Or how Peter Daszak is SARS-CoV-2's “Patient Zero for misinformation” but a media darling. Report: Jonathan Matthews
A recent Guardian headline instructs us to “ignore the conspiracy theories” about the potential role of a Wuhan biolab in the emergence of the virus that triggered the current pandemic. The accompanying article is the latest broadside from what the investigative journalist Sam Husseini has called the “loud crowd” involved in dangerous work with viruses, who have been busily denouncing any effort to scrutinise their work. Of these loud denialists, no one has been more vocal than the article’s author: Peter Daszak.
Since the start of the pandemic, Daszak has been all over the world’s media, as well as social media, decrying suggestions that SARS-CoV-2 might have come out of a lab as “preposterous”, “baseless”, “crackpot”, “conspiracy theories”, and “pure baloney”. And he has backed up these complete dismissals with a welter of questionable claims.
According to Daszak:
* Zoonotic jumps, where viruses cross species from animals to infect humans, “occur every day”, and
* Evidence shows bats infect large numbers of people with SARS-related coronaviruses, so “It's utterly illogical to think that this did not lead to the current outbreak”
* By contrast, “only a handful of people work on bat coronaviruses in labs in China” and they are well protected
* Plus there are “huge piles of rules and regulations governing what they do”
* In any case, people always say disease outbreaks “could have come from a lab”
* But in reality “lab accidents are extremely rare”, and
* Lab escapes “have never led to largescale [disease] outbreaks”
* Anyway, there are no relevant live viruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, only data on computers, so nothing could escape
* Meanwhile the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s work on bat coronaviruses has been valuable for developing treatments, and
* “I have no conflicts of interest”.
The mainstream media have challenged very few, if any, of Daszak’s assertions. And judging by the deletion from The Guardian website of virologist Dr Jonathan Latham’s brief comment on Daszak’s recent article, they don’t want anyone else to challenge his narrative either.
Far from facing critical scrutiny, Daszak has been presented as a hero – a brave virus hunter on a quest to locate and understand dangerous pathogens and alert the world to their dangers. In this narrative, he and his colleagues are experts racing against time to identify and mitigate the threat of pandemics. And sympathy for them has been amplified in the liberal media by the perception that they’re the victims of Trump and the China-bashers, who are deflecting from the President’s lamentable performance in tackling the pandemic.
But a number of well-informed scientific commentators are far from willing to give Daszak a free pass. One of them is the American biologist and evolutionary theorist Prof Bret Weinstein, who recently commented, “In looking at all of the sources that claim to put the idea of a lab leak to rest, I find the name Peter Daszak… shows up all over the place. He’s everywhere the idea is mocked.” But the information Daszak presents invariably does not check out, Weinstein says, and as a result, “I have begun to regard him as Patient Zero for misinformation.”
Another staunch critic is Rutgers University microbiologist Prof Richard Ebright, who has publicly accused Daszak of lying brazenly and “on a Trumpian scale”. Ebright has repeatedly subjected Daszak’s statements to the kind of forensic scrutiny many of his scientist colleagues and the media have been unwilling to provide. His incisive criticisms of Daszak’s assertions have largely been made on Twitter and so we draw heavily on his tweets in what follows.
“No conflicts of interest”
Back in mid-February, when the world was still counting COVID-19 deaths in the hundreds and almost all the deaths were still in China, a letter signed by Daszak and 26 co-signatories was published in The Lancet, condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin”. An article in Science explained that the signatories were “pushing back against a steady stream of stories and even a scientific paper suggesting a laboratory in Wuhan, China, may be the origin of the outbreak of COVID-19”.
The signatories all declared they had “no competing interests” – but that certainly wasn’t true in the case of Peter Daszak. Daszak is the founder and President of EcoHealth Alliance, a US non-profit that among other things has been a conduit for US funding for research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, including the gain-of-function research banned in the US from 2014-2017. Gain-of-function research seeks to study viruses by making them more virulent or transmissible, but has come under heavy scientific criticism for risking creating pandemics via leaks from the labs where it is carried out.
When Daszak similarly told the Washington Post, “I have no conflicts of interest,” Richard Ebright pointed out that Daszak was Project Leader on a $3.7 million “grant supporting bat coronavirus surveillance at Wuhan Institute of Virology and … bat coronavirus gain-of-function research at Wuhan Institute of Virology. If that is not a material conflict of interest,” Ebright tweeted, “then nothing is.”
And he’s right. If it emerged that this type of research created a global pandemic it could be immensely damaging for Daszak and his organisation, both reputationally and financially. And the financial impact would almost certainly go wider than just the Wuhan grant that was recently suspended.
Commenting on an attempt to compile a fuller picture of the funding EcoHealth Alliance has received from US government agencies, Ebright noted that it totalled $99.8 million “for federal contract awards, contract subawards, grant awards, and grant subawards to EcoHealth”. Most of this money, he said, came from US defence, homeland security and intelligence agencies.
In fact, according to their most recently available financial report, over 90% of EcoHealth Alliance’s funding ultimately derives in this way from US taxpayers. Incidentally, Daszak’s salary and other compensation amounted in that same year to just over $400,000.
Zoonotic “jumps occur every day”
So how reliable are Peter Daszak’s other assertions? One of Daszak’s favourite claims is that viruses frequently cross into humans from other species in so-called zoonotic jumps, or “spillover”. But this claim is far from mainstream. As the experts who answered questions on this for the BBC’s Science Focus Magazine explain, “Because every virus has evolved to target a particular species, it’s rare for a virus to be able to jump to another species” (emphasis added).
Remember that word “rare”, because we’ll keep coming across it as we examine Daszak’s claims to have evidence of the exact opposite: that bats – the prime suspects for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 – routinely infect huge numbers of people with SARS-related coronaviruses.
Evidence shows bats infect large numbers of people with SARS-related coronaviruses
In his recent Guardian piece telling people to “ignore the conspiracy theories”, Daszak claimed, “(W)e can safely estimate that between one and seven million people are infected with bat coronaviruses each year.”
So what is the evidence for this massive level of infection? Daszak summarises it in a tweet: “We conducted sero-surveys in SE Asia & found 3% of rural people have antibodies to bat CoVs [coronaviruses]. That means 1-7 million people per year exposed to bat origin SARS-related CoVs.”
But the study on which Daszak bases his claim of up to 7 million people per year being infected by bat origin SARS-related coronaviruses involved collecting serum samples from just 218 residents in four remote villages in Jinning County, Yunnan province, China – villages located close to bat caves containing the Chinese horseshoe bats that have been shown to be a reservoir of these particular coronaviruses. Of these 218 “high risk” residents, only 6 of them (2.7%) showed signs of having developed antibodies to bat coronaviruses.
As a co-author of this study, Daszak must know that it concluded, “The 2.7% seropositivity for the high risk group of residents living in close proximity to bat colonies suggests that spillover is a relatively rare event” (emphasis added). What’s more, another larger and more recent study that Daszak also co-authored went on to remove the “relatively” from the “rare” in that statement. This second study found only 0.6% (rather than 2.7%) of people living in close proximity to SARS-linked bat caves tested positive for bat coronaviruses. Its conclusion: “spillover is a rare event” (emphasis added).
In fact, the biotech entrepreneur Yuri Deigin says the evidence for these particular bat viruses infecting humans is even weaker than these preliminary studies admit. That is because there is no evidence that the viruses they were looking for antibodies to were actually capable of infecting people. Deigin also notes that the antibody levels detected were “pretty low”. But more importantly, as he points out, antibody production is not always evidence of a virus having got inside someone’s cells, just inside their body. He says, “The presence of antibodies, doesn’t mean the virus could infect cells. You could have antibodies to a banana.”
So even the modest conclusion to Daszak’s most recent paper – that bat-related zoonotic jumps are a “rare event” – is open to question. And his use of these studies to claim people in rural areas are infected by bat coronaviruses “on a daily basis”, as he recently told the BBC, is certainly not supported by his evidence.
Virus researchers are well protected
Daszak’s bigging up of zoonotic leaps is a key part of his argument as to why it would be crazy to consider the possibility of a lab leak with SARS-COV-19. After all, he argues, with so many people being infected with bat coronaviruses each year, “It's utterly illogical to think that this did not lead to the current outbreak.”
And he contrasts his bogus claim of evidence for mass infection with SARS-related bat coronaviruses with the small number of trained researchers with full protective equipment who might come into contact with such viruses as part of their work.
A recent CNN article about Daszak and his fellow virus hunters, who search bat caves in order to obtain bat blood, saliva, and fecal samples to test back in Wuhan, begins by setting the scene: “Before entering the cave, the small team of scientists pull on hazmat suits, face masks and thick gloves to cover every inch of their skin. Contact with bat droppings or urine could expose them to some of the world's deadliest unknown viruses.”
CNN’s piece is accompanied by photos showing scientists covered head to toe in full protective gear. But while this all fits the Daszak narrative, other pictures have surfaced showing staff from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) entering caves to collect novel bat coronaviruses, or handling bats and swabs, with only minimal personal protective equipment (PPE) and in some cases none at all.
For instance, a profile in Scientific American of Shi Zhengli, who heads up the WIV’s bat coronavirus programme, contains a photo of her wearing no protective equipment other than thin gloves when releasing a bat after taking a blood sample. Another published photo shows her and a group of colleagues wearing the most minimal PPE while handling bats – no goggles, bare arms in several cases, and one researcher doesn’t even have a face mask.
Richard Ebright also points to a Chinese official state media video from December 2019 showing Wuhan CDC staffer and Shi Zhengli collaborator Tian Junhua “collecting novel bat coronaviruses with inadequate PPE (bare skin on face, bare skin on wrists, no goggles, no faceshield)”.
A similar news report from 2017, according to Ebright, describes the “same Wuhan CDC staffer collecting novel bat coronaviruses with no PPE”. Bat urine is said to have “dripped from the top of his head like raindrops”. And, “Several times, bat blood was sprayed directly on Tian Junhua's skin. But Tian Junhua did not flinch at all.”
Ebright calls this kind of virus hunting “reckless Indiana-Jones-style adventurism”.
Collection of pictures by @BillyBostickson of Shi Zengli and other Wuhan researchers collecting and handling bats without full PPE
There are “huge piles of rules and regulations governing what they do”
Regardless of how the viruses are obtained, Daszak claims that biosafety laboratories in Wuhan and elsewhere are guided by “huge piles of rules and regulations” on biosafety.
But Ebright says the BSL-2 biosafety level of the Wuhan CDC, which specialises in pathogen collection and where hundreds of live bats have been experimented on, is completely inadequate for its work with bats and coronaviruses.
Meanwhile, at the higher biosafety BSL-4 WIV, live bats are known to have been deliberately infected with viruses as part of experimental work. And more generally, there are multiple published records of WIV animal infection work with bat coronaviruses, including the most risky gain-of-function research.
Such experimentation generates tissue samples and lab waste contaminated with pathogens. A recent article in China’s state-run media, headlined Biosafety guideline issued to fix chronic management loopholes at virus labs, says China’s laboratories have been particularly sloppy in disposing of such waste, which the article notes “can contain man-made viruses, bacteria or microbes with a potentially deadly impact”. According to the article, some researchers have even discharged lab waste into sewers, while others have smuggled dead lab animals out to sell on the street.
The article, which goes out of its way to attack allegations of a lab leak from WIV itself, was published to coincide with the recent introduction of new biosafety legislation in China. As Dr Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity researcher at King’s College London has commented, this move by the Chinese government “certainly suggests there was a need for this sort of guidance”. In other words, Daszak’s “huge piles” of existing rules and regulations were not even considered adequate by the Chinese authorities themselves.
The Chinese government may have been reacting to the worrying findings of a security review of the WIV lab conducted about a year before the COVID-19 outbreak by a Chinese national team. The review found the lab did not meet national standards in five categories. In addition to problems in the lab, state media also reported that national reviewers found scientists were sloppy when they were handling bats.
Ebright has also drawn attention to work at the BSL-4 WIV lab being carried out at the much lower BSL-2 biosafety level, which “provides only minimal protections against infection of lab workers”.
Pictures have emerged from inside the WIV showing a broken seal on the door of one of the refrigerators said to hold 1,500 different strains of virus.
And diplomatic cables sent to the US State Department following visits by US science diplomats to the WIV in 2018 warned about the risks arising from “a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” and of the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses representing a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.
In contrast to Daszak’s dismissive complacency, Richard Ebright sees the whole endeavour from start to finish as a “disaster waiting to happen”.
People always say disease outbreaks “could have come from a lab”
Daszak told US National Public Radio (NPR) that to an experienced virus researcher like himself, the pattern is all too familiar: “Every time we get a new virus emerging, we have people that say, ‘This could have come from a lab’”. And the microbiologist Robert Garry – another prominent member of Husseini’s “loud crowd” of denialists – agrees: “Every time there’s an outbreak, people say, oh, there’s a lab close by.”
But let's consider the geography. SARS-related coronaviruses, including what is claimed by a WIV researcher to be the nearest natural ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 (RaTG13), were discovered in horseshoe bats in caves in a rural area of South West China, about a thousand miles away from Wuhan. If progenitors of SARS-CoV-2 had emerged in such a rural area and gradually evolved into a more human-specific virus, that would be no great surprise to anyone... and funnily enough there wouldn’t have been a lab close by.
But Wuhan is not only a thousand miles away from the bat caves in Yunnan, but highly industrialised, and at the time of the outbreak, any bats that were there would have been hibernating. In any case, Chinese horseshoe bats do not hibernate in cities. And, contrary to what was originally claimed, bats neither seem to have been sold or found at the so-called “wet market” in Wuhan. That is unsurprising, given that while bats are eaten in Southern China, they are not part of the cuisine in this Central Chinese city.
What’s particularly telling in this context is that when Daszak and his colleagues were looking for antibodies to bat coronaviruses in rural South West China, they used serum samples from blood donors in Wuhan as a control because, as the researchers explained, there was a “much lower likelihood of contact with bats”.
This is also, of course, why Shi Zengli told Scientific American she was shocked to hear about the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak there: “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in Central China.”
But there is a route by which new bat coronaviruses are known to have travelled to Central China’s most populous city. Researchers from Wuhan have repeatedly journeyed to the remote bat caves in South West China in order to find such viruses and bring them back to this city of 11 million people.
For Richard Ebright, going to remote places in order to actively seek out large numbers of dangerous new viruses to bring back to labs in densely populated cities is the definition of insanity. It is creating new opportunities for accidental infection of human populations at every stage: in the bat caves, in transit to Wuhan, during storage in Wuhan, and during research in Wuhan, especially given the clear evidence of questionable biosafety and inadequate protective equipment.
Ebright compares this endeavour, which claims to be making the world a safer place, to “looking for a gas leak with a lighted match”.
“Lab accidents are extremely rare”
Ebright is equally dismissive of Peter Daszak’s claim that “lab accidents are extremely rare”, calling it “Arrant nonsense”.
That’s borne out by a review on biolab safety, which identified more than 1,000 instances of laboratory-acquired infections over a 25-year period, an average of almost one infection per week.
More broadly, biosafety incidents involving regulated pathogens are reported to be occurring on average over twice a week in the US alone. Such incidents can include the mishandling of agents as deadly as anthrax, smallpox, and bird flu.
And there is no reason to think that China, which has a rate of occupational accidents ten times that of the US, and twenty times that of Europe, is somehow different. After all, a virology lab in Beijing managed to accidentally release the SARS virus not once but four separate times.
Rather than being “extremely rare”, lab escapes are alarmingly common – worldwide.
Lab escapes “have never led to largescale [disease] outbreaks”
Of course, even if lab escapes were rare, it would be of little comfort if they had dire consequences. But according to Daszak, they never amount to much.
Daszak’s claim isn’t quite as straightforward to assess as one might think, as we don’t always have good data on such incidents due to a lack of transparency. But even so, we know enough to be sure that what Daszak says isn’t true.
While most lab leaks have been at worst near misses or have only involved a small number of deaths, the anthrax outbreak that occurred in 1979 in the city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in Russia shows not only how lethal such accidents can be, but how difficult it can be to get at the truth.
The exact number of victims in this outbreak still remains unknown, but approximately 100 people are thought to have died. At the time, the authorities insisted the deaths were due to people eating contaminated meat. And it wasn’t until years later, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, that it was possible to establish that the deaths had really been the result of a bioweapons lab accidentally releasing a large quantity of weaponised anthrax.
An H1N1 influenza outbreak two years earlier is also now generally accepted by scientists to have been the result of an accidental release from either a Chinese or Soviet biolab, possibly working on developing an H1N1 vaccine. The escaped virus rapidly spread worldwide, becoming a pandemic.
Pandemics by any definition are “largescale outbreaks”. And Richard Ebright points out that as there have only been four pandemics in the last fifty years, it means one in four came from a lab. This, of course, assumes COVID-19 is not a lab release. If it is, then we’re looking at one in two pandemics coming from a lab.
No live virus, only data on computers
But Daszak maintains that in the case of the WIV there was nothing that could escape and do any harm. He told Democracy Now, “There was no viral isolate in the lab. There was no cultured virus that’s anything related to SARS coronavirus 2. So it’s just not possible.”
The no live virus claim might seem surprising given that WIV is classified as a BSL4 lab and BSL4 is specifically for work with live viruses that could become aerosolised (like SARS-COV-2 can). And recently the director of the WIV acknowledged that they had “isolated and obtained some coronaviruses from bats”, but he also claimed they had only “three live strains of bat coronaviruses on site”.
But biological weapons expert Milton Leitenberg points out that WIV’s research activities suggest something very different. For instance, in June of this year, Daszak, Shi and colleagues published partial genetic sequences of 781 bat coronaviruses. This work, together with all the WIV animal infection studies mentioned earlier, requires live viruses, Leitenberg says, and not just RNA fragments. He also says that “knowledgeable virologists” have told him they think the number of live viruses required to be held by the WIV must be much higher than the three acknowledged by its director. Their best guess: “probably hundreds of live viral isolates”.
What has added to the distrust of the Daszak/WIV claims around this issue is irregularities that have emerged in Daszak’s collaborator Shi Zhengli’s account of the virus most closely related to SARS-COV-2. At the end of January, after the COVID-19 outbreak was well under way, Zhengli and her colleagues published a paper in the journal Nature laying out the genetic sequence of RaTG13, which is 96.2% identical to SARS-COV-2. Immediately, RaTG13 became one of the mainstays of the argument for the natural origin of SARS-COV-2. But Shi’s paper failed to disclose a series of key facts about its origin, identification and characterization that have since been uncovered only by painstaking detective work by others.
These irregularities have already resulted in some scientists calling for the paper’s retraction, while others have even suggested that the RaTG13 genetic sequence may be an invention. Further concern has been generated by the deletion without explanation of a 61.5Mb WIV virus database.
One final point about live viruses is that labs are not always on top of this issue. Animals in labs may harbour viruses that researchers have not yet discovered. And efforts to make sure that researchers are working only with deactivated biological agents can fail. That’s why lab accidents are regularly caused by researchers who assume they are not dealing with live agents when in fact they are. In China, for instance, two researchers at the National Institute of Virology in Beijing handled what they believed to be an inactive version of the SARS virus and became infected. As a result the virus spread beyond the lab, killing the mother of one of the researchers, as well as infecting six other people.
Valuable for developing treatments
Daszak argues that whatever the risks, the type of work EcoHealth Alliance has been enabling is vital for developing vaccines and drugs to cure people in the event of a serious disease outbreak.
But Richard Ebright dismisses this argument: “The *only* impact of the work is to create new opportunities for zoonoses to enter human populations (through accidental infection of field-collection staff or accidental infection of laboratory staff).” Given these risks, Ebright says, “One could not possibly invest research funding less wisely.”
Daszak’s riposte to such scepticism is to cite remdesivir, the broad-spectrum antiviral currently being evaluated for its usefulness in treating COVID-19 in clinical trials. In his recent Guardian piece, Daszak claims, “We worked with the scientists behind the breakthrough drug Remdesivir to show that it was effective against known human coronaviruses and the viruses we suspected might be the next to emerge.”
And he’s had some backing for this from Mark Denison, a Vanderbilt University virologist who has done lab studies on remdesivir. Denison told Science Magazine, “There is no more important research than what EcoHealth Alliance is doing. Our work on remdesivir absolutely would not have moved forward without it.”
But Ebright thinks such claims create a completely false impression. First, although Daszak says, “we worked with the scientists” behind remdesevir, not one of the papers that came out of Daszak’s bat coronavirus work had anything to do with remdesivir. Second, remdesivir’s antiviral activity against the coronavirus family, including SARS, was demonstrated as far back as 2012, before Daszak’s project kicked off.
It was also before Mark Denison and his colleague Ralph Baric became involved in the remdesivir research. Ebright says that “Baric and Denison then confirmed activity against SARS-CoV, and demonstrated activity against MERS-CoV.” Having demonstrated antiviral activity against these epidemic coronaviruses, he says, “Baric and Denison then corroborated the expected activity against group-2b and group-2c zoonotic coronaviruses.”
Of the four zoonotic coronaviruses used by Baric and Denison at this point in their testing, two had been collected as part of WIV/EcoHealth’s virus hunting efforts. But because remdesivir’s antiviral activity against coronaviruses was well established by the point it was tested against these two coronaviruses, Ebright says the fact that it also showed activity against them was, when it was reported in 2017, “anticlimax. Not main event”.
So, according to Ebright, the two viruses collected by WIV were far from crucial to remdesivir’s development. Even if they had been important though, this would only suggest a possible value for the extremely careful collection of such viruses, as opposed to “reckless Indiana-Jones-style adventurism”. It would also not justify transporting such potentially dangerous pathogens to densely populated areas for storage and experimentation. Finally, it absolutely wouldn’t justify the kind of risky gain-of-function research, conducted at WIV and elsewhere, where viruses are deliberately made more virulent or transmissible.
And neither Daszak nor anyone else, to our knowledge, has produced any convincing evidence that gain-of-function research has produced practical benefits for society to offset its enormous risks. However, according to Ebright, while this controversial research keeps failing to yield any of the promised drugs or vaccines, it is good at generating grants and scientific papers.
Ebright sees Daszak as an opportunist who, having cottoned on to this, has been able to generate a lucrative income stream – without doing any of his own research or having his own lab – by writing multi-lab grant applications for this kind of high risk research. This is how he has built up his handsomely-funded nonprofit with its Manhattan offices, not to mention his salary of over $400,000 per annum, while parcelling out “the remaining cash to labs in exchange for honorary authorships on papers”.
The Daszak gravy train is, of course, ultimately funded by American taxpayers who, like everyone else, get to share in its risks.
Should the world’s media be bowing down to Peter Daszak?
Peter Daszak seems determined to keep that gravy train firmly on the tracks and to crush suggestions that any lab-related activity could have contributed to this pandemic. And, as we have seen, he doesn’t appear to care what liberties he takes with the truth in order to dismiss any explorations of such possibilities as “crackpot theories”.
Yuri Deigin thinks this aggressive circling of the wagons is understandable: “He’s really fighting for his life so he really doesn’t have any other way to defend himself. If this does turn out to be a lab leak, the ramifications for him personally, I think, (will be) just too horrible for him… to entertain the slightest idea of the possibility of a lab escape.”
But Bret Weinstein considers this “too generous. The misinformation is too egregious. And the fact is any decent human being would recognise that humanity’s overarching interest in knowing what took place overrides his interest in maintaining his reputation... People are dying… This is not something where you get to defend your career at the expense of tens of thousands of other human beings.”
But while scientists like Weinstein, Deigin and Ebright view Daszak as one of the most biased and unreliable voices on the planet on the lab leak issue, the media treat him as a key expert whose utterances need not be scrutinised, let alone challenged.
In many ways this reflects the success of the campaign that Daszak helped launch in The Lancet back in January to rule discussion of lab leaks off-limits. The campaign has been so successful that five months later, not only does a virologist have his link to a carefully argued counter-narrative to Daszak’s deleted from The Guardian website, but a Guardian Pick of the Comments describes Daszak’s piece as “one of the best written most balanced articles I’ve read on this yet” and expresses the hope that it “gets shared and read widely to counter misinformation”.
This is the same scientist that Bret Weinstein calls “Patient Zero for misinformation” and another well known biologist-communicator Jonathan Couey bluntly labels “a liar”. “His opinion is conflicted in the worst ways,” says Couey, “and he should not be the expert to whom we are listening. But we see him everywhere.”
 Dr Jonathan Latham told us that his deleted comment simply stated he was a virologist and that while he didn’t agree with a paper Daszak had dismissed in his article, he did think a better analysis of why there might have been a lab origin to the virus was available. He included a link to the analysis, which he recently co-authored with a fellow molecular biologist.
Latham's analysis has won high praise – for example, from Milton Leitenberg, who describes it as “excellent” and recommends it for its depth of technical detail on gain-of-function work.
Looking at The Guardian’s community standards, it’s clear that Jonathan Latham’s brief comment does not violate any of them.
 Ebright attributes this simile for dangerous work with viruses to Peter Jahrling.
This dissection of Peter Daszak’s claims obviously owes a great deal to Richard Ebright, but also to a cluster of internet sleuths or “Twitter detectives”, as Yuri Deigin styles them, that include a number of molecular biologists and other well-informed people – some with Chinese language skills that have enabled them to dig into documents never before translated into English.
Jonathan Couey, the “academic [neuro]biologist turned bike-seat science journalist” aka “J.C. on a bike”, recently recommended following these people on Twitter: @BillyBostickson @jjcouey (J.C. on a bike) @Ayjchan @Harvard2H @ydeigin @luigi_warren @DrAntoniSerraT1 @nerdhaspower @TheSeeker268 @RolandBakerIII @franciscodeasis @flavinkins @still_a_nerd @uacjess @CarltheChippy @DefeatTheElites @ico_dna @Nomdeplumi1 @Real_Adam_B @scottburke777 @AntGDuarte @_coltseavers @JJ2000426
To which we would add @WhoWuhan, who has dug deep into EcoHealth Alliance finances, and @R_H_Ebright @samhusseini @BioSRP and @sanewman1
Apologies to anybody we’ve overlooked.
Image: Richard Ebright (left); Peter Daszak (right)