Political Correctness and the “Chinese Virus” (The Cowboy Historian)

According to a USA Today fact check, the claim that the “coronavirus began in a Chinese laboratory” is false. “Overwhelming scientific evidence” the piece concludes, “suggests the coronavirus originated in nature, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.” That isn’t exactly true. In fact, the USA Today article seems more focused on attacking conservative politicians, commentators, and outlets than actually examining the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Sadly, it isn’t just the USA Today that is politicizing the pandemic.

One would think that an objective investigation of a global pandemic that has effected the lives of billions of people might supersede politics, but that hasn’t been the case. Just ask President Trump, who has been subjected to fresh accusations of racism by the Chinese Communist Party, some Democrats, and members of the American media. Why, you may wonder? Because Trump called the new coronavirus the “Chinese virus.” Trump’s retort: “That’s where it came from…everybody knows it came from China.” Despite attempts by Chinese, Russian, and Iranian propaganda to suggest the United States was responsible for the pandemic, Trump is correct on this point.

While there’s nothing new about the media and Democrat Party leadership naysaying every utterance or policy of the Trump administration, the now reflexive journalistic expressions of political correctness and partisanship may also be influencing reporting on the origins of the pandemic.

The pandemic undoubtedly began in China. The evidence that the Chinese government attempted to cover up the Wuhan outbreak in its initial stages is also undeniable. What isn’t clear, is whether the virus originated in nature, or in a laboratory. There is no scientific consensus on that point.

The initial infections from late-November/early-December of 2019, were, according to Chinese authorities, traced to the Wuhan seafood market, which led many to suspect that the virus may have originated from an animal source in the market. Most scientists suspect bats as the natural host and original reservoir, due to the genetic similarity of the Covid-19 virus to other Sars-like coronaviruses that bats carry.

Precisely how animal to human, and then human to human, transmission occurred is another matter. Many scientists believe that another animal species may have been infected by bats, such as the pangolin, which then conceivably passed the virus to humans. However, in an attempt to confront speculation that the Covid-19 virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology–a Level-4 virology lab, which is physically located very close to the Wuhan seafood market–scientists at Scripps Research Institute concluded that there was “no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered.” The Scripps study then became the source for many journalists to label all discussion of a potential laboratory leak as conspiratorial conjecture.

While I am not claiming to know whether the Covid-19 virus emerged in nature, or was the result of a lab leak, I would like to review the evidence that the virus may not have its origins in nature, as it seems prudent to consider all possibilities. The notorious lack of transparency on this matter by the Chinese government, past and present, makes consideration of this point all the more necessary.

The first arguments to consider concern comments made by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton and New York Post contributor Steven W. Mosher in late-January of 2019. Both suggested that the the virus may have come from a laboratory leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Cotton pointed to a study published in The Lancet, and noted that 14 of the original 40 people infected did not have contact with the seafood market, thus calling into question the Wuhan seafood market as the certain origin of the outbreak.

Cotton’s concerns were independently echoed in scientific studies. The “Indian study,”–a preprint written by Indian biomedical experts that was subsequently withdrawn after intense scrutiny–argued that “the finding of 4 unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV, all of which have identity /similarity to amino acid residues in key structural proteins of HIV-1 is unlikely to be fortuitous in nature,” thus implying a laboratory origin. At first glance, their findings appear consistent with the type of research we know has been taking place in Chinese labs.

Taiwanese Professor, Fang Chi-tai from the National Taiwan University, said:

The mutations found in the novel coronavirus are unusual in an academic sense. It is indeed possible that it is a man-made product. From an academic point of view, it is indeed possible that the amino acids were added to COVID-19 in the lab by humans.” 

The video of Fang’s comments has since been removed and he has denied making the remarks.

Finally, a now deleted preprint by two Chinese scientists from South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, China, which received very little play in the U.S. media, concluded that:

In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan. Safety level may need to be reinforced in high risk biohazardous laboratories. Regulations may be taken to relocate these laboratories far away from city center and other densely populated places.  

I’m not suggesting that anyone jump to conclusions about the origins of the virus. On the contrary, it is imperative that our scientists and journalists approach these questions with a willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Excluding the possibility that this virus leaked from a laboratory before we fully understand the origins of the virus seems counterproductive to that end.

– The Cowboy Historian http://thecowboyhistorian.blogspot.com/2020/03/political-correctness-and-chinese-virus.html

Addendum: Political Correctness and the “Chinese Virus”

My original post about the Covid-19 virus pointed out that many journalists prematurely jumped to the conclusion that the virus could not possibly have leaked from the Wuhan Level-4 virology lab. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists were among the publications condemning Senator Tom Cotton in an article entitled, “Why do politicians keep breathing life into the false conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a bioweapon?,” which presented Cotton as one of many sources pushing a bioweapon conspiracy theory.

Yesterday, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published a new article that, while still condemning Cotton, now claims that “experts know the new coronavirus is not a bioweapon. They disagree on whether it could have leaked from a research lab.” The fresh look was inspired by analysis provided  by Professor Richard Ebright (of Rutgers University’s Waksman Institute of Microbiology) to the Washington Post. Ebright suggested that the Covid-19 virus is not a laboratory-engineered bioweapon. However, considering the history of accidental leaks in China and elsewhere, he recognized that the virus may very well have been the result of a laboratory leak, and potentially from the two laboratories at Wuhan, which, as I pointed out in my previous post, have been studying bat coronaviruses for years.

-The Cowboy Historian

I will post updates below, as they become available:

– Arthur Waldron, Lauder Professor of International Relations in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that “COVID-19 Probably Originated in a Wuhan Lab.”

Rod Dreher highlighted a blog from an anonymous former NSA counterterrorism analyst and a research scientist that points to a potential lab leak as the source of the virus. It’s worth reading.

– In an American Greatness article, Steven W. Mosher, (President of the Population Research Institute), fired back at critics of himself and Senator Tom Cotton. He doubled down on the claim that the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from a Chinese lab. He also questions the motives of those who quickly moved to exonerate China.

– For an important update on this question, see the Washington Times article, “Chinese researchers isolated deadly bat coronaviruses near Wuhan animal market.”

– An interesting documentary produced by the Epoch Times. 


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