It Was Politics, All the Way Down

That is the conclusion of the House’s Select Committee on the Coronavirus Pandemic in a report issued today on early efforts to squelch speculation that the coronavirus may have escaped from the Wuhan lab. The report focuses on the famous conference call of February 1, 2020, among an international group of virus experts, and the production, rapidly thereafter, of a report titled “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2” which became one of the most cited and most influential scientific papers ever written.

The flurry of activity that gave rise to Proximal Origin was occasioned by the idea, then gaining currency, that the covid virus may have been the result of experimentation conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The purpose of the scientists’ effort, culminating in Proximal Origin, was to squelch investigation of the lab leak theory.

The House report is persuasive on several levels. It shows that U.S. officials with little expertise in the relevant field, Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci, were a driving force–perhaps the driving force–behind the effort. Fauci had a dog in the fight, as he was the key advocate, within the U.S. government, for conducting gain of function research.

The House report, based on documents produced by the authors of Proximal Origin and 25 hours of recorded interviews, demonstrates that politics played a major role in the scientists’ thinking. Thus:

[O]n February 8, 2020, Dr. [Kristian] Andersen wrote, “Our main work over the past couple of weeks has been focused on trying to disprove any type of lab theory, but we are a crossroad where the scientific evidence isn’t conclusive enough to say that we have high confidence in any of the three main theories considered.”

[O]n February 20, 2020, Dr. Andersen—in trying to defend the viability of Proximal Origin—wrote, “Unfortunately none of this helps refute a lab origin and the possibility must be considered as a serious scientific theory (which is what we do) and not dismissed out of hand as another ‘conspiracy’ theory. We all really, really wish that we could do that (that’s how this got started), but unfortunately its just not possible given the data.”

The scientists ventured into foreign policy:

According to Dr. [Jeremy] Farrar he became aware of “chatter” suggesting the virus looked almost engineered to infect human cells in the last week of January. In Dr. Farrar’s own words, “That got my mind racing. This was a brand-new virus that seemingly sprang from nowhere. Except that this pathogen had surfaced in Wuhan, a city with a BSL-4 virology lab which is home to an almost unrivalled collection of bat viruses.” Dr. Farrar’s first concern was not the well-being of the planet, but instead, “[c]ould the novel-coronavirus be anything to do with ‘gain-of-function’ (GOF) studies?” This is a type of research that Dr. Farrar, much like Dr. Fauci, believes to be “ultimately useful.”

In addition to concerns that the pandemic resulted from GOF research, Dr. Farrar was also concerned about US-Sino relations—an interesting position for a British scientist to take. Dr. Farrar said:

US-China politics were in a bad place in January 2020…It was obvious that people would soon begin hunting for a scapegoat for what was rapidly turning into a global health disaster. Trump was seeking to blame the virus on China and was calling it the ‘China virus’ and ‘kung flu.’ The security services in the US were on high alert for any hint that would prop up the accusations.

You knew there had to be a reference to Trump. More:

Fear of a political “shit show” is not science.

Dr. Andersen also found a paper written by Dr. Ralph Baric and Dr. Zhengli Shi (Baric/Shi Paper) that purported to have inserted furin cleavage sites into SARS. As recounted by Dr. Farrar, this paper was a “how-to-manual for building the Wuhan coronavirus in a laboratory.” Dr. Holmes responded, “fuck, this is bad” and “oh my god what worse words than that.”


Around this same time, Dr. Andersen shared his concerns regarding the possibility the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of a lab leak and that it had properties that may have been genetically modified or engineered—specifically the furin cleavage site—with Dr. Holmes. According to Dr. Holmes, Dr. Andersen texted, “Eddie, can we talk? I need to be pulled off a ledge here.”

This is from Francis Collins, then the director of the National Institutes of Health, the day after the conference call:

Two of the report’s authors say they are eager to make it public because of “rumors of bioweaponeering”:

And finally, we have no choice but to inject politics into science:

So obviously, that is what happened.

The House report shows that Proximal Origin was first submitted to Nature magazine for publication, but Nature declined because it didn’t repudiate the laboratory origin theory strongly enough. So the authors re-wrote their paper to crank up their anti-lab leak conclusion, and got it published in Nature Medicine.

There is much more in the report. It includes quite a bit of technical information about genetic engineering of viruses which I am not competent to evaluate. I have always thought that the simplest and most compelling argument for human engineering in the Wuhan lab is the fact that after three years of frantic searching, no one has ever found a bat in the wild that carries SARS-CoV-2. QED.

Be that as it may, the politicization of science that the House report documents is one of the troubling phenomena of our time.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.