Origin of Covid — Following the Clues

Has anyone seen this article or have thoughts on it? Long but fascinating…also, more generally, I really can’t understand the gain-of-function research…

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Hi Jessica.

Thanks for posting this article. It is, as you say, long. As such I think you might be better served by the community here if you reproduce some of the key claims and/or a few important quotes and/or any specifc questions you’d like answers.

Hope that helps.

[Edit:] one final thought. It is worth remebering that Medium is not a peer reviewed platform. That means any conclusions the artcile makes should be taken with a grain of salt as they have not been cross checked by experts in the feild.

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It’s been picked up by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists which is considered a legitimate journal, I believe?

Honestly, I have no idea. I am not an academic nor a professional scientist myself.

I was more making a general point that blogs posted on sites such as Medium or WordPress platforms are not peer-reviewed. I intended this statement to be factual and meant no judgement by it.

FWIW, I had a look on the Bulletins website. Whilst they will review first time submissions, they make it clear that they are not a peer-reviewed journal.

Peer review. The Bulletin is not a peer-reviewed journal; however, we do send unsolicited articles to colleagues for outside review. Be prepared to answer questions and to document your points—by way of hyperlinks for web pieces or in the form of footnotes for journal pieces.

Hope that helps.

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I didn’t think you meant any judgment- I’m also not an academic or scientist, hence my question mark at the end of my statement about the journal. It doesn’t appear to be a peer reviewed article but a very well researched one. It’s not making a case that COVID-19 definitely was lab escape- apparently the lab records are sealed at this point. But they were doing gain of function research on coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab. Apparently, with other viruses which have jumped from animals to humans, they’ve been able to trace the exact evolution. Not so with this one, at least not yet. COVID-19 appears to have jumped many evolutionary steps to infect humans, which is just one of the points the article makes.

I am somewhat more inclined towards originating (for humans) in the live-animal markets, rather than a lab, but I would consider origin in the lab possible.

Given how fast viruses can mutate, and how frequently things are hard to trace with genetics (I should know, my father has worked with pleurocerid DNA), that we haven’t been able to trace it yet doesn’t really suggest too much to me, other than that it has had some since the known animal ones.

Personally, I’m inclined to think that if it had been a lab escapee, China would have done more to cover it up. Also, SARS-CoV-2 makes for a pretty lousy bioweapon: death rate about 3%, obvious symptoms, etc…

In response to some people I have heard (rather than the article),if China actually tested bioweapons (which I would not be at all surprised by), I would expect them to start by testing them on prison camps, followed by unwanted minorities where no one else would hear about it for years.

Good thoughts, but I don’t think the article really proposes it as having been produced as a bio weapon, to its credit, as there are certainly radical elements who propose such, but rather an inadvertent escape of a research subject in a purely medical research project. That I find much more plausible, and also seems consistent with reports of closed files and such. One would think that any research viral cultures would be well documented with genetic sequencing, and in an open examination, it should be easy to determine whether the virus was from the lab. The closed files certainly make you wonder. However, mutations in the community after contact in the market is certainly a good candidate also. And when you consider the size of market and community, there were a lot more “petri plates” there than the Wuhan lab, and a lot of opportunity for the virus to develop into the virulent strain. I would not be surprised if it is found that it had smoldered in the market community for a long time, perhaps even years, before becoming virulent.

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Who cares what these dudes think about Covid?

Is it possible to create a virus in the lab from scratch?
I thought that they were only able to make genetic modifications. Like the HIV virus has been modified to carry genetic information to help in the treatment of SCIDs.

The lab in question was studying SARs viruses found in bats. So the question is whether these studies involved modifying viruses that were found in nature, not creating viruses from scratch.

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I almost commented before but didn’t want to do more than scan the article. I thought the set up and conclusion were reminiscent of ID arguments. A new organism spontaneously arising or designed in a lab? I think at one point he thought being designed allowed for explaining more of the data. But I’m probably inclined to suspect a non-scientific motivation to support an agenda of blaming human actors.

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Yes, I realize that, but I was wondering if it was possible to make a virus from scratch because there are some people on the net saying that this was possible and would be used for bioweapons.

I don’t think that has been done, but is not outside the realm of possibility. Viruses are still pretty complex, and it is much easier to modify an existing one than start de novo.

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I note that the author of the paper, Nicholas Wade, has some science training and worked for Science and Nature early on in his career but not a scientist. He is a competent writer and was employed by the New York Times for many years. However a 2014 book he wrote, A Troublesome Inheritance, was severely criticized by many biologists for misrepresenting their research.

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A few thoughts on an article like this.

a) One of the tricks the author does right at the start is to get you to question the scientists on one side of the issue as biased or even worse: compromised by money or corruption. This is a common tactic that various anti-science groups use to dismiss things like evolution or climate change. But maybe it should be a legitimate concern.
b) He then criticizes the Andersen letter in Nature Medicine. Andersen makes a few plausible arguments that this virus doesn’t look designed and looks like it evolved naturally, and then Wade counters oh but it was made to look as if it naturally evolved. What is the difference between the two and which of the two explanations should we prefer? We should probably go with Occam’s razor when judging between the two options. If you want to see how Andersen argues in 140 characters or less in a series of tweets about a similar topic, you can read this recent thread and judge for yourself whether Andersen usually just makes stuff up without merit or not:

But looking at his critique of Andersen more, he parrots the classic anti-science tropes of:

  1. Even though other virologists knew better, they didn’t speak up because they can’t. Specifically “in today’s universities speech can be very costly. Careers can be destroyed for stepping out of line. Any virologist who challenges the community’s declared view risks having his next grant application turned down by the panel of fellow virologists that advises the government grant distribution agency.”
  2. Tie the Andersen letter to politics and then dismiss it as just fitting a political narrative.

Moving on a little bit, Wade writes this:

This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic’s outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months.

Now that was an interesting hyperlink that took me to Zenodo, a non-peer-reviewed opinion piece by someone, Quay, who got in trouble for shady business practices with multiple different businesses with the FDA. Quay has no apparent relevant background in virology or Bayesian statistics and even refers to himself as being cited 10,000 times and one of the top 1% of scientists worldwide. Wow.

After all the flak Wade gave Andersen for his “nonscientific” “political” “garbage” Wade has the audacity to authoritatively cite Quay on something related to previous coronavirus outbreaks that Quay’s opinion piece isn’t even about. I’m sure the rest of the Medium blog is a wonderful read but I’m about done for today. To me, it smells and looks like an anti-scientific hit piece. Since I’m particularly grouchy after wasting my time, I’d say Wade knows just enough to think he knows what he’s doing, but not enough to know why he’s mistaken. Maybe I’ll edit this last bit out later, oops.

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Thank you for taking the time to read and for your thoughtful response- much to digest there.

I will just say I don’t agree with your initial statement that he’s throwing shade on scientists on one side and not the other with the statement “Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain: the political agendas of governments and scientists have generated thick clouds of obfuscation, which the mainstream press seems helpless to dispel.” That seems like a general statement to me, not one directed at a particular “side”. I also don’t think anyone could argue that political agendas don’t make their way into just about everything - on both sides in different ways…right? Yes, I know that pure science has no agenda but in the real world, with so much dependent on funding, does it really work that way all the time?

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You are right to say this.
I put myself through university and worked in various schools as a research assistant to do so. One of them was in the school of biochemistry. I was sitting in the tea room one day, reading a book while I had my coffee. Two academics sat down at the table opposite me.
They began to talk about the research one of them wanted to do. And my ears pricked up though I kept my head down when I heard some of their remarks. “Oh you can’t say that, you won’t get the funding. You better to word it like this” and made suggestions. “Yeah” the other one agreed and they continued to discuss how the wording should be to try and get the funding.
When they finished talking about funding the one said “And I guess I have to be careful how I write it up or it won’t get published”.

This conversation left a marked impression on me and I have remembered it all these years because I was under the impression that one could do whatever research one liked. This was in my 20s. I am 72 yo. And I see it in some scientists’ discussion today.

There is also the remark of the baroness, Dr. Susan Greenfield PhD in one of her youtube videos (27th November 2012) that research in consciousness is a CLM, a career limiting move.
See her video The Neuroscience of Consciousness - YouTube

14:25
Where does that land us if we’re thinking
14:27
about consciousness given it screams
14:30
essentially subjective and this is why I
14:32
think so many scientists are very leery
14:34
of studying consciousness why you can’t
14:37
apply for grants to study consciousness
14:38
you have to disguise it as schizophrenia
14:41
or anaesthesia or something like this
14:43
and some workers actually said that any
14:45
scientists trying to embark on the
14:47
neuroscience of consciousness is a CLM I
14:50
bet you can’t guess what a CLM is it’s a
14:51
career limiting move

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Why is it that if a scientist questions the work of another scientists it is okay, indeed encouraged. But if a non-scientists raises any questions then suddenly it is a conspiracy theory and not okay You become accused of being anti-science.
Science is a work in progress. We need to be free to question and criticize. This is the way of investigation and arriving at a better and better theory.

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Problems arise when the non-scientist is saying something to the effect of “everyone who disagrees with me is a brainwashed idiot” or “the scientists are out to get you”, which legitimate scientists usually have the sense, or professional courtesy, not to say.

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I agree that questioning and criticism is in general good, so long as the criticism is appropriate. It is fair to question the data, the biases, the process, and the conclusions. But those criticisms must be concrete and in good faith, not the smear techniques often used to influence naive onlookers.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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