Turns out, the possibility of COVID originating from a lab leak was never a conspiracy theory after all.
"Experts" did many inexcusable things during the pandemic. But one of the most infuriating was their almost immediate attempt to shut down debate over the lab leak hypothesis.
This likely emanated from the wrong people noticing the bizarre coincidence that the virus seemingly started spreading in Wuhan. Just a few miles away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research lab dedicated to studying viruses.
Tom Cotton, a Republican senator, was one of the first prominent individuals to suggest the lab could have been partially responsible.
That meant that left-wing "experts" and media outlets like the Washington Post immediately rushed to label it a debunked conspiracy theory.
Except The Intercept recently published newly unredacted emails showing that those same "experts" seriously believed COVID could have come out of the lab.
Scientists like Dr. Fauci and other subject matter experts repeatedly sent messages to each other during the early days of the pandemic. Those messages showed that many of them harbored doubts about the possibilities of a natural origin.
But of course, it seems that as soon as they realized the implications, they switched positions dramatically.
Lab Leak Was Initially Deemed Possible
Fauci was so concerned about the possible implications of a lab leak that if their concerns of the virus being "engineered" were confirmed, it should be reported immediately.
"He should do this very quickly and if everyone agrees with this concern, they should report it to the appropriate authorities. I would imagine that in the USA this would be the FBI and in the UK it would be MI5," he wrote.
International experts quickly organized a conference call to discuss, and Fauci famously emailed one of his top employees that he would need to speak with him.
“It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on. … You will have tasks today that must be done.”
Fauci gave an unsatisfactory explanation for his motivations in this email during a recent deposition, saying that he "wanted to be briefed on the scope of what our collaborations were and the kind of work that we were funding in China. I wanted to know what the nature of that work was."
Except, of course, that doesn't explain what "tasks" said employee would be required to do. But Fauci is no stranger to deflection when it comes to full and complete explanations for his behavior or statements.
Multiple "experts" on that conference call repeated, in writing, that they believed the lab leak required strong consideration.
One was described as being “70:30” or “60:40” in favor of an “accidental-release." Another said he essentially couldn't imagine the virus occurring naturally.
“I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature. … it’s stunning."
Of course, they then wrote in a journal article just over a month later that they didn't believe "any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible."
That article came about quickly, despite the concerns, thanks in large part to Fauci.
“I agree that we really cannot take Ron’s suggestion about waiting,” Fauci emailed. “Like all of us, I do not know how this evolved, but given the concerns of so many people and the threat of further distortions on social media, it is essential that we move quickly.”
Jeremy Farrar, another expert, concurred.
“Critical that responsible, respected scientists and agencies get ahead of the science and the narrative of this and are not reacting to reports which could be very damaging,” he wrote.
Politics Took Over for Science
Farrar's last line, implying that it could be "very damaging" if the lab leak hypothesis was deemed credible, likely explains their change of heart.
They didn't want the wrong people starting to wonder if the lab could have been responsible.
Another email from Dutch scientist Ron Fouchier was even more obvious.
Lab leak discussion “would unnecessarily distract top researchers from their active duties and do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular," Fouchier said.
Instead of telling the truth, which is that they legitimately didn't know what the origins were, they moved to quickly shut down debate. Acknowledging the possibility of the lab leak could have meant additional oversight and maybe even the loss of funding.
That was an untenable outcome. So without any further justification, they dismissed it as a "conspiracy theory" in order to ensure that the proper channels closed ranks around their perspective.
And they were right. Media outlets and "fact checkers" rushed to label anyone who discussed the lab leak hypothesis. They defended Fauci and helped dismiss concerns.
All to protect themselves and their field.
The Intercept quoted Sergei Pond, a virologist from Temple University, on the unredacted emails. He pointed out that they show how poorly conducted their process was, once they determined the wrong people could believe in the lab leak.
“It started out being a fairly careful discussion, with anomalies being aired out and people saying multiple times that there is simply not enough data to resolve this,” he said. “But at some point, I think there was such strong pressure that they went from ‘Let’s just wait to get more data’ to ‘Let’s publish something that has a very strong opinion favoring one explanation over another without acquiring any new data.’”
David Relman, another expert professor of microbiology, immunology, and medicine at Stanford University, agreed.
“When I first saw it in March 2020, the paper read to me as a conclusion in search of an argument,” he said. “Among its many problems, it failed to consider in a serious fashion the possibility of an unwitting and unrecognized accidental leak during aggressive efforts to grow coronaviruses from bat and other field samples. It also assumed that researchers in Wuhan have told the world about every virus and every sequence that was in their laboratories in 2019. But these actually provide evidence that the authors considered a few additional lab-associated scenarios, early in their discussions. But then they rushed to judgment, and the lab scenarios fell out of favor.”
Par for the course
Even as government agencies have suggested that COVID was "most likely" due to a lab leak, many of those involved have refused to take responsibility.
Their dismissals shaped the national and international conversation for months, if not years. Incorrectly, as is now almost universally acknowledged.
Intellectually honest people would have apologized for their role, and admitted their motivations.
But as has been proven over the past few years, there aren't many intellectually honest people in the fields of epidemiology or virology.
The unredacted emails reveal what should have been obvious from the beginning. The lab leak was the possible, if not likely explanation for the start of the pandemic.
Yet politics and self-protection took over, and open debate was crushed by the expert-media industrial complex.
Like so many other aspects of COVID debates, Fauci did his best to ensure that he, his methods and his allies were never questioned.