Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, admitted in an interview published Wednesday that many scientists didn’t want to acknowledge the possibility of the lab-leak theory of COVID-19 origin last year because it was associated with former President Donald Trump.
In May, Chan joined 17 other scientists to publish a letter in Science calling for more investigation into the theory that COVID-19 accidentally escaped a Wuhan lab in China. The evidence available in support of the lab-leak theory has not substantially changed in recent months, but corporate media, government officials and scientists have largely become more accepting of the possibility that the pandemic originated that way.
As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with @WHO @DrTedros, US & 13 other countries, & EU that greater clarity about the #OriginsofCOVID is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about natural & laboratory spillovers seriously.https://t.co/YOWlPCzVeL
— Alina Chan (@Ayjchan) May 13, 2021
According to Chan, that shift has happened for purely political reasons. “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,” she told NBC News.
Unlike many of her colleagues, Chan has called for a full exploration of the lab-leak hypothesis since the early days of the pandemic. She published a paper in May 2020 pointing out that COVID-19 was particularly well-adapted to spread in humans, which could be an indicator of a lab-leak.
Now, while Chan says an investigation could still plausibly lead to a natural origin, the lab leak still cannot be dismissed: “There’s precedents for lab leaks, the genetic data could swing either way, and the epidemiological data, which is how it unfolded in Wuhan, can also swing either way.”
Chan isn’t the first member of the scientific community to admit that resistance to the lab-leak theory was largely driven by politics. J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told NPR in May that scientists “recoiled” against the theory because of Trump: “[It] got jumbled up together with some of the more crazy aspects of Trump, and scientists recoiled against that and went in favor of the theory that COVID-19 had emerged out of a natural process versus a lab escape.”
Washington Post senior reporter Aaron Blake made a similar admission in May.
“Given everything we know about how Trump handled such things, caution and skepticism were invited. That (very much warranted) caution and skepticism spilled over into some oversimplification, particularly when it came to summarizing the often more circumspect reporting,” Blake wrote. (RELATED: Fauci Claimed His Approach From The Beginning Was To ‘Keep An Open Mind’ On Lab-Leak Theory)
Proponents of the lab-leak theory were initially dismissed as “conspiracy theorists” by legacy media. Now, people across the political spectrum are openly getting behind the theory.