At Spiked Matt Ridley has a post asking why scientists “suppressed” the lab leak theory for SARS-CoV-2:
In December 2019 there was an outbreak in China of a novel bat-borne SARS-like coronavirus a few miles from the world’s leading laboratory for collecting, studying and manipulating novel bat-borne SARS-like coronaviruses. We were assured by leading scientists in China, the US and the UK that this really was a coincidence, even when the nine closest relatives of the new virus turned up in the freezer of the laboratory in question, at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Now we know what those leading scientists really thought. Emails exchanged between them after a conference call on 1 February 2020, and only now forced into the public domain by Republicans in the US Congress, show that they not only thought the virus might have leaked from a lab, but they also went much further in private. They thought the genome sequence of the new virus showed a strong likelihood of having been deliberately manipulated or accidentally mutated in the lab. Yet later they drafted an article for a scientific journal arguing that the suggestion not just of a manipulated virus, but even of an accidental spill, could be confidently dismissed and was a crackpot conspiracy theory.
Following a discussion of the skepticism that a virus with the particular characteristcs of SARS-CoV-2 could have arisen naturally, he gets to the meat of the post:
The emails unveiled this week reveal no good scientific reason at all for why these leading virologists changed their minds and became deniers rather than believers in even the remote possibility of a lab leak, all in just a few days in February 2020. No new data, no new arguments. But they do very clearly reveal a blatant political reason for the volte-face. Speculating about a lab leak, said Ron Fouchier, a Dutch researcher, might ‘do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular’. Francis Collins was pithier, worrying about ‘doing great potential harm to science and international harmony’. Contradicting Donald Trump, protecting science’s reputation at all costs and keeping in with those who dole out large grants are pretty strong incentives to change one’s mind.
All of this ties in with a post I’ve been working on. Different professionals have different ethical obligations. Making the needs of your profession your highest goal is not an ethical stance.
I don’t know how SARS-CoV-2 arose. That it emerged due to a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is plausible. That is emerged naturally is plausible, too. It would be a lot more plausible if a related virus with the distinctive characteristic of SARS-CoV-2 were to be found. Maybe it will in time.
From a legal standpoint I think that there should be multiple class action lawsuits against Chinese individuals and institutions claiming harm due to COVID-19. That would provide the Chinese authorities with a healthy motivation for being more forthcoming than they have been to date.