For over two years, the virologist posed as a fact checker and biosafety expert on China, without disclosure of grants involving risky gain of function studies.

By Paul D. Thacker

Shortly after people began dying from the COVID-19 virus in early 2020, virologist Danielle Anderson began attacking media accounts that questioned if the pandemic could have started in a lab in Wuhan, China.

In a fact check for Health Feedback, Anderson repudiated a New York Post article that questioned if the “coronavirus may have leaked from a lab” claiming it was false to label the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) a bioweapons research lab, while adding that the Post article was “appalling.” This censorial fact check helped limit the audience for the Post article on social media—but then, less than a year later, Anderson’s claims fell apart when the State Department declassified information on the WIV’s ties to military research and Facebook ceased censoring statements that COVID-19 was man-made or manufactured.

Unpersuaded by facts, Anderson stuck to her story, making a media splash throughout the summer of 2021 as the “last—and only—foreign scientist in Wuhan” and the victim of an online harassment campaign by “conspiracy theorists.” Anderson’s tale of online persecution then made its way into a Nature Magazine article last October that went on to win a journalism award.

There is, however, a glaring omission from the media’s portrayal of Anderson as brave truth speaker. None of the fact checks or news stories disclose that her name has appeared on multiple grants for projects aiming to manipulate coronaviruses, including a National Institutes of Health award to Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, and a grant that was rejected by the U.S. military research agency DARPA, in part for risky gain of function research.

Despite these obvious conflicts of interest and a history of questionable claims, Anderson managed to promote her views in the media throughout the first two years of the pandemic, perhaps explaining, in part, journalists’ reluctance to report how COVID-19 may have arisen from lab research in Wuhan. While not a central player, Anderson serves as another example of a conflicted virologist, who escaped accurate media scrutiny, while possibly misleading public discourse.

Anderson did not reply to repeated requests to explain why she apparently did not disclose her work in risky virus research to fact checking sites and journalists.

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