A Tale of Two Theories

Graphic by Clay Banks | Unsplash


Graphic by Clay Banks | Unsplash

I’ve spent several days on the radio this week discussing the latest revelations concerning the origin of COVID-19. A number of callers asked a question that I find absurd and it is this: “Who cares?”


What does it matter whether the virus began by jumping naturally from wildlife to people, or whether it escaped from a lab?


I have a hunch as to why they’ve asked me that: It’s political. They worry that if the escape scenario is proven – it will be a win for the other team. So, they’d rather we not ask.


But recent developments demand answers. This week, The Wall Street Journal broke the story that according to U.S. Intelligence, in November of 2019, 3 researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough to warrant hospital care.


The details of the reporting went beyond what the state department revealed in the final days of the Trump administration when it said that several researchers became sick with symptoms consistent with COVID.


November is when many epidemiologists and virologists believe the virus first began circulating around the city of Wuhan. This was just the latest in a series of revelations that have caused many who initially dismissed the lab leak theory to reconsider.


Among those is Donald G. McNeil Jr., former science writer for The New York Times who recently published an essay titled: “How I learned to stop worrying and love the lab- leak theory.”


McNeil credits a former colleague with causing his reflection. That former colleague is Nicholas Wade, who himself wrote recently for the bulletin of the atomic scientists. Wade does not come to a conclusion, but says, neither the natural emergence nor the lab escape hypothesis can be ruled out. And as for why the escape hypothesis was given short shrift, he noted this:

“…because President Trump said the virus had escaped from a Wuhan lab, editors gave the idea little credence. They joined the virologists in regarding lab escape as a dismissible conspiracy theory. During the Trump administration, they had no trouble in rejecting the position of the intelligence services that lab escape could not be ruled out. But when Avril Haines, President Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, said the same thing, she too was largely ignored. This is not to argue that editors should have endorsed the lab escape scenario, merely that they should have explored the possibility fully and fairly.”


Facebook even went so far as to ban posts claiming COVID was man-made or manufactured. They reversed that policy this week.


President Joe Biden this spring shut down a State Department investigation into whether the virus could have leaked from the Chinese lab, deeming the probe an ineffective use of resources. But on Wednesday, Biden changed course – ordering intelligence officials to “redouble” efforts to investigate the origins of covid and report back to him within 90 days.


But how many will be ready to listen to the result?


Sadly, the origin of COVID-19 has become yet another of those issues where we suit up in our partisan armor before we have the facts. Trump said x, then I will say y.  Does Trump believe in the escape theory? Then I will go with the alternative explanation.


And the natural progression of this thinking among some is to not want there to be an answer – any answer – because it might conflict with their pre-ordained views.


Case and point: this caller on my SiriusXM radio program:

“What difference does it make if the Spanish Flu and we find out it didn’t start in Spain, it started in Fort Riley, Kansas, or Vietnam, or Thailand, what difference does it make?… I frankly don’t care. What I care about is how do we prevent it from happening in the future.”


He may not care – but, I do! We’re talking about a virus that has killed three and a half million people worldwide. Of paramount concern is preventing it from happening again.


If this resulted from so-called gain-of-function research, then whether such experimentation should continue must be considered… so too its funding.


And if the Chinese were negligent and then engaged in a coverup – the world should know and there should be accountability…and compensation paid.


That’s why we need to know.



michael smerconish professional


Michael Smerconish

Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York.


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