Yes, I did write a piece, finally.
Just finished it, excellent work, you really are a skilled and dogged researcher.
What jumped out to me was the tragic intransigence of the Wuhan lab defenders in the face of contrary evidence. The "no live bats in our lab" bit turned straight to comedy!
This reminds me of the old game show, $20,000 Pyramid, in which one half of a contestant team would make tangential statements around a topic statement, and the other player would have to guess what that topic was.
One contestant; "I feed the bats when the students are away"
"I have bagged a dozed bats to bring back for further study"
"It hurts like a needle jab when bats bite you"
"We have 12 cages for bats"
"We have applied for a patent for our bat cage"
Second contestant--"Things you say when you have bats in your lab!"
What an amazing article. Thank you.
It is possible to oppose anti-Chinese racism and the Chinese ruling class at the same time!!
"Research can be weighted toward response rather than prediction; these overlap but aren’t identical."
If we were to weigh the human cost of predictive vs. responsive research in viral research over the decades, it would seem to me that "predictive" is the less desirable path, particularly if SARS-CoV-2 ends up falling into that category.
In Failure Mode analysis, a Risk Priority Number (RPN) = S×P×D where S is the severity of the effect of failure, P is the probability of failure, and D is the ease of failure detection. RPN is used to prioritize prevention/remediation efforts.
Your piece does not give the impression that much failure mode analysis was performed in many (most?) of the events and situations outlined. Sadly, I also suspect that "the probability of failure" could be freely substituted with "the probability of researcher hubris" without altering the results.
"Some scientists have proposed imposing stricter controls and a stronger risk-benefit analysis for research on pathogens that could inadvertently spark pandemics."
Thank you. This is an aspect that has been massively neglected. I am not opposed to research, but I have not seen any evidence that gain-of-function or any of the other research has been of benefit even if lab escape is not the source of COVID. We are just not having a rational discussion about this and how best to deploy resources to prepare for the next time.
A wonderful piece even by your standards - a high bar! I'll be pointing out to many friends of different stripes that this is what it looks like when seeking the truth is your only concern.
I guess it's a measure of my own strangeness that I find it *especially* satisfying that there's no tidy answer that wraps everything up. Here is what we know; here is what we don't know, and why; here is what we may never know. Here are the critical lessons we must learn anyway.
Wow. All of the information backed up and linked to sources, just wonderfully balanced and presented. I wish the NYT allowed comments on this piece so I could tell readers how fortunate they are to have your work.
I know you left out much more, but that was in order to make your case. It al came together so well.
I read it, and found the information about the relative frequency of leakage from supposedly high-safety labs to provide interesting context. Reading about the cloud of obfuscation surrounding the Wuhan lab practices was also new to me, perhaps because I haven't done much homework on this issue!
Even so, and I think you acknowledge this, there isn't enough public evidence to settle the origin question definitively. Given how closed China is, we may not know for years what really happened, if ever.
Secondly, for folks who like to use DNA similarity between SARS-Cov2 and some wild bat viruses (96.4%, I think) as one of the dots connecting the Wuhan lab to this pandemic, I'd like to point out that humans and Chimps share 98.8% of their DNA. To my mind, the similarity may still be relevant, but a lot more dots on that path are needed to make the case than I have seen offered up to now. IOW, this piece of info is more distraction than evidence at the moment, so I'm not sure why you included it in your article, especially given the disclaimer you threw in.
Zeynep, different topic -- what is the story on the Delta variant? I hear it is more transmissible, but less deadly; more transmissible, but equally deadly; or more transmissible, but more deadly. The answer kind of contributes to the origins story as most viruses will mutate to less deadly versions, but a man-made virus might act differently.
Superb article. Many thanks for writing and publishing this. Your honesty with the facts and caution with speculation is much appreciated.
Thank you for this fantastic work! On the issue of prediction/response, hoping that technologies like the mRNA vaccine platform and computer simulation can further obviate the need for dangerous research.
The NYT piece is full of new (to me) detail and, uh, insight. Bravississima!
So glad you tackled this tough issue, Zeynep, and am looking forward to the Insight posts.
Fascinating combination of science and politics in an authoritarian regime. I had thought of the Tuskeegee experiment, but there the subjects weren’t given the syphilis — those who had it already had it.
Have you read anything about the vaccine trials for Sinovac? Did those follow recognized protocols?
Excellent balanced reporting. Thank you for carefully laying out the facts.
Thanks for publishing the analysis, Zeynep. Looking forward to reading more on this from you here. If you feel comfortable saying, how did you decide what to say or omit about the conflicts and disingenuousness (or worse) of EcoHealth Alliance?
It will be interesting, to say the least, to compare ZT's analysis point by point to whatever the USA/CIA releases. Thanks for providing a baseline.