The decade's most triggering comedy
Prominent scientists are demanding a full retraction of an early, highly influential paper on the origins of COVID-19 that downplayed the lab leak theory and was praised by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” published in March 2020 in the journal Nature Medicine, declared that COVID did not come from a lab despite private doubts from the authors that a lab leak was possible, and even “likely.”
“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” wrote the five prominent scientists who authored the paper. “We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
However, emails from early 2020 that came to light earlier this year show that Fauci and the paper’s authors suspected all along that the virus may have been the result of a lab leak.
“We, as STEM and STEM-policy professionals, call upon Nature Medicine to publish an expression of editorial concern for the paper and to begin a process of withdrawal or retraction of the paper,” the signers wrote.
The paper is “scientific fraud,” declared one of the signers, Richard H. Ebright, the Board of Governors professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University.
The paper “falsely claimed science showed COVID-19 did not have a lab origin,” Ebright wrote in a tweet. “Newly released messages from the authors show they did not believe the conclusions of the paper and show the paper is the product of scientific fraud and scientific misconduct.”
The 2020 "Proximal Origin" paper falsely claimed science showed COVID-19 did not have a lab origin. Newly released messages from the authors show they did not believe the conclusions of the paper and show the paper is the product of scientific fraud and scientific misconduct.… pic.twitter.com/61daITfmA9
— Richard H. Ebright (@R_H_Ebright) July 22, 2023
Neil Harrison, a professor of anesthesiology and molecular pharmacology at Columbia University, also signed the letter calling for a retraction.
Harrison said there is “no evidence” for the conclusions that the virus had a natural origin or that the pandemic began at a seafood market, and the authors’ private messages show they knew this at the time.
“Scientists in the clinical and contiguous sciences have argued against these papers almost from the beginning, and have been subjected to volleys of abuse. This is the first retraction call but it won’t be the last,” Harrison said.
Other signers of the retraction letter include a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a professor of pediatrics and genetics at Harvard who has researched vaccines, an epidemiology professor at the University of Ottawa, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor at Pennsylvania State University, an epidemiologist and health professor at the University of California, Irvine, a professor of molecular immunology at the University of Oxford, and many others.
The COVID-origin paper’s authors agreed to downplay the lab leak theory, “given the s*** show that would happen if anyone serious accused the Chinese of even accidental release,” one said in a private Slack message in February 2020.
“Yup, I totally agree that that’s a very reasonable conclusion. Although I hate when politics is injected into science – but its [sic] impossible not to, especially given the circumstances,” one of the paper’s other authors responded.
At the end of January, Fauci had a call with one of the COVID origin paper’s authors, Kristian Andersen, that concerned him so much that Fauci suggested potentially notifying the FBI. Fauci was the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and served as a prominent member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in 2020.
“Some of the features (potentially) look engineered,” Anderson wrote in an email to Fauci that same evening.
Fauci wrote in an email that a group of evolutionary biologists should get together to examine whether Andersen’s concerns were validated. If so, they should notify the authorities, likely the FBI, Fauci said.
“[The] lab escape version of this is so friggin’ likely to have happened because they were already doing this type of work and the molecular data is fully consistent with that scenario,” a concerned Andersen reportedly wrote on February 1, 2020.
The scientists scrambled to look for a natural evolution explanation for COVID-19, but they struggled to find conclusive evidence.
A week later, Andersen wrote, “Our main work over the last couple of weeks has been focused on trying to disprove any type of lab theory, but we are at a crossroad where the scientific evidence isn’t conclusive enough to say that we have high confidence in any of the three main theories considered.”
“As to publishing this document in a journal, I am currently not in favor of doing so,” he added.
However, in March, the researchers decided to move forward and publish the scientific paper that downplayed the lab leak theory.
“Thanks for your note,” Fauci replied when informed the paper would be published soon. “Nice job on the paper.”
In April, Fauci would cite the study from the White House podium as evidence the virus jumped from animals to humans.
In a new ripple that came to light this month, Andersen also had a pending $8.9 million NIAID grant that still required final approval from Fauci when the study was published, according to The Intercept.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) begrudgingly released the unredacted emails earlier this year after more than a year of litigation involving Freedom Of Information Act requests from journalists.