The former New York Times science writer whose lengthy analysis of the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic played a major role in forcing establishment officials and media to no longer dismiss the possibility of a lab leak as a fringe conspiracy theory, says newly released emails make the theory even more plausible.
Nicholas Wade, writing for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, spotlights emails obtained by the House Oversight and Reform Committee between National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and recently retired National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins.
Wade, who worked at the journals Nature and Science, wrote that the emails provide further evidence of a conspiracy to suppress the idea that the virus emerged from research funded by Fauci’s NIAID.
He noted that from “almost the moment the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the city of Wuhan, the medical-research establishment in Washington and London insisted that the virus had emerged naturally.”
“Only conspiracy theorists, they said, would give credence to the idea that the virus had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” he wrote.
The lab-leak theory gained traction in May 2021 when Wade published a nearly 11,000-word analysis concluding the circumstantial evidence clearly points to a lab leak. The Wall Street Journal later reported three researchers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized with possible COVID symptoms in November 2019, when the outbreak in the city of 11 million began.
Wade said that while the latest emails don’t prove the lab leak conspiracy, they make it more plausible.
The correspondence between Fauci and Collins and prominent virologists shows there was a strong case for the virus having lab-made features and reveals they were motivated by political considerations to suppress that theory.
Four virologists led by Kristian G. Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute told Fauci in a Jan. 31, 2020 email that the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 appeared to be “inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.”
In other words, the novel coronavirus looked like it was engineered in a lab.
However, after a teleconference the next day to discuss the virologists’ conclusion, Andersen “was singing a different tune,” Wade wrote.
In a Feb. 4, 2020, email, he dismissed the lab-leak possibility as among “crackpot theories” that “relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case.”
Andersen and his colleagues then published a March 17, 2020, article in the journal Nature Medicine that stated, “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”
It mirrored an earlier article published in February 2020 in the British medical journal The Lancet written by zoologist Peter Daszak, known for his work with the “bat lady” Zhi Shengli on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The articles persuaded mainstream media not to investigate lab-leak theories and “froze into silence any dissenting voices from the scientific community.”
Significantly, Wade pointed out, the virologists “had little doubt that the virus bore the fingerprints of manipulation.”
Their attention was drawn to the virus’ furin cleavage site, the genetic material that makes the virus so infectious for humans. The SARS-CoV-2 furin cleavage site, a string of 12 units of RNA, was exactly the required length, which as Wade pointed out is a precision unusual in nature.
“I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature … it’s stunning,” one virologist wrote in an email transcribed by the House panel. “Of course, in the lab it would be easy to generate the perfect 12 base insert that you wanted.”
Wade noted that the conferees were clearly aware of the possibility that the virus had originated in the Wuhan lab.
“So I think it becomes a question of how do you put all this together,” wrote one virologist, “whether you believe in this series of coincidences, what you know of the lab in Wuhan, how much could be in nature—accidental release or natural event? I am 70:30 or 60:40,” meaning he thought lab origin considerably more likely than not.
But Collins complained that the idea the virus escaped from a lab would be damaging politically.
“The voices of conspiracy will quickly dominate, doing great potential harm to science and international harmony,” he wrote on Feb. 2, 2020, according to the new emails.
Collins said even after the March 2020 Nature Medicine article that the lab-leak idea might not have been sufficiently suppressed.
“Wondering if there is something NIH can do to help put down this very destructive conspiracy,” he emailed Fauci on April 16.
Fauci was not as concerned, saying it’s “a shiny object that will go away in times.”
Wade noted that Fauci and Collins were big proponents of gain-of-function research, making a virus more virulent and more transmissible to humans and then researching possible ways to combat it in an effort to get ahead of a potential outbreak. They wrote in the Washington Post in 2011, “Important information and insights can come from generating a potentially dangerous virus in the laboratory.”
In 2014, prevailing over the doubters, they began supporting a program of manipulating SARS-related viruses in Wuhan. NIH money, through Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance, funded Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan lab.
Along with adding novel spike proteins, Shi’s manipulations might have included insertion of a furin cleavage site, Wade wrote.
In fact, EcoHealth applied for a grant from the Defense Department in 2018 for research that proposed to “introduce appropriate human-specific cleavage sites” into SARS-like coronaviruses. Defense turned down the grant, but Wade pointed out Shi’s research team “was clearly aware of the technique and may well have conducted such experiments with other funds.”
“If there really was a conspiracy surrounding the origin of SARS-CoV-2, Congress should search for it — first, in the still-closed records of the National Institutes of Health and the EcoHealth Alliance,” Wade wrote. “Congress then needs to ask scientists free of outside pressures or conflicts to reassess the probable origin of a virus that has now killed some 5 million people worldwide.
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