A former NYT reporter makes a compelling case...
A good piece of journalism might be worth five or ten minutes of your time. However, this, by Nicholas Wade, is worth at least an hour.
You’ll need that long to read the thing — and to absorb the detail. However, it’s worth the effort because it concerns one of the most important and controversial questions of the decade: where did the Covid-19 virus come from?
You may not have an hour, so here, in a nutshell, is Wade’s argument: the theory that the virus was cooked-up in a lab and accidentally released isn’t just a possibility, it’s the most likely explanation.
Of course, as yet, there’s no definitive proof of either a natural origin or a lab leak. However, the evidence that we do have leans towards the latter.
Early on in the crisis, a number of prominent virologists tried to dismiss the notion of a laboratory origin. Wade exposes the gaping holes in their arguments — and attacks the anti-scientific arrogance of shutting down a reasonable line of enquiry.
Occam’s Razor is often invoked in this debate. Basically, it states that the simplest explanations are most likely to be true — or at least those that rely on the fewest untested assumptions.
Applying this rule of thumb to the SARS-CoV-2 question might favour the natural origin hypothesis. After all, there are documented cases of similar viruses arising in animal populations and spreading to humans. If it’s a simple explanation we’re after, then that’s one right there.
Then again, the pandemic started in Wuhan — a city that hosts a world famous scientific institute that conducts research into coronaviruses. There’s a long history of accidental releases of deadly organisms from laboratories — so this too could be seen as a simple explanation.
To determine whether these explanations really are simple you have to look at the details. For instance, the precise pattern by which the virus spread through the host populations — or its precise genetic makeup.
What’s so compelling about Wade’s deep-dive is that he shows how the key details are easier to explain within the context of a lab leak origin. He doesn’t claim that they definitively rule out a natural origin — just that it’s more of a stretch to get all the pieces to fit together.
But what about the missing pieces of evidence required to actually prove either hypothesis? For instance, if the original form of SARS-CoV-2 is hanging out in some wild animal population, then where are these creatures? No such organism has been discovered.
On the other hand, where are the lab records that show that the particular experiments required to create SARS-CoV-2 were ever conducted? Or that a breach of containment might have taken place at the same time? These things haven’t come to light either.
Of course, with missing links we need to ask why they’re missing. In regard to a natural origin, the Chinese government has the means and motive to find the necessary evidence — should it exist. In regard to a laboratory origin… well, need one spell it out?