[conspire] (forw) Re: [skeptic] The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora???s box at Wuhan?

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Tue May 25 20:41:23 PDT 2021

Quoting Akkana Peck (akkana at shallowsky.com):

> I'm definitely not a virologist and I haven't been following closely
> enough to have an informed opinion on the source of the virus. But
> I saw a very useful timeline/summary in the Washington Post today
> that shows how expert opinion gradually seems to be changing:
> https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/05/25/timeline-how-wuhan-lab-leak-theory-suddenly-became-credible/

I'm a bit wary of the claim that "expert opinion gradually seems to be
changing".  Glenn Kessler, WashPo fact checker, refers to a lot of
things said by a number of people, but almost none of those are experts 
in any relevant sense --s and, actually, just about the only ones who
actually are, a group of prominent scientists who wrote a May 14t letter
to _Science_, merly said that some theories of accidental release from a
lab "remain viable" and that both leading groups of theories ought to be
taken seriously and investigated with independent oversight.

Likewise, WHO's Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is either
an expert or (more likely) has access to advice from them, and all he's 
quoted as saying is that he doesn't _rule out_ a lab-leak scenario.

The fact that Kessler is impressed with Nicholas Wade's piece and
considers it "a strong case for the lab-leak theory" is a bit troubling.

Remember, Wade doesn't merely assert that SARS-CoV-2 _leaked_ from a
lab, but also that it was _created_ in a lab and that the scientists and
the Trump administration and the mainstream press then covered that up.
On the "made in the lab" angle Kessler is particularly impressed by 
Wade having focussed on "the furin cleavage site, which increases viral
infectivity for human cells", and quotes a virologist (David Baltimore, 
former president of CalTech) as a smoking gun for the virus having an
artificial origin.

Here is what James Duehr had to say about that:

  2.3) And if it were created in a lab, SARS-CoV-2 would have been
  engineered by an idiot.

  This one’s my favorite, because it shows how batshit crazy nature is.
  Only nature could have made something so ridiculously stupid and
  strange. So poorly inefficient and yet somehow still effective.

  There are parts of SARS-CoV-2 that are really _really_ bad at their job.
  That if I were designing a virus intended to infect and hurt humans, 
  that I would never add. That we’ve never seen before. That only makes 
  sense to have evolved in nature.

  For example, SARS-CoV-2 has something called a “polybasic cleavage site”
  (a place the virus needs to be cut in order to infect cells properly) (47).

  SARS-CoV-2 has one of these that is really horribly designed, such that
  it isn’t as easily “recognized” or cut by the best molecular scissors 
  inside your body (called “proteases”) (48,49,50). There are WAY better 
  cleavage sites that any reasonably intelligent virologist could have 
  used. It’s ridiculous.

  SARS-CoV-2 has the Ford Focus of cleavage sites. It works, but do you
  really want it to? (16,51,52,53)

  Whereas we have identified all sorts of excellently beautiful Rolls
  Royces out there in nature (54,55,56,57,58,59). We even know how to
  make some really good ones in Avian Influenza that are MacLarens on
  steroids (60,61).  

  If any real virologist worth jack had designed this thing, they would
  have used a MacLaren...  Not the dinky crap that SARS-CoV-2 actually 
  is. It could be so much higher pathogenicity!

  Likewise, the receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein (the
  part of the virus that helps it attach to our cells before it enters) 
  is really _“promiscuous.”_
  It binds to ACE2 (a thing on our cells), but it also binds ACE2 from
  ferrets, cats, orangutans, and chimpanzees.  And these are pretty damn
  diverse ACE2 receptors (62,63). And it looks like this part of the virus
  that binds all these things may have come from a virus that infects
  pangolins (64). So, in order to bind all of those and transmit more
  readily, SARS-CoV-2 had to develop a very promiscuous and, actually
  somewhat unstable, spike protein (65,66). This is something pretty novel
  to us, and probably no one would have guessed it would even work.

  Why would any mad scientist make a receptor that can bind all these
  other random species? When all they presumably wanted to do is make a
  good anti-human bioweapon??

  Why would they make it _less stable_ than SARS-CoV-1? Why would they
  make it so crappy?

  The most likely answer is that they didn’t make it. _Nature did._

  It takes extra steps, extra work, and frankly I’m surprised it even
  works at all. Something like this would require a virus that had seen
  many different species. Like it would have if it had circulated in the
  wild, in nature, where many different animals (with many different ACE2
  receptors) coexist!  More on that in [Q4].

  Okay Jim, then if that’s true, how did this random cleavage site show up
  in a virus, outta nowhere?

  Well, pedantic commenter, we actually know this can happen! We’ve seen
  it happen in chickens with Avian Influenza (67)! So, it’s really not a
  stretch to say it happened in SARS-CoV-2. In bats or another animal we
  haven’t yet identified. We know polybasic cleavage sites can develop
  quickly, even though the overall number of mutations can take much

  In order to agree with all of the above, and still believe SARS-CoV-2
  had been engineered in a lab, you’d have to believe in a vast cabal of
  world powers all working together to kill lots of people and silence
  many others.  Just to hide how elaborate a project it would need to be
  to engineer it considering all of the above. To deal with the many
  different labs that might know about it, or the many different companies
  you’d have to purchase supplies from. To overcome the basic challenges
  of making it “work” in the lab. I heavily doubt thatsuch a thing could
  exist when we can’t even run the CIA or White House without hundreds of
  leaks every year. When we know where pretty much all the nuclear sites
  in North Korea are and what China is doing to its most vulnerable

  How could they keep this big project secret when all of those other
  things are so easily uncovered?

  Have you ever tried to manage a project with like 10 people on it? It’s
  hard. A project with this many moving parts and this many people,
  working flawlessly, while also remaining completely secret?

  It’s just not very likely. But that’s just what they want you to
  believe, isn’t it?

  I recognize this genetic modification bit is probably the one most
  people are worried about. And I also recognize it’s a lot of stuff to
  get through, and it’s difficult to wrap our heads around. If what I’ve
  said above isn’t enough, here are some other resources where you can
  hear from other experts who are similarly interested in helping us all
  understand these complex and convoluted ideas: (1 2 3 4)

  I’m also happy to discuss any of the points I’ve made in this
  discussion with anyone who’s interested. In the end, _I think we both
  want similar things:_ to figure out how this pandemic started and to
  find a way to end it.  I got into virology because I find viruses
  _fascinating_ and I wanted to develop drugs and tools to help cure
  their diseases. Right now, I’m making my way through medical school
  because I want to use that knowledge to help people like you.

  I firmly believe that sharing my knowledge is one way I can help. So,
  let’s have a conversation.

Once again, just to stress, there is a conceptual difference between 
"lab leak" hypotheses and "made in a lab" ones, with the latter being an
extreme subcase of the former.  I am focussing, here, on "made in lab" 
hypotheses, and what James Duehr said about the alleged smoking-gun
nature of the furin (polybasic) cleavage site as supposedly proving an
artificial origing _because_ WashPo fact-checker Kessler is claiming to 
be impressed by Nicholas Wade's _Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists_ 
article claiming exactly that.

If that's a "strong case", I wonder what Mr. Kessler thinks is a weak

So, yes, it's a timeline.  Yes, it got published in _WashPo_.  I'm not
at all sure it muc reflects "expert opinion", and (given the Nicholas
Wade goofiness), I have my doubts about Kessler's ability to identify

In fairness, his piece didn't claim the sundry people quoted --
reporters, national security bureaucrats -- were experts.  It just
quoted them.  Oh, and near the end of the piece, Walter Ian Lipkin,
epidemiologist at Columbia University, is merely said to have changed
his mind from a March 2020 letter in _Nature Medicine_ he'd co-signed
saying lab release was "implausible".  No longer entirely "implausible"
is not a techtonic shift in view.

> It'll be interesting to see if any really compelling evidence
> eventually surfaces to point to a clear answer. I don't think I've
> seen anything really convincing yet, but I'm glad there are people
> still investigating.


James Duehr's latest FAQ revision (version 18) is, sadly, just over a
year old, which I hadn't really noticed until just now.  (Time flies
when you're hunkering down and hoping the world doesn't blow up
further.)  That's a _very_ long time in current terms.  I wonder what
he'll say when/if he puts out version 19.

He is:  https://www.reddit.com/user/_Shibboleth_

Speaking of that, one of Kessler's main points in the timeline was:

  But in recent months the idea that it emerged from the Wuhan Institute
  of Virology (WIV) — once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory —
  has gained new credence.

  How and why did this happen? For one, efforts to discover a natural
  source of the virus have failed.

On Reddit, Duehr responds to the _same_ allegation, as posted by someone 

  ROGER_CHOCS:  Yes but we also have to consider that current research
  cannot find where this strain came from, where as after sars they
  located the wet market location within 8 months or something.
  So the intelligence is aligning with other findings. As we whittle down
  the possibilities it seems more likely this was accidentally passed to a
  worker and then transmission happened once they got to the hospital.
  However, there is still absolutely 0 evidence to suggest this current
  strain of covid was bioengineered.

  DUEHR:  To me, it is not at all surprising that it has taken this
  long. It took 20 years to find Ebola in bats in the wild. You're also a
  little off about the 2003 SARS, it took more like 1 and a half years to
  find it in civet cats, and then it took 3 total years to connect it to

  Here (https://np.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/nf5u92/whats_going_on_with_the_covid19_was_made_in_a_lab/gymskr5/)
  is a comment where I answer this exact same question detailing the
  process that led to the discovery of the SARS-1 and MERS origins, and
  why they are very very different situations compared to SARS-CoV-2.
  There are two main differences that were in favor of finding the origin
  in those two cases:

  1. High penetrance (meaning most everybody who got the virus got sick)

  2. Low case counts (making it easier to trace back to patient zero)

  Importantly, China hasn't allowed in international investigators to do
  that kind of sampling. As far as I can tell, no one is actually looking
  at the moment. Maybe internal Chinese scientists? But still very
  unclear. The way the Chinese government has locked down this work
  and restricted the movements of Shi Zheng-li and other scientists in
  China, I doubt anyone is looking at the moment.

  And here is a comment
(https://np.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/nf5u92/whats_going_on_with_the_covid19_was_made_in_a_lab/gym83ps/) where I describe the 20-odd years it 
  took to figure out the most proximal origin of the 1976 Ebola outbreak.

  And here is one
  where I describe the technological advancements that will probably 
  make this a much faster process than 2 decades like Ebola.

  Even so, it still can't happen overnight, not when China isn't even
  allowing people to start looking.

So, once again, Glenn Kessler trots out someting claimed to be pivotal 
-- that a natural reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 hasn't been found in a year
of looking, but an actual virologist (Duehr) points out that this isn't
a long search at all.

Sorting Duehr's Reddit comments in reverse date order turns up lots of 
enlightening things, and I just can't chew up more time repeating them,
so I'll just pass along the link for anyone interested:

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