tv Alina Chan and Matt Ridley Viral CSPAN February 24, 2022 6:47am-7:28am EST
john walters president ceo of hudson institute. i'm very very happy to be joined today by the authors of this new book viral the search for the origin of covid-19 if you are interested as i think we all have suffered through this topic in where this pathogen came from, i believe this is the best book that has been written to date is thorough it is explains the science and it it tells you something about the the actors that have been a part of the of the search for the origin and also gives you a chance to think about what the factors are that
would would help us understand that origin more thoroughly. we are very pleased and and happy to be joined by the authors. i want to say something briefly about them elena chan is a postdoctoral researcher at the broad institute of mit and harvard university. i'm going to ask the authors a little bit to come tell us a little about how this started but let me first introduce matt ridley who is a author businessman a biologist and a member of the house of lords of the united kingdom. so but that's that's i think that's as close to a renaissance man as you get in this day and age, so i want to thank him for joining us and my colleague david asher who's a senior fellow here at hudson who some of the people who've seen our broadcast before and read the newspaper know was involved in the trump administration at the end in the state department. it's a contractor looking at the question of origins and has testified before congress. i'm going to ask him at the end to make some comments about the
author's presentation. so thank you all for joining us. thank you all for the work you've done on this important issue. i'm going to cut right to the substance of this i guess to begin i'd ask briefly. start with the origins of this book viral, um on why did why did the two of you undertake this investigation? and did you become co-authors? shall i kick that off because i was writing for the wall street journal on this topic a couple of times and i came across the work of alina chan. found it to be very insightful and her own comments to be increasingly penetrating about this topic. and so i had the cheek to ask her to join me in writing a book because i felt that, you know, a book length project was necessary and while i've written books about genomics before i thought it was important to have
someone who could you know be a true expert on this topic and was you know way ahead of me on understanding some of the issues and i think we both felt that it needed booklet length treatment the number of different strands of evidence and argument that were developing needed to be properly examined at length, but we didn't know where the story would end. and and let me how did you start writing about this? they mean the preprint of the book. well about the topic and then and then how did you decide to join in a book length effort? so for me it started with this striking observation that starts to look pretty well adapted for human transmission by the time i was detected in december 2019 in wuhan and over the next half of your ish after i put out my
first preprint in may 2020. i started to look into a lot of these. mysterious findings related to stars to like viruses being worked with that the ukhanensity virology. and so when madridshot to me at the end of 2020 i had actually been speaking with him and covid covid self-nominated investigators of the origin of covid for several months, and i realized that social media and the news are quite fickle. so even if you tweet like 10,000 times all of those would be washed away with time and so i i knew that was imperative for a book to be written on this topic that would stand the test of time and it's important that this book would be written by both very talented and amazing science writer as well as a scientist who understands all these techniques and and what's been written in papers. well, thank you. okay, i want to make sure you get time to describe and explain the basis for your conclusions.
you are very careful and you set forth the arguments for alternative explanations and you discuss the weight of them and you discuss what you call burden tennis or the movement of the burden of proof among different patterns of analysis and and and conclusions. let me just ask you what are the possible origin scenarios for covid-19. and where do you think the evident evidence currently points? well, shall i again jump in on that and please elena jump in before me if i'm talking too much, but the i think we can rule out a number of scenarios. you know that it came from outer space or that it probably that it came from frozen food from a different continent and indeed we can probably rule out we reckon that it's a deliberate bio weapon. we think there's very little evidence for that none at all. in fact, so that leaves us with two strong theories and in our
view that that equally plausible a priori if you see what i mean, you know, there's no reason to decide that one is definitely more likely than than the other one is that it was developed when it came we know it came from a bat. it's a bat virus naturally how it got from bats to humans is the question and there's two possible routes one is through the food chain through the catching of wildlife. to serve in markets to customers or possibly through a farmed animal and the other possibility is through research through the extensive research program that was happening in china focused on the wuhan institute of virology, but working mainly in southern china and collecting viruses from bats and bringing them to wuhan for study. so these are the two obvious routes that need looking at now your reference to burden tennis. it's a wonderful phrase that
that came from dan dennett the philosopher and you know, he says people often argue, you know that the burden of proof is in on your side of the net and somebody says no, it's on your side of the net and we found that in this case an awful lot of people assumed and still assume that the default assumption must be that it's a market event because that's what's happened before in the case of sars. unless we find evidence that it's a lab of it. we don't think that's fair. we think both are possible and plausible and should be treated equally in terms of a setting the evidence for them. alina and the folks on the natural origin side of the story know that the burden is on their side now because they've spent at least a year and a half searching for an animal source of this virus and they found nothing. so according to chinese authorities. they went through tens of thousands of animal samples. they track lots of people and now they're tracking banked blood samples in hunt prior to
december 2019, and they have yet to find any sign of an earlier circulation of this virus or an original animal source furthermore there have been many i'd say surprising leaks and and foyer freedom information act obtained documents showing that there was really quite extensive coronavirus collecting and manipulation at the equivalent one institute of biology and and analogy. i'd like to use is that we in one document the proposed putting a horn on a horse in early 2018 and at the end of 2019 a unicorn appears in that city. so on i'd say that the burden is on the natural origin side to show that these activities this really collection of thousands of tens of thousands of high-risk pathogen samples from animals and humans across eight countries collecting into wuhan city and doing this experiments when marvel genetic modifications modifications are made of these viruses that that did not lead to the emergence of
sars covid2. i guess one way to to follow that is to ask does the search for the origin of covid-19 require? a scientific or forensic investigation that is is it a scientific analysis or is this more like what we think about in terms of the way detectives of investigate activities or i don't want to say a crime, but i mean, we're more familiar with that kind of investigative technique. i mean, what would an ideal investigation look like who should play a leading role in the investigation? what would a pandemic treaty look like to ensure open cooperation on this in the future? do you want to take that first alina? yeah, i think i'll take this one first. so i think that at the beginning of this pandemic everyone assumed that it was a purely scientific question.
so we knew that there was a cover-up going on because information about human to human transmission whether the virus could spread before symptoms appeared. that was very delayed. even the genomic sequence what the delayed so we know now that the chinese authorities already had the full genome sequence of south covid2 on 27 december 2019 the rest of the world only got it two weeks later on january 10 or 11. so that was two weeks that we could have been making diagnostics learning more about this virus making vaccines. so the problem is that in early 2020 a lot of scientists rushed to say that this was a natural virus so they condemned a lamp origin as a conspiracy theory and everyone ran with that. so we are very delayed. we've lost a lot of time but it's too possible to find this and to do so we need a real investigation not what the health organization then earlier this year and i would add that. you're absolutely right to draw a distinction. i think between forensic investigation and scientific investigation and there has been
some very interesting forensic investigation in the broader sense of the term, which we do describe in the book for example the piecing together of which samples were collected from which sites at which times mainly done by a brilliant open source analyst called francisco rivera, but at the same time we're in the unusual situation here where there is a genome of a virus and there are genomes of other related viruses and comparing those is a scientific enterprise with from which you can read surprising things. you know when when you think about it at genome is a is a piece of digital linear information just like finding an enemy code or a code book or something. and so there are things that can be learned from the genomes of this virus and related bat viruses in a scientific analysis that are additional to the
forensic work of who did what where how and when um what do you think the experience of covid-19 should teach us about the future regarding research research oversight regarding international protocols for potential pandemic diseases? the i was waiting for alina to jump in on that, but maybe take it. all right. i mean it's that's a lot of shortcomings and in flaws that can be exploited in both the research community and the publishing community. so including journalism, so we've seen that there is a very i'd say tight-knit community of people who control the type of news that comes out even a tightknit community. of people who control the news that comes out. there's a lot of censorship,
the new york times and other places editors telling writers they couldn't touch on that idea but even scientific journals, a lot of pushback against anyone suggesting that origin. we have to fix that before the next pandemic. no guarantee it will take a century to emerge. there is increasing natural risk and lab risk for the proliferation of labs engaging in this type of virus hunting and manipulation. it could happen in the next two years. we don't know. >> seems to me you're saying if our institutions behaved as they claim they intend to behave, but the scientific ones, journalistic, even
institutions of government we would have had a much less dangerous situation and less confusion. it's not so much a gap as failure to act as people committed themselves to act in these, is that fair? >> it is. the various actors have a let down the public who are relying on them. the chinese authorities covered up and delay the release of vital information about human transmission and so on but then the world health organization mounted an investigation that took a long time to organize all was superficial and produced rather poor results in
terms of investigating the outcomes. its existence prevented other organizations launching their own inquiries and the us government has not been as forthcoming with information, it funded relevant research. the institutions of scientific publishing have not been as transparent as they should be, publishing documents which claim to have no conflict of interest which have great conflict of interest and which were prematurely ruling out one hypothesis on the basis of what seems to have been a political preference and journalism, the mainstream media has shown surprisingly little curiosity and even for been conversations about one of the more obvious
hypotheses was facebook made it impossible to discuss laboratory leaks at all, where is twitter did better in that respect. in all sorts of levels there's been a surprising lack of transparency and lack of accountability and to go to the heart of the matter their existing wuhan a database of samples from bats and sequences and the database went off-line just before the pandemic, never been brought online, don't have any idea what it is in it, contains a lot of information after 2016 of which we know nothing which may prove there is nothing of any use but it is
extraordinary to develop a large database to prevent pandemics and not release it when a pandemic comes along. >> one thing that struck me is the failure of established institutions designed for inquiry, protection, sharing of critical information, resiliency of individuals who communicated privately and yet overcame this was the institutional failure is in contrast to the heroism and dedication including your to put your own reputations because we remember what you investigated were a source of
ridicule. it is hard to think how to reform that. it's not one thing creating something new. you have to do what you say you're going to do which is a moral interest to rather than institutional issue but seems to me the challenge is to allow individual questioning and in some ways the individual, social media and electronic media allow you and them to do that in ways that would not have been possible before with less open connectivity even in the environment we face. one last question to you. you rightly pointed out not only additional pathogens here but as you noted and others
noted synthetic biology is growing rapidly and the possibility of there being more nationally -- naturally occurring pathogens at modification and creation of pathogens the danger is increasing. given what happened and where we are, how -- what are the first steps we should do to better detect and prepare for these dangers in the future and not fail to learn from this experience that has been so terrible? >> i suspect alina chin placed her answer to that question because she is thinking about how we develop a pandemic treaty and move forward to make it better but i want to emphasize the point in your preamble which is the
importance of courageous individuals here. i'm at the end of my career, i am self employed, i don't worry what people think of me but it is brave of someone like alina chin to devote a lot of time to an uncomfortable story for a lot of established science. we did come to depend heavily on her and the story has come to depend on a few extraordinarily brave and persistent individuals, open-source analysts to look into sources of information that are hidden, not secret but hard to find, and peace to gather information of great value in these feel like interesting cases where the big well-funded institutions did not devote much effort to
finding the answer to this question where individuals in their spare time did but alina chin will talk about where we go from here to improve these aspects. >> i want to talk about the pandemic treaty but it is important to acknowledge the search for the origin was corrupted early in 2020. it was taught as an anti-science thing to ask and put burden on the citizens, journalists and scientists who had to push back against accusations of racism. it was the scientists were calling me anti-scientific or racist or race traitor.
a scientific problem became corrupted. being unable to ask those questions or get evidence and discuss your analysis in the face of all this abuse that anyone questions whether a virus could leak from a lab in asia is racist. we have to learn from that and not jump to conclusions. have a future where only white people can be investigated but anything from asia or africa or south america cannot be investigated because it would be racist or unscientific is that has to be solved but these global problems of a complete lack of preparation for what happens if an outbreak occurs, there are no whistleblower channels, no way you can go into the country and find out for yourself was when covid 19 acre it was only leaked
messages that went viral, the social message in china. it was through leaked messages that this critical information about transmission, whether it could spread without symptoms had to be leaked. this cannot be in the future. there has to be a pandemic treaty where the moment they hear about the outbreak they pick a new person who goes into gather evidence which the stakes are high, 50 or 60 million deaths, hundreds of millions of infections so there'sfor a country to say this is a private matter and you can only hear what we want to tell you at the time we want to tell you. >> i will let david asher
respond to that. >> i can't think alina chin and matt ridley sufficiently. it reads like an indictment but it is not an indictment of the government of china but a global indictment of how we have erased evidence, covered up amazing amounts of information from public disclosure. it is almost explicable to me as someone who worked in the financial community. as a capitalist i can't understand the certain degree of avarice for understanding of a situation that is literally
the biggest disaster to befall our country in the world since world war ii and the great depression combined if you look at the economic impact of covid 19 alone, that is more than we lost in the entire great depression. what is going on with our community interest and national health authorities. why are they acting like this and what happened on february 1st of last year with serious email exchanges, doctor foundry and -- i have great respect for. he did great work, unearthed the aids epidemic and what was causing it, what is going on at
the national institutes of health i really don't know. it has become an autocracy which we have a situation where we have inadequate disclosure was a cover-up mentality and we are dealing with a global disaster that needs to be confronted squarely, we shouldn't just blame the people of china. we need to blame ourselves for failure to understand what is going on and now we need to have some truth telling. as you mentioned these things are eminently feasible. you can create a bio weapon, whether this is a bio weapon i
never contended it is. you could cause global disaster. i think you for your book and i will stop there. >> i will pick up on what you said about february 1st because it is an interesting story. became apparent to us partly through a book by jeremy fara of the wellcome trust that senior virologists looking at this at the end of january 2020 strongly suspected this virus showed signs of having been genetically manipulated and they shared concerns about this on email for several days and then a phone call was organized
transatlantic lady linking up with anthony faucher had a number of senior virologists mainly in the us and what they decided at that meeting must have dramatically changed their minds. within a few days they were drafting the letter for the lancet and the paper for nature medicine which ruled out not just genetic manipulation of the virus that any land-based scenario but were very confident in doing so, very tenuous arguments as to why they were so confident. something changed these people's minds so they could rule something out as a conspiracy theory they had thought likely a few days before. we would like to know what
happened, we would like a full transcript of and to see the emails they exchanged before and after the meeting, information requests related in them being published with almost total redirection on both sides of the atlantic, lots of blank lines. this just isn't good enough when as you say we have millions dead and a blow to the world economy we haven't seen in a century or so. it is quite extraordinary to us that vital insights are not being properly shared with the public.
>> this speaks of public trust in science and how it is jeopardized when scientists are believed to be deciding information societies should not be hiding information or telling people the wrong information to persuade them to act in a particular way. if people find out masks don't work, how can they believe it with anything else, when you tell people it is not airborne, it is spread through surfaces how do people protect themselves, similarly with origins there were some scientists fearful of talking about lab origins because they were worried the public would panic and racism and all the things some of these terrible things happen but think about what happens when the public find out you lied to them and the long-term effects of that. i think it was just a mistake
for some scientists to do that and now emails have been leaked through the freedom of information act and it has been discouraging to see these top scientists speculating, some saying it's more likely it came from a lab then the market. >> 20 points. the first, you've done a great job, but i want to emphasize how important it is and how careful this book is in going through each and every one of the bits of evidence and how they were related or distorted and how critical parts were missing. we have talked in more general terms because of the circumstance of a conversation like this but if you want to understand what just happened to you in detail this is the
book to read. you can read it electronically as a kindle book or as an audiobook which i'm not part of that publisher but i want to say the story you tell is about the need for an informed public. whole part of this to tell the public just do what we tell you, listen to what we say, don't ask questions, you give people tools in more detail than most people are able to sort out, you sort out for them what really happened and a lot of malfeasance. i'm not trying to damage anyone's career further than the risk you have already taken but multiple institutions, scientific publishing as well as journalists, joined the
chorus of shut up and sit down. there's an old saying it is not the crime, it's the cover-up. you are careful about this was not a bio weapon that was released intentionally. the evidence isn't there for that the real problem is why is there this massive cover-up? summer were not even connected with this but some who are in the institutions in the united states and in china. the real outrage is the harm that is happening and the unwillingness to come forward and be frank, not just blaming but information that would save
lives sooner and contain spread and prepare us for variations, that is something we should insist on being more demanding about in the future. it is shocking the lull in looking for origins your book shows is so important. there are efforts to create permission to do that in the united states that is not partisan and subject to distortion but a global issue in the unwillingness of countries to come forward. who is going to be honest this time, once everybody takes responsibility and fails, how do we know people will keep their word and carry out this month abilities. do you have any thoughts what
should happen next? >> a couple points. you were kind enough to say some nice things about this book which we hope to sell a lot of copies not because we are trying to make a fortune, we agreed to give away half the proceeds to charity. the reason we've gone for commercial publishers we want as many people as possible to engage in this conversation. we want to open it up and it has been frustrating to us that so much of this debate is not been allowed to happen and it badly needed to happen it is a parallel i like to draw with the airline industry which is to make sure we learn lessons
from every crash. it's not about blame, it is about learning lessons and in that way what you get out of a black box, every piece of information is shared so everyone can make sure they learn as many lessons as they can anywhere in the world. it should be the same in this case whether it is a market spillover or a laboratory leak, we want to be able to pin down the lessons the world has to learn and share them as widely as possible. there are markets selling animals all over southeast asia and africa and laboratories doing research on dangerous animal viruses all over asia,
africa, europe and so on. we are playing, something has to be learned. >> there were some collaborators who if they check their records and emails when covid was first detected they would have realized that wuhan institute of virology was looking at several viruses related to covid and they were synthesizing new viruses putting in the type of unique genetic modifications we see in covid and collecting thousands of samples from china and other countries, and concentrating all these animal and human samples, we only find that out
in the fall of 2021, two years since this virus emerged so the lack of transparency leads people to this perception scientists are hiding things and that leans on the entire scientific community even though it is only a youth who did these things. moving forward many ways we can introduce structural changes to ensure the research is more transparent and that has to do with journal editors and database managers, not going to publish anything for more than two years, i'm not going to publish your papers because we see a publishing data that doesn't exist, those problems have to be solved before the next pandemic, they are very costly. >> they certainly are.
i want to thank both of you and david for the work he's done and continues to do with our congress and if the holiday season, get out your copy of dickens's christmas carol and enjoy the memories, watch it's a wonderful life but for the sake of being a better citizen next year, by this book and read it because in addition to questioning institutions we need people who are good citizens, this is something you need to be informed about and you don't know enough to be an informed citizen, support your own government officials who do the right thing was at the end of the day our democracies are based on the strength of the people who are members of the democracy. this is a book that allows you to be a better citizen. thank you both for joining us, for your work and my thanks to