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How a group of scientists and government officials tricked the public
On July 11, 2023 the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic will hold a hearing titled, Investigating the Proximal Origin of a Cover Up. The cover-up being referred to was put into place by a small group of scientists at the request of U.S. government officials to quash any public discussion of the possibility that COVID-19 resulted from a research-related incident — known colloquially as a lab leak.
Before diving in, let me state the obvious — this is a big effing deal, as Joe Biden might say. Scientists and government officials conspired — yes, conspired — to mislead the public by knowingly promoting misinformation in the guise of a peer-reviewed paper in a major journal. Given the stakes, this is a scientific scandal with huge significance.
This cover-up, which I’ll call Covidgate, is independent of the ultimate answer to the question of whether Covid-19 had only natural origins or was associated with a research-related incident. Currently, the U.S. intelligence community has determined, “All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”
The cover-up was designed to render the possibility of a “laboratory-based scenario” off limits for public discussion or investigation. The cover-up was wildly successful in stopping further public discussion of a lab leak for several years, until information about the cover-up started to become public. In fact, perhaps the cover-up was too successful, which may explain why the scientists and government officials are now under such scrutiny.
Covidgate centers on a research paper — The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2 — which concludes:
“[W]e do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
This conclusion, as I’ll show below, is not what the authors of the paper actually believed when they wrote it, as revealed in various Freedom of Information Act disclosures. The scientists worked to shape a misleading public narrative via the scientific literature at the request of government officials, who then promoted the misleading narrative from the White House. Like I said, a big effing deal.
Let’s dive in.
Last January, The Nation and The Intercept released emails between Anthony Fauci — who was then director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force — and Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, a large British biomedical Foundation. The emails span January to July 2020, as Covid-19 was spreading around the world and the seriousness of the pandemic was becoming undeniable.
The emails tell a story of the origins of the “Proximal Origins” paper. On February 1, 2020 Fauci emails Farrar to tell him that he,
“just got off the phone with Kristian Anderson and he related to me his concern about the Furine site mutation in the spike protein of the currently circulating 2019-nCoV.”
Andersen, professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the Scripps Research Institute, called Fauci to express concern that Covid-19 showed signs of being engineered.
The conversation between Andersen and Fauci was entirely appropriate. This is exactly the sort of responsible action that we should expect from a scientist. Following the call, Fauci immediately raised with Farrar the possibility of going to the FBI and MI5 with the concern about a lab leak.
Fauci asked Farrar to organize a conference call to discuss the matter. List below are who was on the call, from the emails (I’ve highlighted the four authors of the Proximal Origins paper that would result from the call):
Ron Foucher (sic)
Frances Collins (sic)
Of note, on the call were Fauci and his boss, Francis Collins, who was then the director of the National Institutes of Health. Also on the call was Patrick Vallance, then the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor in the United Kingdom. The rest of the participants on the call were scientists.
From the emails, we know that the focus of the call was on the possibility that Covid-19 was engineered. Afterwards, here is how Ron Fouchier characterized the call (emphasis added):
An accusation that nCoV-2019 might have been engineered and released into the environment by humans (accidental or intentional) would need to be supported by strong data, beyond reasonable doubt. It is good that this possibility was discussed in detail with a team of experts. However, further debate about such accusations would unnecessarily distract top researchers from their active duties and do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular.
His two points were that it was possible that Covid-19 was engineered and they should not discuss it further because it would harm science.
The House Select Committee has documented that multiple people on the call, in addition to Andersen, viewed a research-related incident as the cause of the pandemic to be possible and plausible — including all of the authors of the Proximal Origins paper.
On February 2, 2020, Dr. Robert Garry similarly wrote, “I really can’t think of a plausible natural scenario . . . . I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature . . . . Of course, in the lab it would be easy . . . .”
On February 2, 2020, Dr. Michael Farzan wrote he was “bothered by the furin site and ha[d] a hard time explain[ing] that as an event outside the lab . . . . I am 70:30 or 60:40 [lab].”
On February 2, 2020, Dr. Andrew Rambaut stated, “From a (natural) evolutionary point of view the only thing here that strikes me as unusual is the furin cleavage site.”
On February 4, 2020, Dr. Edward Holmes indicated that he was “60-40 lab . . . .”
On February 4, 2020, Dr. Jeremy Farrar wrote, “I am 50-50 [lab]”
Despite these views, the authors of the Proximal Origins paper decided to write the paper to dismiss the possibility of a research-related origin. A first draft was apparently prepared by February 4, 2020.
On February 8, 2020 Holmes characterized the choice they faced as follows:
“I believe the aim/question here is whether we, as scientists, should try to write something balanced on the science behind this? There are arguments for and against this.”
In a response the following day, Christian Drosten says that the choice had already been made:
“[D]idn't we congregate to challenge a certain theory, and if we could, drop it?”
On February 8, 2020 Andersen made a case for continuing to consider a lab leak as a possibility, and doing so out in public (italics in the original, bold emphasis added by me):
[P]assage of SARS-ike CoV have been ongoing for several years, and more specifically in Wuhan under BSL-2 conditions- see references 12-15 in the document for a few examples. The fact that Wuhan became the epicenter of the ongoing epidemic caused by nCoV is likely an unfortunate coincidence, but it raises questions that would be wrong to dismiss out of hand. Our main work over the last couple of weeks has been focused on tying to disprove any type of lab theory, but we are at a crossroad where the scientific evidence isn't conclusive enough to say that we have high confidence in any of the three main theories considered. Like Eddie- and | believe Bob, Andrew, and everybody on this email as well I am very hopeful that the viruses from pangolins will help provide the missing pieces. For now, giving the lab theory serious consideration has been highly effective at countering many of the circulating conspiracy theories, including HIV recombinants, bioengineering, etc.
We now know that Andersen’s views were not reflected in the published version of Proximal Origins, in fact, exactly the opposite.
Proximal Origins was published on March 17, 2020. It was one of the most-cited and discussed papers of 2020 and was the basis for labeling any discussion of a research-related incident as a crack-pot conspiracy theory. The paper was wildly successful in achieving the goal articulated in private by its authors — to shut down further discussion and debate on the possibility of a lab leak.
One month after Proximal Origins was published, President Trump was asked at a White House press conference about the possibility of a lab leak, and he turned to Fauci:
Q Mr. President, I wanted to ask Dr. Fauci: Could you address these suggestions or concerns that this virus was somehow manmade, possibly came out of a laboratory in China?
THE PRESIDENT: Want to go?
Q You studied this virus. What are the prospects of that?
DR. FAUCI: There was a study recently that we can make available to you, where a group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists looked at the sequences there and the sequences in bats as they evolve. And the mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.
So, I mean, the paper will be available — I don’t have the authors right now, but we can make that available to you.
The paper that Fauci couldn’t quite remember was Proximal Origins. Francis Collins also promoted Proximal Origins after it came out, and like Fauci, making no mention of his role in bringing it into existence:
[T]his study leaves little room to refute a natural origin for COVID-19. And that’s a good thing because it helps us keep focused on what really matters: observing good hygiene, practicing social distancing, and supporting the efforts of all the dedicated health-care professionals and researchers who are working so hard to address this major public health challenge
In sum, a group of scientists, “prompted” by government officials and “shepherded” by Farrar (not listed among the authors), chose to misrepresent in a “scientific” article published in a major journal what they knew and believed, as expressed in private emails. Farrar not only shepherded the paper but also contacted Nature to pressure the journal to publish it. One stated purpose of the misrepresentation was to protect “science” from the scrutiny that might result from serious consideration of a lab leak possibility.
Stealth advocacy. Shadow science advice. Misinformation. Propaganda. Covidgate.
Postscript. In March, 2023, Fauci told the New York Times that he was not sure he’d ever read Proximal Origins.
You can watch next week’s House hearing here. I’ll follow up if events warrant. For a more in-depth timeline of the events discussed in this post, see USRTK. Comments, discussion, debate are always welcomed!
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