Don Rogers: Another insidious virus
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on previously undisclosed intelligence about three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology coming down with flu or COVID-like symptoms in autumn 2019, shortly before the pandemic took off.
On this, the still-junior theory that the COVID virus escaped from the lab flipped from conspiracy wackadoodle to serious consideration in Washington, D.C., and among national news organizations and their pundits.
It’s a little more complex than that, of course. The press has followed the investigation into the possible origins of this disease throughout, after all, including the World Health Organization’s attempts with a largely uncooperative Chinese government to get more detailed information.
Also, while the majority of researchers continue to suspect the usual progression of a virus from animal to human, they have not found the definitive link between bat or another animal and human.
That may be awhile. HIV had been around for generations before the tie to chimpanzees was found in 1999. SARS took 15 years to connect with bats. Others come more quickly. We name flus and fevers for their zoonotic connections: bird, swine, bovine, cat scratch, I kid you not.
The shape of this coronavirus is close to what is found in those Chinese bats, though not close enough. Not yet, anyway.
What interests me here is not so much the science, but how we discuss science politically. The politics surrounding the search for the origin of this coronavirus is a classic example, especially with the shift in consideration of the lab escape theory, which also lacks definitive proof.
Nothing much in substance had changed in The Journal’s May 24 report of the three sick lab workers since a similar State Department finding in the waning days of the Trump administration.
But the bloom of stories and conjecture sure did.
A few days later, President Joe Biden gave U.S. intelligence officials 90 days to figure out whether the disease spread from a lab or not. And The New York Times revealed a day after that the White House had received “a raft of still-unexamined evidence” that might prove useful.
HERE WE GO, AGAIN
Benjamin Wallace-Dells in The New Yorker on May 27 points out a recurring pattern with certain issues, often scientific:
A mainstream consensus is declared or implied — the origins of the pandemic, climate change, masking, Russiagate, say. Conservatives hunt for holes. Liberals overstate the evidence. Center-left dissenters point out errors and nuances. Conservatives crow and declare it all wrong. Liberals fume and double down. And around we go.
Farther left and farther right extend this cycle, with less success, to vaccinations, the notion of widespread voting fraud, all kinds of 5G crazy. Why not? No one believes anything anymore, or is it we swallow everything? Americans’ capacity to discern has been compromised, earmarks of the Third World’s reliance on gossip in the absence of news. Forrest Gump with attitude. A nation of QAnon shamans.
Could the report of three lab workers with COVID-sounding symptoms now mean that therefore the Chinese did unleash a dread disease as bioweapon, Hunter Biden is guilty of … something, climate change is a hoax just like this pandemic (never mind that little inconsistency), “Alice in Wonderland” is nonfiction, President Donald Trump absolutely, truly, completely won the election, and every election official and judge from Nevada County to Georgia to the U.S. Supreme Court was in on the ruse he lost?
What to make, then, of the conservative network apologies and poor Sydney Powell’s defense in the libel case against her that her accusations were just too ridiculous for anyone in their right mind to believe? Maybe we’ll find out in August.
The coronavirus isn’t the only one afflicting us. At least there are vaccines for COVID-19.
Blame — or credit — ex-President Trump as you may. There is something to the “Trump Derangement Syndrome” supporters chortle about. He does inspire strong reaction pro and con, including over the politicization of the public health crisis.
I think it’s true that much of the lab theory was discounted and downplayed in light of the president’s range of comment through his turn with the pandemic. The collective result was confusion, then a tendency among at least half the country to disbelieve whatever he said.
And to be sure, plenty of blue state leaders let loose with their own bad calls and exaggerations that proved wrong, even deadly, and about as politicized as the president’s gaffes.
But among his right decisions, he did push for the rapid development of the vaccines. That alone may have saved more lives than any other single action short of stopping the disease at the start, assuming that was possible in today’s small, small world.
He wasn’t so far off as supposed in his suspicions about the origin of the virus, either. The lab leak continues to be a plausible theory. There’s a lesson there about trying to treat science like politics.
Shades of gray will not be cast into black and white, red or blue. Truth, like the virus, doesn’t care about our party divisions or ideological beliefs. This is important because, who knows, there could well be a more deadly COVID cousin around the bend.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299
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