Another balanced analysis of the lab leak theory. In @Slate by @RebeccaSohn2

People are going to find that I prefer to amplify articles that give careful consideration to both natural and lab hypotheses.…
Some scientists & journalists are rushing to say "but the lab leak is so unlikely!" (not a conspiracy theory any more, just unlikely)

I told @RebeccaSohn2: It would be like trying to guess what’s the likelihood of rolling a 6 without knowing how many sides of the dice there are.
The fact remains that we don't know what strains of viruses were collected and under study in Wuhan. We don't know all the research experiments that were done.

We have the scientific literature which describes some of these, usually studies of samples from several years ago...
People coming up with % likelihoods for lab leak hypothesis are implying that they're confident they know what was going on in one of China's top virology institutes leading up to the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan.
I don't even know what's going on in the top virology labs in Boston. Not to mention in Wuhan, in a whole different country with a whole different culture and mentality about researching pathogens.
I see the likelihood exercise as one of people placing their bets. It's essentially gambling. But the stakes are another pandemic happening.

Let's focus on an investigation, information-gathering, and leave the conclusion-making for when we have more information.
I would characterize this article from May 2020 as a spectacularly bad bet: "Conspiracy theory #2: Lab release of natural virus"…
As well as @TheLancet letter from Feb 2020: "We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin."…
This March 2020 press release from @scrippsresearch "These two features of the virus, the mutations in the RBD portion of the spike protein and its distinct backbone, rules out laboratory manipulation as a potential origin for SARS-CoV-2."…
Even as late as November 2020 in @NatGeo
"Meanwhile, months of genetics research has already concluded that the pandemic started with what’s known as a zoonotic spillover"…
Some absolute diehards: "The Wuhan Lab Leak Hypothesis Is A Conspiracy Theory"

Hi @StartsWithABang I wanted to let you know that the internet remembers what you publish in @Forbes…
Are there some individuals (talking about) betting their houses on different #OriginsOfCovid? Yes.

But, scientists should know better. When you see uninformed people betting their houses on one scenario, the response shouldn't be to bet your house on the opposing scenario.

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More from @Ayjchan

6 Jun
I’m going to make a long thread later today going through natural origin arguments recently presented on TWiV and the Washington Post. But before that, I think the responsible thing to do is to explain what virology is.

What do virus researchers do? Why is this work important?
With the lab leak hypothesis #OriginsOfCovid now being considered seriously, there’s been some new concerns or fears about what virus researchers / virologists are doing in the lab and why they grow and study viruses in the first place.
I’d say that, in my experience, very few virologists are engaged in dual use research. Most of the virologists working on pathogens are sincerely just trying to understand the biology of the virus, build models of the infection, and find ways to treat patients.
Read 12 tweets
30 May
Today, karma finally kicked in. After spending the last year "just asking questions" and trying to fish out information relevant to the #OriginsOfCovid, I finally became a target of a conspiracy theory and an anonymous twitter mob.
I had been warned about this situation by well-intentioned colleagues, journalists, and even other anonymous twitter users. That a day would come when I would get attacked by anonymous users.

There was always a stream of online harassment, but it definitely peaked this week.
It definitely made me feel more empathy for other scientists who are in a similar situation. I had already been expressing empathy for them and actively asked people on twitter please not to attack because it just makes the conversation immediately adversarial and non-productive.
Read 10 tweets
30 May
I see this is raising eyebrows so I better nip it in the bud.

The work I did on human artificial chromosomes (HAC) had been widely presented at local meetings & on the lab website. I talked so openly about it that it could not be patented because it had been publicly disclosed.
The rest of the thread above rightly criticizes the meeting being “secret” - but I always thought that it had been labeled “secret” by the organizers to drum up media coverage (sorry, organizers!).

As far as I could tell, all of the research at that meeting was in public domain.
I’m sorry to reveal this gimmick but actually I think many of the scientists and organizers were eagerly awaiting journalists to call them to talk about the “secret” meeting.

In reality, most scientific meetings happen without any journalists paying attention.
Read 12 tweets
29 May
One thing I hate about the ongoing lab leak debate is how it is getting polarized as scientists against anti-science people.

You can hold a very pro-science (maybe even pro-virus engineering) POV, recognizing the value of virus research, while asking for safeguards.
I told @onthemedia @WNYC that I think pathogen research has a lot of value and we should not stop doing it.

There are surely creative ways scientists can develop vaccines and therapeutics without the risks of an uncontrollable lab-based outbreak.
The US is not going back into the 1900s while other countries race forward, send rockets to Mars & extend their population’s healthspan by decades.

We have to be leaders in scientific technology and also leaders in biosecurity. Both go hand in hand.

Coming from a 🇨🇦 in the US.
Read 6 tweets
29 May
This is a balanced assessment of the debate around the #OriginsOfCovid by @stephenburanyi in @guardian

I particularly like the honesty at the end of the piece.…
Rather than guessing which origin scenario is more likely, it’s good to acknowledge which scenario you would prefer to be true.

“A lab-leak would tarnish the job of scientific research for a lifetime and prove some of the worst people in the culture war – partially – right.”
My guess is, for most scientists, we would prefer if this virus has 100% natural origins - zero involvement of researchers or research activities.

Then, presumably, we wouldn’t have any blame for not putting in better biosafety / research regulations years ago or even today.
Read 17 tweets
28 May
Very happy to chat with @gbrumfiel on @NPR @NPRGoatsandSoda on the topic of the #OriginsOfCovid

Also glad to hear Dr Lipkin state that it’s possible this virus passed through a lab and accidentally leaked.

We need to launch a true investigation ASAP.…
"Our lives depend on finding out how this virus got started so we can prevent another one from getting started 5 to 10 years from now."

Some might think I’m being dramatic but I don’t want to experience another outbreak like this, especially when I’m old.…
The reason why I find it hard to make up a % likelihood for #OriginsOfCovid is because evidence can emerge & flip everything we know.

Eg what if tomorrow a whistleblower tells us they’ve been putting furin cleavage sites in natural SARS CoVs?

We are going to see U-turns.
Read 11 tweets

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