Sunday, May 30, 2021

For the Record: The Lab Leak Theory


Wait, Andromeda strain was a coronavirus? Why weren't we informed?!

That's really about the size of it:

Yes, if we never figure out the truth of Covid’s origins, the dangers of media groupthink will be the only lesson we can draw for absolutely certain. But if we could find out the truth, and it turned out that the Wuhan Institute of Virology really was the epicenter of a once-in-a-century pandemic, the revelation would itself be a major political and scientific event.

It would be such a great anti-China propaganda coup! And not just that, it could have some scientific value, like it could encourage US scientists to work more to integrate Chinese scientists into international research as that wimpy David Frum suggests hahahahaha or maybe we could ban them from everyplace and cut off their access to civilized people. Whereas if we never find out we won't know which way to go on this. Even more important, it would own all those leftists who claim you should never take Tom Cotton seriously:

because the lab leak theory was associated early on with Republican China hawks like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, given prominence by conservative publications (Jim Geraghty of National Review has been an essential and evenhanded voice on the subject) and eventually picked up by the Trump administration, there was self-reinforcing pressure — among journalists who covered the story and Twitter experts who opined on it — to put the possibility in the QAnon box and leave it there.

Right, Geraghty is so evenhanded, as the piece Douthat links ("The Circumstantial Evidence at Wuhan Lab Keeps Growing") shows:

Remember, dear readers, you and I are lab-leak-theory hipsters. We were into it before it was cool.... It’s increasingly clear that for 30 years, America’s leaders bet wrong on China — and they’ve been in denial of how wrong they were for ten to 15 years. And if Beijing was experimenting with dangerous viruses and accidentally set off a worldwide pandemic that, as of this morning, has 167 million cases and 3.4 million deaths worldwide, it means that the Chinese regime is far too reckless and irresponsible to be trusted with any kind of power

I'm really more and more irritated by the terms of this debate, being set by "contrarian liberals like Matthew Yglesias and Jonathan Chait", accusing those of us who originally dismissed the lab leak story of "media groupthink" when we dismissed the Cotton theory that the lab was practicing "functional gain" research to cultivate SARS-CoV-2 as a "bioweapon" when it escaped the lab or was perhaps deliberately introduced into central Wuhan and thence to northern Italy and the Pacific Northwest, in the "QAnon box". It wasn't just "media groupthink" that influenced me, but more a sense of how things work in the real world:

That list of diseases comes from a report in the 16 August 2017 issue of the refereed journal Vaccine speculating on the near-term inevitability of a worse animal-transmitted pandemic and the importance of continuing research:

Novel technologies and innovative approaches have multiplied to address and improve response preparedness towards the increasing yet unpredictable threat posed by emerging pathogens.

Which was certainly correct, in hindsight.

The report didn't offer any warnings about the possibility of pathogens emerging from laboratories because that's not something that generally happens, whereas pathogens emerging from human-animal interactions happens a lot.

The investigation absolutely should go on, because if there really is a defective lab protocol being used in the Wuhan or other labs, or if Dr. Evil really is there in Wuhan running his schemes to take over the world, we ought to know. But I wasn't wrong to think it was unlikely, because it was, And still is. And Douthat's alt-right paranoids are indeed always wrong.

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