Former CDC chief: I didn't expect death threats from fellow scientists over lab-leak theory

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Alternate headline: No one expects the Woke Scientistic Inquisition! Vanity Fair does an extensive and impressive dive into the strange but pervasive attempts by the scientific, media, and government establishments to quash any discussion of the lab-leak hypothesis for COVID-19’s origin. It got so bad that former CDC director Robert Redfield got death threats for suggesting it publicly — from other scientists:


A months long Vanity Fair investigation, interviews with more than 40 people, and a review of hundreds of pages of U.S. government documents, including internal memos, meeting minutes, and email correspondence, found that conflicts of interest, stemming in part from large government grants supporting controversial virology research, hampered the U.S. investigation into COVID-19’s origin at every step. In one State Department meeting, officials seeking to demand transparency from the Chinese government say they were explicitly told by colleagues not to explore the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s gain-of-function research, because it would bring unwelcome attention to U.S. government funding of it.

In an internal memo obtained by Vanity Fair, Thomas DiNanno, former acting assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, wrote that staff from two bureaus, his own and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, “warned” leaders within his bureau “not to pursue an investigation into the origin of COVID-19” because it would “‘open a can of worms’ if it continued.” …

But for most of the past year, the lab-leak scenario was treated not simply as unlikely or even inaccurate but as morally out-of-bounds. In late March, former Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield received death threats from fellow scientists after telling CNN that he believed COVID-19 had originated in a lab. “I was threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis,” Redfield told Vanity Fair. “I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science.”

With President Trump out of office, it should be possible to reject his xenophobic agenda and still ask why, in all places in the world, did the outbreak begin in the city with a laboratory housing one of the world’s most extensive collection of bat viruses, doing some of the most aggressive research?


News flash: It was possible all along to reject Trump’s “xenophobic agenda” and still ask that question. Many did, only to get calumnized by media outlets as conspiracy theorists, racists, or both.

It’s not as if the CNN interview took place in the early days of the pandemic, either. Redfield expressed his skepticism of the zoonotic-transfer hypothesis in March 2021, just over two months ago. Four days later, WHO secretary-general Tedros Ghebreyesus would also suggest that the lab-leak hypothesis needed serious investigation, which no doubt took some of the pressure off Redfield. Those threats and calumny over what should be a basic scientific inquiry speaks volumes about the coordinated effort to impose political correctness or just flat-out pandering to China over science.

Now that the spell has been broken, suddenly everyone seems interested in why China’s blocked that scientific inquiry from taking place in any serious manner. The Washington Post, for instance, informs its readers today that China has balked at allowing independent investigation and open discussion of its viral research and the operations at the Wuhan Institute of Virology:

Nothing is known outside China about the science gleaned from that expedition by the Wuhan CDC — the same agency that oversaw China’s early pandemic response. The team has not disclosed what viruses, if any, it found in the cave, or even when the mission took place. According to a World Health Organization report released in March, the Wuhan CDC denied any storage or laboratory activities involving bat viruses before the coronavirus outbreak — a stance hard to reconcile with Tian’s boasts in the video about having visited dozens of bat caves and studied 300 types of virus vectors.

Tian has not spoken publicly for more than a year.

The silencing of scientists, the blanket denials, the careful guarding of raw data and biological samples — these elements have been emblematic of the approach by Chinese authorities at every stage of the coronavirus outbreak. And they continue to obstruct the world’s ability to get answers.


Those three paragraphs, and especially the last one, could have been written at any time over the last eighteen months. And this certainly could have been written at the time Redfield expressed his interest in the lab-leak theory:

Chinese authorities weren’t much more receptive of the international team commissioned by the WHO. Negotiations over the arrangements delayed the team from getting to Wuhan until more than a year after doctors first raised concerns there. Once on the ground, the international experts were given limited access. They visited the market linked to early coronavirus cases — but it had been shut for a year and its contents long ago removed. Their visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology lasted three hours. In general, they had to satisfy themselves with data that was in large part collected by Chinese scientists before the trip.

The result was a report that didn’t significantly advance the world’s understanding of how the pandemic came about.

This was painfully clear all during this supposed independent probe by WHO. Certainly some media reported on China’s refusal to cooperate properly with the investigators. Until Ghebreyesus admitted as much at the end of March, however, most of the media insisted that all other theories except zoonotic transfer had been “debunked,” to use the WaPo’s term. They continued to attack those who demanded a proper investigation into COVID-19 origins, and never bothered to ask themselves why China was blocking investigations if they didn’t have anything to hide.


Isn’t that the kind of question that usually incentivizes journalists into investigating on their own? Not to mention scientists?

As it turns out, the latter might have some serious conflicts of interest. The Lancet played an early role in making zoonotic transfer not just a leading theory but the only acceptable explanation for public discussion. Guess where that effort originated:

Then came the revelation that the Lancet statement was not only signed but organized by a zoologist named Peter Daszak, who has repackaged U.S. government grants and allocated them to facilities conducting gain-of-function research—among them the WIV itself. David Asher, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, ran the State Department’s day-to-day COVID-19 origins inquiry. He said it soon became clear that “there is a huge gain-of-function bureaucracy” inside the federal government.

The scientific community didn’t “follow the science.” They followed the money. We need an independent investigation into how that happened too, along with real answers as to just how COVID-19 originated, and whether Wuhan Institute of Virology is brewing up any more pandemics.

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