Updated: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that scientist Alina Chan was one of the scientists that did not back looking into the possibility that the coronavirus escaped a lab during the early days of the pandemic due to political reasons. Chan stated on social media that she was talking about her peers and was not referring to herself, which NBC News did not state in its original report. This article has been updated to show Chan’s well documented history of urging scientists from the early days of the pandemic to take seriously the possibility that the coronavirus escaped from a lab.
A scientist that signed onto a letter recently backing a probe in the possibility that the coronavirus pandemic originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology said in an interview this week that some scientists did not come forward sooner to back the possibility that the pandemic originated in a lab because they did not want “to be associated with Trump.”
NBC News reports:
[Alina] Chan was one of 18 scientists who published a letter in the journal Science last month calling for a more in-depth investigation into the virus’s origin that takes into account theories about both natural occurrence and laboratory spillovers. The letter helped kick-start a new round of calls to investigate the “lab leak hypothesis,” including demands from President Joe Biden and several leading scientists.
The report noted that numerous experts in the field have said that little-to-no evidence has emerged over the last year or so and that the only thing that has changed is the “context and circumstances” around the debate of the pandemic’s origins.
The report continued:
Chan said there had been trepidation among some scientists about publicly discussing the lab leak hypothesis for fear that their words could be misconstrued or used to support racist rhetoric about how the coronavirus emerged. Trump fueled accusations that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research lab in the city where the first Covid-19 cases were reported, was connected to the outbreak…
“At the time, it was scarier to be associated with Trump and to become a tool for racists, so people didn’t want to publicly call for an investigation into lab origins,” Chan said in the interview.
To her credit, Chan was one of the first scientists who not only pushed back on the theory that the pandemic originated from the wet market in Wuhan but that it was possible that the pandemic originated from a lab leak. Chan published a paper in May 2020 that generated significant media attention and made her a target of scientists who were looking to squash any talk that the pandemic could have originated from a lab. Chan also repeatedly tweeted about the lab leak possibility in May 2020.
Scientists rushed to downplay the possibility that the pandemic could have originated in the lab by publishing a letter in The Lancet that cast it “as a xenophobic cousin to climate change denialism and anti-vaxxism,” Vanity Fair reported. “The Lancet statement effectively ended the debate over COVID-19’s origins before it began.”
“To Gilles Demaneuf, following along from the sidelines, it was as if it had been ‘nailed to the church doors,’ establishing the natural origin theory as orthodoxy,” the report added. “‘Everyone had to follow it. Everyone was intimidated. That set the tone.'”
Former CDC Director Robert Redfield said this week that he believes that the pandemic originated in the lab and that those who moved to shut down the lab leak theory were “very anti-science.”
David Asher, who led the Trump administration’s investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, said in an interview last month that he had biostatisticians from the U.S. government calculate that the odds of the coronavirus evolving from nature and they estimated that it was about 1-in-13 billion.