by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[T]he “proximal origin” paper became the ur-text for shutting down any further exploration of the idea that Covid might have emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan. It also conveniently shut down any discussion of the possibility that China and, by implication, the United States’ scientific funding apparatus—which had subsidized controversial “gain of function” research in Wuhan—were responsible.
And yet the only message from the designated scientific leaders at the time was that anything other than natural origins was rank speculation at best and harmful conspiracy-theorizing at worst. Speaking in the White House press briefing room, Fauci assured the public that the data from the proximal-origins study were “totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.” Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health posted a message on the NIH website declaring, “This study leaves little room to refute a natural origin for Covid-19.”
Media outlets immediately ran with the story, citing the paper as definitive proof that the lab-leak hypothesis was little more than a conspiracist’s fever dream. Facebook moved swiftly to censor posts that referenced lab-leak theories. Cable-news hosts denounced mention of lab leaks as conspiracy-mongering. Joy Reid declared the lab-leak theory “debunked bunkum,” and her fellow MSNBCers Joe Scarborough and Nicole Wallace called it a “conspiracy theory.” On CNN, Drew Griffin claimed there was “zero proof” behind the lab-leak “conspiracy theory,” later claiming, incorrectly, that it had been “widely debunked.” The New York Times even chided Senator Tom Cotton for raising the possibility of a lab leak, calling it a “fringe” idea that encouraged unhealthy thought patterns. As Andersen watched the media attention lavished on his and his colleagues’ work, he wrote to a fellow scientist, “We RUUUUUUULE. That’s tenure secured, right there.”
Tenure might have been secured for Andersen, but public trust in the scientific establishment has since plummeted.