Tag Archives: The Lancet

corona marginalia: origin unknown

In an article published today [Tuesday 19th] by Wired magazine, Roger Pielke who is Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, writes:

There are now two major efforts to investigate where Covid-19 came from: one set up by the World Health Organization and the other organized by a leading medical journal, The Lancet. The investigations are expected to take months or even years to complete, and, given the many challenges involved, they may never deliver conclusive answers. It’s already clear, however, that both are compromised by a lack of clear procedures to manage conflicts of interest and questionable independence. Now it is imperative that governments and the scientific community act quickly to improve them.

The problem starts with the nature of the inquiries, which must determine, for starters, whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus went straight from wild animals to the population (the likeliest scenario, per most experts) or perhaps escaped from a laboratory setting. But many of the people who are most qualified to look into this question—the ones with the most relevant technical knowledge—also happen to be the ones who work in those very laboratory settings or have close professional ties with the people who do.

In other words, they’re exactly the people who might themselves be blamed (either directly or as part of a research community) if the virus were ever traced back to a lab.

Roger Pielke then highlights comparisons with prior instances of conflicts of interest when scientists with known ties to tobacco firms were given prominent roles on health advisory committees, before continuing:

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that either of the leading investigations into the pandemic’s origins is following the relevant best practices.

For instance, both investigations include Peter Daszak, disease ecologist and president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit with a history of conducting research into SARS-related coronaviruses and their effects on humans, including collaborative work done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The Wuhan Institute happens to be the only laboratory in China that is allowed to work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens, and it’s located at the apparent ground zero of the current outbreak.

If there were a lab leak—and, again, most experts do not believe that the available evidence points in this direction—then both the Wuhan Institute and its US partner would be on a short list of candidates to investigate. It should be obvious that no one with any connection to either organization can play a formal role in any truly independent investigation into the pandemic’s origins.

Moreover, as Pielke points out, Peter Daszak was amongst the co-authors of a formal statement submitted to and published by The Lancet in March “in solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China who continue to save lives and protect global health during the challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak” including “our Chinese counterparts in the forefront”.

Their statement includes the following line:

We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. 1

It has since been disclosed from emails obtained through Freedom of Information requests that this Lancet statement was prompted and organised by employees of Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance:

The emails obtained via public records requests show that EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak drafted the Lancet statement, and that he intended it to “not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person” but rather to be seen as “simply a letter from leading scientists”. Daszak wrote that he wanted “to avoid the appearance of a political statement”. […]

Although the phrase “EcoHealth Alliance” appeared only once in The Lancet statement, in association with co-author Daszak, several other co-authors also have direct ties to the group that were not disclosed as conflicts of interest. Rita Colwell and James Hughes are members of the Board of Directors of EcoHealth Alliance, William Karesh is the group’s Executive Vice President for Health and Policy, and Hume Field is Science and Policy Advisor.  2

Click here to read the full report posted by US Right to Know in November 2020.

Since Daszak has never contradicted this initial stance, we must presume that he still holds the firm belief that Covid is a zoonotic pathogen that crossed from animals to humans by purely natural means, which obviously casts serious doubt on his presumed impartiality as both a member of the WHO’s 10-person investigatory team as well as Chair of the 12-person task force set up by The Lancet.

Regarding The Lancet study, Pielke says:

Among the other members are five more signatories to the EcoHealth Alliance letter from last February, which means that fully half of this team had already suggested that any lab-leak hypothesis was a “conspiracy theory” months before their work began.

And more damning still when it comes to WHO’s mission to China, Pielke writes:

The WHO committee’s guidelines say nothing about the disclosure or management of actual or perceived conflicts of interest, but they do say that “the final composition of the international team should be agreed by both China and WHO.” We have no idea whether other conflicts of interest could apply to the committee’s members, since their public disclosure is not required. The WHO does not appear to have explicit procedures for managing such disclosures, even when they’re made on a voluntary basis. The WHO’s apparent lack of routine processes like these weakens the integrity of the investigation before it has even started.

Pielke concludes:

There are, in fact, dozens of laboratories around the world—some supported by the US government—that work with live SARS and SARS-related viruses and where a laboratory accident might be catastrophic; and, as Baker pointed out at length in his much-maligned New York magazine story, scientists have warned for years of just this possibility. If a formal investigation into the pandemic’s beginnings were to take the lab escape hypothesis seriously—let alone find suggestive evidence in its favor—it could seriously threaten this research. […]

If an essay like Baker’s plays into the disinformers’ hands, then so does an easily contested official process to investigate the origins of Covid-19. Fears of conspiracy theorizing should not scare us away from asking uncomfortable questions. They should do the opposite, and motivate us to ensure that our investigations into the origins of this pandemic are as open, independent, and trustworthy as possible.

Click here to read Roger Pielke’s full article entitled “If Covid-19 Did Start With a Lab Leak, Would We Ever Know?” published by Wired magazine.

1 From a “Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of china combating COVID-19” published by The Lancet in Volume 395, Issue 10226 on March 7–13 2020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673620304189

2 From an article entitled “EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated key scientists’ statement on ‘natural origin’ of SARS-Cov-2” written by Sainath Suryanarayanan, published in US Right to Know (USRTK) on November 18, 2020. https://usrtk.org/biohazards-blog/ecohealth-alliance-orchestrated-key-scientists-statement-on-natural-origin-of-sars-cov-2/

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