Scientist who signed influential statement condemning lab-leak ‘conspiracy theory’ now calls for ‘thorough investigation’ into COVID-19 origins

News & Politics

One of the leading voices in the scientific community who was among the first to come out strongly against the coronavirus lab-leak hypothesis, calling it a “conspiracy theory”, now says a thorough investigation into the origins of COVID-19 is needed.

Dr. Peter Palese, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, was one of the 27 prominent public health scientists who signed a February 19, 2020 statement denouncing “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.” The statement was published in the Lancet, a highly respected medical journal. It was organized by EcoHealth Alliance president Peter Daszak, who drafted the statement to condemn the lab-leak hypothesis and recruited several of the scientists who signed it.

EcoHealth Alliance receives millions of dollars in research grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) under director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s leadership. Between 2014 and 2019, Daszak’s nonprofit funneled $600,000 of those grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology — the lab at the center of the lab-leak hypothesis — to study bat coronaviruses.

Daszak’s Lancet statement proclaimed that individuals questioning the supposed natural origin of COVID-19 were creating “fear, rumours, and prejudice.” This became the dominant media narrative throughout 2020 and big tech social media companies took action to deplatform all dissenting opinions, labeling claims that contradicted the “science” as “misinformation.” A bombshell Vanity Fair exposé on the investigation of the origins of COVID-19 noted that the Lancet statement “effectively ended the debate over COVID-19’s origins before it began.”

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But now there is renewed interest in the lab-leak hypothesis as scientists have been unable to find evidence conclusively proving that the SARS-CoV-2 virus occurred naturally. Many of the people who last year attempted to stamp out discussion of this “conspiracy theory” are now reconsidering their opinions, including top White House health adviser Fauci.

Dr. Palese can be counted among those reevaluating their opinions.

“I believe a thorough investigation about the origin of the Covid-19 virus is needed,” he told the Daily Mail. “A lot of disturbing information has surfaced since the Lancet letter I signed, so I want to see answers covering all questions.”

Another signatory of the letter reached by the Daily Mail, Dr. Jeremy Farrar — director of the London-based nonprofit Wellcome Trust — said that while it is still “most likely” the virus came from an animal “‘there are other possibilities which cannot be completely ruled out and retaining an open mind is critical.”

Farrar is one of the scientists that was in communication with Dr. Fauci in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Emails belonging to Fauci that were made public through a records request by BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post reveal that on Feb. 1, 2020 Farrar organized a conference call that Fauci participated in discussing the origins of the coronavirus. Notes on the content of the call sent in further emails were redacted, but what is evident from Fauci’s emails and by the public behavior of those involved is that since the call there was an organized messaging campaign to discredit the lab-leak hypothesis.

The fact that Palese, Farrar, Fauci, and others now acknowledge that the lab-leak hypothesis shouldn’t be ruled out, even if it is unlikely, demands the question, why did they work so hard to condemn it as a conspiracy theory? Why didn’t they push back against censorship by social media companies? Who will be held accountable for harms done if the lab-leak hypothesis proves true?

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