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Media, ‘experts’ utterly discredited themselves by suppressing the lab-leak theory

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There was a “scientific consensus,” they told us.

According to the media and assorted experts, there couldn’t be any questioning of the idea that the coronavirus emerged naturally, and anyone suspecting it might have come from a Chinese lab was an ignoramus, conspiracy theorist or hater.

These enforcers believed in the power of the words “scientific” and “consensus,” when conjoined and used as a weapon, to shun dissenters and stifle debate. The Post’s opinion pages were among the victims: Last year, Facebook banned a column by Steven Mosher that carefully raised the possibility of a lab-leaked virus.

During much of the pandemic, they were proved right. But the rigid conventional wisdom around the question of the virus’ origins has broken up, and evidence pointing to a lab leak is finally getting the serious consideration it deserves.

Over the weekend, a Wall Street Journal report underlined the foolishness of the old conformity. The report noted that according to US intelligence, three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill and went to the hospital in November 2019, right around the time the virus is believed to have begun spreading in the city.

About two weeks ago, 18 highly respected scientists wrote to Science magazine that “we must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously.”

And no less an authority than Dr. Anthony Fauci, the very talisman of science for roughly half the country, has now reversed himself and no longer rules out the lab theory.

The science writer Nicholas Wade’s Medium essay this month was the breakthrough in the debate. He noted that a letter in the journal Lancet in February 2020 and another in Nature Medicine a month later had played a huge role in ruling the lab theory out of bounds, even though the missives were premature or otherwise flawed.

The media nonetheless referred constantly to the letters to insist that the scientists had spoken. In much of the prestige press, the Wuhan lab theory was taken about as seriously as the Chinese propaganda claim that the virus might have escaped from a lab at a military base in Maryland.

The orthodoxy, though, hasn’t been able to withstand the weight of counterevidence.

If the virus jumped naturally from bats to some other animal, then to humans, there should be some indication of that. But as Wade pointed out, no one has found the original bat population or an intermediate species, whereas we found plenty of evidence when other, related viruses, SARS1 and MERS, went from bats to humans.

Likewise, the caves where the bats are thought to have been infected with the virus are about 1,000 miles from Wuhan, while the lab in Wuhan was conducting dangerous coronavirus research, probably with inadequate security precautions.

It isn’t as though a lab leak is a scenario out of science fiction. Wade noted that it is dismayingly common: “The smallpox virus escaped three times from labs in England in the 1960s and ’70s, causing 80 cases and three deaths. Dangerous viruses have leaked out of labs almost every year since. Coming to more recent times, the SARS1 virus has proved a true escape artist, leaking from laboratories in Singapore, Taiwan and no less than four times from the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing.”

Of course, the Chinese regime could help the cause of determining the origins of a virus that has caused so much suffering and dislocation by not acting as if it had something to hide. Instead, Communist apparatchiks have been about as forthcoming about the Wuhan lab as they have about their activities in Xinjiang Province, site of the Uighur genocide. The lab hasn’t shared its safety logs or other records, and no one should expect it to do so any time soon.

None of this is dispositive. Both the natural and lab theories depend on guesswork. But one theory is now more plausible than the other, and it is the one that was showered with scorn by people who sheathed their advocacy in science — and ignored everything to the contrary.

Twitter: @RichLowry

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