Patterico's Pontifications


“Fact Checker” Asks How Wuhan Lab Leak Theory “Suddenly Became Credible”

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:54 am

Glenn Kessler has a piece titled Timeline: How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible:

How and why did this happen? For one, efforts to discover a natural source of the virus have failed. Second, early efforts to spotlight a lab leak often got mixed up with speculation that the virus was deliberately created as a bioweapon. That made it easier for many scientists to dismiss the lab scenario as tin-hat nonsense. But a lack of transparency by China and renewed attention to the activities of the Wuhan lab have led some scientists to say they were too quick to discount a possible link at first.

It did not “suddenly become credible.” It has always been credible. Jim Geraghty had the evidence back in April 2020. The problem is that the “fact checkers” of the world missed it because they were hellbent on mocking the bioweapon theory, and refused to see the difference between that and the more plausible leak theory. Caleb Howe had a joyous post last month about how Big Media mocked the idea. It’s still worth a read.

42 Responses to ““Fact Checker” Asks How Wuhan Lab Leak Theory “Suddenly Became Credible””

  1. P.S. I am still working up a big post on the Substack about police shootings. It’s a doozy.

    Patterico (e349ce)

  2. Every once in a while, Trump said things that had kernels of truth, such as that CV19 could’ve originated from a lab instead of a wet market. The problem is that he takes those kernels and stomps on them, such as when he accused China of intentionally releasing CV19 so as to hurt him, so it’s still better to presume his statements false until proven true.
    That said, the position should always have been we couldn’t rule in the assertion that CV19 came from a Chinese lab because of the lack of evidence, but we couldn’t rule it out either.

    Paul Montagu (a05eda)

  3. It wasn’t as insidious as a bioweapon theory. It was a simple theory that scientists were testing the virus in a lab – not to make a weapon out of it – possibly using gain-of-function, and the virus accidently got out of the lab.

    Our betters in the press, as well as Democrats, simply could not believe that this could happen. Because science. (Actually, because politics)

    Now that science is saying we should investigate whether COVID escaped from the lab, media and the Democrats are lying. They are saying they are cool with this theory now, because of science. They will not admit they were wrong before. Because politics.

    Never trust the media. Ever. J-School graduates are among the dumbest college graduates around. Yet they believe they are masters of whatever topic they cover. Science. Sports. Economics. Foreign relations.

    Hoi Polloi (121542)

  4. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine also addressed this topic. He pointed out that when Tom Cotton first mentioned the possibility of a lab leak, a Washington Post opinion writer wrongly claimed that he had advanced the bioweapon theory when he had done no such thing. For a lot of reasons (Donald Trump being chief among them) it became the mission of the academic/media/bureaucratic culture to fully exculpate China for this mess. That’s why in the earliest days we were treated to all of these fatuous stories about how Beijing was engaging in “pandemic diplomacy” by manufacturing and distributing millions of testing kits, even though we later learned that a whole lot of them didn’t work. It’s almost as if the Chinese Communist Party dictated much of the U.S. news coverage, or at the very least strongly influenced it.

    JVW (ee64e4)

  5. as for those branded racist for even suggesting the lab theory, sincere apologies should be flooding in about now

    JF (e1156d)

  6. @4 imagine how different the coverage would’ve been if the virus originated in russia

    the legions who ran interference for china have some explaining to do, not that there’s anyone left in the media who could compel them to

    JF (e1156d)

  7. @5, The racist people who wanted to scapegoat China for racist reasons are still racists.

    Time123 (6e0727)

  8. We should have been paying attention when the Chinese built a hospital in Wuhan in late January 2020 and went around welding shut the doors of apartment complexes. At that time our government, including the CDC, was minimizing the threat. We let people return from China without testing them. We had no centralized federal response to the threat. If we’d have known that this virus came from a lab rather than coming from some critter, would our response have differed?

    Fred (ffa60f)

  9. This report is from April 2020:

    Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, U.S. Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats. . . .

    What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. . . .

    No extra assistance to the labs was provided by the U.S. government in response to these cables. . . .

    Radegunda (aea52f)

  10. @7 funny how we can’t discern exactly who they are

    if you posit the theory, you might be a racist, not sure

    kind of like if you hurl racist accusations, you might be a CCP apologist, not sure

    JF (e1156d)

  11. People like Steve King, Trump, Cotton and others were pretty obvious in what they were doing and why. But debating it with you is pointless so I didn’t bother.

    Time123 (cd2ff4)

  12. People like Steve King, Trump, Cotton and others were pretty obvious in what they were doing and why.

    What is your argument with Sen. Cotton that makes you lump him in with those other two?

    JVW (ee64e4)

  13. @11 let’s not airbrush history

    accusations of racism for suggesting the lab theory were not limited to those three, or people “like” them

    it was literally everyone by implication, and there were facebook and youtube bans, and still are

    JF (e1156d)

  14. I agree with JF @13. But I also agree with Paul @2. It was Trump who diminished its credibility.

    nk (1d9030)

  15. When the media passes severything through the “Will it help Trump?” filter, then replaces that with the “Will it help Biden?” one, you get stunning reversals like this.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  16. And it’s not just the mass media.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  17. It was a surprisingly effective bioweapon in effect, if not in intent. It crippled the world economy, and affected open societies more than closed ones, without being so lethal it started a shooting war.

    I suspect that we will never really know whether it “just happened”, was leaked, or was malicious. Our government(s) wouldn’t tell us even if they knew, especially if it was malicious; although policy towards China might change in that case.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  18. It was Trump who diminished its credibility.

    Everyone who ever claimed that Covid was a hoax concocted by Democrats to hurt Trump (“It’s just the season flu, folks!”) had no credibility in pointing to Chinese culpability.

    Radegunda (aea52f)

  19. The racist people who wanted to scapegoat China for racist reasons are still racists.

    The non-racists who wanted to hold China accountable for their actions are still racists, too.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  20. Everyone who ever claimed that Covid was a hoax concocted by Democrats to hurt Trump (“It’s just the season flu, folks!”) had no credibility

    Full stop.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  21. Kevin,
    Since it’s thankfully rare for people to openle espouse racism some of the conclusion is from context. For instance I’ve never thought you were motivated by xenophobia or a racist desire to blame China. People like Trump who tried repeatedly to do that did poison the well as a reasonable discussion of if it was created in the Wuhan biolab put you right next to the “Kungflu/WuhanFlu/Chinavirus” crowd.

    I would also like to hold China accountable for their actions. To me part of that is making it clear that’s what we’re doing, and not trying to create a scapegoat to improve a political problem. This is another example of where the credibility of our leaders matters, not just domestically but internationally as well.

    If You, Trump, and Richard Spencer all say “we need to hold china accountable.” I think it’s reasonable to draw 3 different conclusions of the speakers intent.


    Time123 (cd2ff4)

  22. If You, Trump, and Richard Spencer all say “we need to hold china accountable.”

    Mr Spencer and I probably put some thought into it, starting from different assumptions. For all I know Trump just augured some bones.

    As I’ve said, I doubt we will really know the place where this started, but we DO know what China’s actions were after it did. At the beginning, I’m willing to accept that low-level bureaucrats were acting like low-level bureaucrats — buck-passing, ass-covering and general denial. But at some point it became state policy to mislead, and to use cooperation as leverage. That we had a President that was so self-serving that he was easily misled and manipulated is on us though.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  23. Bats…. bioweapons… pandemics… China lies and Trump truths…

    It’s all just… incredible.


    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  24. @22, well said and the ‘augured some bones’ line is hilarious

    Time123 (6e0727)

  25. So the “Flounder” defense may work for China.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  26. It just became credible to the bulk of people. That is reasonable to say.

    Previously, the vast bulk of noise about the theory came from crazypants cultists and those encouraging them. I know Patterico supported the theory too, but, with respect, from my perspective, he is occasionally crazy-curious (but thankfully usually pulls back).

    Not being a geneticist, epidemiologist, etc., I poo-pooed the nutcases shouting about this because they’re nuts. When sensible people starting making noises about a theory, then it may be worth investigating. I’m not going to apologize for ignoring shitbags like Rand Paul or the antivax nut jobs, and nobody else should, either.

    john (cd2753)

  27. Most likely theory: The research was probably funded by the Chinese military, which has its fingers into a lot of things. That’s why it was somewhat unsupervised because what is highly secret can escape normal supervision. It was more like basic research than practical research for a bioweapon.

    Because the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology thought it was too dangerous, it was quietly moved offsite to escape her interference – to the Wuhan Center for Disease and Prevention, approximately 300 yards from a location that was persistently misdescribed for months as a “wet market,” but in reality was a seafood market, which doesn’t, as a rule, contain many creatures that breathe air.

    The only reason for selecting that market as the false point of origin would be that it was close to the real source of origin, or an important point of spread. Otherwise, they could have picked a real “wet market.”

    It was not the real origin.

    Early theories about the virus jumping to humans after an unlucky person ate a bowl of bat soup in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan were dismissed last May, effectively ruling out the market as the source of the outbreak. Moreover, bats hibernate in the winter months when the virus was supposedly first detected, so a human encounter with a wild bat was always a rather unlikely cause.

    It didn’t come directly from bats – the bats in question live some 500 miles from Wuhan, hibernate during the winter, and, I think I read, can’t readily be infected by SARS-CoV-2. So they were looking for an intermediate host, and/or similarities in the virus to a coronavirus that infects other animals, but didn’t find one.

    8. Fred (ffa60f) — 5/25/2021 @ 8:27 am

    If we’d have known that this virus came from a lab rather than coming from some critter, would our response have differed?

    If we thought it came from a lab, but weren’t thinking it was designed for easier transmission, we might have been more complacent at first (like the authorities in Wuhan were) because it would seem to be less likely to spread from person to person than something that spread in the wild.

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  28. I still believe it was a gain of function manipation of the original SARS or a similar variation to try and create an airborne vaccine. It escaped due to awful controls and then China hid the truth and deliberately seeded the world with the virus so the rest of the world would suffer instead of just China suffering.

    Saving face is critically important to the mainland Chinese. Even at the expense of millions of lives which are meaningless to them.

    NJRob (fbe422)

  29. @28, NJRob, I’ve come to think you’re likely correct.

    Time123 (6e0727)

  30. Don’t forget how invested the Democrats were on “xenophobic Trump”. Nancy Pelosi welcomed everyone to come pack in and celebrate Chinese New Year in response to Trump’s bellicose warnings on Wuhan virus, the China virus etc. The Italians went all in for a “Hug A Chinese person” all were stupid reflexes to what is turning out to have been true.
    If this pandemic had happend in 2017 it would have been handled better because in an election year, EVERYTHING is fair game

    steveg (ebe7c1)

  31. NJRob (fbe422) — 5/25/2021 @ 1:13 pm

    I still believe it was a gain of function manipation of the original SARS or a similar variation

    Not the original SARS – which by the way, once leaked from a lab after the original outbreak – but a virus found in a cave in a mine Yunnan in 2012, which is 96% identical. It’s called RaBtCoV/4991 and it, or a simillar one, may have another name, too, RaTG13. We know about that cave because several years ago a Master’s thesis and also a Ph.D thesis and scientific papers were published about it. (omitting some details sometimes)

    That cave is now guarded; the history of what happened to samples taken from it not revealed, and not only is the origin of the virus a secret, but the fact that it is a secret, is also a secret (which is actually true if many secrets in China)

    Chinese authorities have obstructed independent efforts to investigate the mine, setting up a checkpoint nearby where unidentified men stopped several foreign journalists in recent weeks, on one occasion warning there were wild elephants ahead.

    A Journal reporter reached the mine by mountain bike but was later detained and questioned for about five hours by police, who deleted a cellphone photograph of the mine. Villagers told the reporter that local officials had warned them not to discuss the mine with outsiders.


    On Friday, after repeated requests from scientists to share the genetic sequences of the viruses, Dr. Shi and colleagues released a scientific paper on a preprint server, meaning that it has yet to be peer-reviewed. The paper said the eight were almost identical to each other and only 77.6% similar to SARS-CoV-2, although one part of their genetic code was a 97.2% match. “Albeit there is a speculation claiming the possible leaking of RaTG13 from lab that caused SARS-CoV-2, the experiment evidence cannot support it,” the paper said.


    Dr. Shi has publicly described doing experiments, including in 2018 and 2019, to see if various bat coronaviruses could use a certain spike protein on their surfaces to bind to an enzyme in human cells known as ACE2. That is how both the SARS virus and SARS-CoV-2 infect humans.

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  32. The original idea for gain-of-function research came from a mad scientist at the Universty of North Carolina. When Dr, Fauci cut off funding for that kind of research in 2014. he interested the Chinese in Wuhan in this. Fauci may have resumed indirect funding in 2017.

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  33. Xiden knows where his 10% is coming from JF.

    NJRob (eb56c3)

  34. Americans are casualty averse. Chinese could give a rats ass as long as the cannon fodder are the ones dying. When the Chinese swept into Korea the first wave was said to be conscripts, poorly armed and wearing sandals. They absorbed a lot of .50 cal.

    steveg (ebe7c1)

  35. — What did one strand of Trump’s combover say to the other strand?
    — Do you think we could be part of a cover up?

    nk (1d9030)


    But I think Joe Biden doesn’t. He leaves it to lower level officials. That would be because he knows the government of China is extremely sensitive about it.

    But what would explain its extreme sensitivity to this?

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  37. But what would explain its extreme sensitivity to this?

    The Chinese empires have at various times been described as “gilt and lacquer over dryrot”. What makes this one different? A 21st century facade to the world and still a Third World nation underneath?

    nk (1d9030)

  38. 32.

    The original idea for gain-of-function research came from a mad scientist at the Universty of North Carolina. When Dr, Fauci cut off funding for that kind of research in 2014. he interested the Chinese in Wuhan in this.

    Dr, Ralph Baric. But even he now calls for further investigation. He was among 18 people signed a letter published in Science on May 13 asking fir serious investigation of the lab hypothesis and calling for research laboratories all over the world to open their records and he elaborated on this in an email to the Wall Syreet Journal.

    If you study what the Wall Street Journal says carefully, you will realize he thinks it could have leaked froma lab, but it wasn’t created in a lab – at least not with any research that he had anything to do with.

    This is because, while Dr Shi Zhengli, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology who was his collaborator after Dr. Fauci cut off funding for “gain of function” research in 2014 described some experiments, going up to 2018 and 2019, in which her lab tried combining one bat coronavirus with the spike protein of another and then trying to infecting mice genetically engineered to contain could use a certain spike protein on their surfaces to bind to an enzyme in human cells known as ACE2 which is in fact the way SARS virus and SARS-CoV-2 infect people.

    But he and others think the bat coronavirus that came from that mine in 2012, and which, at 96.2% similarity to SARS-CoV-2 genetically, was the closest known relative the lab was known to have until their database was taken offline in September, 2019 (because of 3,000 cyberattacks she told the WHO investigators in February 2021) is not similar enough to SARS-CoV-2 to have been used as a template to create it – and besides, says Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, which funded some bat coronaviruss research in Wuhan (after 2017?) the Wuhan lab was not able to clture that virus.

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  39. …while Dr Shi Zhengli described some experiments, going up to 2018 and 2019, the 96.2% bat virus retrieved in 2012 that was 96.2% similar to SARS-CoV-2 genetically, was still not close enough to SARS-CoV-2 to have been used in an experiment that created it.

    They are keeping people away from that mine, not because of what they might discover, but because of what they might not discover – that it, or a virus used as part of the basis to create it didn’t come from there.

    But from somewhere else and that that virus, even more than 96/2% identical, where a virus was not logged in, or maybe one was removed from the log.

    We also know (probably from a researcher or researchers) of Netherlands citizenship who were working at the WIV that people got sick around November, 2019, and 3 researchers were even hospitalized. (it would have been known to the person or persons from the Netherlands, because everyone at the WIV knew it, because they had to be told, for their own protection, something like SARS was going around but only non-Chinese could talk +about it to outsiders later, even confidentially.)

    This does not mean that the WIV itself was the place a virus might have escaped from, because some of them might have been going back and forth between the WIV and the Wuhan CDC&P, which is located very close to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. And I think it came from research that moved there, because Dr Shi Zhengli is reputed to run a very tight ship.

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  40. 38. nk (1d9030) — 5/26/2021 @ 8:31 am

    What makes this one different?

    Its totalitarian. But there’s still a lot of discretion given to lower ranking people, and local despots.

    One independent actor took it upon himself to bribe the Bidens in 2017, after Joe Biden had left office – and he got purged and his huge company destroyed. That last fact doesn’t tend to get mentioned by Republicans. (there was another Chinese connection, dating to 2013)

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  41. I don;t think the Chinese government set out to make the rest of the world suffer. I think they just didn’t want to be cut off from the rest of the world – so first it tried to hide it, then to contain it within China, and then to claim it was not contagious from person to person. They were very interested in having it not escape from China, but only by using methods under the Communist government’s control..

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

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