According to the government, we’ll never know the origins of coronavirus unless China miraculously decides to cooperate. The two-page report issued last week contains nothing of value, no new insights, some sloppy thinking, and bad science. It’s enough to make one think they know the truth, but are afraid to say it.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden ordered US intelligence agencies to produce a report that would “bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” on how and where coronavirus originated, whether in the wild or from a lab. At the time, opinions on whether the virus originated naturally from a non-human species, most likely a bat, or had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were rapidly changing after two key events. The Wall Street Journal reported that several Chinese scientists who worked in the lab appeared to have developed coronavirus symptoms in late 2019 and several independent scientists issued analyses concluding that the virus could not have originated naturally. The news of both was earth shattering enough that what would’ve been considered conspiracy theories and kooky ideas banned from social media in 2020, suddenly went mainstream.
Three months later, however, we don’t really know anything more than we did then. It was hoped that the US government report would provide additional detail, but unfortunately for us all, the unclassified version at least, says absolutely nothing of any value. Running a measly two pages, it reaches no conclusions and provides no data. The best they can say is the overwhelmingly obvious, and even that is only considered probable, “the virus that causes COVID-19, probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019.” Otherwise, they claim to reach definitive conclusions that aren’t so definitive, using a combination of tortured language and twisted syntax to allow for the opposite of what they are suggesting to be true.
This is government speak at its worst: “Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered.” Fans of the English language might find themselves wondering if they have “low confidence” it “probably was not engineered,” does that mean they have high confidence it probably was engineered? Why is the confidence “low” and why further compound the confusion by using “probably”? Alas, the confusion is compounded even further when they add “two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way,” and the report doesn’t get anymore clear from there, saying only that they “remain divided on the most likely origin of COVID-19.”
If, like me, you thought the whole point of the report was to provide clarity, there is none to be found. All we know for sure is that four “IC elements and the National Intelligence Council” endorse the natural origin theory with the caveat of low confidence. They add that the originator virus “probably would be more than 99% similar to SARS-Cov-2, but fail to note that no such virus has been found or identified in close to two years of looking. “One IC element,” however has “moderate” confidence that “the first human infection…most likely was the result of a laboratory associated incident, probably involving experimentation, animal handling, or sampling by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” Inexplicably, they go on to seemingly absolve China if this were the case, adding “These analysts give weight to the inherently risky nature of work on coronaviruses.”
Otherwise, analysts at “three IC elements remain unable to coalesce around either explanation without additional information, with some analysts favoring natural origin, others a laboratory origin, and some seeing the hypotheses as equally likely.” Helpfully or unhelpfully as it were, they add “Variations in analytic views largely stem from differences in how agencies weigh intelligence reporting and scientific publications, and intelligence and scientific gaps,” without providing the slightest detail on the evidence they have in hand, their methodology, or what those gaps maybe. Ultimately, they end by completely punting on the entire matter, essentially claiming we will never know, “The IC judges they will be unable to provide a more definitive explanation for the origin of COVID-19 unless new information allows them to determine the specific pathway for initial natural contact with an animal or to determine that a laboratory in Wuhan was handling SARSCoV-2 or a close progenitor virus before COVID-19 emerged.” They officially close the door even further by adding “China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19. Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.”
In other words, the US government will refuse to take an actual position on the origin, forever.
This is the completely wrong way to look at it, phrased in what appears to me at least, an intentionally disingenuous matter. In principle, you do not need any “new information” to prove the lab leak theory, everything you need is contained in the RNA of the virus itself and all that is required is to demonstrate the certain features of the genome could not have originated naturally, or could not have done so in the amount of time the virus had been circulating in the general population. Incredibly, we’ve known this for 18 months and yet no one in the government has been able to provide a definitive answer or even a rebuttal to scientists who have made these claims. In fact, it’s exactly what Dr. Christian Andersen told Dr. Anthony Fauci in late January and February 2020. He wrote in an email, “The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered.” Dr. Andersen also added that his opinion on the engineered aspects of the genome was widely shared with his colleagues, noting “all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.”
To date, no one has satisfactorily responded to that claim, a truly astounding development when you consider that this is basic science. Evolution occurs because of mutations in an organism’s genome, and these mutations can only take a certain form. You can think of the genome as a long sentence composed of only four letters, each letter representing a different amino acid; groups of these letters provide the recipe to make certain proteins and a mutation is essentially the swapping of one letter for another. There can be no coordination between these mutations, meaning multiple letters can’t change in concert with one another and two mutations occurring at the same time is near impossible. In addition, most mutations are not beneficial, resulting in damage to the organism, and only positive mutations are preserved for the next generation.
This basic biology has a couple of important consequences for determining how the virus originated. First, as mentioned earlier, there are sequences that could be present that simply could not have occurred naturally, exactly as Dr. Andersen described. British professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr. Birger Sørensen took exactly this approach when they published a study late last year, concluding “the likelihood of it being the result of natural processes is very small.” This is because they identified “unique fingerprints,” including a sequence of four positively charged amino acids in a row. “The laws of physics mean that you cannot have four positively charged amino acids in a row,” Mr. Dalgleish told the Daily Mail. “The only way you can get this is if you artificially manufacture it.” Nor are they alone, Rossana Segreto at the University of Innsbruck published a similar study as early as April 2020.
Second, there are limits to how quickly a virus can evolve naturally. If the virus did originate in another species, it can only have changed so much after it made the jump from bat (or another species) to human. This is why the Director of National Intelligence’s report noted the originating virus would have to be more than 99% similar to the coronavirus, and also why it took over a year for the virus to mutate further into the more infectious Delta variant. It’s also a significant challenge to the natural origin theory: Close to two years later, no one in either the government or academia has identified a suitable candidate in the wild, despite that we know the precise area of origination. If you consider that the Chinese government has practically unlimited resources and would benefit greatly from finding the host, one has to wonder how that could be so.
Further, the closest candidates are apparently orders of magnitude off. This has also been known since Dr. Andersen published his report in the journal Nature Medicine, “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2.” Dr. Andersen himself doesn’t even try to claim with any specificity what animal the virus was supposed to have been derived from. “As many early cases of COVID-19 were linked to the Huanan market in Wuhan, it is possible that an animal source was present at this location. Given the similarity of SARS-CoV-2 to bat SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses, it is likely that bats serve as reservoir hosts for its progenitor.” Unfortunately for proponents of the natural origin theory, they were unable to find the actual host or anything close. The Rhinolophus affinis bat, for example, carries a form of coronavirus that is “ ~96% identical overall to SARS-CoV-2,” but “its spike diverges in the RBD, which suggests that it may not bind efficiently to human ACE2.” Ultimately, Dr. Andersen wrote, “Neither the bat betacoronaviruses nor the pangolin betacoronaviruses sampled thus far have polybasic cleavage sites [like SARS-CoV-2]. Although no animal coronavirus has been identified that is sufficiently similar to have served as the direct progenitor of SARS-CoV-2, the diversity of coronaviruses in bats and other species is massively undersampled.”
This might well be true, but the fact remains that no one has found it and the closest candidates are far too different from coronavirus to serve as the original host. This simple, undeniable truth is completely brushed aside in the Director of National Intelligence report, prompting an obvious, statistical question: If the best we can find with all of the coronaviruses we’ve studied is 96% the same, what are the odds of finding one that is more than 99% identical? I can’t begin to answer that question myself, but scientists certainly should be able to. All you would need is to analyze the existing coronavirus strains that we know arose naturally and calculate how close they are genetically. This would represent the range of natural variation, and should the supposed progenitor of the human coronavirus fall outside that range, it becomes exceedingly unlikely it originated in nature without some correspondingly radical explanation as to why this hypothetical progenitor deviates so much from the norm.
Of course, a cynic like myself might well conclude that the absence of this kind of evidence and analysis is evidence itself of the lab leak theory. Obviously, I cannot be conclusive and I am speculating, but when you consider that nothing even close to the progenitor has been found, despite that China itself has every conceivable reason in the world to find it, and no analysis has been presented about the odds of it even existing, coupled with a complete refusal to directly engage with the evidence presented that it originated in a lab, what else are you supposed to think?
This is doubly true when you consider that it is just as straightforward to disprove the lab leak theory: Simply demonstrate that the anomalies in the genome identified by scientists who believe it originated in the lab aren’t actually anomalies and could have arisen naturally. Again, it’s telling in my mind that no one, not even the intelligence community, has even attempted to do this or explain why they haven’t. Instead, they ignore it and the entire scientific process in general. Science only works because hypotheses like whether or not the virus originated in a lab are tested against the evidence from the real world. A hypothesis is disproven when the evidence doesn’t match up, like showing that an anomaly could have originated naturally or demonstrating that there is no suitable progenitor virus.
My hypothesis is that no one is following this process because they know the truth already and don’t want to actually come out and say it. Unfortunately, the Director National Intelligence’s report is yet another piece of evidence that supports this conclusion. Instead of confronting the facts head on and responding to what we know, the US government completely punted, offering absolutely nothing of value, obscuring the truth, and essentially throwing up their hands, saying we’ll never know for sure unless China tells us. That alone should tell you something.