The politicized traceability report betrays the ethics of science

A medical worker takes a swab sample from a man at a COVID-19 testing site in Times Square in New York, U.S., May 17, 2022. [Xinhua/Wang Ying]

An advisory group on tracing the origins of COVID-19 recently produced a preliminary report that rehashed the so-called “lab leak theory” without presenting a shred of credible evidence.

Produced by the Scientific Advisory Group on the Origin of New Pathogens (SAGO), the report represents yet another grave departure from the ethics of science and a new episode in the politicization of what should be serious scientific inquiry.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the US government, fueled by simmering popular grievances over its failed response, has maneuvered to play victim and scapegoat and smear China by claiming that the COVID-19 virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan.

To make room for such an absurd narrative, Washington pressured scientists and silenced professional voices. In an outright mockery of the spirit of science, last year the White House even absurdly ordered its intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the virus.

In fact, a joint China-WHO study report published in March last year stated unequivocally that a laboratory leak of COVID-19 was “extremely unlikely.” This conclusion is based on field studies in Wuhan by experts from many countries and has won full recognition from WHO experts.

The SAGO report is a total disappointment. It failed to respect scientific integrity and succumbed to political pressure and manipulation from Washington.

While the group formed by the World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to push for a lab data leak scenario, it has neither a weapon nor a consensus even among its own experts. The panel acknowledged in the report that there were “no new data” to support the laboratory hypothesis.

“I want to have something much more solid than just a hypothesis,” Carlos Morel, a Brazilian parasitologist and dissenting participant, was quoted as saying on the Science magazine website. “If you have no evidence, why should I discuss it?”

The Lancet journal also described in a recent article the mixed response from experts to the preliminary report. David Robertson, head of viral genomics and bioinformatics at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, said it was disappointing that the group had been “distracted by baseless theories such as a hypothetical lab accident for which there is still no evidence”.

The fact that this SAGO report unfairly targets China without sufficient discussion of the traceability of multiple locations around the world is also clear evidence of its politicized nature.

According to virological research, traces of the virus appeared before the officially recorded initial infections in a number of places around the world. In the United States, for example, fingerprints of coronavirus in biological and environmental samples were detected as early as late 2019. Also, a blood sample taken from an American white-tailed deer in 2019 tested positive for antibodies to Covid19 infection.

Washington has yet to provide conclusive answers to such important questions as when exactly the disease first broke out within US borders. Studies suggest that early cases in the US may have been largely underestimated and mistaken for influenza. Doubts remain about respiratory illnesses of unknown cause in Virginia, the large-scale EVALI outbreak in Wisconsin, unexplained pneumonia outbreaks at two retirement communities near the Fort Detrick base in July 2019, and cases of cigarette-related lung disease that doubled in Maryland in September 2019, among others.

Although the United States is the “prime suspect” for the early spread of the virus, it is also the de facto “superspreader” of the global pandemic. The country is home to many of the world’s top-class medical facilities, scientists and professionals, yet it has the highest number of cases and deaths in the world. And it continues to respond to the pandemic with inaction and indifference.

The latest report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that more than 14 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and an estimated 6.1 million cases were reported in 2022.

And by SAGO’s logic, the US should be the primary target for investigation. In recent years, the security problems of US-funded biolaboratories around the world and their suspicious biowarfare activities have caused increasing public concern. The US Department of Defense funds 336 laboratories in about 30 countries to conduct experiments on bat coronavirus samples and other research, according to publicly available data.

Take Fort Detrick, home to the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. He had inherited the diabolical legacy of Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army and kept many samples of infectious pathogens in his storage.

And back in 2014, Waverley View Investors LLC sued the U.S. Army for toxic waste disposal loopholes at Fort Detrick that caused trichlorethylene levels in the area to be 42 times higher than the federal standard. In February 2015, 106 families and individuals from Frederick County, Maryland filed a class action lawsuit against Fort Detrick for damages and death caused by exposure to hazardous materials from Fort Detrick and sought $750 million in damages. However, the US government and military have consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, new epidemics such as the mysterious childhood hepatitis and monkeypox are striking some European countries and the United States. SAGO claims it intends to better understand “the origins of emerging and re-emerging future epidemics/pandemics”. So why not investigate the United States?

In an open, transparent and responsible manner, China has kept its doors open to international health experts and offered full support to WHO’s work. China is the only country that has invited WHO expert groups more than once to jointly investigate the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

China has also shared more data and research results on the origin of SARS-CoV-2 than any other country. It is the only country that has repeatedly shared with the WHO progress in research on ancestry tracing.

Tracing origins must be scientific in nature. A truly unbiased investigation must let science reign and clues lead the way. Obviously, this highly politicized report, manipulated by Washington, cannot stand up to science and history in any way.

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