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January 17, 2021 at 12:22 #65281SA
At this juncture with such a fast moving pandemic, it is interesting to go back to the origins of how SARS cov2 was discovered. It is amazing to think that the first patient identified by the Chinese appears to have presented on the first of December 2019 and that subsequently by January 24th, 2020 the virus was identified and the clinical course of the disease with the typical picture of an Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) described together with the underlying pathology and the cytokine storm. Even the role of steroids was discussed and of anti viral treatment.
But what intrigues me is this statement:
“The symptom onset date of the first patient identified was Dec 1, 2019. None of his family members developed fever or any respiratory symptoms. No epidemiological link was found between the first patient and later cases.”
Also this first described patient seems not to have any link with the wet seafood market but 66% of the 41 patients in this study were.
The importance of this is that there is currently a concerted effort that seems to be led by the Daily Mail and The Sun to reawaken the conspiracy theory that the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and that the first case was a student researcher named as Huang Yanling, who had worked in the Institute but judging by the list of publications, she left in 2015 and worked mainly on Staphylococcus infections and not coronaviruses.
Currently, the WHO team to investigate the origins of the virus are visiting Wuhan at the moment and obviously there is a build up of propaganda and expectations that a smoking gun will be found or that the Chinese authorities have something to hide.
In consideration of the above it is a sinister coincidence that since the emergence of SARS Cov in 2003, we also had MERS Cov in 2012. Both are beta coronaviruses which use ACE as a receptor but also are originally from bats and have jumped to man through intermediate species. These facts have obviously led to an increased interferes and research on bat coronaviruses and I am sure that the Wuhan institute must have a very extensive library of these viruses, so the scenario that there was an accidental laboratory escape is not necessarily too fanciful. I do sincerely hope that the WHO will decide this important question once and for all because it applies to all virus research with potential of releasing lethal viruses, and added levels of scrutiny and security should be added to these facilities, wherever they are. I know that Clark will be saying that he has made these warnings many times in the past, and of course he is right, but it has to be done collaboratively and should be applied across the board.
January 17, 2021 at 12:47 #65286Clark
- This topic was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by degmod.
I have heard, but have not confirmed, that the latest WHO mission to China is being denied access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology by the Chinese government – update; this may be still under discussion.
The labelling of the lab origin theory as a conspiracy theory may itself have a touch of conspiracy about it, as mentioned in this fairly detailed article (the whole article is well worth reading):
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis – New York Mag
– In The Lancet, in February, a powerful counterstatement appeared, signed by 27 scientists. “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” the statement said. “Scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens.”
– The behind-the-scenes organizer of this Lancet statement, Peter Daszak, is a zoologist and bat-virus sample collector and the head of a New York nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance — a group that (as veteran science journalist Fred Guterl explained later in Newsweek) has channeled money from the National Institutes of Health to Shi Zhengli’s laboratory in Wuhan, allowing the lab to carry on recombinant research into diseases of bats and humans. “We have a choice whether to stand up and support colleagues who are being attacked and threatened daily by conspiracy theorists or to just turn a blind eye,” Daszak said in February in Science magazine.”
Shi Zhengli could be under coercion from the Chinese authorities; does this read like rational scientific refutation to you?
– Shi made some WeChat posts early in 2020. “The novel 2019 coronavirus is nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilized living habits,” she wrote. “I, Shi Zhengli, swear on my life that it has nothing to do with our laboratory.” She advised those who believed rumors, and gave credence to unreliable scientific papers, to “shut their stinking mouths.”
The lab origin theory would imply a limited conspiracy, not a vast, ever-expanding one as per my own definition of “conspiracy theory”.January 17, 2021 at 12:54 #65288Clark
If SARS-CoV-2 was a research project, its development history and the objectives of the research could prove highly valuable in understanding the effects and evolution of the virus.
And I am NOT China-bashing. Equally dangerous research under equally dangerous conditions is the norm for such laboratories all over the world, and it was the US that lifted the moratorium on gain-of-function research. We need international regulation; biological agents are FAR more dangerous than nuclear materials, which can’t reproduce at all, let alone exponentially.January 17, 2021 at 17:02 #65294SA
Thanks Clark for the link. It is indeed a well researched and well written essay. Nicholson Baker is an essayist and novelist and not a scientist. The scientific view is here expressed by some experts in the field, but as pointed out by Baker, they are those involved in some of the gain-of-function research and may therefore underplay the risk. It is certainly something of great importance for science and also ethicists to determine because of the matter of principle of unleashing forces beyond our control. From the above quoted study:
In the midst of the global COVID-19 public-health emergency, it is reasonable to wonder why the origins of the pandemic matter. Detailed understanding of how an animal virus jumped species boundaries to infect humans so productively will help in the prevention of future zoonotic events. For example, if SARS-CoV-2 pre-adapted in another animal species, then there is the risk of future re-emergence events. In contrast, if the adaptive process occurred in humans, then even if repeated zoonotic transfers occur, they are unlikely to take off without the same series of mutations. In addition, identifying the closest viral relatives of SARS-CoV-2 circulating in animals will greatly assist studies of viral function. Indeed, the availability of the RaTG13 bat sequence helped reveal key RBD mutations and the polybasic cleavage site.
The genomic features described here may explain in part the infectiousness and transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features, including the optimized RBD and polybasic cleavage site, in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.
More scientific data could swing the balance of evidence to favor one hypothesis over another. Obtaining related viral sequences from animal sources would be the most definitive way of revealing viral origins. For example, a future observation of an intermediate or fully formed polybasic cleavage site in a SARS-CoV-2-like virus from animals would lend even further support to the natural-selection hypotheses. It would also be helpful to obtain more genetic and functional data about SARS-CoV-2, including animal studies. The identification of a potential intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2, as well as sequencing of the virus from very early cases, would similarly be highly informative. Irrespective of the exact mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 originated via natural selection, the ongoing surveillance of pneumonia in humans and other animals is clearly of utmost importance.January 17, 2021 at 17:45 #65303Clark
– “…we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
I don’t see what this claim is based upon. Some research involves cycling the subject virus through multiple generations of cells of a specific species. All that does, basically, is speed up natural selection, so how would anyone tell the difference? Maybe the key word in that sentence is “believe”; not a scientific term!
I’m well out of fields I’m familiar with on this subject, but a friend of mine has been following the virus-tracking forums etc. for years. Something he points out is that the usual animal species chosen for testing because of their close relationship to humans – monkeys for obvious reasons; ferrets for their respiratory system; etc. – are not used for SARS-CoV-2, because SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t multiply well cell-to-cell within such hosts. Instead, transgenic mice have to be used. Such mice have been genetically modified to include human cell lines, and are used as laboratory test animals. (Transgenic mice were the source of the antibodies Trump was treated with.) If SARS-CoV-2 seems well adapted to such transgenic mice, that would seem to be another indicator of possible lab origin.January 17, 2021 at 18:01 #65306SA
I think that the problem is that it is difficult to prove or disprove and they base the probability on the fact that if you wanted to produce a virus with these characteristics you could do it more efficiently, but I think they don’t rule it from this statement:
” Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here. “
I believe that the most susceptible animal models for infectivity are cats and ferrets.January 17, 2021 at 18:09 #65310Clark
Do look into transgenic mice; I think they’re being used a lot in vaccine development. Meanwhile, here’s another article; this is the one that inspired the far inferior but better known Daily Mail piece:January 17, 2021 at 18:54 #65313SA
This is rather tabloidish I am afraid.
“avoiding restrictions on research funding, avoiding implementation of appropriate biosafety standards, and avoiding implementation of appropriate research oversight are powerful motivators.”
This is simply scurrilous.January 18, 2021 at 00:31 #65328Clark
Hmmm. It’s very human to deny responsibility; for oneself, and for one’s colleagues or profession.
I think that many successful and senior scientists would rather not be told that to continue their more dangerous research, they could no longer work nine to five in major cosmopolitan city centres, but from now on they and all their staff must live in for three month periods in some remote facility; two months of work followed by one month of quarantine.
I’m not saying that they are consciously thinking this and deliberately misleading others. I think that, there having been so many lab escapes, this is lurking at the back of their minds and they lapse into ordinary, common, and very human denial; “oh, what we do is perfectly safe”. But it isn’t.January 18, 2021 at 16:02 #65378SA
I think that having a laboratory escape is obviously something that has happened and been documented before and very important to acknowledge and to rectify. But what we are talking about here is a putative coverup by scientists who are top of the field, and with a team of workers and others aware of this and of collaborators across countries. It is one thing for a scientist to let their ambition cloud their work but it is a magnitude of difference to then delay any remedial work by denial. This is the difference between accidental homicide and culpable homicide. So what you are proposing is moving to the realms of a conspiracy theory, a group or team of scientists conspiring to have a coverup who are aided by their colleagues in other parts of the world.January 18, 2021 at 16:04 #65379SA
I should have said the difference between accidental homicide and murder.January 18, 2021 at 20:55 #65412Clark
SA – “But what we are talking about here is a putative coverup by scientists who are top of the field, and with a team of workers and others aware of this and of collaborators across countries.”
No, I wasn’t thinking that Peter Daszak or the other 27 scientists who signed the letter knew there had been a lab leak at Wuhan. Not a direct, deliberate cover-up. Rather, a “not our fault” reflex. The most connection I think likely would be that Peter Daszak made an enquiry to the Wuhan lab, who of course would have said there was no problem… Especially if they were under coercion from the Chinese authorities. In fact, I think that may be what Shi Zhengli is trying to tell us:
– “The novel 2019 coronavirus is nature punishing the human race for keeping uncivilized living habits,” she wrote. “I, Shi Zhengli, swear on my life that it has nothing to do with our laboratory.” She advised those who believed rumors, and gave credence to unreliable scientific papers, to “shut their stinking mouths.”January 18, 2021 at 21:43 #65418SA
I would like to know the source of these quotes.January 18, 2021 at 22:28 #65429Clark
My source is my first link, New York Mag, The Lab-Leak Hypothesis, author Nicholson Baker, who claims that “Shi made some WeChat posts early in 2020.”
Google found these for me:
Olivia Qi Zhang – Titter:
"2019 novel coronavirus is nature’s punishment for uncivilized living habits of human beings. I, Shi Zhengli, use my life to guarantee that it has nothing to do with our lab. Those who believe and spread rumors…shut your dirty mouth. ”
— Olivia Qi Zhang (@zhang_qiii) February 6, 2020
France24January 18, 2021 at 22:39 #65431Clark
There’s quite a lot on that Twitter thread.
Essentially it makes no difference. This research is dangerous and should NOT be performed in populated places. And the Chinese authorities should permit full investigation in that lab, in fact, there needs to be FAR more openness and transparency in virtually every human activity. All the surveillance “points in completely the wrong direction”; it spies upon the general public and puts the data into private corporate or government hands. It should spy upon all government and corporate activity, and release the data into public hands. They serve us, supposedly, so why does all the surveillance point the other way?January 19, 2021 at 08:36 #65459SA
We have to be more vigilant. Shi Zhengli did make the comment about uncivilised behaviour and can be cross referenced to other reliable sources. The France 24 essay on the hearsay of Gao Yu, a self styled ‘citizen journalist’.
“Gao Yu, a Chinese journalist released last week after 76 days of confinement in Wuhan, said she spoke to Shi during his incarceration and said, “We learned later that his institute had completed genetic sequencing and related testing by the January 2, but was muzzled. “
More importantly please read this interview with Shi in Science mag where she sounds very genuine.
But to come back to my original post: of course gain of function experiments are to be banned but that was not the research being carried out in this particular institute, they were carrying out genuine and important research which no doubt led to rapid sequencing of SARS cov2. Safety is of course also essential and maybe remoteness should be looked at. But I still maintain that this sort of thing is how conspiracy theories start, there is of course the possibility, then issues get mixed up, coverups get suggested, politics is involved and hey presto we have a full blown CT.
I have asked you to look at the feasibility of genuine scientists who are aware of a threat to humanity if indeed a virus has escaped in this instance and suppress the information. A genuine scientist would probably more likely tell the truth because they will know what damage can ensue and would like to limit it. A conspiracy theory scientist on the other hand will suppress the evidence, deceive journalists, have evidence suppressed by the evil CCP and waste time that could save more people, because their job matters most.January 19, 2021 at 12:03 #65465Clark
SA, thanks for the link to the questions and answers to Shi Zhengli. I’m glad to see Shi Zhengli’s answer about BtCoV/4991, and her explanation as to why no samples of RaTG13 remain. I think there may still be unanswered questions, such as why RaTG13 wasn’t uploaded to the genetic databases at the time it was sequenced but was suddenly admitted to after SARS-CoV-2 had been found. I need to read this a couple more times, and also, please link to the article about the background to that question-and-answer letter.
– “A genuine scientist would probably more likely tell the truth because they will know what damage can ensue and would like to limit it. A conspiracy theory scientist on the other hand will suppress the evidence, deceive journalists, have evidence suppressed by the evil CCP and waste time that could save more people, because their job matters most.”
That’s far too either-or, SA. Scientists have very limited power, operate under commercial and political pressures, and ultimately are subject to authorities which hold the final monopoly over imprisonment and violence. Even in the UK, our scientific institutions are barely given a platform by the corporate media; they can publish in their own journals, but the majority of the public will hear only government press announcements. Most people’s time is too limited to hunt through scientific institutions’ own announcements; they expect a fair summary from the “news” media, but what they get is biased, sensationalised and badly understood by the journalists themselves and the editorial power structure. These factors are what provoke the popularity of conspiracy theory, not personal differences between “honest” and “shady” scientists.
In 1957, Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “the big bang”, published a true science-fiction novel called The Black Cloud. Here is an extract from it; two senior scientists, one from the US and the other from the UK, attempting to deal with a major global emergency, discussing the working arrangements imposed by their respective governments:
‘All this had to be fought for. Otherwise we’d have had the same sort of set-up you objected to. Let me talk a bit of philosophy and sociology. Has it ever occurred to you, Geoff, that in spite of all the changes wrought by science – by our control over inanimate energy, that is to say – we will preserve the same old social order of precedence? Politicians at the top, then the military, and the real brains at the bottom. There’s no difference between this set-up and that of Ancient Rome, or of the first civilisations in Mesopotamia for that matter. We’re living in a society that contains a monstrous contradiction, modern in its technology but archaic in its social organisation. For years the politicians have squawked about the need for more trained scientists, more engineers, and so forth. What they don’t seem to realise is that there are only a limited number of fools.’
‘Yes, people like you and me, Geoff. We’re the fools. We do the thinking for an archaic crowd of nitwits and allow ourselves to be pushed around by ’em into the bargain.’
‘Scientists of the world unite! Is that the idea?’
‘Not exactly. It isn’t just a case of scientists versus the rest. It’s a clash between two totally different modes of thinking. Society today is based in its technology on thinking in terms of numbers. In its social organisation, on the other hand, it is based on thinking in terms of words. It’s here that the real clash lies, between the literary mind and the mathematical mind. You ought to see the Home Secretary. You’d see straight away what I mean.’
I myself dropped out of my physics degree course when I saw that 80% of graduates had been offered jobs by major arms manufacturers. I suddenly understood the main use society puts physicists to, and I concluded that yet another physicist would likely do the world more harm than good.January 20, 2021 at 09:02 #65540SA
I will come back to addressing the rest of your post. But meanwhile I came across this rather more uplifting story. It is uplifting because it actually addresses the basic issues with why this pandemic has got out of hand and why we have all those deniers and hoaxters. It is because of basic faults in understanding what it is all about.
Pandemics are a threat to all and in globalization has served as a catalyst for spread of infectious disease very quickly and therefore we need early warning systems, cooperation and preparedness. None of this has happened and in this forum here we are arguing as to whether China is culpable or whether this is a lab escape. This has become polarised and politicised and maybe a question for later because what it is doing now is further entrenchment of the West against the Rest, especially China. WE badly need China’s co-operation in this and unless we abandon the hostilities of Trump and Pompeo, who are thankfully now gone, we will continue in this division of humanity.February 3, 2021 at 21:14 #66782Clark
In the early months of the pandemic there was a lot of wild speculation as to whether SARS-CoV-2 was a bioweapon engineered in a lab. I always said it wasn’t because it is indiscriminate, it cannot be targeted.
However, the pandemic’s bioweapon intelligence value is priceless; it has clearly illustrated how well or badly various governments and types of government could defend against being attacked with a respiratory infection.February 4, 2021 at 03:52 #66793SA
It turns out that the US and U.K. governments have indeed led the world in demonstrating how not to be prepared for a pandemic and how not to deal with one.
But the lesson here which will be deliberately missed is that this has happened as a culmination of the policies started by Thatcher and Reagan. The Big Bang was not just a deregulation of finances but the distancing of government from being responsible for its people in favour of financialisation . The resulting neglect of infrastructure has meant a poor fragmented uncoordinated response under the command of ignorant politicians.February 4, 2021 at 12:06 #66806Clark
– “the lesson here which will be deliberately missed…”
Indeed. By the corporate media. That is why I so often advocate that term to those who instead refer to the “mainstream media”. It speaks for corporatism, and against the interests of the mainstream of people. Plus the term is defeatist.
– “the distancing of government from being responsible for its people…”
Highly ironic that every government from Blair’s onwards has stressed “national security”. Successive UK governments have provided virtually zero security to the population. There has been hardly any security against this virus, therefore there is hardly any security against biological attack either.
But this is just one aspect. Immediately following the poisoning of the Skripals, the UK government ranted about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed threat to “national security” while the UK hurtled towards collapse from inadequate energy reserves. Of course the corporate media gave blanket coverage to the Skripal nonsense, whereas it gave the gas crisis three mentions (and two of those in the Financial Times) before a change in the weather saved us, less than 24 hours from the electricity going off. During winter a single depth charge on the Langeled pipeline would bring the UK to its knees within a week, as would a simple failure; how are aircraft carriers, mass surveillance and nuclear weapons meant to protect us from that?