Initially, it was a conspiracy theory.
Then, It was banned.
Finally, it was true.
The “lab leak” theory of COVID-19’s origins, which claims that COVID-19 originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and was then accidentally released, was always the most plausible explanation. Jon Stewart joked about it in 2021. There are many possibilities. The Wuhan novel respirator coronavirus lab. It is strange that the disease shares the same name.
It was banned to discuss the laboratory leak theory for well over a decade. Scientific American published the headline in March 2022! — “The Lab Leak Hypothesis made it harder for scientists to seek the truth.” This theory was actively blocked by Facebook. Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared live on national television to discredit the theory.
Two reasons are obvious. The first: powerful institutions had a stake in downplaying the Chinese origins of the virus in order to shift blame to the rest of the world. Certainly, that was China’s game: In all likelihood, COVID-19 was spreading in China as early as October 2019, and the government covered it up for months. But that was also the game of the World Health Organization. Members of the American government like Fauci also had a stake in smothering questions about American funding for gain-of-function research in Wuhan.
Then there’s the second reason: all the wrong people were repeating the lab leak theory. As one of MSNBC’s resident hacks, Mehdi Hasan, admitted on Twitter, “The simple reason why so many people weren’t keen to discuss the ‘lab leak’ theory is that it was originally conflated by the right with ‘Chinese bio weapon’ conspiracies and continues to be conflated by the right with anti-Fauci conspiracies. Blame the conspiracy theorists.” As Nate Silver correctly noted, “The Bad People thought the lab leak might be true, therefore as journalists we couldn’t be expected to actually evaluate the evidence for it.”
This is the lesson. A huge number of people have decided that there is a cadre of people who are so vile that any opinion they touch is immediately toxified beyond investigation. Claims are not to be evaluated on their own merits; instead, we can simply determine whether a claim ought to be supported based on those who posit it. This helps to explain why political crossover has become nearly impossible: We’re not judging the claims of our opponents; we’re judging each other. And this means that we can discard any argument simply by dint of the fact that we don’t like the person offering it.
Among members of the general population, this is a problem, but not a fundamental one. But among those who pose as “experts” — the people who are supposed to serve as guides for people who outsource their political information, from media to scientific institutions — it’s a fatal error. After all, experts are supposed to be impartial adjudicators of the evidence. That’s their entire job. We can evaluate on our own who we don’t like — but we often need help to determine whether an argument has merit or not. When experts become “just like us,” they undermine their raison d’etre.
COVID-19 is a great example. Experts ruled that they were the wrong people to ignore. Now, they have no credibility.