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coronavirus the wayward press trump

Lab Leak: Are the world’s worst people actually right about the origins of COVID-19?

Recently, I had a very unsettling experience: I found myself agreeing with some of the worst people on planet earth. Donald Trump. Tucker Carlson. Scott Adams. The editors of the Daily Caller and (shudder) the Gateway Pundit.

While most of what these people say and do is just plain terrible, they seem to have gotten one very big and important issue right: they’ve challenged the until-recently-ubiquitous belief that the COVID-19 virus is of “natural” origin, which is to say that, like so many terrible diseases of the past, COVID (allegedly) originated with animals and migrated over to humans. Indeed, for a brief time, this little animal, called a Pangolin, was thought to be the Typhoid Mary of COVID.

But now it seems more plausible that the real villain of the piece wears a lab coat and works in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a repository of extremely dangerous viruses very conveniently located exactly where the pandemic began, in Wuhan, China — after some sort of lab accident brought one of the viruses the lab had been studying out of the lab and into the human bloodstream. Even worse, the virus that was inadvertently released to the world could have been a sort of supercharged superspreader, genetically modified to be more dangerous than the original virus found in bats. They do that sort of thing at the lab, despite the obvious risks.

Naturally, the WIV has denied that their lab played any part in spreading the virus to the human population. But so far the “natural” animal-to-human explanation of COVID’s origins isn’t holding up all that well. Scientists have tested some 80,000 animals of taken from Wuhan’s wet markets only to find no trace of the virus in any of them.

Right now there’s precious little real evidence to back either theory here, the “natural” animal-to-human explanation or the “lab leak.”

Both are plausible enough theories, but until very recently the mainstream media seemed to be interested only in the “natural” explanation, dismissing the “lab leak” theories as “conspiracy theories” or just plain bunk.

Why is that? Well, to an embarrassing degree it seems to have been a least in part a result of the distaste they felt for the most vocal supporters of the “lab leak” hypothesis — whom, to be fair, tended to be right-wing ideologues eager to blame China for accidentally or (in some versions of the story, purposefully) spreading the deadly virus which has now killed more than 3.5 million people around the world.

Proponents of the natural hypothesis have continually dismissed the idea of a lab leak as just so much nonsense, a “debunked” theory pushed by China-hating ideologues and conspiracy theorists.

In some ways they are acting like Bizarro World versions of MAGAheads who devote their political energy to “owning the libs.” On both sides of this issue, we find activists and academics and journalists who seem less interested in getting it right than they are in scoring points against their political adversaries. It’s a politics built on spite, in which one’s political virtue is defined by the difference between, say, Trump’s beliefs on COVID and your own. Some, as Jonathan Chait noted in New York magazine,

simply took Donald Trump’s bait, answering the former president’s dissembling with false certainty of their own.

It is not too early to grapple with the failures of the media, which reflect the wider struggles of trying to fairly convey the truth in an atmosphere deformed by misinformation. Rather than meet lies with truth, the media often met it with other lies. …

It is true that most of these outlets were more faithful to the truth than Trump, whose gusher of lies vastly exceeded whatever false claims trickled out of the liberal media. But Trump is not the right standard for journalists. And those who chose to follow the ethos of moral clarity, at the expense of objectivity, misled their audiences.

One of the most striking and discomfiting excuses for erthe media’s failure comes from the NY Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who, in an interview on CNN ,put the blame not on the journalists themselves but on Trump and secretary of state Mike Pompeo:

[B]oth suggested they had seen evidence this was formed in a lab, and they also suggested it was not released on purpose, but they refused to release the evidence showing what it was. And so because of that, that made this instantly political. It was example 1000 when the Trump administration learned, when you burn your own credibility over and over again, people are not going to believe you, especially in an election year.

But the issue isn’t whether Trump’s a liar; of course he is. But you can’t just dismiss what he’s saying because of his penchant for untruth; the job of the journalist is to independently assess whether there is any truth to his assertions. Trump’s dishonesty cannot be an excuse for media failures.

On his substack, Matthew Yglesias deconstructs what he calls, variously, “the media’s lab leak fiasco” and a “genuinely catastrophic media fuckup,” concluding that “this is a case of a smallish group of reporters and fact-checkers proclaiming a scientific consensus where none ever really existed.”

In the past several weeks, the once-largely dismissed lab leak theory has become more palatable to those in the press, in part due to several detailed and carefully argued pieces setting forth convincing arguments for, at the very least, looking more carefully at the case for the lab leak. (The piece that won me over was this one by former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade; there is also a smart piece by novelist and essayist Nicholson Baker in New York magazine.)

Some pieces — including “fact check” pieces devoted to trashing the lab leak theory — have been taken down or quietly revised as a result of this broader reconsideration. Looking back through much of the nonsense written over the last year or so in order to put down the lab leak theory, it’s hard not to cringe; the authors sound so certain about things we’re still nowhere near certain about.

Science is ever-changing; it’s contentious; it’s open to change when there’s new evidence or a new theory that explains the old evidence better. Scientific arguments, like political arguments, are rarely settled for good, and they’re definitely not settled by ignoring half the scientists out there because you’re not a fan of Donald Trump.

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GSS ex-noob
GSS ex-noob
3 months ago

@invivoMark: Thanks for bringing the actual science.

Right-wingers are lying for their own purposes. (insert Futurama’s Fry “shocked” GIF here)

Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
3 months ago

@Cyborgette

No worries. Being retired doesn’t mean not paying attention any more. 🙂

We have a small, highly cynical and only very slightly joking rule of thumb for when to start worrying – if New Zealand’s economy suddenly ticks up for no particular reason. Means the bastards are preparing their nests against the long night again.

invivoMark
invivoMark
3 months ago

@an autistic giraffe,

No, it isn’t surprising at all that it’s been difficult to trace the origin of this virus. It spreads much more easily from person to person than MERS, and a person is often contagious before they show symptoms, unlike SARS. That makes the virus far more difficult to trace. And although there was significant spread at the Wuhan market, the virus likely didn’t originate there. The first infection could have happened hundreds of miles away, and there may or may not have been an intermediate species.

The origin of SARS happened to be geographically near the earliest cases, and those cases were mostly among food workers. MERS happens to have emerged in a place where people live near camels. Finding the origins of those viruses was an easier puzzle than SARS-CoV-2 appears to be.

Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
3 months ago

@Threp: “PD cycles”?

Twopimann
Twopimann
3 months ago

No, they weren’t right, because they didnt have evidence for what they were claiming. You don’t get credit for being “right” by making blind guesses that maybe get proven years later. We need science, not soothsaying.

Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
3 months ago

@Surplus

Paranoid delusion cycles. Bout every 6 or 7 weeks a switch trips in her brain and she spends a week or so being totally paranoid and constructing elaborate fantasies, then it flicks back and she’s back to her normal cynical self.

Psych’s been working with her for ten years now to find out why, but nothing much yet since its so intermittent (and since her distrust of doctors is something she’s had since the 70’s so getting her to actually see the quack takes a full mule team), so we ride them out. Her cutting out dairy has reduced the severity slightly. Probably not much to be done though – her mother had them for the last 40 years of her life, so … I’ll keep on sleeping in the car a couple weeks a year, I guess! 😛

Last edited 3 months ago by Threp (formerly Shadowplay)
Elaine The Witch
Elaine The Witch
3 months ago

@mog

Perhaps I should clarify. When I say that I don’t think covid is natural, I don’t mean that it doesn’t exists in nature. I mean that I don’t think what happened could happen if humans weren’t medaling with the environment. And that medaling can be as simple as humans keeping a bunch of species of animals together in a lab. I feel that way about the black plague as well, I don’t think it wouldn’t have spread as much if humans hadn’t killed a bunch of cats and moved rat with infected flees from country to country. I don’t think scientist “invented” covid. But I think they started fucking around with nature and putting animals in environments they aren’t meant to be in and the results is this.

Dalillama
3 months ago

@Elaine
Yersinia pestis has been endemic in human-associated rodents and thus human populations, since the dawn of agriculture which caused the existence of said rodents to exist. It’s also endemic in many wild rodent populations to this day. (Stay well clear of prairie dogs, the little bastards have carried the plague since the last pandemic). If you’re saying that epidemics are a side effect of civilization in general, you’re correct but irrelevant, insasmuch as you, me, and probably a full third of the commenters here would be long dead without the benefits thereof. Also, there’s no longer any alternatives; too many people, too little ecosystem. So, in a certain since you may be right, but we’re locked into our course by choices made long ago, mostly by people now dead, so there’s really no point in saying that if history were entirely different so too would we be.

Elaine The Witch
Elaine The Witch
3 months ago

@Dalillama

Agree, which is why I don’t place a blame on anyone one type or group of people. I think this pandemic is a result of humanity and the horrible choices or ignorant choices we have made as a species. This isn’t a “the Chinese did a bad thing and now we’re all dying lets bomb them” type of thing. I think this could have happened anywhere with any group of people. I just wanted to say that because assholes have been using this pandemic to spread hate of Asian people. Hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased. the racist mother fuckers of the world are just begging for an excuse to release their hate and it’s not right. this isn’t because of the Chinese or anyone else type of problem. It’s a human problem.

but so many people want to assign blame because there has been so much hurt. Rather then it just be the reality that bad things happen and they can happen completely on accident. There isn’t an evil plot, no conspiracy, no super villain behind it all that wants to watch the world burn and people die, it’s an accident and people died because of it. Lives have been changed and ruined because of it and there is no reason behind it. That’s a horrible thing to have to live with so I understand people wanting there to be some meaning behind it or some person responsible for it to place blame on.

Hoon
Hoon
3 months ago

@invivomark

Can you DM me. We are preparing ourselves for the media blitz, and I’d like to go through the Wade article point by point, so that we can answer the lab leak questions that are bound to come up

GSS ex-noob
GSS ex-noob
3 months ago

@Dalillama: Once upon a time, the Catholic Church was having one of those World Youth gatherings, and the main area was full of prairie dogs. The bleeding hearts (most of them from cities far from the state) were adamant that the kyoot widdle fuzzies not be harmed.

The Church, having an institutional memory of the Black Plague, poisoned the lot and bulldozed over the burrows. Because they knew having a lot of people from around the world literally camping out among prairie dogs in the summer and then all going home to the ends of the earth, to places where it isn’t endemic, would be a Very Bad Thing.

The locals were “Eh, they’re rodents, they’ll recolonize soon, and we don’t want us or the kids getting sick either.”

Surplus to Requirements
Surplus to Requirements
3 months ago

Why did they hold this event there, instead of some place humans had already despoiled? :/

rv97
3 months ago

Point still stands that humans should still leave animals the fuck alone, at least as per some pro-vegan sticker I’ve seen where I live. “Militant” vegans seem to be rather mainstream where I live with regards to “radical” movements, but I’ve heard that they have issues with acknowledging intersectionality, particularly issues of race. I still commend vegans for what they stand for but wish they could be less white with their whole view of the world. I can’t bring myself to ditch meat although I’m open to initiatives that reduce animal domestication for resources and experiments.

GSS ex-noob
GSS ex-noob
3 months ago

@Surplus: It already was despoiled; right next to a highway and had parking lots, dirt bikes, permanent camp sites, fire pits, outdoor stage, and such. It was a big empty field that had easy freeway access.

That’s why the city let them camp there to begin with. And if the Church was going to pay to kill off the vermin, it didn’t have to come out of the municipal budget. Win-win for everyone except the prairie dogs. Who, of course, survived in the outlying areas and re-colonized. They’re tough little beasties who can breed fast.

And they are adorable. Great fun to watch.