“Formerly respected,” I should say.

The argument here is that it’s unfair to label diseases by their sites of origin because it encourages stigmatization, and stigmatization leads to persecution of innocent people. If China had been forthright in admitting that COVID-19 began in Wuhan, and if China had been transparent about what it knew about the virus’s threat to humans from the start, I’d agree that terms like “Wuhan virus” are gratuitous. No sense scapegoating the regime or the country when they acted in good faith to limit the spread.

But they did not act in good faith to limit the spread. And they’re waging a propaganda war even now to cast doubt on where the virus originated, suggesting at times that it might have been brought to Wuhan by American soldiers. In those Orwellian circumstances, accurately noting where the virus began is less an act of stigmatization than of sanitation. It’s clearing off the muck spread by a sinister regime to cover its tracks.

I’d even let Nature slide if all they were objecting to was the use of the specific phrase “Wuhan virus.” They aren’t, as I read them. They’re suggesting that it’s improper in any context for a science magazine — the paradigm example of a publication that should trade only in facts, however unpleasant — to admit that the virus originated in Wuhan.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced in February that the disease caused by the new coronavirus would be called COVID‑19, the name was quickly adopted by organizations involved in communicating public-health information. As well as naming the illness, the WHO was implicitly sending a reminder to those who had erroneously been associating the virus with Wuhan and with China in their news coverage— including Nature. That we did so was an error on our part, for which we take responsibility and apologize

[Y]et, as countries struggle to control the spread of the new coronavirus, a minority of politicians are sticking with the outdated script. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly associated the virus with China. Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro — the son of President Jair Bolsonaro — has called it “China’s fault”. Politicians elsewhere, including in the United Kingdom, are also saying that China bears responsibility

Many leaders want to listen to and act on expert scientific advice to deal with this pandemic and save lives. On terminology, the advice is clear: we must all do everything we can to avoid and reduce stigma; not associate COVID-19 with particular groups of people or places; and emphasize that viruses do not discriminate — we are all at risk.

Sing it from the mountaintops: China bears responsibility. That Nature would suggest otherwise leaves me asking the same question I ask myself every time a western entity indulges China’s totalitarian impulses. What’s the financial stake here? Are they at least getting paid to take this line?

The only comfort in watching an organ nominally devoted to truth bend to Chinese lies is the possibility that they’ve done so out of venality rather than conviction. If they’re going to shill for China, they should at least get something for it.

China’s propaganda effort is working inside its own borders, no doubt, but it doesn’t appear to be working anywhere else. A new Harris Poll out this week finds unusual consensus between Republicans and Democrats in finding fault with China for the outbreak. Fully 90 percent of GOPers and 67 percent of Dems say the country is responsible for the spread of the virus and less than 35 percent in either party believes that the Chinese numbers on domestic COVID-19 cases are trustworthy. A majority of all Americans believes China should pay reparations(!) for the harm it’s caused, including 41 percent of Democrats and a majority of independents. If the numbers look like that with 10,000+ Americans dead, imagine what they’ll look like when there are 60,000+ deceased.

Beijing isn’t going to pay reparations. But it’s going to pay, rest assured. The first bill is already coming due:

Japan has earmarked US$2.2 billion of its record economic stimulus package to help its manufacturers shift production out of China as the coronavirus disrupts supply chains between the major trading partners.

The extra budget, compiled to try to offset the devastating effects of the pandemic, includes 220 billion yen (US$2 billion) for companies shifting production back to Japan and 23.5 billion yen for those seeking to move production to other countries, according to details of the plan posted online.

“Congress should pass legislation stripping the Chinese government of sovereign immunity to lawsuits for COVID-19 damage in the United States,” argues Glenn Reynolds. That’d be one way to ensure more direct “reparations.” But whether there’s an appetite in Congress — or in the White House — to escalate that way is unclear. Trump has been oddly subdued about China throughout much of this crisis, praising Xi for his handling of the epidemic in January and February, then rolling out phrases like “Chinese virus” briefly in March, then backing off of them after he and Xi spoke by phone.

Maybe that’s strategic, not wanting to damage relations further at a moment when we’re still relying on them for certain medical essentials. The status quo may need to persist short-term. But it certainly won’t persist long-term, whether Trump gets four more years or not.

Here’s China’s mouthpiece, the WHO, hitting back at him yesterday. We should defund this group the moment it’s convenient. If pulling the plug on them tomorrow won’t badly damage the global fight against coronavirus, do it tomorrow. If it will damage it, do it the day after the global vaccination effort ends. Western nations are perfectly capable of forming their own international health authority that doesn’t take dictation from Beijing. In lieu of an exit question, compare the Chinese government’s official timeline of the coronavirus crisis with Jim Geraghty’s lengthy timeline of all the lies the regime has told, and continues to tell, in order to make their fictional account possible. I’m looking forward to seeing China’s version eventually republished in Nature.