If Kovid-19 started with a lab leak, would we ever know?


“we find ourselves Ten months into one of the most frightening global health events of our lifetime, “wrote Stanford University immunologist and bio-threat expert David Railman in November,” and, troubled, we still don’t know how it started. “This uncertainty is extremely important: the exact origin of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, once resolved, we will be able to better prepare for future pandemic hazards. But to find out what exactly What happened will require careful and coordinated scientific investigations that are only now underway.

In the meantime, we have remaining to speculate. A long essay by Nicholson Baker, published several weeks ago New york magazine, The case that the epidemic began with a laboratory accident; And while the article is depicted as a irresponsible, Ill informed And One way The presentation, even its most ardent critics To accept The possibility of lab leaks cannot be ruled out with certainty.

There are now two major attempts to investigate where Kovid-19 came from: one founded by the World Health Organization, and the other organized by a leading medical journal, the Lancet. The investigation may take months or even years to complete, and given the many challenges involved, they may never provide a conclusive answer. However, it is already clear that both are compromised by a lack of clear procedures to manage conflict of interests and questionable independence. It is now necessary that governments and the scientific community work quickly to improve them.

The problem begins with the nature of the interrogation, which should determine, for starters, whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus had escaped populations from wild animals (according to prospective experts, most experts) or directly from a laboratory setting . But many people who are most qualified to address this question – those with the most relevant technical knowledge – are also those who work in those laboratory laboratories, or have close professional relationships with those who do .

In other words, they are actually people who can be blamed themselves (either directly or as part of a research community) if the virus was ever detected back in a laboratory.

This fundamental tension is not at all uncommon in the formation of expert committees by governments or others. Decades ago, scientists with ties to tobacco companies were among the best understood of the effects of smoking on public health, but their inclusion on health advisory committees was problematic, and a more rigorous approach to managing conflicts of interest Helped to inspire. Fortunately, governments around the world have a long track record of implementing these methods; And of course it is possible to tap the relevant expertise through formal questioning or testimony without involving those with conflict as investigators. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether major investigations about the genesis of the epidemic are following relevant relevant practices.

For example, both investigations included Peter Daszak, disease ecologist and president of the Ecology Alliance, a research nonprofit with a history of conducting research. Sarcous coronavirus And their impact on humans, including the collaborative work done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Wuhan Institute is the only laboratory in China allowed to work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens, and is located at a clear base zero of the current outbreak.

If there was a laboratory leak – and, again, most experts do not believe that the available evidence points in this direction – then both the Wuhan Institute and its US partners would be on a shortlist of candidates to investigate. It should be clear that no person can play a formal role in any independent investigation into the origin of the epidemic in relation to any organization. (Of course their expert input can be solicited through other methods.)

It is also worth noting that Daszak certainly expressed, long before the crisis, that the disease originated in the wild. Last winter, when the WHO first named the virus, it drafted a formal statement “formally condemning the conspiracy stating that Kovid-19 does not have a natural origin,” “And” standing with colleagues “in Wuhan and throughout China. More than two dozen other scientists will sign the paper, which was published by the Lancet On February 19, 2020. Emails received through the Freedom of Information Act show that Daszak tried from the beginning.

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