18 votes

The Lab-Leak Hypothesis—for decades, scientists have been hot-wiring viruses in hopes of preventing a pandemic, not causing one. But what if …?

10 comments

  1. dredmorbius
    (edited )
    Link
    The fact is that this has already happened. The article briefly mentions that "[i]n 1978, a hybrid strain of smallpox killed a medical photographer at a lab in Birmingham, England". The full story...

    The fact is that this has already happened. The article briefly mentions that "[i]n 1978, a hybrid strain of smallpox killed a medical photographer at a lab in Birmingham, England". The full story is rather more horrifying. Summarising:

    On Friday 11 August, 1978, Janet Parker, a medical photographer at Birmingham Medical School began to feel unwell. Her studio was located one floor above a lab handling live smallpox virus, both with windows facing a courtyard. She was admitted to hospital, too weak to stand, on the 20th. By the 28th, over 500 people with whom Parker had possible exposure were vaccinated, and quarantined either at their homes or in a specially-purposed hospital ward. The disease progressed, Parker lost her vision, suffered renal failure, and developed pneumonia. Parker's parents were quarantined as well; her father died of a cardiac failure on 5 September, though due to infection risk no autopsy was performed. Professor Henry Bedson, who headed the smallpox lab, shot himself dead at his home the following day. Parker was by now no longer responsive. She died of smallpox, the world's last known victim of the disease, on 11 September 1978. Her remains were double bagged, transported to mortuary under police escort, and cremated, again to avoid any risk of infection from a standard burial. Parker's mother contracted a mild case of the disease but survived, though she missed the funerals of both her husband and daughter. The outbreak was declared cleared on 16 October, over two months folowing Parker's first symptoms.

    The specific infection route was never clearly ascertained, though air ducts, windows, or contaminated samples or equipment are the prime suspects.

    More detail and photographs, including of Parker's smallpox pustules, at the links below.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1978_smallpox_outbreak_in_the_United_Kingdom

    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-birmingham-45101091

    13 votes
  2. [5]
    smores
    Link
    I’m still reeling a bit from this one. I truly did not expect to go into this article and have my mind changed in any significant way, but it turns out that I really didn’t know very much about...

    I’m still reeling a bit from this one. I truly did not expect to go into this article and have my mind changed in any significant way, but it turns out that I really didn’t know very much about what this kind of research looked like and how plausible an accidental leak of an intentionally created pandemic-level virus was.

    I am actually suddenly finding myself believing that a lab leak really is at least as likely as animal origin for COVID-19. The article, while at times a little breathless, demonstrated several clear patterns in viral “defense” research that make it hard to ignore the possibility. I do think that the “how it might have happened” bit at the end was highly speculative and maybe veered on unprofessional. I think it would have been best for everyone to wait for stronger evidence before pointing fingers at specific individuals and all but accusing them of negligence that led to a global pandemic.

    11 votes
    1. emdash
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Yeah, that's how I felt when I read the article too. I don't think this is some global conspiracy, but it seems like a reasonable origin of this virus is an accidental lab escape, just as much as...

      Yeah, that's how I felt when I read the article too. I don't think this is some global conspiracy, but it seems like a reasonable origin of this virus is an accidental lab escape, just as much as a natural zoonotic one is—the fact Wuhan just happens to be a home of virology research is also pretty damning, or just purely coincidental, depending on your position.

      And we all know China's record on information cleansing, transparency, and factualness.

      5 votes
    2. Greg
      Link Parent
      I haven't had the time to read this article in full, but for me the tipping point from "that's a crackpot conspiracy theory" to "not totally impossible" was (somewhat ironically) seeing the...

      I haven't had the time to read this article in full, but for me the tipping point from "that's a crackpot conspiracy theory" to "not totally impossible" was (somewhat ironically) seeing the lengths that Chinese officials went to in preventing the BBC from doing any investigation on the subject. The first members of the WHO team they "welcome" in that article have also been denied entry just in the last few days.

      I'm in no way suggesting that's a smoking gun - authoritarian governments aren't known for their transparency at the best of times, and these could quite easily just be further heavy-handed attempts to control the narrative, but it doesn't seem like a great look for them.

      4 votes
    3. nothis
      Link Parent
      I saw a different article on this a few weeks ago (can't find it anymore) and it too made me more open towards the idea. It's a real shit show that this issue is dragged into politics, this is a...

      I saw a different article on this a few weeks ago (can't find it anymore) and it too made me more open towards the idea. It's a real shit show that this issue is dragged into politics, this is a health and safety issue yet wearing masks is becoming a sign of party affiliation and blaming a lab accident leads to racist attacks. In reality, it seems far from impossible that this is indeed a lab accident. There's also a somewhat strong (and worrying) argument about how scientists working in virus research not wanting this theory to spread since it endangers their research/funding (this is mostly about experimenting with "live" viruses that are actually contagious, which supposedly is a faster but more dangerous method).

      I only got to skim the op's article but the one I read in full was making an argument for the rate of mutation of the coronavirus to be too slow. If it just made the jump from animal to human hosts, it would still be in a state of relatively fast evolution yet it seemed the coronavirus was relatively "mature" when it started spreading and never showed up before, meaning that it might have been bread in a lab for analysis (this is not a theory about "chemical weapons" or "intentionally" releasing it).

      3 votes
    4. Amarok
      Link Parent
      My first brush was when Bret Weinstein presented this idea back in June. Certainly got my attention back then and opened me up to the possibility. This article is much more detailed and compelling.

      My first brush was when Bret Weinstein presented this idea back in June. Certainly got my attention back then and opened me up to the possibility. This article is much more detailed and compelling.

  3. [2]
    PendingKetchup
    Link
    This article is far too long to evaluate in less than several hours. But it is not particularly "unlikely to have four amino acids added all at once" to a protein. Our surveilence of viruses is...

    This article is far too long to evaluate in less than several hours. But it is not particularly "unlikely to have four amino acids added all at once" to a protein. Our surveilence of viruses is too terrible for it to be unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 is related to but not actually derived from a virus sample that happened to be in town at the time. The virus appearing to have spent time in humans before we detected it doesn't strike me as particularly unusual; we don't sequence that many new zoonotic diseases and, again, our surveilence is terrible.

    Is it flat out impossible? No. But the evidence I could pick out of the article (hidden among vague question-raising and scarry anecdotes instead of aggregated for analysis) doesn't seem particularly strong to me.

    Writing extremely long articles about the theory that SARS-CoV-2 is not apolitical: it throws a lot of shade at China and their biotech and/or any bioweapons work.

    8 votes
    1. smores
      Link Parent
      Yeah thanks for pointing this out. This article was very technical, and although I have a passing knowledge of some of the science involved, I am by no means an expert and this author clearly had...

      Yeah thanks for pointing this out. This article was very technical, and although I have a passing knowledge of some of the science involved, I am by no means an expert and this author clearly had a specific point they wanted to convey without a huge amount of real evidence. They shoved a ton of information about several different aspects of this virus and general biodefense research into an article that was monstrously long and still incredibly dense, and it had the effect of bombarding the reader a little bit.

      I think that they made a convincing case (to me, at least) that this was very much a possible origin, but I don’t think they made a very convincing case that there’s any particular reason to think that this chain of events is more likely to be the true one than if the virus did naturally jump from bats to humans. And I fully agree that this article, without much evidence, throws Shi, Baric, and potentially the whole Chinese government and Shi’s lab under the bus, which is wildly irresponsible, in my opinion.

      4 votes
  4. NoblePath
    (edited )
    Link
    The guy who wrote The US bioweapons law believes it is part of bioweapon research. Edit: a friend who is a virulogist says the paper is a joke, so there’s that.

    The guy who wrote
    The US bioweapons law believes it is part of bioweapon research.

    Edit: a friend who is a virulogist says the paper is a joke, so there’s that.

    6 votes
  5. Kuromantis
    (edited )
    Link
    Offtopic and meta, but according to word counter, This article (from "I: Flask monsters" to "I hope the vaccine works") (including the captions of the images in between) is 12.2k (12291) words,...

    Offtopic and meta, but according to word counter, This article (from "I: Flask monsters" to "I hope the vaccine works") (including the captions of the images in between) is 12.2k (12291) words, not 2597 (which I presume is the first chapter.)

    2 votes