus bears a striking resemblance to SARS-1 spillover events from animals to humans that occurred in Foshan Guangdong province in China in 2002 and again in Guangzhou, Guangdong in 2003.

And then the new evidence, which is quite telling:

• Finally, on March 17, 2023, a discovery by three prominent researchers, Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, Kristian Anderson, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in California, and Eddie Holmes, a biologist at the University of Sydney, should have ended the controversy. Examining samples from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market first taken in January 2020, the international research team found genetic evidence for SARS-CoV-2 virus in raccoon dogs that had been sold illegally, further proving the origin of the virus.

If you’re into medicine, vaccines, or the debunking of quackery, you might want to subscribe.

h/t: Bat

The crazy covid/geomagneticism/serpentinization paper is finally retracted

November 10, 2020 • 1:45 pm

Remember that crazy paper by Bility et al. that I highlighted on October 30? He and his coauthors proposed that the symptoms of COVID weren’t really caused by the virus, but by some kind of interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and iron oxides in the body? Their “evidence” was simply that a colony of rats that got sick in their lab showed some changes in their lungs that looked like “silicate/glasslike structures in the lungs and kidneys”. (The connection of the virus itself to these anomalies is unclear.)

The last straw, besides the lack of any experimental evidence beyond observation of changes in sick rats that were, to the authors, suggestive, was the proposal that further study might involve putting jade amulets on rats and seeing if they had preventive effects.

The scientific community reacted with predictable skepticism, and, indeed, outrage. Not all hypotheses are worthy of being entertained, and this was one of them. Elsevier, the publisher of the journal, at first dug in its heels, refusing to retract the paper from Science of the Total Environment. But now, according to New Scientist, the pushback has gotten so strong, and the scientific objections so numerous, that they’ve finally retracted the paper. Click on the first screenshot below, which also has a link to the second one, where the paper has disappeared to be replaced by a retraction notice:

Here are a few of the scientific objections:

“A paper like this gets out there, it’s published in some supposedly peer-reviewed journal—it makes the rest of the field look stupid,” says Joe Kirschvink, a Caltech geobiologist whose research areas include sensing of magnetic fields by humans and other animals. “And that’s a harmful thing.”

Kirschvink says the paper contains multiple basic errors. For example, while very strong magnetic fields can indeed influence chemical reactions, the long-wavelength anomalies that are central to the study’s thesis are “three or four orders of magnitude off” from what would be required for such effects, he says. “This results section is a salad of different ideas taken out of context.”

The study also suggests, without experimental evidence, that jade amulets might protect wearers by countering the effects of the long-wavelength anomalies, an idea Bility says he based on records of practices by ancient people in China and elsewhere during a period when geomagnetic conditions were similar to what they are now. Kirschvink says the study’s description of jade’s magnetic properties is incorrect, and that in jade, “the paramagnetic minerals are so weakly magnetized, they’re not going to do anything in these fields.”

Kirschvink says he’s heard from fellow geomagnetics researchers who “are upset that their data is being used in a nonsensical way” in the paper.

The study has also attracted derision on Twitter and PubPeer. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine extracellular vesicle researcher Kenneth Witwer was among those who criticized the paper on PubPeer, writing in part, “Almost all symptoms were restricted to Room Number 1 of two adjacent rooms in Pittsburgh, suggesting that some agent such as an undetected pathogen was responsible for symptoms. Effects of the earth’s magnetic field would presumably be similar in side-by-side rooms at the same facility.”

The retraction notice:


But this isn’t over yet. Bility, who can’t seem to let go of this hypothesis, plans to resubmit a revised paper:

Bility says that in light of the blowback his work has received, he regrets including his coauthors on the paper, and he takes full responsibility for its ideas. His intention, he says, was not to undermine public health officials, but to propose a hypothesis for further discussion and investigation, and he plans to resubmit the paper as a sole author and without mentions of jade amulets or traditional Chinese medicine.

Both Witwer and Kirschvink say the paper’s publication represents a failure of peer review. According to Damià Barceló, the editor at Science of the Total Environment who handled the submission, it had two reviewers, a hydrogeologist and an epidemiologist-toxicologist. In an email to The Scientist yesterday, he wrote that he expects the retraction will take hours or days to appear in Elsevier’s system, and that the resubmitted paper will need to be sent for peer review again before a final decision is made about its acceptance.

Anybody betting that a. there will be a revised paper? Or b. that if there is one, it’ll be accepted? My bet is that Bility will never live this down: he’ll always be the “jade amulets on rats” guy, and shame on the reviewers and editor for publishing this travesty in the first place. It had absolutely no earmarks of serious science.

Finally, although initially people said this paper was just a quirk in the career of a serious scientist, a glance at Bility’s list of publications and manuscripts shows some other dubious work, including this one:

There are also some physics-like papers, including one proposing a “theory of everything.”

h/t: Ginger K

More deaths caused by religion: 12 states exempt religious services from “stay at home” strictures

April 5, 2020 • 11:15 am

The Ohio woman interviewed in the tweet below is insane: she think sthat being “covered in Jesus’s blood” protects her from infection by coronavirus. And she’s not alone: as the CNN report says, 14 (now 12) states are exempting religious gatherings from “stay in place” orders. Then she brags about going to the grocery store, WalMart, and the Home Depot. That means she could easily infect people who aren’t religious, or aren’t of her faith. That’s irresponsible if not immoral. And it should be illegal.

Here’s the CNN article about which states are being idiotic about this, giving religion a pass and putting unevidenced faith above public health. The article, though, names 12 rather than 14 states. (Click on screenshot.)

The list of the Stupid States who do this (the article gives details):

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Now some of these are worse than others: Wisconsin, for instance, allows no more than ten people in the worship space, and they have to adhere to social-distancing requirements. However, most of the rest of the states consider religious services to be “essential activities” and exempt them from any strictures, even saying that they’re protected by the First Amendment.

But they aren’t—not in my view. For these people aren’t just risking their own health and lives by going to services—they’re endangering the entire community, religious or not. These people, after they leave church, will go to grocery stores, pharmacies, and, like the woman above, WaMart and Home Depot. I can’t see any sensible view, or interpretation of the First Amendment, that allows religious services that pose a serious risk to the health of the nation, and, indeed, could lead to the death of those who don’t go to those services.

These crazy exemptions resemble those of the many states (discussed in Faith Versus Fact) that allow exemptions from vaccines if you have religious objections, or those states who go easy on parents who kill their children by using faith healing rather than scientific medicine. In fact, all but five of the 50 U.S. states allow parents to get religious exemptions from vaccinating their children (the enlightened states are Mississippi, California, West Virginia, Maine, and New York).

We know that religious congregating is dangerous; there are plenty of reports of illnesses and deaths of those who congregate to worship their benevolent and powerful god. They could, for the time being, worship remotely. Wouldn’t a benevolent God want them to do that? Nope, he seemingly wants his sheep to go out into the pastures and kill other sheep.

At any rate, if Hitchens were alive he’d have something to say about this. Without his eloquence, I can merely point this out and ask you to pass it on. Or, if you live in one of these states, complain to your representatives.

1961: Russian doctor in Antarctica removes his own appendix

October 1, 2014 • 12:52 pm

This short piece from the Atlantic was first published in 2011, but it’s been going the rounds, and I found it so amazing that I had to post it.

The story: in 1961, Soviet doctor Leonid Rogozov was spending the winter at a Russian base in Antarctica when he fell ill, diagnosing himself with appendicitis.  He was the only doctor on the base, and evacuation was impossible as it was winter, too dark and cold for planes to land.

There were only two alternatives: operate on himself, or die. He chose the former. The Atlantic has some excerpts from his journal, both before (first paragraph) and after (last two paragraphs) the surgery:

I did not sleep at all last night. It hurts like the devil! A snowstorm whipping through my soul, wailing like a hundred jackals. Still no obvious symptoms that perforation is imminent, but an oppressive feeling of foreboding hangs over me … This is it … I have to think through the only possible way out: to operate on myself … It’s almost impossible … but I can’t just fold my arms and give up.

. . . I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders — after all, it’s showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time — I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind: there are more injuries here and I didn’t notice them … I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst and …

At the worst moment of removing the appendix I flagged: my heart seized up and noticeably slowed; my hands felt like rubber. Well, I thought, it’s going to end badly. And all that was left was removing the appendix … And then I realised that, basically, I was already saved.

Here’s a photo:

Russian surgeon-thumb-600x384-44559

The Atlantic reports that Rogozov survived, and died in St. Petersburg in 2000 at age 66.

I asked a friend who is a doctor if Rogozov could have used any kind of anesthetic (even if they had one), and he replied:

No. He would have had to do that without anesthesia. I wouldn’t have thought it possible. The psychological and physical impact of cutting oneself would be hard enough to manage, but to perform an operation in the right order, while losing blood! I can’t imagine it. Goes to show you what you can do when you feel you have to.

I then asked for clarification because my question was ambiguous: could he have used a local anesthetic? The reply:

Local anesthesia, like lidocaine, could have been used, but I don’t know if it had been introduced by 1961. But even if he did have a local anesthetic like lidocaine available, he would have only been able to use it on the skin and superficial subcutaneous tissues. Once the scalpel went deeper, he would have really felt it.

This reminds me a bit of Jerri Nielson, the American doctor who, in late May of 1999, found a lump in her breast while spending the winter at a base in Antarctica. She performed a biopsy on herself (results inconclusive), but then medical equipment was parachuted in since winter evacuation was impossible.  A better biopsy was done and the scans sent to the U.S., where breast cancer was confirmed. After giving herself hormone treatment and chemotherapy (materials also airdropped in), she was finally evacuated to the States in October. I didn’t know the outcome, but was sad to learn, when looking this up, that the cancer eventually returned, killing her in 2009 at age 57.


Uh oh. . .

September 30, 2014 • 2:16 pm

From my CNN News bulletin:

A patient at a Dallas, Texas, hospital is the first case of Ebola virus diagnosed in the United States, according to the CDC.

Other Americans were diagnosed in West Africa and then brought to the United States for treatment.