Tuesday, February 28, 2023


I agree with Jonathan Chait about 90 percent of the time -- he's usually solid on the threat posed by Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and the rest of the 21st-century Republican Party, as well as by the party's media apparatus. But when the subject is COVID, he loses focus. Here he blames liberals for not being open to the lab-leak theory on the virus's origins, ascribing our resistance to a rejection of conspiracy theories that he suggests are relics of the distant past:
The hypothesis that COVID-19 originated from a Chinese laboratory, rather than a naturally occurring jump from animals to human beings, received a major boost over the weekend. The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Department of Energy, as a result of new intelligence, now considers a lab leak the more likely origin source....

This hardly settles the matter — the DOE’s conclusion is made with “low confidence.” ...

But while the scientific resolution to this episode remains elusive, the lessons it offers about the politicization of science are quite clear.

When the lab-leak hypothesis first emerged, its most prominent advocates were Republican politicians who were motivated to shift blame away from the Trump administration’s mishandling of the pandemic. Many of them combined the lab-leak hypothesis with other, more outlandish claims, such as the absurd notion that China intentionally spread the virus through its own country in order to harm America. Numerous early media reports labeled the lab-leak hypothesis a “conspiracy theory.” Some of those reports conflated the lab-leak hypothesis with wilder claims about China intentionally unleashing the virus.
The spread of this "absurd notion" wasn't just a problem when the lab-leak theory "first emerged." It's a problem right now. Here was the lead story on the Fox News website until a few minutes ago:

A Chinese virologist who sounded the alarm in early 2020 about where the coronavirus came from said Monday the U.S. has reached a "milestone achievement" after a classified intelligence report from the Energy Department reportedly found the virus most likely originated in a Chinese lab.

Dr. Li Meng Yan told "Tucker Carlson Tonight" in September 2020 that the Chinese government intentionally manufactured and released the COVID-19 virus, leading to nationwide shutdowns and deaths.

Host Tucker Carlson asked Yan on Monday if she still believes the virus was intentionally released nearly three years after the pandemic started.

"Maybe for people who don't have this kind of biosafety lab three or four [years] experience on coronavirus, maybe it's easy for them to accept the accident lab leak. However, I'm a scientist, working in [a] research lab using coronavirus. And I can tell you, based on the print protocol and also the other surveillance system, it would be impossible for the lab leak [to] accidentally happen in such [a] lab and cause the Wuhan outbreak and also the pandemic," Yan said.
In case you couldn't follow that, she's arguing that an accidental lab leak was literally impossible -- it had to be biowarfare:

But she got a feature spot on the top-rated cable news show in America at this precise moment because Carlson -- not liberals -- decided to conflate the lab-leak theory and the bioweapon theory now, because Carlson and Yan know that millions of right-wingers believe that the Chinese are cartoon villains who not only couldn't be innocent of these charges but couldn't possibly be guilty through mere carelessness.

Yan has some interesting friends, as The New York Times reported in November 2020, after she first appeared in the Western media:
Dr. Yan’s trajectory was carefully crafted by Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese billionaire, and Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Mr. Trump.

They put Dr. Yan on a plane to the United States, gave her a place to stay, coached her on media appearances and helped her secure interviews with popular conservative television hosts like Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs, who have shows on Fox. They nurtured her seemingly deep belief that the virus was genetically engineered, uncritically embracing what she provided as proof.

“I said from Day 1, there’s no conspiracies,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview. “But there are also no coincidences.”

Mr. Bannon noted that unlike Dr. Yan, he did not believe the Chinese government “purposely did this.”
So Steve Bannon didn't believe her, but he helped make her a media star, because this is war (against China, against liberalism), and in war, truth is the first casualty.

(When Bannon was arrested in 2020 on charges of fraud in connection with a "build the wall" nonprofit, he was taken into custody on Guo Wengui's yacht.)

Dr. Yan's expertise is questionable:
She had studied influenza before the outbreak, but not coronaviruses. She did work at one of the world’s top virology labs, at the University of Hong Kong, but was fairly new to the field and hired for her experience with lab animals, according to two university employees who knew her. She helped investigate the new outbreak, but was not overseeing the effort....

[In September 2020,] Dr. Yan released a 26-page research paper that she said proved the virus was manufactured. It spread rapidly online.

The paper, which was not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, was posted on an online open-access repository. It was backed by two nonprofits funded by Mr. Guo....

Virologists quickly dismissed the paper as “pseudoscience” and “based on conjecture.” Some worried that the paper — laden with charts and scientific jargon, such as “unique furin cleavage site” and “RBM-hACE2 binding” — would lend her claims a veneer of credibility.

“It’s full of science-y sorts of terms that are jumbled together to sound impressive but aren’t supported,” said Gigi Kwik Gronvall, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins University who was among several authors of a rebuttal to Dr. Yan’s report.
Right-wing propagandists haven't advocated the accidental-lab-leak theory because they want Americans to believe there was an accidental lab leak. They've spread it because they know it's a gateway drug, easily leading to the conclusion that China is super-evil and unleashed COVID intentionally in order to hurt America. The Fox story tell us:
Carlson suggested the Chinese government unleashed COVID to destroy Western economies and elevate their own position globally.
Really, Tucker? If that was the plan, how'd that work out?
The Chinese economy had one of its worst performances in decades [in 2022] as growth was dragged down by numerous Covid lockdowns followed by a deadly outbreak in December that swept across the country with remarkable speed.

China grew 3 percent for the year, numbers released Tuesday show, much less than in 2021 and short of Beijing’s target of 5.5 percent. Other than 2020, it was the most disappointing showing since 1976, the year Mao Zedong died, when the economy declined 1.6 percent.

The government’s strict “zero Covid” restrictions cast a pall over 2022, strangling the economy with frequent quarantines, regional lockdowns and massive spending to pay for widespread testing. Then on Dec. 7, China lifted the policy without warning after nearly three years. Within weeks, the virus had infected hundreds of millions of people, killed many older residents and left factories, offices and restaurants bereft of workers and customers.
Why would a country do this? Why would it release a bioweapon on its own people first, and then on nations with which it has billions of dollars in trade?

But right-wingers who are afraid to venture even to big cities in their own country think they have a sophistiated idea of how the world works, because a preppy grifter tells them stories like this.

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