At the start of the pandemic, many of us were puzzled as to why the lab leak hypothesis was considered “racist” but the wet market hypothesis was not. Both theories said the pandemic began in China, and both implied that some Chinese people had acted carelessly. (In reality, of course, neither theory is “racist”.)
The most likely reason why the lab leak theory came to be seen as “racist” is that this was convenient for several key organisations, who wanted to avoid any suggestion that they might have helped to cause the pandemic. These organisations include the Chinese Communist Party, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the National Institutes of Health, and EcoHealth Alliance.
The fact that President Trump endorsed the lab leak theory also played a role, of course. Left-wing media outlets in the US have a habit of assuming that, if Trump says something, then it must – almost by definition – be racist.
In a recent article for UnHerd, the biologist Bret Weinstein argues that we should actually welcome the lab leak theory. This is because, if it turns out to be true, we know how to prevent future pandemics of this kind. Simple: ban the research until we can figure out how to do it safely. (Or at the very least: ramp up lab security.)
However, if the zoonotic spillover theory is correct, then “it’s only a matter of time before something like this happens again. And again. And again.” As Weinstein notes, “The straightforward lesson of the pandemic would be to simply face up to the clear risk of studying dangerous, novel infectious agents in the lab.”
He goes on to argue that, if the virus did escape from a lab, then one of the pandemic’s ultimate causes is the distorted incentives that led scientists to undertake such dangerous research in the first place. According to Weinstein:
… the scientific method has been hijacked by a competition over who can tell the most beguiling stories. Scientists have become salesmen, pitching serious problems that they and their research just so happen to be perfectly positioned to solve. The fittest in this game are not the most accurate, but the most stirring. And what could be more stirring than a story in which bat caves are ticking pandemic time-bombs from which only the boldest and brightest gene experts can save us?
Weinstein’s article contains a lot of interesting details, and is worth reading in full.