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May 25, 2021

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Cotton says within a few miles.

Wow. That's a pretty useless claim.

It's one thing if you could really pin down the first cases right next door to a lab. Close enough that an infected lab worker might have regularly stopped for lunch or something. It'd still be completely circumstantial, and not in agreement with the facts we have, but it'd be something at least.

But the entire city of Wuhan is only about 10 miles across. Saying "within a few miles" isn't saying anything at all. Everything in Wuhan is "within a few miles".

These may or may not be the exact locations, but if so, Google thinks they're over 8 miles apart.

That's a little more than 900 feet. It doesn't look like the lab and the market are even on the same side of the river. (I understand there are several lab spaces, but my impression was that they were all part of the same campus. One way or another, the Virology Institute and the wet market appear to be in entirely different districts.)

If BB is right, then Cotton is right. It's like the director of the CDC saying that the outdoor transition of COVID is less than 10%.

Except usually, the CDC director has a medical degree and a number of years experience. Of course, that’s not foolproof, you can still appoint someone who did this

On April 9, 1988, the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) sponsored a "Scientific Forum on the Etiology of AIDS". One of the presenters, William Haseltine showed a slide called "AIDS Virus and Antibody" purporting to reflect the serology model of AIDS. Two of the audience members, both professors of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of California Berkeley asked why Haseltine's graph had no units on it on the y axis and gibberish on the x-axis. Haseltine remarked the graph had been created by Redfield, who muttered, "different measures were used". Later at a post-conference party, Redfield admitted he had made the slide up—it was not based on any data at all.[41] Haseltine later published two additional fake graphs by Redfield in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But that’s down on who appointed them imo…

Except usually, the CDC director has a medical degree and a number of years experience.

And politicians and government functionaries lie to us while telling the truth.

"An even bigger issue is the extreme caution of C.D.C. officials, who picked a benchmark — 10 percent — so high that nobody could reasonably dispute it.

That benchmark “seems to be a huge exaggeration,” as Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, said. In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.

Saying that less than 10 percent of Covid transmission occurs outdoors is akin to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year. (The actual worldwide number is around 150.) It’s both true and deceiving."
A Misleading C.D.C. Number: We have a special edition of the newsletter on a misleading C.D.C. statistic.

I have mentioned potholer54 before. He is the YouTube persona of one Peter Hadfield, originally a geologist but for decades a science journalist . Over 10+ years, he has been debunking and gently ridiculing bad science reporting, young Earth creationism, climate change denialism, etc. His method is to track down the original sources behind sensational news stories, blog posts, and YouTube videos. And to show those sources in his videos.

Although he doesn't post as frequently as he used to, back when he was giving out his Golden Crocoduck Awards, he has of course addressed Covid-19, including the following couple of videos on its origins:

From May 2020 (a year ago):
Did SARS-Cov-2 start in a Chinese lab?

From May 2021 (a couple of weeks ago):
Unravelling China's "sinister plan" to "unleash coronavirus".

I offer them without comment from me. Whether he's mainstream or fringe, serious or wacko, definitive or pretentious, well ... you be the judge.

--TP

And politicians and government functionaries lie to us while telling the truth.

But not Bro Bible!!

Tony, thanks for the video links.

Yes. Excellent videos.

The first video clears up the confusion about distances. Looks like people are conflating the actual Virology Institute (a dozen km away, on the other side of the city) with a location labeled "Wuhan Center for Disease Control" nearer the market. They merge into this singular, sinister "Wuhan lab" in the popular accounts.

I'd seen the 'CDC' one on the map poking around earlier, but similar looking 'Disease Control and Prevention' offices are actually all over the city, indeed, all over China. Usually next to (or in) clinics and hospitals, just as the one near the market is. It looks to me like they're probably just liaison offices for the national health department or something.

It's not clear to me that anyone has any actual reason to think that anything like live bat samples was ever being studied at the site near the market at all. Being attached to a hospital, I guess there might well be a "lab" in there somewhere, but probably just a normal clinical one for testing sick humans. Not an exotic zoonotic virology research site.

Looking at how these ignorant rumors spiral out of control, right up into the very halls of power, is equal parts fascinating, frustrating, and terrifying.

It's easy to poke holes in the wilder lab-leak theories. But:

That missing 5% is still several decades worth of mutations. The branching off point was, best guess, some time in the 1950s. The evolution since must have taken place in some as-yet-unknown reservoir animal.

Massive scientific effort has gone into trying to find this mysterious reservoir. And, nothing.

On of two unlikely things has happened. The question is, which is less unlikely.

Massive scientific effort has gone into trying to find this mysterious reservoir. And, nothing.

I'm not sure this is true at all. IIRC, it took years to identify the proximate hosts in prior MERS and SARS outbreaks with any confidence.

It's easy to imagine that scientists have sampled and sequenced literally every population of potential hosts already, so drawing a blank in the big cloud database of virus genomes means this is some huge mystery..

But the fact is, only a tiny fraction of the relevant animal populations has really been studied or surveyed in the kind of detail you'd need to say "nope, definitely wasn't them". Even with the increased urgency from the major CoV outbreaks in the last decades, the field is still probably woefully underfunded and under-researched compared to what would be worthwhile.

With the limited resources available, my impression is that a lot of research effort over the last 10 or 20 years has gone into bats, which are widely considered to be the ultimate reservoirs for the kinds of corona viruses most compatible with humans. That's probably why they were able to point almost immediately to at least a relatively similar ancestral virus that's known from a bat populations. Even so, there are thousands of bat species, in all kinds of habitats, and it's virtually impossible to comprehensively survey them all.

Relatively less research has been done into the various possible intermediate hosts. Partly because those possibilities explode. It's possible to put forward some candidates based on analysis of receptor proteins and so forth, but the field is still pretty wide. Pangolins, mink, ferrets, turtles, and snakes have all been mooted as potential intermediates. There's also been some relatively recent research into beta-CoV infections in fish and crustaceans, though I don't know whether they've been considered potentials sources for SARS-CoV-2 specifically.

It's just really not that surprising that the specific reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 hasn't been found yet. I'd guess it'll be about another year or two, unless somebody gets lucky.

I'd guess it'll be about another year or two..

by which time It Was A Leak will have become a tenet of "conservative" faith, right up there with Trump Won and There Were WMD In Iraq.

Following up on jack lecou's comment

https://virologyj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12985-016-0544-0

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a novel coronavirus discovered in 2012 and is responsible for acute respiratory syndrome in humans. Though not confirmed yet, multiple surveillance and phylogenetic studies suggest a bat origin. The disease is heavily endemic in dromedary camel populations of East Africa and the Middle East. It is unclear as to when the virus was introduced to dromedary camels, but data from studies that investigated stored dromedary camel sera and geographical distribution of involved dromedary camel populations suggested that the virus was present in dromedary camels several decades ago. Though bats and alpacas can serve as potential reservoirs for MERS-CoV, dromedary camels seem to be the only animal host responsible for the spill over human infections.

Not trying to bust anyone here, but the question of which animal did it (Bats, alpacas and camels would be a great Jeopardy answer, eh?) is always going to be pretty fraught

Yup, cleek.

https://digbysblog.net/2021/05/lies/

The vectors of deadly viral conservative republican fascism in America are multiplying apace, and the epidemiology points to subhuman reservoirs in plain sight, none of them mysterious or masked in the least.

"The question is, which is less unlikely."

Well, that is the epidemiological question, but as Butch Cassidy pointed out, hell, it's the fall that is going to kill us.

Neither the fascist Chinese government nor the fascist American Republican Party will permit elections to get to the rational bottom of the political questions:

https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/29/politics/texas-voting-rights-senate-bill-7/index.html

Both the Chinese and all-American conservative movement fascist laws apply to everyone, however, so what's to worry?

Camels?

Therefore, Cotton will announce soon that we must murder all of the camel jockeys.

Wait, he already did that the last election cycle.

He's on to other game now.

What I take away from all of this is this: stay away from bats.

Interesting interview with Mary Beard in the NYT. Insightful about the contextualisation of many contemporary (and historical) issues:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/05/31/magazine/mary-beard-rome-interview.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=The%20New%20York%20Times%20Magazine

by which time It Was A Leak will have become a tenet of "conservative" faith, right up there with Trump Won and There Were WMD In Iraq.

In case of doubt it will be claimed that the scientists put it into some wild animals in order to 'find' it there.
I have to admit though that in the case of Iraqi WMD I would have suspected any findings after the invasion by US forces to be planted for that purpose. And it says even more about Rumsfeld's stupidity (or his opinion of the stupidity of USians) that he tried to crow "We have found them!!!" without doing that.

Huh - I missed this in the WaPo on May 21, but since this was one of the actions I urged most strongly in our recent discussion on Carville, and what the Dems should do, I was delighted to see this, and only hope it has a serious impact (I wanted it to be 364/24/7 - don't know if the DNC is up to that):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/05/21/technology-202-online-disinformation-has-changed-now-dnc-is-updating-its-response-unit/

What I take away from all of this is this: stay away from bats.

With special reference to bats conspiracy theorists.

Some have a taste for bats.

In America, guano, the fertilizer of conservative movement freedumb, is what's for dinner.

What I take away from all of this is this: stay away from bats.

It's possible that North American bats should stay away from us. (Results of a preliminary study on the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from humans to bats in the US and Canada. And vice versa, of course, if the virus becomes endemic in the bat population.)

Until there's proof that COVID-19 was caused by a virus from a natural source, there's going to be continued speculation from serious people that the virus could have escaped from a lab. Not just from conspiracy theorists. There's just too much evidence pointing to the possibility.

It's possible that North American bats should stay away from us.

Not just bats. There are already confirmed cases of human->animal transmission in domestic pets, farmed mink, big cats in zoos...

"from serious people"

Fine.

There's just too much evidence pointing to the possibility.

I think we've established that there's exactly zero evidence "pointing to the possibility". If that counts as "too much" in your book, it's a weird book.

Granted, it's impossible to completely rule out at this point -- the only way to do that is probably to find the natural source -- so it's remains a possibility.

A very remote one, though. And that's exactly as much as I'd expect "serious people" to concede. Speculation is not something serious people should be doing on this topic. At all.

This is a long-form article on the lab escape possibility. I hadn't posted it until now because I had it in my head that someone else had already posted the link. But, if they did, I can't find it.

"In what follows I will sort through the available scientific facts, which hold many clues as to what happened, and provide readers with the evidence to make their own judgments. I will then try to assess the complex issue of blame, which starts with, but extends far beyond, the government of China.

By the end of this article, you may have learned a lot about the molecular biology of viruses. I will try to keep this process as painless as possible. But the science cannot be avoided because for now, and probably for a long time hence, it offers the only sure thread through the maze."
The Origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

What's the difference between standing next to Donald Trump, suicide pandemic bomber Herman Cain, and any number of deliberately self-infected republican conservatives, including governors, during this murderous pandemic, and entering a bat cave for lunch, snuggling with a pangolin, and deliberately or accidentally releasing a SARS virus from a biological weapons lab into a populated environment?

It doesn't take a Chinaman to observe none of the above share a shred of human commonality.

I've read Charles' link, but it bears reading again.

And again, the question I'm concerned with is what dangerously unserious batty people will make of whatever serious conclusions are reached regarding the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan.

By which I mean batty conservatives in both America and China. After all, it is the fundamental conservatism of the Middle Kingdom's culture that leans them heavily toward secrecy and saving face throughout their history, no matter which economic principles they adhere to from time to time.

Both Chinese and American conservatives are ready and willing to make a mess of the world as they go at each other, regardless of what epidemiological conclusions are reached conclusively because their survival in power depends on sowing malignant doubt about all conclusions, good or ill, that do not not serve their fascist power interests.

Both, I expect, would like to see Dr. Fauci murdered, depending on what bogus blame they can assign to him:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/06/29/fact-check-u-s-government-did-not-intentionally-engineer-covid-19/3216066001/


"I think we've established that there's exactly zero evidence "pointing to the possibility". "

This statement should read, " I have discounted any evidence that could point to the possibility, therefore there is none."

Just as blind eyed as saying it's proven.

Pick your side, pick your facts. It is the world we live in.

Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

Nicholas Wade is a marginally more sophisticated crank than some of his parrots, but he is still a crank.

(It's worth noting that the guy is not a virologist. He's a writer, with an undergrad in biology. His best prior claim to fame was managing to write a weird book about genetics and race that managed to get approvingly cited by Charles Murray, while being openly denounced as a work of selective citation, misrepresentation and pseudoscience by virtually everyone else in the field of population genetics, including (especially?) the scientists whose papers he claimed to be referencing to support his arguments.)

Yup.

Too bad Tom Cotton hadn't concluded the Chinese and Covid-19 were at the root of the attempted violent overthrow of the duly elected US government on January 6, 2021, so that maybe he would have permitted a full Congressional inquiry into the treason.

Ok, Wade is batshit.

They have an inexhaustible bench.

This statement should read, " I have discounted any evidence that could point to the possibility, therefore there is none."

If you mean I have discounted things like "the virus lab is next to the wet market" or "an intern at the lab infected her boyfriend and subsequently disappeared" or "secret chinese military documents talk about creating bioweapons" etc., then, yes. I have ceased to use incorporate that noise as part of my reasoning.

And you should too. Because those stupid rumors are not true.

Maybe you can correct me, but AFAICT the only remaining thing that could even remotely be considered positive evidence for a lab release is "a lab exists in Wuhan".

And that's pretty weak tea.

It reeks of post-hoc reasoning, for one. There are over 50 BSL-3 facilities in China certified for doing CoV work, all across the country. Nevermind smaller field collection sites and so forth. I doubt there are many cities an outbreak could have started in where you couldn't have, retrospectively, pointed to a lab across town and whispered "suspicious".

apparently it's vitally important for "conservatives" to prove Trump was right about something.

Jesus, can anything be discussed without you bringing up Trump? It's today's WH saying it's an open question.

I think we've established that there's exactly zero evidence "pointing to the possibility" [of a lab origin]

I think we've established that there's exactly the same amount of evidence pointing to the possibility of a zoonotic origin.

That is, we know that zoonosis happens. We know that lab experiments ("gain of function") can increase host range. What else?

I agree, Marty.

But in the interests of everlasting bothsidism and eternally open questions, I have two words: Hillary Clinton.

Besides, Trump will be back soon enough without cleek jumping the, uh, gun.

https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/06/trump-telling-people-he-expects-to-be-reinstated-as-president-in-august

I mean, look, you roll a couple of Wuhan smoke bombs into the room way up open thread, and then when folks cough and their eyes begin watering you assume an all facts are equal and should be equally considered in perpetuity innocent face inside your gas mask.

Yes, this White House wants to shed some illumination on the matter, perhaps believing a little light is the best disinfectant, but I don't think they quite yet grasp the nettle that ratf*ckers like Cotton, whose name you invoked and then said never mind, run inTO the light, the brighter the better, for nothing but malignant reasons.

jack lecou, thanks for the Medika Life article.

I think we've established that there's exactly the same amount of evidence pointing to the possibility of a zoonotic origin.

That is, we know that zoonosis happens. We know that lab experiments ("gain of function") can increase host range. What else?

Nope. Likelihood and past experience is also a big consideration.

Suppose you leave some fresh-baked cookies out on the counter, with the kids playing in the next room. Then lie down for a nap. What's your null hypothesis when you wake up and the cookies are gone:

- That the kids ate them -- like they have dozens of times before?
- Or that communists from the local cookie factory took them for nefarious experiments?

Both are possible, I guess. But I know which one I'd put the most energy into investigating, at least until I find some other clues.

This is roughly where we're at. The evidence is, to a degree, consistent with both hypotheses. But one is and was always a lot more likely to be productive.

(But only to a degree - read the debunk I linked above. The evidence we have isn't conclusive, of course, but it does tilt quite a bit against any kind of lab origin. No record of relevant experiments. No record of samples having been collected. No molecular evidence for a lab-hosted evolution. Nor is there anything about this virus, or the RaTG13 predecessor, that would have lent them to the hypothetical research or weaponisation purposes proposed.)

Until there's proof that COVID-19 was caused by a virus from a natural source, there's going to be continued speculation from serious people that the virus could have escaped from a lab.

The issue has moved well beyond anything that can be proven or disproven at this point. It’s now an article of faith.

The level of proof required to dislodge the Wuhan Lab Conspiracy from the minds of folks who want to believe it is unlikely to be available.

Maybe if we found the actual bat and questioned it under oath?

Also, whatever happened to the pangolin hypothesis? Who let scaly anteaters off the hook?

My prediction is that people who actually have the required level of expert knowledge in areas like virology and epidemiology will spend a couple of years looking at this, and will come to a conclusion that is maybe 80-90% sure of being accurate.

And by that time the Tom Cottons of the world will have moved on to some new thing to be outraged about.

In other COVID related news, I ran down to the lumberyard to pick up a door my wife ordered for our guest bathroom. I wore a mask, because even though I’m vaxed it seems like a basically polite thing to do, because not everyone is vaxed and nobody really knows who is or isn’t.

I’m standing in line and the guy in front of me is chatting with the guy behind the counter about how all the do-gooder ninnies at Whole Foods are still running around in masks, but the average Joe’s and Jane’s at Market Basket are mostly not.

Everything about this fucking virus is now fodder for the culture wars.

Who knows, I might just keep wearing a mask for another couple of years, just to annoy dudes like the boyos at the lumberyard. I have a big collection of them now, it would be a shame for them to go to waste.

In the meantime, I’m still having a laugh about Bro Bible.

It’s like if Jeff Spicoli or the guys from Pineapple Express had a blog.

"My prediction is that people who actually have the required level of expert knowledge in areas like virology and epidemiology will spend a couple of years looking at this, and will come to a conclusion that is maybe 80-90% sure of being accurate."

yeah but

Also, they've spent years of their lives and commie grant money knowing a few things, which makes them deep state coastal elitists and whatever they conclude will be dismissed in America .... and what is this talk about "required expert levels"? ... the land of know nothings who know everything, except how to do THEIR jobs, because the rest of us know their expertise better than they do because we say so, and we have the little league soccer trophies to prove it.


What I take away from all of this is this: stay away from bats.

I’ll amend this.

What I take away from all of this is this: stay away from Tom Cotton.

the rest of us know their expertise better than they do because we say so

Hey, a bat flew into my house once!!

How plausible the lab escape evidence seems to the audience strikes me as being inversely proportional to the audiences' experience with large scale research and the international scientific community.

Also, "debunking" and "disproving" are not synonyms.

I wore a mask, because even though I’m vaxed it seems like a basically polite thing to do, because not everyone is vaxed and nobody really knows who is or isn’t.

At this point, even more than a public health effort, mask wearing is a way to make a culture wars statement. Refusing to wear a mask is basically, for a lot of people, a way to say "I don't give a sh*t about anybody but myself and my personal convenience."

Not a statement I wish to make, so the mask will likely be around for a while.

How plausible the lab escape evidence seems to the audience strikes me as being inversely proportional to the audiences' experience with large scale research and the international scientific community.

If you think about it, there is a striking parallel with the people who have never, ever worked an election, actually worked the polls. But are sure that totally routine procedures, which have functioned flawlessly for decades, are absolute evidence of sudden fraud and other misdeeds. Simply because they have no clue.

At this point, even more than a public health effort, mask wearing is a way to make a culture wars statement.

"I continue to wear a mask outdoors because I don't want to be mistaken for a Republican."

"I refuse to wear a mask indoors because I don't want to be mistaken for a Democrat."

I continue to wear a mask outdoors because I don't want to be mistaken for a Republican.

not my reason for doing it, but it is a nice side benefit.

la la la, nothing to see here.

From cleek's link:

Most Republican voters want former President Donald Trump to run for the White House again in 2024, or at least want the winner of the GOP primary to mostly agree with him on policy issues.
I wonder if any of them can identify Trump's position on policy issues. Besides objecting to immigration, I'd be hard pressed to identify his position on any issue. Even if he's made a statement on it in the last 24 hours, I wouldn't want to bet on him still thinking the same today.

I don't know about bats in Ohio but it looks like one should keep away from that place for their ruling party is..eh..bedsheet crazy:
https://mikethemadbiologist.com/2021/06/01/the-gop-has-become-a-death-cult-the-ohio-vaccination-edition/

Of course, at the same time that they are looking at prohibiting businesses, etc. from giving incentives for people to get vaccinated, the (Republican-led) Ohio state government is giving lottery tickets to people who get vaccinated. An incentive, one might say, just a government one rather than a private sector one.

I wonder if any of them can identify Trump's position on policy issues.

there is only one policy that really matters to Republicans. there's only one policy that they won't forget all about at the snap of Trump's greasy little fingers: performative hatred of Democrats.

cleek has the GOP wrapped around his finger, it's true.

I've been chased out of caves by bats that objected to my light (and I was in the way for them to exit, late afternoon).

Not a virologist, me, but I've heard that bats have an extraordinary immunity from the effects of viral infections, which both makes them a huge reservoir of viruses, but also a creature that could really, really, REALLY teach us some useful tricks.

Well, aside from flying. We learned that on our own.

I will visit Ohio this fall to attend a memorial service for my last uncle who died last year near NYC, he was 93 or 94, and whose wife, my aunt, who barely survived polio when she was kid in the 1930s, has been interred in the cemetery in Middletown since the early 2000, Ohio, which is also my birthplace.

Also where fake hillbilly and corrupt vote-stealing JD Vance plans to run for the US Senate to pursue his fake bizarro Christian bullshit conservative goal of destroying the Federal Government.

Polio, smallpox, SARs viruses, and tuberculosis don't work fast enough to kill off the forces of evil driving this country to savagely violent civil war.

West Virginia gummint, where they can't tell the difference between getting a drive-up shot and a drive-by shooting is giving away guns to those who agree to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Get shot to live to shoot someone else.

What do those who agree to be vaccinated against polio get?

A tactical nuclear weapon?


The names of people who get vaccinated in California should be put in drawings for anywhere in the country rental payments for U-Haul trucks...

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-05-19/covid-19-california-militia-fueling-civic-revolt

Pack the Zapatas among them up in U-Haul trucks with their fertilizer and ignition devices and send 'em down the road to Texas, vaccinated or not.

They don't like voting anyway, so no loss.

Almost missed this. Over the weekend, Texas Democrats foiled the latest Jim Crow legislation by walking out, thus denying the legislature a quorum. In response, the Governor says he will defund the legislature -- that is, veto the part of the budget which funds the legislature.
https://www.texastribune.org/2021/05/31/texas-greg-abbott-funding-legislature/
Amazing.

At the last walkout, the governor sent the Texas Rangers to arrest them. Not the baseball team...

I once had some GOP on my finger. A little Gojo took it right off.

WRT JT's LA Times link - California is America, only sooner.

This is what our low-intensity conflict subbing in for a civil war is going to look like. Reminds me of when I was a kid and you'd hear about how the KKK was in charge of local areas.

So yes, this is our future, but it is also the bad parts of 1972 revisited.

Not the baseball team...

Well, the current team couldn't catch anything if it tried...

Until there's proof that COVID-19 was caused by a virus from a natural source, there's going to be continued speculation from serious people that the virus could have escaped from a lab.

The issue has moved well beyond anything that can be proven or disproven at this point. It’s now an article of faith...

Which was the point of my original reply to jack.
While I agree with almost all of the points he made, it's almost as much an article of faith amongst liberals that a leak from the lab was impossible (granted, with rather more evidence to support it), as it is amongst Republicans that it definitely happened.

FWIW, I believe that the administration's approach of taking the lab leak hypothesis seriously, however unlikely it might be, is more productive than ridicule.

Here's one of the virologists who co-authored the Nature paper on the likely origins of the virus back in March last year (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9) engaging politely with some of the conspiracy theorists:
https://twitter.com/trvrb/status/1399914011869597701

While it's unlikely that any 100% definitive evidence will completely disprove the lab leak stuff any time soon, particularly given the Chinese restrictions on investigation, I disagree that it's gone beyond anything that can be proven. Though probably after everyone has moved on.

In any event, it will at least spur interest in funding research into zoonotic viruses, and also in better lab biosecurity. Neither of those things are bad.

Paper of interest just published...
Spike mutation T403R allows bat coronavirus RaTG13 to use human ACE2
https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.31.446386v1.full.pdf
Although the S protein of the closest related bat virus, RaTG13, shows high similarity to the SARS-CoV-2 S protein it does not efficiently interact with the human ACE2 receptor2. Here, we show that a single T403R mutation allows the RaTG13 S to utilize the human ACE2 receptor for infection of human cells and intestinal organoids...

...it's almost as much an article of faith amongst liberals that a leak from the lab was impossible (granted, with rather more evidence to support it), as it is amongst Republicans that it definitely happened.

I think this is one of those tricky things in our truth-y times.

The problem is, it's really not as simple as possible vs. impossible. There are many different lab leak theories.

Platonically, there is undoubtedly a lab leak hypothesis that is possible (if unlikely) and presented reasonably. In practice, most of the ones actually out there churning around in the media, the mouths of politicians, etc., are... Not that.

A lot of those specific theories really are just wrong. Impossible. Or, often, not even wrong.

I think it's irresponsible not to push back on those, and if some people push a little too hard and make it sound like a lab leak is actually impossible (rather than merely unlikely and not a great fit for what we're seeing), well, I'm really not going to lose any sleep over it.

Of course, I also don't really have the impression that 'liberals' are as firmly on the anti-lab leak side as you're making out. When not arguing against one of the dumb conspiracy versions, I suspect most would be prepared to acknowledge the possibility.

And some of them are perfectly happy to embrace those theories -- they can tickle a 'suspicion of authority' reflex that liberals tend to have in spades.

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/some-thoughts-on-the-covid-lab-leak-theory

On balance, this isn’t true. What happened is that from the outset China-hawks who were largely out to defend Donald Trump made a series of baseless accusations about COVID either being a bioweapon or the accidental release of a Chinese biological warfare weapon. When that got shot down (there’s strong genomic evidence against this), they retreated to a more conventional lab accident as their pet theory. The best one can say is that most journalists became reflexively skeptical to all such claims since they were mainly coming from people who are professional liars with obvious axes to grind.

This pattern continues even up until today. Over the weekend The Washington Post ran this report, which was originally headlined as some version of ‘Biden picks up on research done during the Trump administration’. Who are these Trump administration experts? One of the two quoted is David Feith, Trump’s deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. If that name rings a bell, yes, David is the son of Doug Feith, perhaps the most central figure in spreading disinformation about WMD and Iraq and al Qaida in the lead up to the Iraq War. Lest you think I’m simply judging Feith on the basis of his family … well, he came to the State Department via The Wall Street Journal editorial page. Even today the mainstream press seems unable to wrangle this story without keeping readers abreast of the propagandists and liars who are pushing much of it.

The problem is that if 'liberals' (since we all march in step and say the same things) were to acknowledge any possibility, the right would simply take it as their due and move on to the next 'when did you stop beating your wife?' question.

The question of how we know things about viruses is an interesting one and it gives you some insight into how effective vaccines (plural!) were made so quickly, but trying to engage in discussion that actually moves the ball down the field, well, not really worth the effort.

Also, meant to respond to this a while back, but it got lost:

There’s at the very least reasonable suspicion amongst virologists that the H1N1 flu pandemic back in the 70s resulted from a lab leak:

This is a useful correction. I really should have qualified that this is a unique instance of a novel virus escaping.

Lab leaks happen all the time, actually. Usually they're fairly well contained, but it's possible some of them have gotten out of hand or will in the future.

But the thing about all of those leaks is that what leaks out is a previously known pathogen. That's why the stuff was being studied in a lab in the first place. That's what made the H1N1 outbreak suspicious: "hey, we've seen this before."

There's no known case, AFAIK, of what we're talking about here, a novel pathogen, one that's this ready to make the leap into humans, being found first by a field researcher -- instead of the thousands of villagers or other humans living nearby -- then taken all the way back to a lab, and mishandled in a way that results in transmission.

In this case, it'd all also have to have happened on a very tight timeline, such that none of the lab's many overseas collaborators could find out about the samples before a cover up could take place...

(And of course, if this is what happened, why wouldn't the authorities finish destroying all the evidence, then immediately send some new researchers out to collect "new" samples from the same reservoir, and throw off suspicion by "discovering" the wild source of the virus...)

H1N1 in the *70's*? Sure about that?
Because back then I a friend was subscribed to a (CDC?) newsletter (paper! yeah 70's) and I recall an interesting article about flu variants originating in Mongolia because that was one of the few remaining places where humans lived in enclosed close-proximity to livestock over harsh winters.

Subsequent transmission via China, Hong Kong, etc. where the variants were detected and named.

Rewind back to 1917 flu, starting in Kansas. I blame Genghis Khan. Guy really got around.

(And of course, if this is what happened, why wouldn't the authorities finish destroying all the evidence, then immediately send some new researchers out to collect "new" samples from the same reservoir, and throw off suspicion by "discovering" the wild source of the virus...)

Because, as is always the case, the conspirators are highly competent and terribly incompetent at the same time. I mean, duh...

Because, as is always the case, the conspirators are highly competent and terribly incompetent at the same time.

I point this out regularly to a friend who occasionally seems to fall for a conspiracy theory. "Believing that requires that the people you routinely accuse of being dumber than dirt are also capable of building an extensive undetectable secret network and defeating all sorts of security measures."

Jack, I think that's a well constructed narrative based on no information and your confidence in the openness and trustworthiness of the lab in question. It represents your willingness to trust certain types of people. It also makes a lot of unproven assumptions about a timeline and the order of events.

I don't mean this as a criticism, you "did your own research", built a narrative and believe it to be the most likely explanation.

It is just not supported by any more facts than any other narrative.

H1N1 in the *70's*? Sure about that?

H1N1 swine flu outbreak at Fort Dix in 1976, Congress passed a large budget (and indemnification of various parties) for a vaccination program, then the whole Guillain-Barré syndrome thing. I remember because a friend of mine spent six weeks in intensive care with severe Guillain-Barré earlier that year (unrelated to the vaccine).

I don't mean this as a criticism, you "did your own research", built a narrative and believe it to be the most likely explanation.

The narrative I've built is one where Jack appears to be more familiar with how pathogen research is conducted than you and I are, Marty. Either that or he has a very vivid imagination that allows him to go into a number of specific aspects on the topic that don't actually exist (and he's a big fat liar who's trying to fool us).

why wouldn't the authorities finish destroying all the evidence

Because the Wuhan collection of bat coronaviruses was already documented.

Congress passed a large budget (and indemnification of various parties) for a vaccination program

Trump flubbed a lot of things. And the vaccine rollout has had its problems. But Trump's prepurchasing millions of doses of vaccines has left the US in better circumstances than most countries.

such a strange thing to prepurchase vaccines for a Dem hoax flu (which was over last Easter), when we have plenty of cheap hydroxychloroquine and bleach, my cross-fit covfefe.

Jack, I think that's a well constructed narrative based on no information and your confidence in the openness and trustworthiness of the lab in question. It represents your willingness to trust certain types of people. It also makes a lot of unproven assumptions about a timeline and the order of events.

It's not just a narrative. It's also an analysis of all of the places where the person who constructed the counternarrative has shown himself to be misrepresenting research and claiming things that are just not true.

And no one here is claiming that China is being open or that we should trust that they are cooperating fully. The argument being made is that, even with the amount of uncertainty and the lack of cooperation, the more likely scenario based on everything we know about virus research is that the virus came from the wild, and that if the virus had been collected, that some record of it would exist outside of the one specific lab (and likely also outside of China).

And those conclusions were based not on trust of China, but on people's experience with how virology research actually gets conducted.

So yes, y'all believe different things based on narratives that you find convincing. But one of those narratives seems to have a much more thorough understanding of how the information in question actually gets produced, and the other misrepresents the actual research that it cites.

CharlesWT,

Mitch McConnell would have blocked pre-purchase of vaccines if President Hillary had tried to do it.

That's my theory. It's based on no evidence, but is it totally impossible?

--TP

Politicians don't often do what's best unless it's also good for them, and their political and special interest associations.

The British government did a good job of ordering vaccines early because it's deeply relaxed about shovelling public cash to the private sector, with as little regard for procurement rules as it can get away with.

The EU was rather the opposite.

nous, I don't believe any of the current popular narratives over any other, well some are a bridge too far.

I started this pointing out how poorly the media reported the various possibilities back in March 2020, and that reporting became "theories were debunked".

Now the WH and credible virilogists are saying there isn't enough information to know, just as others were for the last 14 months.

So the media is now not using the word debunked to describe any narrative that includes a leak.

Jack uses cookies disappearing to support his narrative, I'm not sure that counts as a factual basis. It's his way of saying he believes that nothing unusual happened here. So if only usual stuff happened his narrative is quite believable.

If something unusual happened one of the other narratives could be accurate.

I think that sums up what he is sayinG AFAICT.

I think that sums up what he is sayinG AFAICT.

I think what Jack's saying is that some scenarios are far more likely than others, not anything about what he "believes."

You think "the media" (whatever that means on any given day) sucks. Message received.

I swear to tell the narrative, and nothing but the narrative, so help me whatever narrative of God the Court narrates.

Amen .....

..... unless someone has a better narrative tomorrow, because only the narrative of time will tell an acceptable narrative.

And I swear it on a narrative stack of bound Judeo-Christian narratives.

Bob's yer narrative uncle.

"conservatives" complaining about media narratives?

conservatives ?

the same people who convinced themselves that Trump Won based on a steady stream of fact-free "reporting" from Fox, Twitter and OAN ?

those people?

GTFO

I think what Jack's saying is that some scenarios are far more likely than others, not anything about what he "believes."

Yes. Exactly. We can actually "believe" many things at once. It's the appropriate way to approach a situation like this where we have more missing information than facts. That doesn't mean all those things are equally believable, though.

People on this thread (and elsewhere) keep talking about "possible". But "possible" is just not a very useful way to analyse the situation. "Possible" is too low a bar.

Like, it's possible I could find an unclaimed winning lottery ticket on the sidewalk tomorrow. I'm not going to base my retirement plans on it.

Jack uses cookies disappearing to support his narrative, I'm not sure that counts as a factual basis. It's his way of saying he believes that nothing unusual happened here. So if only usual stuff happened his narrative is quite believable.

No, it was just a way to illustrate the above idea, to try to get people to think about how some possibilities can be more likely than others.

If something unusual happened one of the other narratives could be accurate.

That's exactly right. But "unusual" is just a different way of saying "unlikely", isn't it?

Something unusual should also require a correspondingly unusual level of proof before we accept it.

It might also help if you actually specified concretely what you mean by "unusual".

That's what the narrative above is meant to stimulate -- it's all very well to say "a lab leak was covered up", but to test that hypothesis, or at least figure out what you'd need to test it, it's clarifying to think through the actual mechanics of what that would mean, and see if it adds up.

I started this pointing out how poorly the media reported the various possibilities back in March 2020, and that reporting became "theories were debunked".

Many theories were debunked, though. Like the ignorant rumors about leaked Chinese bioweapon plans. Or the pseudoscience about how furin cleavage sites proved it was made in a lab. Or the million and one other bad "theories" being pushed by liars with agendas.

There was plenty of "poor reporting" there, to be sure, but it wasn't the debunking. It was the fact that any of those stories made it into print in the first place.

Now the WH and credible virilogists are saying there isn't enough information to know, just as others were for the last 14 months.

Of course there isn't enough information to know. That's why there's an ongoing investigation.

And yeah, it's always been possible that there was a leak. Requires kind of a Rube Goldberg chain of events, but sure. Possible. And a lot of scientists, particularly ones without media training, have been happy to acknowledge that all along. As I keep trying to hammer though, possible and likely are not the same thing at all.

I don't think the WH or the press have been particularly responsible in the way they've framed that fact either. It's one thing to say, "The source of the virus hasn't been found yet and we're actively investigating all the possibilities", it's another very different thing to say something like "Intelligence experts divided about whether virus originated in lab".

Today Arizona Gov. Ducey (R) vetoed the bill that would have eliminated the state's longstanding permanent mail ballot list. The (R)s in the assembly lack the votes to override the veto.

Ducey doesn't have to worry about being primaried. He's term-limited out this time.

Of course it's *possible* that COVID-19 was delivered to China by aliens from Mars, in UFOs, in collusion with still-living Elvis.

The Weekly World News would be all over that theory, except that they relocated to the interior of the Hollow Earth.

I haz a sad.

In a few water cooler discussions here, conversation partners have opined that of course China is doing something, so we have to consider that possibility. I aimably nod my head in agreement, not because I agree but because taking a deep dive into the topic is not what water cooler conversation is about.

However, I was willing to consider the possibilities until going thru jack lecou's comments and links here. I repeat one here
https://medika.life/debunking-nicholas-wades-origin-of-covid-conspiracy-theory/

So now, I wonder why Wade would write in such a way as to obliterate any shred of credibility he might have? While I would think Sinclair's quote "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." might get at it, and the whole epistemic bubble thing, I have to think another strand to it is the idea that he is smarter than everyone else.

And with regard to the Wade debunking, I say again that "debunk" and "disprove" are not synonyms. Let me unpack that a bit.

Wade's narrative outlines a possibility that we all accept, which is that the outbreak could have originated in a lab leak. That part has nothing whatsoever to do with the "debunking." Nothing can be proven either way because we lack an origin for this particular variant.

What that article does, and what the other articles linked to here whenever the "arguments supporting a lab leak hypothesis" do, is go through the arguments and point out which parts of those arguments are bunk. If you pay attention to the substance of the arguments - the actual grounds, warrants and backing involved that support the claim, you'll find that once the bunk is removed, all that is left is the initial premise and suspicion grounded in China not being cooperative. That's pretty much what we had before the argument was put forth. We knew both of those things already.

Where is the bunk in the other narrative? What part of the "likely to be naturally occurring" argument is based on bunk? Wade attempted to claim that the "likely naturally occurring" was based on bunk, but his debunking was rebutted and shown to be bunk.

That does not put both arguments on equal footing as having been rebutted and debunked. That puts one argument as having been defended against an attempted debunking that itself proved to be full of bunk, and leaves us with one side having proven to have both a deeper understanding and a stronger ethos.

That doesn't argue for either premise, but it does argue for which party is more worthy of trust.

nous, good point. I was a bit worried I used debunk in my comment, but fortunately I didn't. I can't say that I have never used it, but it is not a very interesting word on first glance and sounds rather imprecise, but now, I'm thinking of it like 'gruntled' is 'disgruntled', in that what was the bunk and who got it taken away. This is a fun read, though painfully a propos to current politics.
https://www.etymonline.com/word/debunk

It also points to another aspect, which is that if you point out the fallacy in someone else's argument, it actually doesn't necessarily make your argument stronger except by reducing the field of potential explanations. I think we have a visceral understanding of this, and when someone like Wade is shown to be full of shit, some may think 'well, you've disproved that, but I still think your idea is on shaky ground'. When you are at that point, you can show the flaws in a whole parade of arguments, but it won't affect the view of the person, who will just discard one and move on to the next.

That doesn't argue for either premise, but it does argue for which party is more worthy of trust.

This.

The situation we're in is one where a bunch of fabulists and fearmongers have spent a year and a half putting forth a million and one theories and insinuations, every single one of which has been, in its turn, comprehensively dismantled and debunked, shorn of every specific falsifiable claim, leaving only the same bare kernel of possibility we all conceded at the outset.

You don't have to be a nerd with "I 🖤 Bayes" tattooed on your forearm to work out how much credence to give when the same liars come out with a million-and-second version of their pet theory.

Especially when zero new actual facts have been unearthed in the interval.

There we go.

You don't have to be a nerd with "I 🖤 Bayes" tattooed on your forearm to work out how much credence to give when the same liars come out with a million-and-second version of their pet theory.

Reality is just a nasty plot by "those people"**, intended to confuse the (self)righteous. Everybody knows this.

** whatever label you routinely apply to them.

At the heart of your argument is the assumption that a leak "Requires kind of a Rube Goldberg chain of events". Which is simply not true. Based on your assumption about how the individual actors usually do things, if I read correctly you don't know how these actors usually do things, a fanciful Rube Goldberg scenario can be constructed to demean the possibilities.

That a human being made a mistake in the lab, got sick, infected others, the Chinese government did what it could to contain it, lied about the origin and a pandemic resulted is not fanciful or far beyond usual. And the science is not inconsistent with that scenario. Or yours.

But, in the end, like the media you don't believe it because of who said it, without evidence.

This Newsweek article has a lot of details on the search for evidence of a lab leak. But it doesn't seem to have any conclusions beyond what we've already seen.

"The reason for the sudden shift in attitudes is clear: over the weeks and months of the pandemic, the pileup of circumstantial evidence pointing to the Wuhan lab kept growing—until it became too substantial to ignore.

The people responsible for uncovering this evidence are not journalists or spies or scientists. They are a group of amateur sleuths, with few resources except curiosity and a willingness to spend days combing the internet for clues. Throughout the pandemic, about two dozen or so correspondents, many anonymous, working independently from many different countries, have uncovered obscure documents, pieced together the information, and explained it all in long threads on Twitter—in a kind of open-source, collective brainstorming session that was part forensic science, part citizen journalism, and entirely new. They call themselves DRASTIC, for Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19."
Exclusive: How Amateur Sleuths Broke the Wuhan Lab Story and Embarrassed the Media

Marty,

Which is "the" lab you're theorizing about?

If the "mistake" was careless handling of, say, blood from a bat collected in the wild, I would not hesitate to call that a case of the virus "leaking from the lab", but it would obviously be very different from the virus being concocted in "the" lab.

And if the "mistake" was of that nature, one would have to wonder: how likely is it that that the lab worker was the very first person who got infected by this natural virus?

How unlikely is it that such a virus first infected a mailman, say? And would it be fair to say, in that case, that the virus "leaked" from the Wuhan post office?

--TP

They are a group of amateur sleuths, with few resources except curiosity and a willingness to spend days combing the internet for clues.

I wonder if they found that the lab had marble countertops…

The Newsweek article is interesting and informative, and it points to a lot of interesting questions. It also engages in a lot of the sort of behavior that CharlesWT and Marty have been criticizing The Media for, with their breathless reporting of the search for information and casting the group as plucky amateur sleuths out to solve a puzzle. I noted several times where the article claims that the sleuths found information and then declared that the sleuths had gotten closer to the heart of the mystery while also putting in a bare minimum of mention that all of this is still supposition and speculation.

I mean, it's also entirely possible that there was no lab leak, but that the outbreak was the product of some genetic relative of the viruses that were being studied at the lab, and that the coverup was happening because the lab was trying to distance itself to protect its reputation - only to have that backfire when the rumors persisted.

Both scenarios would look the same absent the intermediate steps linking the earlier virus to our current problem.

Are Newsweek good journalists opposing the bad journalists who were duped by Daszak, or are they just another group of journalists chasing a story and making guesses and trying to sex up the details to give their story traction?

I think I agree with how Jesse Bloom typifies part of this: "I don't agree [with] all of it, but some parts seem important & correct." He says it is "plausible" (and not "probable," which seems another important distinction to keep in mind here, "plausible" is a much more cautious qualifier). It's worth digging into in order to see what is going on, but that does not mean that the amateur sleuths or the public are any closer to the heart of the COVID mystery, just that they have found evidence that there is more going on with the SARS research than we know.

That a human being made a mistake in the lab, got sick, infected others, the Chinese government did what it could to contain it, lied about the origin and a pandemic resulted is not fanciful or far beyond usual. And the science is not inconsistent with that scenario. Or yours.

No, you're not actually thinking it through.

Sure, it's easy to believe a lab worker fumbled up somehow. Like I said before: this happens all the time.

The problem is: wholly novel human-pathogenic viruses don't just magically appear in labs, ready for hapless lab workers to make innocent mistakes with. This virus still had to come from somewhere.

And that's the part where our buddy Rube comes into play.

Because if we go with a lab leak theory, then there are two possibilities for the source of the virus:

1. It was a sample collected in the wild.

2. It was 'engineered' in the lab, perhaps in a so-called Gain of Function experiment.

And each of these has their own problems.

Case 1:

A) Sample collection implies there's already a reservoir of this virus out in the woods somewhere. So a virus that's apparently completely ripe for making a crossover and infecting humans, hosted in an animal that's almost certainly cohabiting those woods with thousands of local villagers, maybe is even a food source for them, or a household pest, etc.

What are the chances that it infects poor Lucy Lab-Assistant first, rather than any of those villagers its been living with for years? (At which point it'd just be a bog-standard zoonotic crossover.) It will have had way more chances to do that.

Is it impossible that Lucy just got unlucky? Of course not. But it's immensely unlikely.

B) There is a time element to this. It's hard to say what time, exactly, but it's there, and adds an extra level of chance needed to make the theory work.

The Wuhan Virology Institute is not a secret Chinese military facility or something. It was set up with foreign help. It publishes open papers. It collaborates on almost everything with a sister institution in Texas. It receives US govt. grant money. And it hosts dozens of researchers, none of whom, as far as anyone can tell, have been disappeared by the secret police yet.

If someone collected SARS-CoV-2 samples from the wild, and anyone at the institute ever had a chance to do even a preliminary analysis, it would have raised some eyebrows. A new virus with features that might make it compatible with humans is exactly the kind of thing these coronavirus surveillance programs are looking for. And remember, there'd be no reason to cover anything up at that point -- quite the opposite, it'd have been quite a coup.

Eventually, it would have been published. Physical samples shared with the world. But even before that, before formal collaboration or paper drafting, someone would have mentioned it -- probably breathlessly -- to their colleagues, including overseas colleagues, in an email or a zoom meeting or something.

So the fact that no one seems to have any record or awareness of these supposed wild samples of a human-ready coronavirus means they must have been pretty new. Like, maybe not "just arrived on the loading dock, haven't even been signed in" new -- obviously the conspirators could have simply destroyed those records. But, you know, pretty new.

Case 2:

I'd encourage you to read the Nicholas Wade takedown link above, or even the original Anderson et al. paper Wade was trying to criticize.

Beyond even questions about biochemical evolution markers and stuff, the basic problem here is that SARS-CoV-2 just doesn't make any sense from a research standpoint. Even if they were doing unannounced, unauthorized GoF experiments in Wuhan -- and there's no evidence for that -- something like BaTG13 (which presumably would have been the predecessor) isn't what you'd start with. It's not a well characterized virus with existing tooling, and so it'd make a lot of extra work, for no purpose. And then SARS-CoV-2 isn't the direction you'd aim for.

It's like seeing a souped-up Yugo, with hydraulics and a V8, and concluding that it's probably a top-secret Tesla prototype. That just...doesn't add up. On any level. It's not where they'd start. It's not where they'd end up.

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