As we all know, leading virologists went to great lengths to stifle discussion of the lab leak theory of Covid origins – despite lending it credence in their private communications.
Twenty-seven signed the infamous Lancet letter, which referred to claims that “COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” as “conspiracy theories”.
Yet one of the co-signers later admitted he initially believed there was a 50% chance the virus leaked from a lab. And another wrote in an email, sent one month after the letter’s publication, “I do not see how anyone could definitively state that the virus could not possibly have come from that lab.”
A third co-authored a paper stating, “we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible”. Yet mere weeks before, he’d written in an email that “some of the features (potentially) look engineered” and that he and several colleagues “all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory”.
A fourth wrote an email referring to the lab leak as a “very destructive conspiracy”, asking his colleagues whether there was something the NIH could do to “help put [it] down”. And a fifth stated in an email that “further debate” about the lab leak theory could do “unnecessary harm” to science.
Did their efforts pay off? Are most people around the world convinced that the lab leak is a “conspiracy theory” for which there’s no hard evidence? They aren’t – according to a major new poll.
YouGov asked respondents in 26 countries, “Which one, if any, of the following best describes how you think Coronavirus first emerged?” They were five response categories (as well as “other/don’t know”):
• “It was a natural mutation that occurred in the wild”
• “It was a natural mutation that occurred in humans”
• “It was a natural mutation that was released from a laboratory by accident”
• “It was artificially created in a laboratory on purpose, and then released by accident”
• “It was artificially created in a laboratory on purpose, and then released on purpose”
The numbers in YouGov’s table are a bit hard to read, but Twitter user Triple Bankshot has helpfully graphed them:
In 25 out of 26 countries, a plurality of respondents said the virus was released from a lab. With the exception of Danes, in other words, more people believe the lab leak than the natural origin theory.
What’s more, in most countries, more people said it was released intentionally than said it has a natural origin. This was even true in countries that have a favourable view of China, like Russia, Kenya and Nigeria.
Interestingly, North West Europeans seem to be among the least likely to believe the lab leak theory. Is this because of greater trust in government? Probably not. Although European surveys show trust is particularly high in countries like Sweden and Denmark, international surveys show it’s just as high in Russia and India.
YouGov’s poll shows the public aren’t having it. Most people around the world think the virus leaked from a lab, Lancet letter be damned.