In May, I wrote a post arguing that the relevant evidence strongly supports the conclusion that the SARS-CoV-2 virus accidentally leaked out of Zhengli-Li Shi's laboratory in Wuhan, and that this virus was probably created by her genetic manipulation of viral material for "gain-of-function"--altering a virus to increase its pathogenicity for human beings. I then asked whether we should blame Francis Bacon for this, because he had proposed the modern scientific project for mastering nature that has supported the research done in laboratories like those at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Now we have a new assessment of the evidence sustaining the lab leak theory from a report (83 pages long) released today that was written by the minority staff of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee under the direction of the ranking Republican member Michael McCaul. This report is actually an addendum to a previous report issued at the end of September 2020.
Their first general conclusion is clear--that the preponderance of the evidence proves that the SARS2 virus leaked from the Wuhan lab. Their second general conclusion is ambiguous--in their summary, they leave open the question of whether the virus originated in the wild or was the result of genetic manipulation, but in the text of the paper, the evidence weighs on the side of genetic manipulation.
Compared with what I presented in my previous post, this report adds some new evidence and it presents a clear chronology of events. For me, six points were especially prominent.
First, the report shows that on September 12, 2019, the WIV's online, public database of samples and virus sequences was taken offline between 2:00 am and 3:00 am local time. This is the data that would have identified the appearance of the SARS2 virus in the WIV's lab. The WIV and the Chinese government have refused to allow investigators, such as those from the World Health Organization, to see this data. So it is likely that the virus was in the lab by early September of 2019, which was four months before the Chinese government announced its lockdown of Wuhan on January 23, 2020!
Second, the report indicates that the Military World Games (the Olympics for military athletes) opened in Wuhan on October 18, 2019, with over 9,000 athletes from 109 countries. Some of these athletes became sick--coughs, fever, chills, diarrhea--during the games and after they returned to their home countries. At least four countries that sent athletes to the games--Italy, Brazil, Sweden, and France--have confirmed the appearance within their borders of COVID-19 cases in November and December of 2019. So this suggests that the games in Wuhan became a super-spreader event that spread the virus around the globe many months before the pandemic was publicly recognized. This is a crucial point because it suggests that the pandemic could have been avoided if the spread of the virus out of Wuhan in the fall of 2019 had been stopped by closing the borders of Wuhan.
Third, satellite imagery of Wuhan in September and October of 2019 show a big increase in the number of people parking at hospitals near the WIV lab. These hospitals are also close to the lines of the Wuhan Metro. This indicates how researchers in the lab infected with the virus carried it out into the city.
Fourth, there is plenty of evidence that the Chinese Community Party and scientists affiliated with the WIV have tried to hide the kind of research being done there. To cite just one brazen example of lying, in an interview with The New York Times in June, Shi (the top researcher at WIV) said: "My lab has never conducted or cooperated in conducting GOF [gain-of-function] experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses." This contradicts her own published research where she reports creating "chimeric viruses" in her lab, which I indicated in my previous post, and which is even indicated in the article on her interview.
Fifth, although critics of the lab-leak theory have repeatedly claimed that the virus does not show any of the telltale signs of genetic manipulation, this ignores the fact that Ralph Baric (a frequent collaborator with Shi) has published research in which he reports doing genetic manipulation with a "no-see-um" method, so that genetically manipulated viruses were, in Baric's words, "indistinguishable from wild type," so that there was no way to clearly identify them as artificially created.
Sixth, scientists studying how SARS2 binds to the ACE2 (the entry point on the surface of animal cells for coronarviruses) concluded that "SARS-CoV-2 is uniquely adapted to infect humans, raising important questions as to whether it arose in nature by a rare chance event or whether its origins might lie elsewhere." A virus that is uniquely well-adapted to humans and that appears suddenly without any evolutionary precursors is more likely artificial than natural.
If the general public learns that the SARS2 virus did indeed leak from the Wuhan lab and was perhaps even created artificially in that lab, will people conclude that we cannot trust scientists to protect us from risky research that has killed over four million people and shut down much of the world economy? Will public outrage damage the whole modern scientific project initiated by Bacon?
If John Locke was right, and we have a natural right to punish those who harm "our life, health, liberty, and property," then surely we have the right to punish those scientists who release--even if only by negligence--dangerous viruses that threaten our lives and our health. That should be part of our behavioral immune system, which should include holding those scientists legally liable for their research. This congressional report proposes some measures for doing that.