September 22, 2023

Scientists on hearing of House refute claims they were bribed and influenced to deny Covid-19 ‘lablek’ theory

Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic said they wanted to use a hearing on Tuesday to rectify Republicans’ claims that Drs. Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins led scientists investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic away from the idea that the virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

In a report released ahead of the hearing, Democrats highlighted the affidavits of authors of the “Proximal Origin” paper published in March 2020 in the journal Nature — the paper that first concluded the pandemic was most likely caused by a viral spill. event from animal to human.

That testimony, they said, shows that Dr. Jeremy Farrar, a British biomedical scientist who was then director of the Wellcome Trust health research charity and is now chief scientist for the World Health Organization, organized and led the scientific effort that produced both that article and and the February conference call that laid the groundwork for it, instead of Fauci or Collins. Fauci was then chief of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Collins was chief of the National Institutes of Health. Both played a vital role in the country’s pandemic response.

The conference call and paper have become fodder for conspiracy theories that claim that Fauci and Collins pressured scientists to abandon the “lab leak” theory in favor of the natural origin hypothesis.

Dr. Kristian Andersen, who studies the genetics of infectious diseases at the Scripps Research Institute, testified Tuesday that in the early days of the pandemic, he first thought the virus causing Covid-19 had genomic features that could indicate lab manipulation.

“My initial hypothesis was that SARS-CoV-2 was probably an engineered virus,” Andersen told the committee. “This was based on limited data and preliminary analyzes where I observed features that seemed unique.”

He shared those early concerns with Fauci, who advised him to prepare a scientific paper outlining his theory. But Andersen said he changed his mind after learning more about these kinds of viruses.

“We quickly found that those features are readily found in related coronaviruses, and the virus itself appears to be a clear product of natural selection and not actual engineering,” he said.

He said scientists often adjust their thinking when there is evidence. It’s not a flip-flop, but how the scientific process works.

Andersen, who said he found his name on online “kill lists” over allegations that he was part of a cover-up, also denied allegations that he and his co-authors were bribed to alter their public statements with promises of grant money .

“It has also been suggested that a grant awarded to myself and colleagues from five different countries was a quid pro quo for changing our conclusions. These allegations are false,” he said.

Republicans on the committee were not happy with that explanation.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a New York Republican, urged Andersen to explain the change in his thinking.

“Something changed within a few days,” she said between Andersen’s emails and phone calls to Fauci in late January 2020 and the February 1, 2020 conference call with about a dozen other researchers from around the world. “And that is what this committee is trying to find out. What happened in that three-day period between the conference call and the paper when you suddenly did 180 and it couldn’t possibly have come from a lab? she asked. “What happened in those three days?”

Dr. Robert Garry, a microbiologist and immunologist at Tulane University, explained that they examined the genomes of other coronaviruses.

“Well, we examined the genomes more closely. We’ve looked at other coronaviruses. And some new data came in. The data came from the scientific literature,” he said.

Garry said the publication of a similar coronavirus isolated from animals called pangolins showed some of the same changes as the virus that eventually infected humans.

“It was a very important piece of data because it showed that many of the theories about the virus that were designed or put together in a lab were not true, because here was a virus in nature that had a receptor-binding domain with exactly” the same characteristics , he said.

Andersen said the genetic adaptation that allowed SARS-CoV-2 to infect humans was “suboptimal,” suggesting to him it was of natural origin. If the virus had been developed in a lab, he said, the changes likely would have been more precise.

Andersen also pushed back on the timeline echoed by Republicans on the committee: He said he didn’t change his mind in three days, but in about 45 days, when he drafted the Nature paper.

Both scientists said that if convincing evidence emerged supporting the theory that the virus came from lab manipulation, they would consider it.

“I still believe that there is no credible scientific evidence for a laboratory-based origin of SARS-CoV-2,” said Garry.

Rep. John Joyce, a Republican physician from Pennsylvania, asked how some US intelligence agencies — namely the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation — had come to the conclusion that the virus likely came from a lab.

“Dr. Andersen, you also said in your testimony, “we don’t believe any lab-based scenario is plausible,” and yet two conclusions from the Department of Energy and the FBI directly contradict your position. How do you bring that together?” Joyce said.

“I think you could say that our conclusions also completely contradict their conclusions,” Andersen said. “I think it’s important to understand that we’re looking at different things here. You’re talking about the intelligence community. If you look at the scientific literature, the scientific evidence for this pointing to a single market in the middle of Wuhan is overwhelming.”

Democratic Representative Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician who is a senior member of the committee, said months of the panel’s work had been a biased effort that had not shed additional light on the origins of the pandemic but had sown distrust in the science and the scientists of the country.

“We have taken on all this work, but for what purpose? Has targeting these researchers and investigating the publication of this article meaningfully advanced our efforts to prevent and prepare for future pandemics?” he asked.

“Or was it fishing for evidence to prove their bias, their theories for the purpose of putting forward a predetermined partisan narrative aimed at Dr. Fauci, Dr. Collins, and our nation’s scientists and public health officials.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, chided her Republican colleagues for fueling public hatred of scientists and officials.

“I am so offended by some of the things I have heard today about unfounded allegations against our country’s scientists, our public health experts, including Drs. Fauci and Collins, and instead of being on a mission to destroy two people, I wish we were on a mission to find out the facts,” she said.

For more CNN news and newsletters, create an account on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *