65

I don't really understand what is the point fighting over about the lab leak theory. Certainly other virology labs should care, they want to be sure they don't make the same mistake. And certainly covering up any leak would be important to that lab and its immediate allies, but why would so much of the media and so many politicians be so dead-set on it being just a conspiracy theory? I don't think it can be about protecting China in general; China did so many things that made covid worse I don't think one more really makes much difference. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Trump believed it, and the media and politicians in question had to be diametrically opposed to him, but maybe I'm missing something.

So why should any average people care whether covid escaped the lab in Wuhan or not?

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about how different governments reacted to the early signs of the COVID-19 pandemic has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Jun 7 at 12:37

18 Answers 18

69

The question about why would random, unidentified people make the difference seems to be off-topic here. AFAICT, civil defense protocols make no difference depending on the origin of bio hazard. However, if you re-frame your question about businesses and governments it becomes much easier to answer.

Millions of businesses in virtually every country in the world suffered huge losses measured in $ billions or even trillions (however I'm not aware about any precise calculations as the pandemic is not over yet).

If it gets revealed that a certain lab is somehow involved — and moreover, if the government of a country where the lab is located helped hide traces of the event, there will be a huge pressure for material compensation. Most likely, the biggest, or close to the biggest in human history. The political ramifications of such pressure would also be pretty much significant.

Follow the money.

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  • 56
    I’m sorry, but this is absurd. You think there’s any chance that China would pay material compensation, even in the very unlikely event that any of this could be proven? Anyone who suggested that would just get laughed at.
    – divibisan
    Jun 4 at 12:53
  • 38
    Agreed that it's quite unlikely that China would actually pay anything, but having a clear, small group of individuals who likely receive gov't funding be responsible for the pandemic rather than the animal handling standards of a bunch of poor farmers is definitely much worse optics. Even if they don't directly fork over any dough to affected companies/countries, they will absolutely feel a difference in repercussions (financial and otherwise) between the two from the rest of the world
    – BThompson
    Jun 4 at 14:03
  • 9
    @divibisan I believe you've just mistread my answer. Like everyone here, I'm unable to predict the outcome. I'm just saying that there are forces who are interested. This is precisely the answer to "why a big deal" question.
    – bytebuster
    Jun 4 at 14:07
  • 3
    @jdf The fact that some gain a lot does not erase the losses of others.
    – JS Lavertu
    Jun 4 at 15:43
  • 10
    The "compensation" could well take the form of higher duties on imports, confiscation of foreign-held reserves, levies on remittances (not sure how big a deal those are for China) and just general shunning.
    – CCTO
    Jun 4 at 18:46
42
+200

One reason that I have read is that if a laboratory leak is proven then it will show that the risks of gain-of-function research far outweigh the potential benefits, and that will result in virologists worldwide losing funding.


BEGIN EDIT

As advised by moderator Philipp, I'm adding this section to point out that the author of this article isn't exactly unbiased.

As user Fizz commented:

The author of that article N. Wade hasn't exactly been known for the best science journalism in the past decade or so. The likelihood of this virus being the result of GoF research is much, much more implausible than other ways it can escape from a lab.

Please bear this in mind when reading the article and quotes I've picked from it.

As I replied to Fizz:

Any potential bias of the author should be taken into account when reading his article. The language employed by the author certainly makes it clear which side he believes to be the correct one, though he seems to make some effort to come across as impartial and see both sides - he doesn't quite succeed. I tried to read it without buying fully into his point of view, but I thought he made some good points all the same. Nevertheless, maintaining an open mind is important, because the proof isn't 100%

END EDIT


Here's the article I read, and here's a quote from that article:

it’s worth trying to assess responsibility for the pandemic, at least in a provisional way, because the paramount goal remains to prevent another one. Even those who aren’t persuaded that lab escape is the more likely origin of the SARS2 virus may see reason for concern about the present state of regulation governing gain-of-function research. There are two obvious levels of responsibility: the first, for allowing virologists to perform gain-of-function experiments, offering minimal gain and vast risk; the second, if indeed SARS2 was generated in a lab, for allowing the virus to escape and unleash a world-wide pandemic.

It goes on to list those who will most likely be blamed if the theory is shown to be true:

  1. Chinese virologists. First and foremost, Chinese virologists are to blame for performing gain-of-function experiments in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus of unexpected infectiousness like SARS2.
  2. Chinese authorities. China’s central authorities did not generate SARS2, but they sure did their utmost to conceal the nature of the tragedy and China’s responsibility for it.
  3. The worldwide community of virologists. Virologists around the world are a loose-knit professional community. They write articles in the same journals. They attend the same conferences. They have common interests in seeking funds from governments and in not being overburdened with safety regulations.
  4. The US role in funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology.[2] From June 2014 to May 2019, Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to do gain-of-function research with coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

And in its conclusion it points out that

The US government shares a strange common interest with the Chinese authorities: Neither is keen on drawing attention to the fact that Shi’s coronavirus work was funded by the US National Institutes of Health. One can imagine the behind-the-scenes conversation in which the Chinese government says, “If this research was so dangerous, why did you fund it, and on our territory too?” To which the US side might reply, “Looks like it was you who let it escape. But do we really need to have this discussion in public?”

The full article is a long read, but worthwhile.

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    Not sure exactly how EcoHealth Alliance repackaged grants, but I imagine either Shi is on the hook for performing GoF research in BSL2/BSL3 or EcoHealth Alliance (and Daszak) for funding a grant that stated it would perform GoF research using those lower level safety protocols. While this isn’t my area, it’s plausible even that the funding of EcoHealth Alliance by NIAID allowed for the research to be done at those lower level safety protocols, which would be a serious, larger oversight. Again, caveat, this is speculative — not my area of research.
    – Greenstick
    Jun 4 at 16:53
  • 10
    The author of that article N. Wade hasn't exactly been known for the best science journalism in the past decade or so. The likelihood of this virus being the result of GoF research is much, much more implausible than other ways it can escape from a lab. The difference between "conspiracy theory" and "posh nonsense" seems to be whether you went to Eaton or not.
    – Fizz
    Jun 4 at 19:57
  • s/Eaton/Eton above. And yeah, Wade's points are pretty much Trumps' nowadays: "What did Dr Fauci know about 'gain of function' research, and when did he know it?" Mr Trump wrote in a statement. He added: "China should pay Ten Trillion Dollars to America, and the World, for the death and destruction they have caused!"
    – Fizz
    Jun 4 at 20:33
  • N.B. Some other Republicans are asking for Fauci to resign over this and some other facts they've seemingly just discovered.
    – Fizz
    Jun 4 at 20:50
  • Thanks @Fizz , I wasn't aware of the author's history, and you're right to bring it up. Any potential bias of the author should be taken into account when reading his article. The language employed by the author certainly makes it clear which side he believes to be the correct one, though he seems to make some effort to come across as impartial and see both sides - he doesn't quite succeed. I tried to read it without buying fully into his point of view, but I thought he made some good points all the same. Nevertheless, maintaining an open mind is important, because the proof isn't 100%.
    – Aaron F
    Jun 4 at 23:48
37

There are a couple different questions here. Let's unpack:

Why is the lab leak theory such a big deal?

Accountability, Reputation, Clicks, and Partisanship

Accountability - If the Covid crisis can be blamed on someone, especially if that someone (a government) is one of the richest entities in the world, it becomes a question of massive amounts of money and influence.

Reputation - If there was a leak that provided the responsible government with advance warning and information, that they did not share and instead covered up, that massively lowers the credibility of said government in any negotiation going forward, which makes this a question of money and influence.

Clicks - Conspiracy theories generate clicks and ad revenue. Conspiracy theories that slowly turn out to be more and more credible even more so.

Partisanship - When the theory started out, no proof was presented. It was an accusation without evidence, which at one point was promoted by a highly controversial source, Trump. People who are generally supportive of Donald Trump tend to find whatever he says to be credible, while people who are generally opposed to Donald Trump claim he has a long history of making false accusations without evidence to distract from his own shortcomings. This turns any new evidence that supports the theory into fuel for more partisan articles.

why would so much of the media and so many politicians be so dead-set on it being just a conspiracy theory?

One cause is that it's an unproven theory, which actually does make many of the unproven claims about the lab leak "just a conspiracy theory". Such unproven accusations can greatly diminish the impact of the result of proper investigations, which could influence financial liabilities in the trillions.

Another issue is that the very government that would suffer massive losses if the world were to be convinced that the lab leak theory is true, consistently invests significant resources into preventing or disrupting all discussion and investigations that associate them with the origin of coronavirus.

China did so many things that made covid worse I don't think one more really makes much difference

Being selfish, or even incompetent - which is what the linked examples accuse China of - is not the same as being directly responsible for causing a plague, lying about it, delaying the international response, withholding vital information about said plague, and then profiting from that information. These are multiple orders of magnitude apart in severity.

So why should any average people care whether covid escaped the lab in Wuhan or not?

Because it's human to want simple explanations we can understand, to find a cause and someone to blame if something big happens. The prime example is humans in every corner of the world making up gods and pantheons (to the reader: most people agree that some religions are not "real". I'm talking about those religions, not yours)

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that Trump believed it

We don't know if Trump believed it - few if any people know what Trump believes. Trump did invoke this conspiracy theory, without evidence, which is highly problematic for a head of state. He did benefit from doing so because if the blame for the pandemic lies with "not Trump", it does not lie with Trump.

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Jun 5 at 20:06
26

Investigating the "lab leak" hypothesis is significant because it could help prevent future pandemics

It's important to be clear on what the "lab leak" hypothesis actually is. This theory states that the origin of the COVID-19 virus was either:

  1. A natural coronavirus (possibly collected from a bat colony in 2012) that was being studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology accidentally escaped, or
  2. That the Wuhan Institute of Virology was performing gain of function experiments on natural coronaviruses to better understand how viruses infect humans and evade the immune system (a fairly common, if controversial, line of research in virology) and one of these modified viruses accidentally escaped.

Note that it does not include the theory that this virus was deliberately released or a byproduct of bioweapons research. Those are still firmly in the realm of conspiracy theory and can be dismissed both based on the biological evidence and simple logic: if you were making a bioweapon, why would you make one with such a low fatality rate and then release it in your own country right outside the lab that made it.

Importantly, the fact that the "lab leak" theory has been conflated with this bioweapon/deliberate release theory is the main reason why it's had so much trouble getting traction. This conflation is due to a mix of some deliberate misinformation and simple misunderstanding – as a general rule, most journalists don't have much scientific background, and the difference between a bioweapon and a gain-of-function experiment, and the difference between no-evidence and evidence-against can be trick ones to parse accurately.


So, with that out of the way, how would evidence for the "lab leak" theory affect ordinary persons? The main way would be that this would create pressure to increase regulation of biosecurity and scientific research to reduce the risk of something like this happening again. If there was evidence that virology research resulted in the COVID-19 pandemic, you'd likely see something like the Asilomar Conference to set up new, more stringent standards for virology, particularly of gain-of-function research. You'd also likely see a temporary moratorium on gain-of-function research and it would likely be much harder to do in the future. If accidental release was the cause of the pandemic, then better biosecurity and regulation would help prevent future ones.

Aside from this, the outcomes are primarily political and wouldn't affect ordinary people much. There is zero chance that China is going to pay any monetary compensation, even if you could prove that they were responsible. There's simply no way to force a sovereign country to pay if you can't bully them with your military or economy, and China is large enough (and has enough nukes) to resist that.

You'll also likely see politicians around the world using this to try to evade the blame for their own failures around COVID-19. At best, this would simply be a campaign issue, and at worst it would provide an excuse for countries not to investigate and improving their own public health systems to fix the failures revealed by this pandemic.

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  • 1
    Can't believe I had to scroll so far to find this answer.
    – tphilli
    Jun 5 at 12:34
  • 2
    Note that as I explained in a comment to the question, the Lab Leak theory is easily conflated with the extremely unlikely bioweapon theory which is in turn easily conflated into the ridiculous intentional release conspiracy theory. IMHO that's the whole reason that certain political influence sources keep pushing it, it's a train of emotional and illogical reaction and confirmation bias that inevitably ends with "it's all China's fault". Jun 5 at 15:32
11

Many governments all over the world appear incompetent in their handling of the crisis. If they appear the victim of a deliberate attack, the appearance of incompetence would be mitigated. Of course the people who demand a perfect-in-hindsight response are often the same people who do not want their government to spend tax money on disaster preparedness, but you have to deal with the fact that people are unreasonable.

One of the governments which did not handle the pandemic as well as it might have was the Trump administration. President Trump promoted the lab theory, and with that it left the realm of reasonable scientific debate and became a political football in US domestic politics, and to a lesser degree in politics elsewhere. Supporting the President's opinion on the issue was seen as supporting the President, and opposing it was seen as opposing the President, regardless of the motivation of the speaker. So why would the Biden Administration investigate? Because a failure to investigate would provide political ammunition to their opponents.

Some more notes:

  • There is a snowball's chance in hell of China paying damages. The case for damages from climate change is much more clear-cut, yet industrialized nations are paying a pittance.
  • If an intentional release could be proven, that would greatly diminish China's reputation and influence in the world. If this were the case, and for the record I don't think so, one would also have to assume that China was incompetent enough to leave clues. Accident and attack are mutually exclusive theories. This won't stop some interested parties from asking China to prove a negative (a very common propaganda ploy).
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  • 1
    "President Trump promoted the lab theory, and with that it left the realm of reasonable scientific debate" - I realize you're going for information density with this answer, but I think a half-sentence mentioning the lack of presented evidence would help to explain the link between "Trump promoted the lab theory" and "it left the realm of reasonable scientific debate".
    – Peter
    Jun 4 at 16:25
  • 2
    @Peter, I added a sentence. Better now?
    – o.m.
    Jun 4 at 17:08
9

Because it can be used as a way to shift the blame for the outbreak. If you are saying it is leaked from a lab you can drastically change the narrative about how the outbreak started.

The first big thing you can change is how it started - with it being artificially created instead of being naturally created that started spreading either through an accident or other means. This can be big for shifting the blame as you can use that to suggest it is harder to respond to an artificial virus than a natural one.

The second big thing is you can start to shift blame for the impact it has on society/country to the laboratory instead of the actions taken to try and deal with it. Saying that it was the lab's fault and it was impossible to contain will make the people making the decision look better than just having to say they made bad decisions.

I think this is a matter of some wanting to ensure there is a "bad guy" that can be blamed for this outbreak as there was many attempts to do that at the very start. There is also the issue of a country that doesn't want to look bad which is making the search for the truth harder.

1
  • I'd go beyond the lab. For the international theatre especially considering the US and China it would be a major PR gain for a confrontational US (and the respective parties and ideologies internally). It would be a great tool to rally votes and drum international support for anti-chinese politics. Jun 5 at 19:50
6

Please see my answer on this related question for background (so that I don't have to duplicate the whole thing).

The short answer to this question is that Trumpworld — Trump, his most ardent supporters, and the insular worldview they share — has a vested interest in establishing a narrative in which Trump has no responsibility or accountability for any of the negative outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic. The narrative that the pandemic began at a Chinese research laboratory — whether by design of the Chinese government or through some accident with research materials — places blame for the pandemic squarely on the shoulders of Chinese nationals. It was their actions that led to the pandemic, their responsibility, and their accountability. Trump and his backers can thus effectively claim that they were victims of Chinese actors who inflicted the virus on the world, that Trump was justified in continuously blaming the Chinese, and that no actions were within the Trump administration's power to stop or stem the tide of the disease once it was unleashed.

The Wuhan lab narrative is politically expedient for Trump and the people in his orbit; it both excuses and justifies many of Trump's actions and attitudes. I don't think we need to look beyond that expediency to understand why it is such a prominent talking point.

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    The problem with this is that there are plenty of things China did that made covid worse that no one disputes. For the fight to be all about protecting Trump, that would have to not be the case. You don't need a lab leak to claim you were victimized by China; hoarding masks and arresting whistleblowers while telling the world "It's nothing to worry about" is more than enough. This also doesn't explain why so many anti-Trump people were vehemently against the theory. Whether the virus escaped a lab or not has no bearing on how Trump handled it once it reached the US.
    – Ryan_L
    Jun 4 at 19:34
  • 2
    @Ryan_L: Facts are only relevant when one is worried about being accurate. Sometimes a narrative is aligned with facts (in the ideal case, scientific reasoning amounts to a fact-driven narrative), but when the only concern is maintaining a particular narrative, one doesn't make a complex argument where a simple one will do. 'Wuhan lab leak' is simple, direct, and to the point, whether or not it's true; everything else you mentioned requires more complex reasoning. And anti-trumpets weren't ever against the theory, per se; they were against the obvious race-baiting. Jun 4 at 20:49
  • 11
    how is this answering the question? I agree, it's not a great question, but this doesn't answer it. In June 2021, 5 months after handover not everything is about Trump and the question has ramifications beyond US political squabbles. Jun 4 at 22:41
  • 3
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: The only group that cares about this issue are Trump loyalists. If Trump loyalists all took a siesta for a week or so, this topic would almost entirely disappear from political discussion. Even the renewal of the idea in the Biden administration would make page six news at best, except that Trumpists see it as a matter of vindication for the ex-president and his administration. In the real world, not much is about Trump anymore; in Trumpworld everything is about Trump, and always was, and always will be. Jun 4 at 22:53
  • 3
    @Ryan_L A lot of what you said about china could also be said about the US and other countries around the world. Trump was among the group that was calling the entire thing a hoax and fought against efforts to control the outbreak in this country. Sure there are things that China did to make it worse but China wasn't the only group taking actions that made it worse.
    – Joe W
    Jun 5 at 17:19
5

There is a further point that hasn't been fully addressed by the other answers. If the new investigation suggests that the lab-leak theory is the more probable explanation for the pandemic, then it calls into question the motivations of those who dismissed the possibility in 2020. Consider the letter to the Lancet from a group of scientists who stated clearly that

We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin

Now, it should be noted that this does not discount the possibility of a lab leak, just that the virus was created artificially. Nor does it discount it being a product of gain-of-function research, since that would just result in a virus modified by selective breeding which would be very similar to the naturally occurring strain.

Despite this, that letter was widely used by the media to claim that the lab leak hypothesis was nonsense, even though pathogens escape from secure laboratories quite often. This could be simply due to good old-fashioned incompetence by the media, or it could be a deliberate attempt to shift the blame away from the Chinese Communist Party, or it could be simple bias against anything that President Trump said, thought or did.
If it is the first point, then most people will just shrug, if it is the second or third point then that is extremely serious for anyone who believes in the importance of a free & reliable press.

1
4

For practical considerations, properly investigating the lab leak theory is an essential part of an overall investigation to identify the true source of the virus, which is essential information for preventing possible future pandemics. The lab leak theory is a politically sensitive topic because of various implications (potential military connections, intent vs accident, cover-ups) and biases (conspiracy theories, premature conclusions, false associations).

The two leading theories currently circulating are

  1. the virus jumped species in a wet market and
  2. the virus escaped from a lab having inadequate precautions for the work being performed there

The truth could be either of these or something else; properly examining each theory in a thorough and unbiased way will hopefully lead to the correct conclusion. Unfortunately, political forces are at work which threaten to influence the final conclusion or prevent a conclusion from being reached; absence of a correct result could be disastrous because it could leave the door wide open for the "next" pandemic. The best that can be hoped for is that investigations can proceed without obstruction or political interference in any direction, allowing the experts to follow the evidence where ever it leads. It's a big deal partly because of negligence or culpability which a thorough investigation may expose.

2
  • Sure investigating the source is important but not sure why that makes the lab leak theory a big deal.
    – Joe W
    Jun 5 at 17:20
  • @JoeW It's a big deal as a fundamental question as to the true cause of the pandemic, and it's a big deal politically because of what it could mean to China if it were proved true, and whether political influence is occurring to hide the truth as it pertains to the lab in question, and if so, whether that could subvert an accurate finding and consequently leave the world open to a repeat of the last ~18 months... or worse.
    – Anthony X
    Jun 6 at 3:21
4

Frame challenge: what's the purpose of discussing this question?

You're all familiar with loaded questions.

A loaded question is a form of complex question that contains a controversial assumption (e.g., a presumption of guilt).

The traditional example is "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

Here we are essentially seeing "What should be done to Bill for beating his wife?", before any proof of Bill doing such a thing. It's a nice move, if you want to discredit Bill, but it hardly makes for good justice. And that's true even if Bill has done other bad things like spying, persecuting minorities or stealing islands.

Right now everybody is debating what should or might happen, but everyone seems to have lost track of the fact that the lab escape theory is built on the most tenuous of suppositions. Yes, it could be true, but, no, we don't know.

I am no great fan of Xi's China and it certainly bears a lot of responsibility for covid. For years after SARS, it was warned that its live animal markets were dangerous and an epidemic risk. It has repeatedly dragged its feet on allowing an investigation into Covid, bullied countries asking for it and tried to shift the story to a US bioweapon leak.

The world should continue pressuring China to be open on that investigation, including the lab leak angle. At least 3.7 million deaths later, we should not accept no for an answer. As ex-Australia PM Rudd says, countries should band together to pressure China.

But none of this really changes much to the fact that, while a lab leak is a possibility, it is an unproven possibility, much as this question takes accepting it as a stepping stone.

FWIW, while I did not downvote, I did VTC on this question.

p.s. The fact that this narrative was first pushed by Trump? Irrelevant, it should stand or fall on its own merits. Be warned however, to the rest of the world, a Chinese lab leak will be a hard sell and its association with the ex POTUS hardly gives it more credibility.

p.p.s. Why is China dragging its feet? Could be for a number of reasons:

  • loss of face and national sovereignty considerations. The CCP's only mandate is "strong China", remember.
  • covering up early mistakes in Covid handling
  • stonewalling in order to reframe the story where Covid didn't come from China at all.
  • an actual lab leak would certainly motivate this, but is by no means the only possibility.
3
  • This answer started well, but then it got too much into personal opinion for my taste. Even though I personally agree with those opinions, I believe that we should avoid editorializing like that.
    – Philipp
    Jun 7 at 12:47
  • @Philipp The reason I had to inject my views is that people have various reasons to object to this question about the lab theory. Either supporting China or being against Trump. I certainly have opinions on both and I wanted to make it clear that this is not the reason I think this is a bad question. It's a bad question because it invites speculation on the consequences of an unproven event. Rather than even if the event happened. It manages to be both push and opinion-based. Applied to a less unpopular country than China it likely would have been closed already. Jun 7 at 18:06
  • This seems to be a perfectly reasonable (and important!) question to ask and I don't think that it is unfairly loaded.
    – DrMcCleod
    Jun 13 at 22:39
4

It is not about lab leak vs natural origin per se.

It is about the fact that for year+ anybody considering lab leak as an option was deemed a conspiracy theory nutjob, racist, ...

As you know one of those people was a person that lost in a narrow election... but that is not the entire issue here.

This position was not just held by the anti Trump media, but also by the so called "scientists" and social media companies.

We probably will never know what happened, but still point remains that mainstream media, "scientists" and social media companies colluded to fight the perfectly plausible theory.

Some people will not care about that, but a lot of people are worried by the power that the combined forces of media, "scientists" and social media companies have.

3

We can listen to two big media personalities talking about the "lab leak" theory and see what they have to say: Sean Hannity (who I'd say is the #1 conservative pundit after Rush died) and Tucker Carlson. Their theme is: Trump was right about COVID; Dr. Fauci (who clearly prefers Biden to Trump) was wrong and a liar, the mass media was wrong, Biden was wrong.

My feeling is it's about who gets credit for fixing COVID, since no one is saying they should share. The Trump camp says Operation Warp Speed got the cure and set up distribution, and all Biden did was follow the rest of Trump's plan without screwing it up too badly. The Biden camp (which Dr. Fauci seems more comfortable working with) says they were shocked at how little the Trump team did on vaccine procurement and distribution. Not much middle ground there.

But why should Joe Voter care whether Trump was right about it coming from a Lab? What does that have to do with how well he handled it once it got to America? Again, I'll go to Hannity and Carlson: "Trump was right, Democrat-loving Fauci was wrong". It's not so much about the lab leak itself, as whether this is a clue that Trump is a visionary who was right from the beginning about COVID when no one else was.

Just a quick look got me a CNN page full of FOX news clips on the lab leak theory. Hannity starts out "Trump was right" for a minute before going into details. Next Tucker Carlson seems to imply Dr. Fauci is covering up what he knew, showing another clip of one of Fauci's emails with lots of redactions (and the page has much more from FOX news on this).

2

If the virus is a natural occurrence, the public would ask why scientists did not predict such an outbreak, and upon learning that they did, and that prominent people called for improving pandemic preparedness, they would ask why the domestic government did not heed these warnings, and failed to take adequate steps to protect their population and economy. That would be embarrassing for most domestic governments around the world, including the government that first floated this Chinese Lab Theory.

If, in contrast, the virus had escaped a Chinese lab, the public would ask very different questions. How did the Chinese lab come into possession of this previously unknown, dangerous virus? And how did the virus escape that lab? Busy with outrage over suspected highly illegal research into biological weapons, and the incompetence (or even malice) that allowed the virus to escape, the public would probably not look too closely into the natural emergence of viruses, and thus never learn that the viruses are something the government should (and could) have anticipated and defended against.

And that's the political dimension. In blaming China (and the WHO), Trump can shift blame from his government. With over half a million dead, and the worst recession since the great depression, being seen as even partially responsible for this crisis could have significant political impact. However, if China is at fault, Trump can say he was always critical of China and emerge strengthened by this crisis.

The democrats, as usual in the zero sum game of US politics, have the opposite goal. They don't want to let Trump get away with shifting blame. They fear that, in investigating the Chinese Lab Theory, the Biden administration would lend credence to the notion that there is something to investigate, thus indicating that the Chinese Lab Theory is a serious possibility and distracting the public from investigating the government failings that caused the US to be hit far harder by this virus than most nations.

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    I'm with you until the last paragraph, but the Biden Administration has been pushing for an investigation of this at least as much as the Trump Administration ever did.
    – divibisan
    Jun 4 at 18:28
  • 2
    If the Democrats fear investigating the lab theory, then why did the Biden administration notably launch an investigation into it? The fact completely contradicts the last paragraph.
    – qwr
    Jun 5 at 11:00
  • 1
    See nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/…
    – qwr
    Jun 5 at 11:08
  • 2
    The "hit far harder" part ought to be per capita, not absolute numbers. Jun 5 at 11:17
  • @PeterMortensen: If you sort the table I linked to by "deaths per 1M population" (by clicking that header), you will find the US is at rank 18 of about 200, meaning that the US was hit harder than 90% of nations. You will also see that the US experienced 4 times as many deaths per population as the world average.
    – meriton
    Jun 5 at 14:10
2

To expand a bit on @divibisans answer, if we presume that consensus in Western nations shifts to believing the lab leak theory, it’s highly likely that gain of function research will quickly be equated to biological weapon research. Meaning that it would be completely banned worldwide and any non-nuclear nation attempting to conduct such research will face a harsh reaction from the international community, all the way up to assassinating their top scientists, bombing their facilities or even sending troops on the ground to invade said nation. The losses from Covid have been so colossal that it is in no one’s interest to make it happen all over again.

Now you might argue that China will refuse to ban such research to avoid taking the blame but I’m sure a compromise could be made that would allow them to save face. Maybe the head of that lab will be arrested and jailed for violating protocols and causing the whole incident, blaming the entire thing on localized incompetence rather than systematic problems within the country. Or maybe China will never officially take the blame but quietly ban gain of function research “out of precaution” or just stop funding it, which would effectively prevent it from happening. In any case they’re not a rogue nation and it’s likely that they’ll ban or severely restrict GoF research as the pandemic hit their economy harshly too.

2
  • Abbr. "GoF" is inappropriate in this context (China's Gang of Four (1976) and the derived (humorous) term related to a book). I suggest expanding it. Jun 5 at 11:15
  • -1 All speculation. Jun 5 at 14:58
2

For two reasons that are actually related:

  • if true, it could prove that China is more evil than previously thought

  • if true, it could prove that US Democrats are more incompetent than previously thought

Now Biden's administration is pushing for a "redoubling" investigation for the first reason and to forestall the 2nd one.

[Biden] said he asked national security adviser Jake Sullivan in March to prepare a report for him on what was known about the origins of the virus. Biden said the findings, which he received earlier this month, concluded that while two elements of the intelligence community “lean” toward the explanation that the virus came from animal contact, another leans toward the laboratory explanation.

Biden said each assessment has “low or moderate confidence” and that “the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” He said he has asked for further investigation.

“I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days,” his statement said.

The Trump adherents for the 2nd (as well) if not primarily for that one. As the BBC quoted:

What did Dr Fauci know about 'gain of function' research, and when did he know it?" Mr Trump wrote in a statement.

He added: "China should pay Ten Trillion Dollars to America, and the World, for the death and destruction they have caused!"

House of Representatives deputy Republican leader Steve Scalise demanded in a letter that Dr Fauci testify before Congress on the "US government's role in funding research that may have contributed to the development of the novel coronavirus".

To wit, although Fauci has served under Trump as well, he's been much more linked to the Democrats. Or at least a large part of the Republican base sees him that way (according to CNN, at least).

In a Fox News poll conducted late last month, just 1 in 3 Republicans approved of how Fauci has handled the virus while 64% disapproved. Compare that to the 6 in 10 registered voters who, in that same poll, said they approved of Fauci's work on Covid-19 and you see the massive disconnect between Republican voters and the general electorate.

Fauci's unpopularity among Republicans means that the likes of Trump, Paul and Greene will keep attacking him as a way to virtue signal to their base -- and raise money!

Also the political controversies with GoF reasearch suspension/resumption happened under Obama. So all "good things" for the kind of political kerfuffle that Hannity (Fox News) likes to promote.

Also from Trump's statement, a sentence that was quoted by CNN (although not by the BBC):

The correspondence between Dr. Fauci and China speaks too loudly for anyone to ignore.

So it's mostly wink-wink but linking Fauci with China is politically profitable for Trump's camp.

(Actually, it seems to GoF research ban was lifted under Trump, in 2017, even though the NASBB guidelines were from June 2016, but don't expect Fox News to say that. Anyway, the "anti-system" president Trump can simultaneously claim success for the vaccines and blame the Democrats/Fauci for [funding] Covid-19. It all works out on Fox News.)

And it turns out I'm not the only thinking that. To quote from The Atlantic:

Pro-Trumpers want to use Chinese misconduct—real and imagined—as a weapon in a culture war here at home. They are not interested in weighing the evidence. They want payback for the political and cultural injuries inflicted on them by the scientists. They want Fauci to have time in the barrel.

And frankly the situation is not unique to the USA.

7
  • 1
    Neither of these make sense. The "lab leak" hypothesis is that the virus accidentally escaped from a research lab – the only thing that China the country would be responsible is lax regulation of research labs, and there's no evil, only carelessness. And I really have no idea what you mean by "democrats are more incompetent".
    – divibisan
    Jun 4 at 22:14
  • 2
    @divibisan: the 2020 election was also "not stolen". It doesn't mean there's no profit for some in claiming it was.
    – Fizz
    Jun 4 at 22:29
  • 1
    I see – you're not claiming that the "lab leak" hypothesis being true would be evidence that China is (more) evil or that Democrats are incomptent, but that it would provide a base for lies and conspiracy theories that would push those ideas. Am I understanding correctly?
    – divibisan
    Jun 4 at 22:41
  • @divibisan "there's no evil, only carelessness" The evil would be in pursuing gain of function/biological weapons research to begin with.
    – nick012000
    Jun 5 at 8:48
  • Abbr. "GoF" is inappropriate in this context (China's Gang of Four (1976) and the derived (humorous) term related to a book). I suggest expanding it. Jun 5 at 11:21
1

It's a big deal because conspiracy theorists have been pushing the idea for a while. More specifically they believed, as a group that it escaped a lab, that it was an intentional Chinese bioweapon, that it was an intentional Democrat bioweapon and that it doesn't exist. Some individuals claimed multiple of, but a lot claimed only one each.

Now, consider how people came to that conclusion. As with most conspiracy theories the answer is not through a balanced look at the evidence and weighing all the possibilities. Quite the opposite in fact, as most conspiracy theories start with the person/group responsible and work back to how, and even what, later.

Then come the Fauci email leaks. In them Fauci does not claim that the lab leak theory is correct, or likely, but simply that it is worth looking into. This is about the lowest level of credence a scientist could give. But to the conspiratorially minded it puts it on a level playing field with the other theories, which puts it far above the other theories, which means that the conspiracy theorists were right about this, which means that they were right about it, whatever conspiracy theory they actually supported, which means that they were right about everything. You may have seen the memes telling people about how "if the conspiracy theorists were right about this, what else were they right about?" circulating. So, this is why it matters to the conspiracy theorists. Because it means that the lizards really are controlling the government.

Now, why do so many people seem to be so dedicated to working against the lab leak theory? Well, because a lot of people have a massively inflated view of its relevance, and its consequences if true. So, people feel the need to put the theory in its proper context. Which is to say a possibility that is treated as gospel truth by conspiracy theorists, who believed it and a dozen other things without evidence and who are being less than scientific once the evidence comes in.

2
  • The answer is improved if you can source specific statements from pundits or prominent conspiracy theorists.
    – qwr
    Jun 5 at 11:24
  • It is extremely relevant though, if you look at it from this angle: since the purpose of those labs is largely to get one step ahead of the next pathogen that might jump from nature and cause a pandemic, whether COVID escaped from a lab answers the question "is gain of function research worth it?" If it came from nature, yes; if it came from the lab (suggesting that the risk of lab escape outweighs the risk of natural crossover events) - probably not. The question of how the virus came to exist (natural selection vs modified in a lab) also has serious implications for how to deal with it.
    – Gus
    Jun 6 at 10:33
0

I think the straightforward answer is whether or not China is to blame, which could have significant political and economic ramifications. This is alluded to in a statement by White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/biden-asks-intelligence-community-redouble-efforts-determine-origins-covid-19-n1268657):

Karine Jean-Pierre, White House principal deputy press secretary, did not commit to making the new report public. She said she also could not share what specific questions Biden has for China and said that the administration was also not ready to commit to saying whether China would face any punishment depending on the review's findings.

The implication being if the report finds the lab leak theory to be true or likely, China may be more likely to face some punishment.

-4

First of all. The media system never give their attention to a certain argument because one or more politicians made a statement about it, but because they want to push the attention on that argument. Out of a lot of political statements and declarations that are made every day they always choose the ones that suit their purpose. It may happen that a politicians makes some declarations upon request of the media people to trigger a discussion, but they are not the ones who decide what will be discussed.

So, why are the media people pushing so much the attention so the attention on the lab leak theory? Because by repeating over and over again theories and conspiracy theories they can lead people to believe what they want without evidence. Exactly what they want to let people believe I don't know, but every argument so much discussed over the media for sure was carefully evaluated by an army of psychologists and all the possible people reactions have been taken into account.

There is one small clue though. they are the same media outlets that for some time repeated a countless number of time the theory of the bat origin which as the lab leak theory has absolutely no scientific evidence. So, even though now are even appearing fake scientific reports claiming that Covid-19 cannot have animal origin, claiming that the virus is man made is not their primary goal.

There is a second clue. While people discuss whether Covid-19 came from a lab or not they do not discuss whether the media inflated the mortality rate and the actual danger. By discussing who is to blame for the virus people do not discuss who is to blame for the alarm and the restrictions imposed over the majority of the world population.

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