We caught Covid from bats. No wait maybe it was an aardvark or, if you prefer, there’s the theory the SARS-CoV2 virus was manufactured in a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan and accidentally escaped in what is now described as the “lab leak theory”.
In a recent interview, the so-called “Batwoman” as she is referred to, Chinese virologist, Dr. Shi Zhengli, spoke to a New York Times reporter to offer her side of the story. We think she should have maintained her silence as it is doubtful she will be given a fair hearing by a largely illiterate press. Figure out that oxymoron!
The story of the moment becomes the narrative the press promotes and we suggest, based on their dubious track record over the last year, that they should keep their opinions and let science get on with what it does best. They are ill-placed and apparently ill-equipped to distinguish fact from fiction or engage in simple reporting.
Who is Dr. Shi Zhengli, and what does she have to say?
She started out as a research assistant at the Wuhan Institute for Virology (WIV), with a focus on aquatic viruses. She trained in France and later pivoted to bats in 2004 after SARS broke out. She is widely recognized as a leader in the field and is a generous collaborator. She is not a Chinese Communist Party member.
To facilitate her research, she has spent years collecting bats from caves across China, investigating how the coronavirus can jump from animal to human, and she embraces the term many now use to refer to her, “Batwoman”. She is driven, highly educated, and passionate about her work.
“In all the work we do, if just once you can prevent the outbreak of an illness, then what we’ve done will be very meaningful”
Here are some of the statements she made to New York Times reporter, Amy Qin, in their recent telephone conversation.
- She has denied reports that three workers at the WIV were sick with flulike symptoms in Nov 2019 and she asked for their names.
“We were sitting in a meeting and wondering who these people could be,” she said.
- On Gain-of-Function (GOF) research, she said her research did not count as GOF because she did not set out to make a virus more dangerous, but to understand how it might jump across species.
- She also addressed concerns about biosafety and said she would publish more about an incident relating to the Yunnan miners soon.
What emerges from the interview, according to Qin, is that Dr. Shi Zhengli is now feeling angered and anguished. She is drawing a clear line in the sand, identifying science and the rest of the word as two distinct entities. She states that any future engagement will be with her colleagues and the field of science.
It’s not difficult to see why she feels let down or why the world may view her opinions as suspect.
The Covid pandemic has become many things over the last year and a half. It has been politicized and weaponized by almost every segment of our global communities, appropriated for their own agendas, none of which recognize or respect science. In fact, few even begin to understand the complex issues that lie at the heart of the virus's origins, but that matters little.
In Shi’s own words;
“This is no longer a question of science. It is speculation rooted in utter distrust.”
Can we believe her?
It’s impossible to say, for a number of reasons. Firstly and most troubling, is China itself. They're not known for their transparency and have closed ranks over Wuhan, the laboratory, and its research. Dr. Zhengli may very well want to share additional research with her international colleagues but that would undoubtedly require Beijing’s consent.
It’s doubtful at this point if they would be accommodating. Pandemic relationships with China became immensely strained under the Trump regime and haven't improved under Biden. Under normal circumstances, the flow of scientific information between China and its Western counterparts is actually remarkably transparent.
The second issue revolves around science itself. It’s a tedious and painstaking process to track down the source of any virus. While well-documented evidence from renowned virologists tends to suggest that the SARS-CoV2 virus is natural, there is also evidence that suggests it has been with us for a lot longer than we previously thought.
So most of the valid virology voices seem to support Dr. Zhengli’s statements. The simple fact is this. We just don't know enough or have access to sufficient evidence to be able to make any claims relating to a laboratory leak or any other theory. More time is required and more research, based on real science, needs to be performed.
This takes time, sometimes years, and into the black void, created by a lack of information, step the press. If they cannot report news, well then, why not create it. That is not the role of any responsible or ethical journalist. Sadly, the media industry has proven itself to be utterly bereft of any morals and they will continue to muddy the waters with unsubstantiated and misinterpreted data.
Watch this space as the press, quacks, hacks, and pseudo-scientists set about the word by dissection and dismemberment of Dr. Shi Zhengli and her statements.