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The lab leak hypothesis

P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 17, 2020. Photographer: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Suddenly, there’s been a great deal of concern over the media being too certain that COVID-19 didn’t emerge from a lab in Wuhan. But I’m not sure why this is supposed to be such a big deal. First of all, while we should entertain all possibilities, the presumption that the virus occurred naturally remains sound:

As far as I can tell:

  • The media overstated the certainty of the scientific community that the virus originated from a zoonosis, in part because of the Trumpian conspiracy theorizing trying to blame China for his own massive fuck-ups. And…sure. The media has made far more consequential mistakes over the past five years, but sure.
  • There is no actual affirmative evidence for the “lab leak” hypothesis.
  • There are no material policy consequences if the “lab leak” hypothesis is true.
  • The increase in violence against Asian-Americans should compel people to be very careful about getting ahead of the evidence.
  • We will probably never actually know for certain the source of the virus.

So follow the evidence wherever it leads, but I just don’t think this is a very important story, and the burden of proof remains squarely on the “lab leak” theory.

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