By David Wallace-Wells
Imagine yourself, if you can, in the months before the Covid-19 pandemic. Imagine being told then that a novel virus would emerge in China that would then spread around the world, infecting much of the global population, by some estimates killing more than 20 million people, and upending much of humanity’s social, political and economic life along the way.
Imagine you were then told that some experts believed that this new virus raised questions about the safety of certain kinds of scientific research, in which virologists collected rare viruses out in the wild, brought them to facilities in or near cities and in some cases tinkered with them there to help prevent or better respond to future pandemics.
Imagine that none of this was presented to you in partisan or nationalistic terms. Imagine that Donald Trump had not been president and that nobody used the term “bioweapon.” And then imagine that a question was put to you: What would the chances have to be that a lab accident was the origin of the pandemic to justify a broad and public conversation about the safety of that research?
What would you say? That a lab-leak theory would have to be proved definitively, beyond any shadow of a doubt, to prompt such a pointed conversation? Or that it would have to be simply likelier than not — a “preponderance of evidence” standard, as lawyers sometimes put it — to generate a global reckoning over lab safety procedures and the wisdom of doing research, called gain-of-function, that can make pathogens more dangerous?
Link to opinion by David Wallace-Wells in The New York Times