Monday, February 17, 2020


There are tens of thousands of coronavirus cases now, and Senator Tom Cotton has some thoughts about that.
Speaking on Fox News, Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, raised the possibility that the virus had originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak.

“We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there,” the senator said, “but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all.”

He's not the only right-winger talking like this:
The idea of the coronavirus as an escaped weapon has been carried through international news outlets like the British tabloid The Daily Mail and The Washington Times, which suggested that the virus was being developed as part of China’s biowarfare program.

Last month, [Steve] Bannon invited Bill Gertz, a Washington Times reporter, to be a guest on the inaugural episode of his radio show “War Room: Pandemic,” a spinoff of his “War Room: Impeachment,” which defended Mr. Trump during the Senate impeachment trial.

“Bill Gertz had an amazing piece in The Washington Times about the biological labs that happen to be in Wuhan,” Mr. Bannon said on his Jan. 25 show. Mr. Gertz appeared on another show several days later to continue putting forward the bioweapons theory.

Fox News has also dabbled in the theory, in one article drawing a connection between a 1980s thriller by Dean Koontz that “predicted coronavirus.” The book is about a Chinese military lab that creates a biological weapon.
We're told that Cotton walked back his speculation:
After receiving criticism for lending credence to what has been largely considered a fringe theory, the senator took to Twitter to say that he did not necessarily think the virus was an “engineered bioweapon.”

But of Cotton's "four hypotheses," three presuppose that the virus came from a lab.

Meanwhile, NPR interviewed Dr. Ian Lipkin. He's a Columbia University epidemiologist who's been investigating the virus and recently returned from Wuhan. He is unequivocal about this theory:

DR. LIPKIN: We think the outbreak originated in wildlife. All the sequencing assays that we've built, the genetic studies, indicate that it probably came from a bat, and likely through some sort of intermediate host, probably a small mammal. This is what's happened with SARS, and we think something similar happened here. But we don't know precisely how it moved from bats into humans.

... we've been trying to convince people to shut down these wild animal markets for a very long time. There are so many diseases, not just this one, but Ebola, MERS, a number of other viral infections, which originate in wildlife. What happens in these markets is you get an exchange of viruses between wildlife and domestic animals, and sometimes directly from wildlife to people, and that's where many of these emerging infections arise.

The one thing I want to say very clearly is that we've examined the possibility that some have suggested, that this virus might have originated in a biocontainment lab or might be some sort of biologically defined weapon, and there's no evidence for that whatsoever. This is a classic example of a zoonosis -- something that starts in wildlife and unfortunately makes its way into people.
Here's a 2010 New York Times profile of Dr. Lipkin, published under the headline "A Man From Whom Viruses Can’t Hide." I think I trust his assessment more than that of Senator Cotton or Steve Bannon.

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