Over the last few months, the theory that the novel coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory has been gathering momentum after initially being ridiculed as a zany example of tinfoil-hattery last year—but a group of scientists have had enough of the growing speculation.
Writing for The Lancet, the same group of researchers who in February 2020 described the lab leak idea as a baseless conspiracy theory said that they haven’t changed their minds. In fact, they state that recent studies have only bolstered their belief that the virus evolved naturally.
The lab leak theory has snowballed this year, particularly after President Joe Biden ordered a fresh effort from his intelligence officials to determine how the pandemic began, including a serious evaluation of the possibility that it broke out of a lab in Wuhan in the final months of 2019.
But, despite more and more people taking the lab leak theory seriously, this eminent group of scientists wrote in The Lancet that there’s still no evidence for it. In February 2020, they dismissed the lab leak origin as a “conspiracy theory,” and cited a string of academic papers to back up their belief that the coronavirus “originated in wildlife” before infecting millions.
In the article published Monday, they said the natural origin theory has become more credible—not less.
The group of scientists wrote: “We believe the strongest clue from new, credible, and peer-reviewed evidence in the scientific literature is that the virus evolved in nature, while suggestions of a laboratory-leak source of the pandemic remain without scientifically validated evidence that directly supports it in peer-reviewed scientific journals.”
The experts actually seem pretty angry about government officials lending credibility to the theory, writing at one point: “Allegations and conjecture are of no help, as they do not facilitate access to information and objective assessment of the pathway from a bat virus to a human pathogen that might help to prevent a future pandemic. Recrimination has not, and will not, encourage international cooperation and collaboration.”
The lab leak theory was initially pushed by Donald Trump and his supporters in the early months of the pandemic, and was almost universally dismissed among more serious people.
However, the World Health Organization’s efforts to investigate the pandemic’s origins have left many questions unanswered, and the theory was reignited last month when emails were released showing that Dr. Anthony Fauci was warned at the start of the pandemic that the virus might have been “engineered.” Fauci also recently asked Beijing to release medical records of Wuhan lab workers who fell sick in 2019.
The shifting of the lab leak theory from ridiculed conspiracy theory to a topic worthy of rigorous investigation has seen outlets such as the Washington Post and Vox correct old articles to reflect that the theory is no longer considered to be debunked.
Last week, Trump even boasted at a rally in Ohio that he had been proven right about the origins of the virus—although that is far from the truth.
In the face of increased speculation, the scientists urged commentators and officials to take a step back and provide evidence if they want to push the lab leak theory, writing: “It is time to turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry if we are to be better prepared to stem the next pandemic, whenever it comes and wherever it begins.”