COVID-19 As A Bioweapon
Conspiracy Theory Or Fact?
The reflexive derisive insult the legacy media routinely applies to stories of which is disapproves is "conspiracy theory". Such stories, we are told, are the mere deluded ramblings of the misinformed and the uninformed. Such stories, we are told, are the ludicrous efforts by the paranoid the prey on the prejudices of the public. Such stories, we are told, are journalistic garbage.
Yet we cannot ignore such stories, because often the "conspiracy theory" narrative turns out to have more substance than the narratives of the legacy media. We must not forget that it was the "conspiracy theorists" at alternative media sites such as ZeroHedge that first drew the world's attention to the coronavirus, while the legacy media has been a primary purveyor of misinformation and pro-China propaganda.
Today's "conspiracy theory" can all too quickly become tomorrow's substantive fact.
We must bear this in mind when considering the most disturbing "conspiracy theory" we have yet on COVID-19: that the virus is a laboratory construct, a bioweapon released either by accident or by design.
Separating Speculation From Facts
Discerning what is "conspiracy theory" and what is substantive fact is not a simple straightforward exercise. All conspiracy theories begin with a smattering of facts. Where they wander off into the weeds is in the narrative arc necessary to bind disparate facts into a coherent presentation building to a sustainable conclusion. When scarce facts are tied together with speculation masquerading as fact, that is where conspiracy theory arises.
To illustrate the challenge of discerning speculation versus fact, consider this headline from the alternative media site Natural News.
CONFIRMED: CoVid-19 coronavirus found to contain unique “gain-of-function” property “for efficient spreading in the human population” … exact quote from science paper just published in Antiviral Research
The author, Mike Adams, goes on to claim that there is now a "smoking gun" clearly establishing that COVID-19 is a lab-engineered virus--a bioweapon.
We now have bombshell, smoking gun evidence that the CoVid-19 “Wuhan” coronavirus was specifically engineered as an offensive biological warfare weapon, designed to target to exterminate human beings.
What Mike Adams does have is a study published in a peer-reviewed journal. The study was performed by credentialed researchers at verified institutions of higher learning and research. The quote in the title is real.
In that regard, the story is fact-based.
Does the study support a bioweapon hypothesis for the origin of COVID-19? Arguably, yes.
Is the study a "smoking gun"? Not quite. Alas for Natural News, they indulge in a rather fatal bit of speculation:
Further, the science paper finds that there is no known viral ancestry to the CoVid-19 coronavirus, meaning it did not evolve from nature. It was engineered, and the science paper authors also state that the virus contains elements from MERS, stating, “Before the emergence of the 2019-nCoV, this important feature was not observed in the lineage b of betacoronaviruses.”
"No known viral ancestry" does not mean the virus is a lab construct. It means the paper's authors are unable to describe the evolutionary path from known ancestor viruses to the COVID-19 pathogen.
Mike Adams is not necessarily wrong, but as he does not cite a quote that says "this virus was made in a lab" or any similar phrasing, the assertion of conclusive proof relies too much on speculation and not enough on fact.
All Facts--All Contexts--Matter
No fact and no assertion should ever be viewed independent of context and background. Truth is the compendium of facts, and is not derived from any single fact. Truth lies in the totality of research, not in any single study.
When asserting something as "proven", we need to consider any and all facts involved, including other studies and other commentaries on the same studies.
For perspective, consider the commentary of Vincent Racaniello Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology & Immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, discussing the same study referenced by Natural News.
The spike glycoprotein of the newly emerged SARS-CoV-2 contains a potential cleavage site for furin proteases. This observation has implications for the zoonotic origin of the virus and its epidemic spread in China.
"Having implications" is not the same as being definitive proof. If Dr. Racaniello considers this study to be smoking gun evidence of an engineered, virus, he is curiously circumspect about that possibility. We should also note that "having implications" for the zoonotic origin of the virus also does not exclude the possibility of the virus being engineered in a lab--circumspect language by its nature straddles the fence extremely well.
But this study is not the first to note the existence of this particular characteristic of the virus. A January, 2020 study by researchers at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, also discuss this particular viral feature.
The present study for the first time reported a very important mutation in the Spike (S) proteins of BB coronavirus. By this mutation, 2019-nCoV acquired a cleavage site for furin enzyme, which is not present in the S proteins of all other BB coronavirus (e.g. SARS coronavirus) except the Mouse Hepatitis coronavirus (MHV). This mutation may increase the efficiency of virus infection into cells, making 2019-nCoV has significantly stronger transmissibility than SARS coronavirus.
The full text of the Chinese study is available as a PDF (in Chinese) on ResearchGate.
This paper also does not say explicitly the virus was engineered.
We also have this study, made available online through the Center for Open Science on February 18, which indicates the linkage with MERS may be merely coincidental.
The furin sequence motif at S1/S2 site is missing in all SARS/SARSr virus Spike protein, raising an interesting question on whether this furin sequence motif in 2019-nCoV is entirely novel or similar sequence pattern might exist in the spike protein of other coronaviruses. Therefore, protein sequence region surrounding this putative furin site of 2019-nCoV Spike protein was utilized as query to search NCBI database via Blastp and nBlastx. Result showed that although 2019-nCoV Spike protein shares only 35% aa identity with MERS-CoV Spike protein the region surrounding the furin cleavage sequence motif shares weak yet identifiable similar sequence pattern (Figure 4).
Two points arise from this paragraph. The first is that the particular portion of the MERS virus under consideration is an inexact match to the COVID-19 pathogen ("weak yet identifiable"). The second is a complete lack of intimation of artificial construct, in a paragraph noting a remarkable feature of the novel coronavirus. For this particular sequence to be as conclusive a piece of evidence as Mike Adams proclaims while other researchers are seemingly blase to the notion seems improbable on its face. Absolute proof of an artificial origin would surely be worthy of notice by any researcher into the virus.
There is also a paper on the "proximal origins" of the virus, which claims a zoonotic origin of the disease in bats.
SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh member of the Coronaviridae known to infect humans. Three of these viruses, SARS CoV-1, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2, can cause severe disease; four, HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E, are associated with mild respiratory symptoms. Herein, we review what can be deduced about the origin and early evolution of SARS-CoV-2 from the comparative analysis of available genome sequence data. In particular, we offer a perspective on the notable features in the SARS-CoV-2 genome and discuss scenarios by which these features could have arisen. Importantly, this analysis provides evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct nor a purposefully manipulated virus.
A key phrase that deserves attention is "this analysis provides evidence". This wording indicates the paper does not prove the origin of the virus beyond any and all doubt, but merely establishes a plausible but not necessarily conclusive argument against the bioweapon hypothesis. Before evaluating the details within the paper at length, we already are presented with a measure of equivocation that precludes removing the bioweapon hypothesis from all consideration.
I will leave further discussion of the microbiology of coronavirus to the microbiologists. It is not my intention to dispute the findings of any of these studies, nor to question their individual conclusions. My sole purpose in examining these studies is to establish context and background for the paper cited in Natural News.
Still,we must not make the error of presuming that all research into the coronavirus points away from the bioweapon hypothesis, or involvement of a bioresearch facility in the evolution and origination of the pathogen. That is not at all true. A study performed at the South China Institute of Technology offers up this ominous conclusion:
In summary, somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus. In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.
There is no misinterpreting that statement: The study's authors are stating plainly that humans played a significant role in the development and evolution of this coronavirus strain.
Yet even this study also stops short of the bioweapon hypothesis. Viewed as a whole, the assertions the study makes speak to poor research methodologies, poor containment protocols, poor compliance with safety regulations and guidelines, and regular run-of-the-mill corruption. The study speaks more to stupidity than to malice. If we have "stupidity" as the culprit, then we are not dealing with an engineered virus, but one which has been given the chance to mutate and evolve in a direction distinctly dangerous to human existence.
Beyond the scientific research that supports a "stupidity rather than malice" hypothesis, there is significant ongoing reporting tha provides a measure of corroboration of these same shoddy and corrupt practices as being the true state of China's biomedical research facilities. The number of stories recounted of poor containment protocols, lack of adherence to safety guidelines, the improper disposition of experimental (presumably dead) research animals, and the outright sale of research animals to Wuhan's live animal markets is mind-numbingly terrifying all by themselves.
If even a fraction of these stories are true, the laboratories in Wuhan should be closed immediately and permanently for being existential threats to the human species (and no, that is not an exaggeration). If even a fraction of those stories are true, the potential for a laboratory to become a breeding ground capable of cultivating a hybrid coronavirus rises dramatically, so that even if there was no intention of weaponizing coronavirus, the ultimate zoonotic result might render that distinction moot.
(Update: We must also acknowledge many odd events in and around Wuhan last year, not the least of which was an "emergency response drill" at Tianhe Airport in September, 2019, involving an incoming airline passenger with active coronavirus infection. While it is entirely conceivable that such drills would be conducted in China in the aftermath of the SARS pandemic in 2002-2003, the selection of a coronavirus pathogen as part of the drill scenario is quite a remarkable coincidence at the very least. At a minimum it indicates coronavirus outbreaks were of concern to officials in Wuhan and Hubei province.
This does not prove COVID-19 is a bioweapon, although such concerns are wholly consistent with safety system checks to test response mechanisms in the event of a containment breach at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where bat-related coronavirus research is known to be ongoing.)
On the preponderance of the evidence, therefore, we do not have a "smoking gun" establishing COVID-19 as a bioweapon. By the preponderance of that same evidence, we also do not have any refutation of the bioweapon hypothesis. By the preponderance of that same evidence, we have significant probability a research facility in Wuhan has played some role in the origination of this virus, with or without human intent.
The evidences we have do not support conclusions farther than this.
Absence Of Proof vs Proof Of Absence
One of the hoariest cliche's in evidence-based analysis is "absence of proof is not proof of absence." We would do well to keep that uppermost in our minds now. Merely because a data point fails to confirm a particular hypothesis does not mean the hypothesis is disproven.
No, the study cited by Natural News is not a "smoking gun" proving that COVID-19 is a bioweapon. The study cited by Natural News is suggestive of a bioweapon, and would certainly be consistent with a bioweapon, but, on balance, does not establish with certainty this virus was deliberately assembled in a laboratory. It furthers the bioweapon case somewhat but does not, on its own, get us all the way there.
Potentially, it raises the probability of a bioweapon scenario, and for that reason alone the study bears notice and deserves discussion. However, we do ourselves a grave disservice if we do not focus that discussion--and the ancillary pressures on public officials able to hold the Chinese government to account--on pursuing further evidence to conclusively prove or disprove the bioweapon hypothesis.
Absence Of Proof Means We Need Proof
For all the derisive dismissals of the legacy media, the simple and unalterable reality is that the bioweapons hypothesis is not going to simply fade away nor has it been conclusively rebutted--claims by proponents of the proximal origin paper notwithstanding.
Nor should the hypothesis go away. Regardless of whether the hypothesis is probable or improbable--and I leave it to the reader to judge for himself or herself the hypothesis' (im)probability--it carries significant public health and geopolitical ramifications. If COVID-19 is a bioweapon, its creation would be unquestionably the worst crime against humanity ever; there are not words to describe the evil of such a creation.
The question asked is a question that must be answered. It is no exaggeration to say humanity deserves to know if someone seeks to be the author of our extinction. We need proof. We deserve proof. We should be seeking proof.
What sort of proof should we seek?
The research files from the biological laboratories in Wuhan would be an excellent source of information on this point. We know of at least one researcher in Wuhan studying coronavirus in bats. That is beyond dispute. Researchers take notes, and keep files of notes--without research notes they have no data. China needs to make the research notes of the staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other facilities available for inspection by a team of independent international medical and virology experts. The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and other agencies focused on the state of the world's health should bring pressure to bear on their Chinese counterparts for the production of this information. The United States State Department should exert diplomatic pressures to have China produce this information.
China also took numerous biological samples from the Wuhan live animal market alleged to be the origin of the virus. To date, those samples have not been shared. China needs to produce that information as well. Independent researchers need to assess their claims regarding the marketplace as the origin of the disease and their denial their labs played any role.
Reviewing this information is no more than simple due diligence. It is the sort of records check any auditor or investigator would make in reviewing the performance of any organization.
Not A Conspiracy Theory. Just Not Proven (Yet)
That we do not have a "smoking gun" one way or the other is extraordinarily frustrating. We naturally seek certainty. We want "Yes" or "No", not "Maybe". With the bioweapon hypothesis we are stuck various degrees of "Maybe", ranging from "probably not" to "possibly" to "most likely", depending on the levels of trust you place in various sources and studies.
I place little trust in any of them. I take researchers' conclusions at face value by necessity rather than choice (not being a microbiologist, I am in no position to dispute their findings), and I note the hedges and equivocations they sprinkle throughout their narratives. I note the doubts that remain even in the most emphatic of these studies. As the microbiologists and virologists decline to state explicitly that COVID-19 is or is not a bioweapon, I decline to fill that gap in their stead. They will not speak with certainty on the bioweapon hypothesis, and so neither will I.
The notion that COVID-19 is a bioweapon is not a conspiracy theory. It is a valid and disturbingly reasonable hypothesis. It is only a hypothesis, however, one that is not as yet proven to be categorically true.
That is the frustrating fact of the bioweapon hypothesis.
23 February 2020: Updated to include discussion of the emergency response drill at Tianhe Airport in September 2019.