Matt Ridley

The Role of Citizen Journalists in Discovering the Truth About Covid’s Origins

Viral, a new book about the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus by Alina Chan and Matt Ridley, investigates whether it was a naturally occurring virus that jumped from animals to humans… or a lab leak. The Daily Mail has published an extract in today’s paper in which the authors describe the role of citizen journalists in discovering the truth that the mainstream media wasn’t interested in.

In the city of Bhubaneswar, India, a man known as ‘The Seeker’ was rifling through a Chinese website.

It was May 18th, 2020, and he was responding to a tweet by an American scientist speculating about the origin of the virus ripping its way across the planet.

And, using login details he’d found online, he was searching through a digital anthology of academic work.

Then, suddenly, he stumbled on a medical thesis which reported how, in 2012, six men fell ill after clearing out piles of bat guano from an old copper mine in Yunnan, in south-western China. Three of the men had died.

The doctors suspected the men had caught a virus that originated in bats, and the case had been investigated by virologists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), more than 1,000 miles away.

The Seeker, a slim 30-year-old with shoulder-length hair, has been accused variously of working for the CIA or Indian intelligence services. But the truth is rather less dramatic.

“I learned how to make search engines work for me,” he told us. “It was more madness than method.”

Motivated by an interest in finding out how the pandemic began and skilled at trawling the internet for clues, he began communicating on Twitter with a group of other internet ‘sleuths’ from around the world – all pursuing the same question: where did the virus that causes COVID-19 originate?

Soon, some of the sleuths had coalesced into a loose confederation known as DRASTIC (Decentralised Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19). And more key findings were quick to follow.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A U.S. intelligence report claims that the lab leak theory is probably correct, given the dangerous nature of the experiments being done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the lax biosecurity protocols. The FT has more.

WHO Distances Itself From its Own ‘Whitewash’ Report Dismissing Covid Lab Leak Theory

No sooner had the World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday published its report into the origins of the Wuhan coronavirus, than the Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was making a public statement distancing the organisation from what observers are calling a “whitewash”.

The report, which had been conducted with heavy reliance on Chinese scientists and under pressure from Chinese authorities, concluded it was “extremely unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 had escaped from a lab, claiming instead it was most likely the novel virus had passed from bats via an “intermediate animal host” before sparking an “explosive outbreak” in Wuhan in December 2019.

With a rare and welcome criticism of the Chinese Government, Dr Ghebreyesus said: “I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing” and insisted that “all hypotheses remain on the table”.

The United States, the UK and 12 other countries (Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Slovenia) issued a joint statement echoing the Director General’s concerns: “It is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples.”

The European Union, more meekly, said that it regretted the delays and the “limited availability of early samples and related data”.

Dr Peter Ben-Embarek, head of the WHO mission at the centre of the controversy, defended his report, saying the “zoonotic origins” of the pandemic had been the agreed remit of the investigation rather than a potential laboratory accident. A defence which rather begs the question as to why the investigation was disbarred by design from looking into one of the key possibilities.

Dr Ben-Embarek, for reasons best known to himself, felt moved to offer a rather feeble defence of the Chinese Government’s lack of cooperation.

Of course there are areas where we had difficulties in getting down to the raw data, and there are many good reasons for that. In China, like in many other countries, there are restrictions on privacy laws that forbid the sharing of data, including private details to outsiders in particular. Where we did not have full access to the overall data, this has been put as a recommendation for future studies. So the idea is that, because we didn’t have time or because certain authorisation needs to be given before we could get access to the data, all that could be done in the second phase of studies.

Science journalist Matt Ridley aptly called it a “pure whitewash” when he appeared yesterday morning on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s show on talkRADIO. He pointed out that although the report concludes it’s very likely that an animal carried the virus to Wuhan, this conclusion is at odds with the 20-30 pages in the report which note that 45,000 animals in China have been tested for the virus and none have been found with it.

Former CDC Director: SARS-CoV-2 Escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology

A former director of the CDC in the US – Robert Redfield – has told a CNN interviewer that he believes the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and didn’t originate in the city’s wet market. MailOnline has more.

The former director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, says he believes COVID-19 “escaped” from Wuhan lab in China and may have been circling as early as September 2019.

Redfield made the admission in a CNN interview on Friday but stressed it was his “opinion”.

It is the first time Redfield, who was appointed CDC director by President Trump, has stated publicly that he believes COVID-19 originated in a lab and not in a wet market where an initial cluster of cases was linked to.

“I’m of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory… escaped. Other people don’t believe that, that’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out,” he said.

“It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in laboratories to infect the laboratory worker.

“That’s not implying any intentionality. It’s my opinion, right? But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Readers of Lockdown Sceptics won’t need reminding that this hypothesis used to be dismissed as a “conspiracy theory”. But the theory is gaining more and more traction and is the subject of Matt Ridley’s next book.