by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 12
January 2022
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11:20

Bill Gates offers a non-answer to lab-leak question

The billionaire gave a weirdly content-free statement to Devi Sridhar
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Very few private individuals have had a bigger impact on the global fight against the Covid pandemic than Bill Gates. Through the work of his foundation, the tech billionaire is a major player. What he has to say on the issue is worth our attention.

However, his Twitter “conservation” this week with Devi Sridhar is more interesting for what he doesn’t say. You can read the whole thing here, but the key bit comes when Sridhar asks Gates a “tough question”: “where do you think SARS-CoV-2 came from? What data do you want to see? And is this information important to preventing future spillovers & pandemics?”

That’s three questions, but look how Gates answers them:

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes Covid. In asking Gates where it came from, I’m assuming that Sridhar was alluding to the serious scientific debate over a possible lab-leak origin for the pandemic.

Gates replies with a weirdly content-free statement: “the data is pretty strong that it came from another species which is true for most pandemics.” Well, yes — but no one is seriously disputing that. The issue is whether the virus spilled-over directly from wild animals to humans via a wet market or similar point of contact; or whether a virus was taken from the wild, experimented upon (or even genetically altered) in a laboratory from which it subsequently escaped. 

It is absolutely vital that we have an answer to this question — and not solely because a death toll of millions demands the truth. If the lab-leak hypothesis is correct and similar experiments are still being conducted then preventing future outbreaks doesn’t just depend on “being ready”, it requires an unrestricted international investigation into what really happened in China.

This is the information that influential figures like Gates should be demanding at every opportunity. Anodyne remarks like “we should make sure labs are careful” will not do.

Earlier in the interview he complains about conspiracy theories. One can understand why he’d be infuriated by nonsense claims that he wants to inject us all with microchips. However, he should understand why so many people have so little trust in the authorities. 

Those in charge of our lives show far too little interest in the origins of this calamity — and until they do they’re unlikely to get our complete confidence.

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Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
8 months ago

Why would you ask Bill Gates about health issues? If he has ANY sense at all about health and disease (just a tiny little bit), he would massively invest in schooling and infrastructure instead of running vaccinating campaigns…. The majority cause of illness is living conditions and education https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/health-inequities-and-their-causes
… same for covid of course: It sounds almost like: ”stop children going to school so we can sell them vaccines…”

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
8 months ago

Gates is a Lizard who wanted/wants to inject us all with microchips. He cannot be believed, even if you ask him what time it is.

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
8 months ago

Gates has a peculiar view of what “health” is about, not like you and me. More of a Mengelian viewpoint really.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
8 months ago

The most plausible source from all that I have read is an accidental release from poor procedures by researchers working on gain of function to help fight other viruses. Plausible not because there is proof but because it leaves the fewest loose ends in the evidence.
What is needed is an analysis of the entire virus to see what bits are there and how plausible it is that they came together in the wild as opposed to in a lab – this can be done without cooperation in China. If it is far more likely to be in a lab then the scientific community needs to impress on China the need to open up – accepting and investigating the possibility it was a lab will do them more good than harm. The politicians should keep out of it.

C Spencer
C Spencer
8 months ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

But what do you do when the scientists are political, as is the case with Jeremy Farrar, Fauci et al?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
8 months ago
Reply to  C Spencer

Exactly. This idea that scientists are impartial arbiters of the factual has manifestly not been true since climate bedwetting was invented. It certainly isn’t true now.

Last edited 8 months ago by Jon Redman
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
8 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

No. You are arguing as though there are absolute positives and negatives everywhere. Science was definitely held in higher esteem before Covid.

Today, only the figureheads represent the scientists, whereas the real scientists are just doing an 8-hour job behind them.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I think you will find that for many (if not most) people Science is still held in high regard – remember commenters on this site do not represent the whole population.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
8 months ago

I am a scientist. My colleagues are scientists. I hold science in very high regard. But I don’t think that is the case with the public.
For example, someone publishes a paper saying that alcohol is good for you in certain ways. The newspapers pick bits of this and have a headline, ‘Now alcohol is good for you’. The following week another paper is published and the same newspaper picks bits of it with the headline, ‘Now, alcohol is bad for you.’

For the public, which only reads the headlines, ‘You can’t believe anything these scientists are saying.’

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I too am, or rather was, a scientist and I also hold science in very high regard, but my experience is that people are not as sceptcal as you say about science. However, I do agree that the lack of nuance in reporting doesn’t help the public understanding or appreciation of what is involved in the scientific enterprise. It’s not just the headlines at fault, either; I often read reports which have me tearing my hair out. But what can you expect when a “science correspondent” might well have been a “religious correspondent” last week, and next week could well be a “foreign correspondent”.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
8 months ago

IMO, the real problem with science is not really science. Suddenly, we are surrounded by ‘Social Scientists’ who are not scientists at all. They could be history students who learn a little about statistics. Then they research a small area of history (say, the British in India), find some figures, apply statistics and then they morph into scientists. I actually live close to people like this; they read something, apply stats and sell their summary.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Another problem to my mind is the lack of really good science communicators – good enough to grab a headline about the importance of uncertainty and the idea that all science is provisional or that statistics can actually be sexy.
I am sitting here desperately trying to think of scientist / communicators who have grabbed my attention in the past / currently and who I actually enjoyed listening to – Carl Sagan ? Patrick Moore ? Richard Feynman ? Marcus de Sautoy ? Brian Cox ???

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
8 months ago

Brian Cox has been placed on the “Dodgy List” by, amongst others, one of the more prominent scientists on your list.. Something about, sleight-of-hand with graphs on Australian TV.

Last edited 8 months ago by Doug Pingel
Charlie Walker
Charlie Walker
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Well put!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Bedwetters. What a good name for climate activists.

Will R
Will R
8 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Oh god, here he goes ‘bedwetting’ again. Whats wrong with you for heaven’s sake?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
8 months ago
Reply to  C Spencer

Exactly, the word science is now a dirty word. Modern identity politics can’t handle respected science because it can destroy lucrative theories. So discredit science. Nobody would believe the results today.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
8 months ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

That analysis was done already, including by the US scientists who later claimed coming from a lab was a “conspiracy theory”. They said explicitly it seemed fantastically unlikely to have evolved in nature. Read the new emails released by the Republicans today.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
8 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Could you give a link to these e-mails, please.

Mark Cook
Mark Cook
8 months ago

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10393581/Top-SAGE-adviser-admitted-lab-leak-theory-likely-origin-Covid-February-2020.html
Despite his concerns, Sir Jeremy went on to sign letters in The Lancet a fortnight later denouncing anyone who believed in the lab leak theory as bigoted.

Last edited 8 months ago by Mark Cook
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark Cook

Thank-you, I’ll have a look at this, it’s a little worrying I must say.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
8 months ago

The United States is keeping smallpox alive, just in case.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
8 months ago

We should invest more money in research on aerosol science, droplet science, droplet transmission studies, turbulence, ventilation…
Given that we don’t even know how the bloody rhinovirus transmits (thanks to Tom Chivers’ link to a “Nature” paper yesterday), this task could not be more urgent.
And since the pot of research money is finite, I would suggest diverting money away from dangerous gain-of-function virology which has given us very little knowledge of how to fight a pandemic… and which might even have caused this particular pandemic.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
8 months ago

A lot of this work has been done, dusted and forgotten. Before research always comes a review of literature. Lazy students and scientists only look at recent, digitalised literature and don’t visit libraries to look at the old stuff.

Around 1980 my supervisor was a (the?) World expert on the movement of aerosols. He had a huge cabinet and released coloured aerosols into with film of the ‘happenings’.

Basically, when you breath out into a room you propel the aerosol forwards but it rises slowly because it is warmer than the ambient air. This is the aim of the 2m rule – by the time the aerosol has travelled 2m it is probably above head height. On reaching the ceiling there is bounce but it is uncertain how long the virus will live in the aerosol – it will depend on the exact conditions.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
8 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Oooh ! This sounds like super fun research ! Did he take movies / use laser light to visualise all this ?

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
8 months ago

Re-read Chris’ 2nd paragraph or do I detect a touch of sarcasm in the room?

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

No sarcasm – just genuine interest

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
8 months ago

Looking at Gates it occurs to me that evil villains in the movies differ somewhat in appearance and style from their real-life counterparts, but all in all they’re not off by much.

Jordan Flower
Jordan Flower
8 months ago

Bill Gates has manboobs. Enough said.