New revelations show lead investigator into origins of virus spearheaded attacks on possibility of a lab leak. Comment by Jonathan Matthews
The concern that greeted the news that Peter Daszak, the President of EcoHealth Alliance, had been put in charge of the Lancet Commission’s investigation into the origins of the current pandemic, including whether the virus might have leaked from a lab, has been amplified by the content of emails obtained by US Right to Know.
Daszak’s appointment caused an outcry from concerned scientists because, as we previously reported, Daszak:
1. has a $100-million-plus conflict of interest
2. is a long-term friend, collaborator and funder of those he will be investigating at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)
3. has previously dismissed the possibility of a lab leak as “crackpot”
4. has a track record of seriously inaccurate and misleading statements about the issues in question.
What the newly released emails reveal is that it was Daszak himself who drafted a letter from 27 health scientists, which was published in The Lancet, strongly condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin”.
This letter is generally regarded as having played a key role in setting the tone for the hostile coverage of any suggestions the pandemic might have originated in a lab, such as the WIV, despite some highly suggestive circumstantial evidence appearing to point in that direction and it being generally accepted that at least one other pandemic originated in this way.
In response to the latest revelations about Daszak’s role, Prof. Richard Ebright of Rutgers University tweeted, “It seemed obvious that Daszak had authored the ‘statement’ the instant I read it... but it is good to see my suspicion confirmed. Only EcoHealth would have falsely entitled an apologia for EcoHealth and WIV as a ‘Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting COVID-19’, and then solicited signatures for the statement on a webpage that contained the title but not the text of the statement, thereby duping signers into thinking they were supporting courageous health professionals combatting COVID-19."
In our view, the fact Daszak has now been shown to have been spearheading the attacks on the possibility of a lab leak from the very start makes it more absurd than ever that he’s leading the Lancet Commission’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19. In fact, Dr Alina Chan of the Broad Institute has gone further, tweeting that the latest revelations makes it impossible to see either The Lancet or EcoHealth Alliance as “appropriate parties in a credible independent investigation” of this issue.
EcoHealth Alliance orchestrated key scientists’ statement on “natural origin” of SARS-CoV-2
by Sainath Suryanarayanan
US Right to Know, November 18, 2020
[links to sources at this URL]
Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that a statement in The Lancet authored by 27 prominent public health scientists condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” was organized by employees of EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit group that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding to genetically manipulate coronaviruses with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The emails obtained via public records requests show that EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak drafted the Lancet statement, and that he intended it to “not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person” but rather to be seen as “simply a letter from leading scientists”. Daszak wrote that he wanted “to avoid the appearance of a political statement”.
The scientists’ letter appeared in The Lancet on February 18, just one week after the World Health Organization announced that the disease caused by the novel coronavirus would be named COVID-19.
The 27 authors “strongly condemn[ed] conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” and reported that scientists from multiple countries “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The letter included no scientific references to refute a lab-origin theory of the virus. One scientist, Linda Saif, asked via email whether it would be useful “to add just one or 2 statements in support of why nCOV is not a lab generated virus and is naturally occurring? Seems critical to scientifically refute such claims!” Daszak responded, “I think we should probably stick to a broad statement.”
Growing calls to investigate the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a potential source of SARS-CoV-2 have led to increased scrutiny of EcoHealth Alliance. The emails show how members of EcoHealth Alliance played an early role in framing questions about possible lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 as “crackpot theories that need to be addressed,” as Daszak told The Guardian.
Although the phrase “EcoHealth Alliance” appeared only once in The Lancet statement, in association with co-author Daszak, several other co-authors also have direct ties to the group that were not disclosed as conflicts of interest. Rita Colwell and James Hughes are members of the Board of Directors of EcoHealth Alliance, William Karesh is the group’s Executive Vice President for Health and Policy, and Hume Field is Science and Policy Advisor.
The statement’s authors also claimed that the “rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins.” Today, however, little is known about the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and investigations into its origins by the World Health Organization and The Lancet COVID-19 commission have been shrouded in secrecy and mired by conflicts of interests.
Peter Daszak, Rita Colwell, and The Lancet Editor Richard Horton did not provide comments in response to our requests for this story.
For more information:
A link to the entire batch of EcoHealth Alliance emails can be found here: EcoHealth Alliance emails: University of Maryland (466 pages)
U.S. Right to Know is posting documents obtained through public freedom of information (FOI) requests for our Biohazards investigation in our post: FOI documents on origins of SARS-CoV-2, hazards of gain-of-function research and biosafety labs.