We are constantly told to “listen to the science”. The problem is science can’t talk to us directly, we are told the science by scientists who are human, just like you and me.
Last year, scientists told us that any suggestions that the coronavirus came from a lab in Wuhan was a “conspiracy theory”. In a joint letter in the Lancet journal, 27 virologists wrote that: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin” and that scientists “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife”.
It turns out that this joint letter had been organised and drafted by Peter Daszak, the CEO of a company called EcoHealth Alliance. EcoHealth had funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Dr Daszak had a clear interest in downplaying any suggestion that the coronavirus had come from a lab that he was funding. Despite this the letter stated, and still does state online, that “we declare no competing interests”.
How can anyone trust scientists that act with such dishonesty?
Dr Daszak’s conflicts were clear. He, along with others, had been for years involved with ‘gain of function’ research, which attempts to artificially increase the potency of a virus. The aim is to try to predict the future evolution of viruses so that vaccines and other treatments can be prepared before a pandemic. The risk is that these supercharged viruses could escape from the lab.
The lab leak theory is no longer a “conspiracy theory”, and it is becoming clear that the scientists who labelled it as such, just one month after coronavirus became apparent, were wrong at best and dishonest at worst.
Now, on the balance of evidence, the most likely conclusion is that coronavirus leaked from a lab in Wuhan. The common wisdom has shifted after ground breaking articles by Nicholas Wade, a former science reporter for the New York Times and a lengthy, well-researched article in Vanity Fair by Katherine Eban.
Both of these follow on the ground-breaking work of an Australian journalist, Sharri Markson, who was derided by the ABC last year for floating the lab leak theory. At the height of the ‘book burning’, Facebook censored anyone who suggested that the coronavirus came from a lab. The ABC and others owe Sharri an apology.
The theory that it came naturally from bats is a hard sell. The bats in question live 1500 kilometres from Wuhan and have a range of just 50 kilometres. But the lab did do research on the viruses from bats and it is in Wuhan.
Covid-19 is also unusually adapted to infect humans. Normally the early manifestations of a natural virus will evolve quickly as the virus tries to adapt to a human host. That is what happened with the SARS and MERS viruses but there has been no sign of such genetic development from Covid-19.
Covid-19 also has a ‘spike protein’, and a unique string of amino acids, not seen in other coronaviruses, that make it adaptable to human infection. When David Baltimore, an eminent virologist, first saw these genetic features he told his wife that it was a “smoking gun” for the origins of the coronavirus.
How did so many scientists ignore this evidence when they called the lab leak a conspiracy theory? The answer is simple. They are human beings, and as human beings they became wedded to the importance of their own research. They therefore, perhaps unwittingly, distorted the evidence to protect their life’s work.
There are many scientists today that have devoted their life’s research to climate change. They often denigrate those who disagree with them as “conspiracy theorists” or “deniers”, just like the virologists did. What are they hiding from us?