Wuhan Institute of Virology
© Thomas Peter/ReutersSecurity personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, February 3, 2021.
On March 17, 2020, a group of several eminent virologists published a paper on the "proximal origin" of Covid-19. "Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus," it trumpeted. The editor in chief of Nature Medicine proudly retweeted it: "Let's put conspiracy theories about the origin of #SARSCoV2 to rest and help to stop spread of misinformation." The paper went on to say, "We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible."

One of the scientists, Kristian Andersen, sent an email to Dr. Anthony Fauci that morning, alerting him to the paper's publication. Fauci replied to Andersen that very day, "Thanks for your note. Nice job on the paper." He had praised an early draft of it as "very thoughtful summary and analysis."

Almost simultaneously, Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance, which was the cutout through which the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded research on coronaviruses in Wuhan, sent an email to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill virologist Ralph Baric informing him that an investigative committee would not be looking into a lab-origins theory.

Now Fauci tells the New York Times that he's not sure he ever read the paper.

Immediately, the "proximal origin" paper was put to use to shut down debate. ABC: "Sorry, conspiracy theorists. Study concludes COVID-19 is not a laboratory construct." Vice News: "Once and for All, the New Coronavirus Was Not Made in a Lab."

Leaked messages now show that the "proximal origin" paper itself was the product of something like a conspiracy and was intended to mislead the public about the origins of Covid. FOIA requests of their emails and chat messages show that all of the authors of the paper expressed the exact opposite views of the conclusions in the paper. "60-40 lab," Dr. Edward Holmes said. "I really can't think of a plausible natural scenario," wrote Robert Garry.

"In the lab it would be easy," Garry also surmised in February. "It's not crackpot to suggest this could have happened given the gain of function research we know is happening." Andersen: "The lab escape version of this is so friggin' likely because they were already doing this work."

After Fauci was informed that his agency had funded coronavirus research, he got word from other scientists that the research was done according to low safety standards โ€” a "Wild West," according to one scientist. Andersen shared the same assessment of the Wuhan lab in another email: "I'm all for gain of function research, but to do it at BSL [biosafety level] three is nuts."

One conference-call participant outlined the motive for a cover-up. More talk of the lab-leak theory would "do unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular." This reflected concerns voiced by the head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, as early as February. He wanted to convene experts on the question of lab origins, "or the voices of conspiracy will quickly dominate, doing great potential harm to science and international harmony."

"The truth is never going to come out (if escape is the truth)," advised one of the paper's authors, Andrew Rambaut.

What was the harm to science? If researchers' work had caused the deaths of millions of people worldwide, it would have destroyed the reputation of scientists, and the grant money that was controlled by Francis Collins at NIH and Anthony Fauci at NIAID would come under more scrutiny. It may also explain why Kristian Andersen had changed his tune. At the very beginning of the pandemic, he was openly wondering about whether a lab origin was possible. He shifted to becoming the most vocal against it.

It turns out that while he was following Fauci's guidance and advice in preparing the "proximal origin" paper, he had an $8.9 million research grant proposal sitting on Fauci's desk, waiting for approval. Four days after the paper was published, Andersen's grant was finalized. An appointment with the grant-maker has a wonderful effect of concentrating the mind.

It's difficult to overstate the gravity of the fraud at work. The "proximal origin" paper was cited thousands of times and shaped coverage of the pandemic for years. To get just a flavor of it, Andersen brags about manipulating the New York Times coverage by science reporter Donald McNeil Jr., who was open to a lab-leak hypothesis. The Times eventually fired McNeil for unrelated reasons, and the Covid beat passed to a reporter who dismissed the lab leak as nothing more than a racist theory.

In the name of fighting disinformation, America's leading scientists collaborated with America's leading public-health authorities to create disinformation themselves โ€” which just happened to be in the interests of funding for their projects and agencies. In trying to save science from public scrutiny, they permanently damaged the reputation of America's public-health institutions and vividly demonstrated the ease with which the scientific enterprise itself could be corrupted by politics and venality. If the lab leak is the true origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, which appears increasingly likely, the American government and its leading minds were part of the cover-up operation, which spared not just the scientific community but the Chinese Communist Party as well.

The scientific community should repudiate the authors of the paper. None of them should ever receive a penny of public funding for research again. Their fraud should hang as a cloud over everything they attempt to publish. A self-respecting nation would punish both Fauci and Collins for betraying the public trust on a matter so grave. Their fates should stand as a cautionary tale taught to every aspiring scientist, and the judgment of history should make them as synonymous with scientific misconduct as Benedict Arnold is with treason. We urge the future Republican nominee to make this a campaign issue โ€” even if the opposing party and the American press would rather spend their days on TikTok, another thing cooked up in a Chinese lab.