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How Political Correctness Enabled the Pandemic

A new blockbuster report in Vanity Fair makes clear that it was wrong to dismiss the lab leak theory as xenophobia.

Peter Daszak (R), Thea Fischer (L) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, arrive at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on February 3, 2021. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

More than the Fauci emails, more than the Wall Street Journal report last month, this morning’s Vanity Fair piece by Katherine Eban blows open the federal government’s secrecy over COVID. Incorporating months of research, Eban’s exposé doesn’t outright confirm the lab leak theory (that would be impossible even with the information she’s gathered). But it does establish a devastating narrative: the Chinese government covered up data pertaining to its Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) lab, scientists fell prey to groupthink, the American bureaucracy tried to stamp out an investigation into COVID-19’s origins “because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of” WIV gain-of-function research.

The truth, whatever it is, was suppressed.

The one flaw of Eban’s piece is its periodic throat-clearing over “right-wing conspiracy theorists”—even as her own reporting validates some of those theories. But she also makes clear how left-wing politics stifled critical thought. This began within the scientific community:

On February 19, 2020, The Lancet, among the most respected and influential medical journals in the world, published a statement that roundly rejected the lab-leak hypothesis, effectively casting it as a xenophobic cousin to climate change denialism and anti-vaxxism. Signed by 27 scientists, the statement expressed “solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China” and asserted: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

The Lancet statement effectively ended the debate over COVID-19’s origins before it began. To Gilles Demaneuf, following along from the sidelines, it was as if it had been “nailed to the church doors,” establishing the natural origin theory as orthodoxy. “Everyone had to follow it. Everyone was intimidated. That set the tone.”

It continued after then-president Trump spouted off last year about a possible lab leak:

Trump’s premature statement poisoned the waters for anyone seeking an honest answer to the question of where COVID-19 came from. According to Pottinger, there was an “antibody response” within the government, in which any discussion of a possible lab origin was linked to destructive nativist posturing.

The revulsion extended to the international science community, whose “maddening silence” frustrated Miles Yu. He recalled, “Anyone who dares speak out would be ostracized.”

It even affected Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC and a respected virologist:

In a CNN interview on March 26, Dr. Redfield, the former CDC director under Trump, made a candid admission: “I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped.” Redfield added that he believed the release was an accident, not an intentional act. In his view, nothing that happened since his first calls with Dr. Gao changed a simple fact: The WIV needed to be ruled out as a source, and it hadn’t been.

After the interview aired, death threats flooded his inbox. The vitriol came not just from strangers who thought he was being racially insensitive but also from prominent scientists, some of whom used to be his friends. One said he should just “wither and die.”

There’s plenty more where that came from and I’d highly encourage you to read the entire piece. It’s worth noting that many scientists still think it’s far more likely the coronavirus was transmitted from an animal, given how frequently this occurs. But the lab leak theory was always more than just an Infowars fetish. That it was treated as such for over a year is a disgrace to journalism and the scientific method.

about the author

Matt Purple is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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