Who experiment with mountain goats
Should leave the universe alone
It's not their business, not their home
-- John Prine, "Lonesome Friends of Science"
Similarly CNN (4/6/20) mocked the notion of a lab leak when re-assessing the source of the pandemic, describing one possibility being that: "It leaked -- like a genie out of a bottle -- from a lab in an accident."
But even a cursory look at the record shows that these labs, where ever they exist, have a lot of accidents -- just from 2019, the New York Times (8/5/19) reported: "Deadly Germ Research Is Shut Down at Army Lab Over Safety Concerns" regarding Fort Detrick in Maryland: "Problems with disposal of dangerous materials led the government to suspend research at the military’s leading biodefense center." (The local paper, the Frederick News-Post has provided some coverage, including publishing letters by local activist Barry Kissin who has focused on the issue.)
USA Today had a reporter on this beat, Alison Young, but she left the paper. A sampling of her work:
While much of the media and political establishment have minimized the threat from such lab work, some hawks on the American right like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have singled out Chinese biodefense researchers as uniquely dangerous.
But there is every indication that U.S. lab work is every bit as threatening as that in Chinese labs. American labs also operate in secret, and are also known to be accident-prone.
The current dynamics of the biological arms race have been driven by U.S. government decisions that extend back decades. In December 2009, Reuters reported that the Obama administration was refusing even to negotiate the possible monitoring of biological weapons.
Much of the left in the U.S. now appears unwilling to scrutinize the origin of the pandemic — or the wider issue of biowarfare — perhaps because portions of the anti-Chinese right have been so vocal in making unfounded allegations.
Governments that participate in such biological weapon research generally distinguish between "biowarfare" and "biodefense," as if to paint such "defense" programs as necessary. But this is rhetorical sleight-of-hand; the two concepts are largely indistinguishable.
"Biodefense" implies tacit biowarfare, breeding more dangerous pathogens for the alleged purpose of finding a way to fight them. While this work appears to have succeeded in creating deadly and infectious agents, including deadlier flu strains, such "defense" research is impotent in its ability to defend us from this pandemic.
The legal scholar who drafted the main U.S. law on the subject, Francis Boyle, warned in his 2005 book "Biowarfare and Terrorism" that an "illegal biological arms race with potentially catastrophic consequences" was underway, largely driven by the U.S. government.
For years, many scientists have raised concerns regarding bioweapons/biodefense lab work, and specifically about the fact that huge increases in funding have taken place since 9/11. This was especially true after the anthrax-by-mail attacks that killed five people in the weeks after 9/11, which the FBI ultimately blamed on a U.S. government biodefense scientist. A 2013 study found that biodefense funding since 2001 had totaled at least $78 billion, and more has surely been spent since then. This has led to a proliferation of laboratories, scientists and new organisms, effectively setting off a biological arms race.
Following the Ebola outbreak in west Africa in 2014, the U.S. government paused funding for what are known as "gain-of-function" research on certain organisms. This work actually seeks to make deadly pathogens deadlier, in some cases making pathogens airborne that previously were not. With little notice outside the field, the pause on such research was lifted in late 2017.
During this pause, exceptions for funding were made for dangerous gain-of-function lab work. This included work jointly done by U.S. scientists from the University of North Carolina, Harvard and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This work — which had funding from USAID and EcoHealth Alliance not originally acknowledged — was published in 2015 in Nature Medicine.
A different Nature Medicine article about the origin of the current pandemic, authored by five scientists and published on March 17, has been touted by major media outlet and some officials — including current National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins — as definitively disproving a lab origin for the novel coronavirus. That journal article, titled "The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2," stated unequivocally: "Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus." This is a subtly misleading sentence. While the scientists state that there is no known laboratory "signature" in the SARS-Cov-2 RNA, their argument fails to take account of other lab methods that could have created coronavirus mutations without leaving such a signature.
But there's no rumor. It’s a fact: Labs work with dangerous pathogens. U.S. and China have such dual use biowarfare/biodefense programs. China has major facilities at Wuhan. There are leaks from labs. (See Preventing a Biological Arms Race, MIT Press, 1990, edited by Susan Wright -- see (partial) review in Journal of International Law (10/92).)
Schuchat: In terms of the question about gain of function research and laboratory issues. Very important for us as a scientific community to have practices that protect researchers and their laboratory workers as well as the community around them and that we use science for the benefit of people. So I am closely involved in this response and everything that I've seen so far is very consistent with the animal to human spread that we've seen other zoonotic origin.
Husseini: May I follow up on that -- just -- I mean, the two things don't necessarily preclude each other. That is, the Chinese lab could well have acquired the bat [virus]. It's one or two thousand miles away -- the caves where the bats are [from] that are allegedly the cause. So wouldn't -- the two things aren't mutually exclusive, are they?
Schuchat: Yeah, let me leave a comment. Information is critical and having the very best information available to those who -- to everyone, to be able to protect themselves, their families, their communities is essential. In the midst of new infections, it is very common for rumors to emerge that can take on life of their own. So as you mentioned, a laboratory in the center of what else is happening in that province -- I'm reminded of concerns we heard when I was in Sierra Leone in 2014 with the Ebola response. There was a concern that there was a hemorrhagic virus research center in Sierra Leone, and maybe that's from the virus had come from. It was a key rumor that had to be overcome in order to help control the outbreak. So based on everything that I know right now, I can tell you the circumstances of the origin really look like animals to human. But your, your question, I heard.
In fact, the "Bloody Monday" move -- when Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both endorsed Biden just after his South Carolina win and just before "Super Tuesday" -- might be the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the DNC or other establishment forces molded the campaign to producer this outcome.
You couldn't have planned it better for Biden if you tried. And lots of forces -- from the DNC to the establishment media did try in thousands of ways.
And at a societal level, the pandemic struck chords of fear in people's collective psychology. It was like the Y2K story. As January 1, 2000 approached, people were filled with dread and fear, so that what should have been a time for great hope was a time for just hoping to get by. Like now. The pandemic pushed many people to turn to the familiar, to something that they associate with not being a disaster. (This is the opposite of what happened in 1900 -- that period was apparently greeted with great embrace.)
As I outlined last month:
There are two obvious responses:Burn it Down: The impulsive thing to do would be to want to burn down the Democratic Party. It’s possible that the establishment of the Democratic Party would be OK with this — they seem to fear a President Sanders more than the fear another term of Trump. So, people would stay home or vote for a third party or independent candidate who openly states that they have virtually no chance of winning.Cave In: Others might insist that no matter how badly the Democratic Party establishment treats its voters, they need to get in line come November and vote for whoever the nominee is. This is euphemistically referred to as “hold your nose and voting.” People have done this for decades and it’s typically resulted in the corporate wing of the Democratic Party becoming more and more powerful.The first of these will be disastrous because it will help Trump.The second will be disastrous because it effectively surrenders control of the Democratic Party to the corporate wing, probably for the foreseeable future.But there is a third choice: The VotePact strategy.With the VotePact strategy, in the general election, disenchanted Democratics team up with a disenchanted Republicans. They pair up: spouses and friends and coworkers and neighbors and debating partners and ex-facebook friends. Instead of the two of them voting for candidates they don’t want, they pair up and vote for the third party or independent candidate of their choice.
Defendant Elizabeth McAlister, the 79-year-old widow of Phil Berrigan from Jonah House in Baltimore, who donated her own blood for the action said: “The government has set up a religion of nuclearism. It is terrifying and dead, dead wrong. It is a form of idolatry in this culture."
(Talk by Art Laffin given on Oct. 22, 2019 at evening support gathering during the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 Trial at St. Athanasius Episcopal Church, Brunswick, Georgia. This version Includes some slight revisions. Audio is here. Laffin is member of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker community in Washington, D.C. He is also editor of the two-volume work Swords into Plowshares, which has a forward by the late Father Daniel Berrigan.)