Pandemic Punditry and Pubs: A crash course on the controversy over the lab-leak hypothesis for Covid-19 origins, by way of an extensive reading list.

Here are 58 references to the lab-leak controversy, representing all points of view. Included, some real science.

Last week I weighed into the controversy over the origins of Covid-19, which centers mainly on two competing hypotheses: The theory that the virus escaped from a research lab in Wuhan, China, still a minority view; and the more “popular” theory that the virus had natural origins, passing from animals to humans (so-called zoonotic transmission, typical of many viruses that have come to plague our species.)

There are other hypotheses, such as that the Wuhan labs were working on bioweapons, but they are considered much less likely by scientists.

My focus in the previous article was on how the news media had handled, or mishandled, the controversy over the virus’s origins over the past year or so. I argued that fear of “playing into the hands of” Trumpist racism had skewed the discussion, and unjustifiably branded the lab escape hypothesis as a “conspiracy theory.”

There is still much to say on those topics, and I will delve into them more in a future post. I am particularly interested in the controversy over conflicts of interest on the part of Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, who has played an outsized role in the pandemic response; so far, the mainstream media has largely ignored that important question.

Fortunately, the unresolved questions about the virus’s origins are, I think, slowly moving out of the realm of politics and into the realm of science, although the shift has been slow, and some scientists and science journalists are still mired in the distorted mix of science and politics that characterized the Trump era (I discussed examples in the post last week.)

But there has been an amazing outpouring of commentary and analysis over just the past few weeks, as the references below will illustrate. Some of them take a balanced view, some are fiercely partisan, but they are all worth perusing. I invite readers to add articles, papers, and commentaries they feel are relevant via the Comments section, see the button at the end.

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The COVID wars: a select bibliography, with links (updated regularly.)

(Please note that some of these articles could have been catalogued in more than one category, but I chose the one that seemed most relevant.)

Pandemic politics

Asher, David. “The World Needs Answers on Covid’s Origins.” Wall Street Journal, 3 June 2021.

Broad, William. “U.S. experts press for China to allow deeper inquiries into the pandemic’s origins.” The New York Times, 30 May 2021.

Cancryn, Adam and Owermohle, Sarah. “Covid’s origin story mystery energizes the GOP.” Politico, 4 June 2021.

Cheng, Yangyang. “We’re not ready for the next pandemic.” Vice, 24 May 2021.

Cohen, Jon. “Trump ‘owes us an apology.’ Chinese scientist at the center of COVID-19 origin theories speaks out.” Science, 24 July 2020.

Douthat, Ross. “Why the Lab Leak Theory Matters.” The New York Times, 29 May 2021.

Frank, Thomas. “If the Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis is true, expect a political earthquake.” The Guardian, 1 June 2021.

Frum, David. “The Pro-Trump Culture War on American Scientists.” The Atlantic, 18 May 2021.

Harris, Shane and Abutaleb, Yasmeen. “Coronavirus ‘lab leak’ theory jumps from mocked to maybe as Biden orders intelligence review.” The Washington Post, 28 May 2021.

Huang, Yanzhong. “China could pay if nations come to believe the virus leaked from a lab.” The Washington Post, 4 June 2021.

Kessler, Glen. “Timeline: How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.” The Washington Post, 25 May 2021.

Maxmen, Amy. “Divisive COVID ‘lab leak’ debate prompts dire warnings from researchers.” Nature, 27 May 2021.

Rozsa, Matthew. “A virologist unpacks the lab leak hypothesis.” Salon, 29 May 2021.

Stacey, Kiran and Sevastopulo, Demetri. “Anthony Fauci urges China to release medical records of Wuhan lab workers.” Financial Times, 4 June 2021.

Travis, John. “Biden adds voice to calls for further investigation into origins of pandemic virus.” Science, 26 May 2021.

Viser, Matt and Abutaleb, Yasmeen. “Trump and his allies try to rewrite, distort history of pandemic while casting Fauci as public enemy No. 1.” The Washington Post, 5 June 2021.

Wallace-Wells, Benjamin. “The Sudden Rise of the Coronavirus Lab-Leak Theory.” The New Yorker, 27 May 2021.

Journalists (and others) do science and science journalism (with mixed results.)

Allsop, Jon. “The lab-leak mess.” Columbia Journalism Review, 2 June 2021.

Chait, Jonathan. “How the Liberal Media Dismissed the Lab-Leak Theory and Smeared Its Supporters.” New York Magazine. 24 May 2021.

Chait, Jonathan. “How Twitter Cultivated the Media’s Lab-Leak Fiasco.” New York Magazine. 26 May 2021.

Cohen, Jon. “Scientists ‘strongly condemn’ rumors and conspiracy theories about origin of coronavirus outbreak.” Science, 19 February 2020.

Cook, Jonathan. “Was There a Wuhan Lab Leak? Why an Inquiry Won’t Dig Out the Truth.” CounterPunch, 2 June 2021.

Courtier, Virginie and Decroly, Etienne. “There’s a clear lesson in the Covid-19 lab leak theory.” Quartz, 4 June 2021.

Darcy, Oliver. “Taking a look at the media’s role in the Covid-19 lab leak theory.” 27 May 2021.

Daszak, Peter. “Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know Covid-19 wasn’t created in a lab.” The Guardian, 9 June 2020.

Eban, Katherine. “The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins.” Vanity Fair, 3 June 2021.

Evans, Nicholas. “Where the Coronavirus Bioweapon Conspiracy Theories Really Come From.” Slate, 27 February 2020.

Gordon, Michael and Strobel, Warren. “U.S. Report Found It Plausible Covid-19 Leaked from Wuhan Lab.” Wall Street Journal, 8 June 2021.

Gorman, James and Zimmer, Carl. “Another Group of Scientists Calls for Further Inquiry Into Origins of the Coronavirus.” The New York Times, 13 May 2021 (updated 27 May 2021.

Harris, Mary. “A Different Theory of COVID-19’s Origin.” [Alina Chan’s story] Slate, 13 April 2021.

Hiltzik, Michael. “The lab-leak origin claim for COVID-19 is in the news, but it’s still fact free.” Los Angeles Times, 3 June 2021.

Irfan, Umair. “The lab leak hypothesis, explained.” Vox, 7 June 2021.

Jacobsen, Rowan. “Exclusive: How Amateur Sleuths Broke the Wuhan Lab Story and Embarrassed the Media.” Newsweek, 2 June 2021.

Khamsi, Roxanne. “The Coronavirus is a Master of Mixing Its Genome, Worrying Scientists.” The New York Times, 5 February 2021 (updated 8 Feb 2021.)

McNeil, Donald G. Jr. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory.” Medium. 17 May 2021.

Metzl, Jamie. “Origins of SARS-CoV-2.” 16 April 2020 with updates.

Pielke Jr., Roger. “If Covid-19 Did Start With a Lab Leak, Would We Ever Know?” Wired, 19 January 2021.

Regalado, Antonio. “No one can find the animal that gave people Covid-19.” Technology Review, 26 March 2021.

Ridley, Matt. “Did the Covid-19 virus really escape from a Wuhan lab?”, 7 February 2021.

Rothschild, Anna and Srinivasan, Sinduja. “Why the Lab Leak Debate is Back.”, 2 June 2021.

Sayers, Freddie. “How Facebook censored the lab leak theory.”, 31 May 2021.

Schneider, Leonid. “The Lab Leak Theory.” For Better Science, 9 June 2021.

Schnell, Mychael. “Gottlieb: Lab leaks happen all the time.” The Hill, 30 May 2021.

Siegel, Ethan. “The Wuhan Lab Leak Hypothesis is a Conspiracy Theory, Not Science.” Forbes, 3 June 2021.

Sohn, Rebecca. ”A Very Calm Guide to the Lab Leak Theory.” Slate, 3 June 2021.

Stahl, Lesley. “What happened in Wuhan? Why questions still linger on the origin of the coronavirus.” CBS News, 28 March 2021.

Standaert, Michael. “Covid investigators must interview Wuhan stall owners, says virologist.” The Guardian, 30 May 2021.

Stephens, Bret. “Media Groupthink and the Lab-Leak Theory.” The New York Times, 31 May 2021.

Wade, Nicholas. “The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 5 May 2021.

Yglesias, Matthew. “The media’s lab leak fiasco.”, 26 May 2021.

Yuko, Elizabeth. “Understanding the Covid-19 Lab-Leak Theory.” RollingStone, 1 June 2021.

Zeitchik, Steven. “Leading scientist says that without a full investigation of lab leak theory, the world will face ‘covid-26’ and ‘covid-32.’” The Washington Post, 30 May 2021.

Zimmer, Carl, et al. “Scientists Don’t Want to Ignore the ‘Lab Leak’ Theory, Despite No New Evidence.” The New York Times, 27 May 2021.

Scientists do science (also with mixed results.)

Andersen, Kristian G. et al. “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2.” Nature Medicine, April 2020.

Banerjee, Arinjay et al. “Unraveling the Zoonotic Origin and Transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution, March 2021.

Bloom, Jesse, et al. “Investigate the origins of COVID-19.” Science, 14 May 2021.

Calisher, Charles, et al. “Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting COVID-19.” The Lancet, 7 March 2020.

Menachery, Vineet, et al. “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence.” Nature Medicine, December 2015.

Menachery, Vineet, et al. “SARS-like WIV1-CoV poised for human emergence.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 15 March 2016.

Rasmussen, Angela. “We may never know where the virus came from. But the evidence still suggests nature.” The Washington Post, 4 June 2021.

Xiao, Xiao, et al. “Animal sales from Wuhan wet markets immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Scientific Reports, 7 June 2021. (See also an Oxford blog post by one of the authors.)

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