Unearthed Messages Reveal Scientists Behind Anti-Lab Leak Paper Thought Theory Was ‘Highly Likely’

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Arjun Singh Contributor
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The scientists who wrote a paper on the origins of COVID-19, which found that the virus likely did not escape from a laboratory, said in private that they initially believed the theory to be highly likely, according to newly-revealed messages.

Kristian Andersen and Robert Garry, two scientists who were co-authors of a paper on the “proximal origins” of COVID-19 that informed governments’ initial responses to the virus in 2020, discussed their initial thoughts on the virus on Slack with other virologists. In those conversations, in early February of 2020, both Andersen and Garry were initially inclined to support the “lab leak” theory that the virus was artificially created in a lab in China. (RELATED: ‘Are You Both Conspiracy Theorists?’: Nicole Malliotakis Grills Scientists On Why They Did ‘180’ On Lab Leak Theory)

“The main issue is that accidental escape is highly likely – it’s not some fringe theory,” wrote Andersen on Slack. He added that “we can’t prove [unnatural origins] one way or the other, but we will never be able to,” and said that the “furin cleavage,” referring to a process by which the virus would have been naturally created, was “very hard to explain.”

In contrast to his Slack comments, Andersen and Garry’s proximal origins paper claimed that the virus had emerged naturally as a result of human interaction with animals. Anthony Fauci, then the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Francis Collins, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, prompted the drafting of the paper to advance that theory and discredit notions of a leak from a lab, according to a majority staff report published by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus.

The paper was cited by Fauci and other health officials multiple times to argue that COVID-19 was not the result of a lab leak.

The messages were first posted on Twitter by Francisco de Asis, and were embedded in the committee’s report on the paper. The committee held a hearing regarding the paper on Tuesday that featured Andersen and Garry as witnesses.

“I prefer this thing being a lab escape so we have less reason to believe other coronas might do this again in the future,” Andersen said in the messages.

“Natural selection and accidental release are both plausible scenarios explaining the data – and that a priori should be weighed as possible explanations,” wrote Andersen, revealing that the researchers considered a lab leak as likely as the natural emergence of the virus.

In response, however, biologist Andrew Rambaut, also a co-author, wrote that, “given the shit show that would happen if anyone serious accused the Chinese of even accidental release, my feeling is that we should say that given there is no evidence of a specifically engineered virus … we are content with ascribing it to natural processes,” a standard that they did not apply to natural selection.

Andersen responded approvingly, saying that “I hate when politics is injected into science – but it’s impossible not to, especially given the circumstances. We should be sensitive to that.”

In a separate exchange, after a conference call with Fauci and Collins, Garry and Anderson continued to discuss the theory of a laboratory leak with approval, even after the proximal origin paper’s drafting had begun.

“[L]ab passage I’m open to and can’t discount,” wrote Garry on Feb. 6, 2020.

As they discussed the theory of a laboratory leak, the researchers adopted a much different position when communicating with outside individuals.

“A lot of conspiracy theories are talking about this being a lab strain … these rumors are demonstratively false,” wrote Andersen in a draft email to a journalist that he shared with the group.

“The truth is never going to come out (if escape [from a laboratory] is the truth),” wrote Rambaut.

Andersen and Garry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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