Instigator / Pro
42
1557
rating
8
debates
75.0%
won
Topic

THBT The Lab Leak Theory is Similarly Likely as the Spillover Hypothesis

Status
Finished

All stages have been completed. The voting points distribution and the result are presented below.

Arguments points
18
0
Sources points
12
0
Spelling and grammar points
6
0
Conduct points
6
0

With 6 votes and 42 points ahead, the winner is ...

Nyxified
Parameters
More details
Publication date
Last update date
Category
Science
Time for argument
One week
Voting system
Open voting
Voting period
Two months
Point system
Four points
Rating mode
Rated
Characters per argument
30,000
Contender / Con
0
1480
rating
6
debates
33.33%
won
Description
~ 1,815 / 5,000

Lab Leak Theory (LLT): The hypothesis that COVID-19 was originally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (Henceforth the WIoV) and, for whatever reason, COVID-19 came out of the lab and began to infect people.

Spillover Hypothesis (SoHt): The hypothesis that COVID-19 was originally in an animal and not dangerous to that animal that, for whatever reason, spread to humans (e.g. A mutation occurred in a Coronavirus in a bat that allowed it to become infectious to a Pangolin that then infected a human).

Similarly likely: In the context of the debate, this means that neither theory is considerably/significantly more plausibly the case than the contrary and both deserve to be considered as theories for the origin of COVID-19 that deserve investigation. This is to say that there is not considerably/significantly more evidence for the SoHt than the LLT.

Pro must prove that the LLT is similarly as likely OR MORE likely than the SoHt while con must prove that the LLT is sufficiently/considerably less likely than the SoHt.

I will make a considerable effort to ensure I don't hold any bias towards China, Chinese people, the WIoV or scientists at the WIoV, nor the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). I will also make considerable effort to ensure I am not biased by media reports of China, the LLT/WIoV, the CCP, political figure's opinions on the LLT or SoHt, nor the actions of the CCP unrelated to COVID-19 and I ask that con make those same efforts for the sake of a productive debate. All things mentioned can still be drawn upon, the point is to ensure I don't use, for example, the Uighur genocide to frame China as an evil nation in lieu of actual evidence or let my preconceived beliefs cloud my logic.

Please comment for questions or any requests for changes. Constructive feedback is always welcomed!

Round 1
Pro
Table of Contents:

1. Model
 
1.1 Key Terms
 
1.2 Resolution
2. Introduction
 
2.1 Burden of Proof
 
2.2 Pro's Case
3. Constructive Arguments/Analyses
 
3.1 The Likelihood of SARSr-CoVs and the SOHT in Wuhan
 
3.2 The Case for the LLT Regarding the WIoV
 
3.3 What Makes the LLT an Equally Plausible Hypothesis
 
3.4 Summary
4. Conclusion
5. Citations

1. Model

1.1 Key Terms

  1. Lab Leak Theory (LLT): The hypothesis that COVID-19 was originally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and, for whatever reason, COVID-19 came out of the lab and began to infect people.
  2. Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIoV): (See citation 1 for more info) A lab located in Wuhan, China that has conducted 'Gain of Function' research on viruses[9] and also does research on or even creates new viruses, the most notable of which in this context are CoVs/SARSr-CoVs[10].
  3. Gain of Function Research (GoFR): Research/experiments conducted with the goal of increasing transmissibility or virulence of a pathogen with the hope to better understand the nature of those pathogens. "... usually aims to improve understanding of disease causing agents, their interaction with human hosts, and/or their potential to cause pandemics. The ultimate objective of such research is to better inform public health and preparedness efforts and/or development of medical countermeasures[2]."
  4. Spillover Hypothesis (SOHT): The hypothesis that COVID-19 was originally in an animal and not dangerous to that animal but, for whatever reason, spread to humans (e.g. A mutation occurred in a SARSr-CoV in a bat that allowed it to become infectious to a Pangolin that then infected a human).
  5. Similarly likely: In the context of the debate, this means that neither theory is considerably/significantly more plausibly the case than the contrary and both deserve to be considered as theories for the origin of COVID-19 that deserve investigation. This is to say that there is not sufficiently/considerably more evidence for the SOHT than the LLT.
  6. Coronavirus: A coronavirus, henceforth referred to as a CoV or a SARS-Related Coronavirus (SARSr-CoV) is a kind of virus, typically carried by bats, that has been responsible for both the SARS epidemic and MERS epidemic and typically results in respiratory conditions[3].
1.2 Resolution

As defined by the description, neither side aims to prove either the LLT  or SOHT definitively. Pro intends to prove that the LLT is similarly as likely as or more likely than the SOHT and/or that the evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, is similar or greater for the LLT compared to the SOHT. Con needs to prove that the LLT is sufficiently/considerably less likely than the SOHT and/or the evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, for the LLT is sufficiently/considerably less compelling than the evidence for the SOHT.


2. Introduction

2.1 Burden of Proof

As stated above, pro has the burden of proof to prove the LLT has similar or greater ground to stand on than the SOHT. For example, if we consider both theories to be the only two possible explanations and pro can prove the LLT has above a 40% likelihood of being the explanation for the origins of COVID-19, even though the SOHT is 60% likely, they are still similarly likely and similarly deserving of being considered and accepted as a valid hypothesis. Neither theory logically deserves to be accepted over the other. If the LLT were to have a probability equal to or lower than 40%, like 33% for example, then it would not make sense to say that both claims are similarly likely. While in that case the LLT still deserves investigation, it can be said the SOHT is the more likely conclusion.

(Please note: the percentages given above are just examples to show the ballpark of what I believe would need to be proven to meet my BoP)

Con must prove that the reasons I will give in my constructive arguments that give weight to the LLT do not indicate or allude to the LLT, and/or that the evidence given are considerably not as strong as the evidence for the SOHT, and/or there is considerably more evidence for the SOHT. Con must also provide their own arguments that give weight to the SOHT.

2.2 Pro's Case

In this argument, in order to meet the 40%< threshold, pro will be making the arguments:

1. The (Un)Likelihood of a SARSr-CoV and the SOHT in Wuhan

- The risk of a SARSr-CoV spreading directly or indirectly from a bat to a human is significantly more likely to occur in south China, but Wuhan is located in central China[4][5]. Moreover, most bats were hibernating when COVID-19 allegedly began to spread[12].
- We haven't located an animal that carries COVID-19[6]. While evidence shows that COVID-19 has an incredibly similar genome to SARS-CoVs found in bats (96%)[6], that much alone is not enough evidence that COVID-19 directly came from bats when humans also have a genome that is 96% identical to apes[7].
- The first COVID-19 case had no relation to the Huanan seafood market[8].
- The sheer coincidence that, in combination with the previous three bullet points, COVID-19 began in the only place on Earth that: 1. Has BSL 4 laboratory[13] that is also one of thee labs on Earth conducting GOFR[9][12], 2. Does research on SARS-CoVs[10], 3. Has also routinely failed to be transparent[9], and 4. Constantly hinders efforts at investigation.

(Please note: It’s unclear based on what I have read if the WIoV have conducted GoFR specifically on CoVs/SARSr-CoVs. Some sources suggest they have[12], but most don’t explicitly mention that fact.)

2. The Case for the LLT Regarding the WIoV

- Scientists at the WIoV were hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms a month before the first reported cases[11].
- Concerns were raised about safety precautions at the WIoV years prior to the pandemic which were ignored[13].
- The CCP has not only failed to cooperate in investigations as to the origins of COVID-19 but was also actively hostile and promoted alternative conspiracy theories that COVID-19 originated in a US lab[19]. It is self-evident that if the CCP had nothing to fear, it would be in their own best interest to cooperate.
- The director of the World Health Organization (WHO) said the investigation done by the WHO which said it was "extremely unlikely" that COVID-19 came from a lab was not a sufficient investigation[16]. It was conducted by researchers who, not only had already made up their minds that the SOHT was the only plausible conclusion[17], but also by researchers who had direct ties to the WIoV, meaning that the LLT, if it were proven true, may impact their funding[18]. They clearly could not have been impartial.

3. What Makes the LLT an Equally Plausible Hypothesis

- Arguing "This is how most pandemics begin" is not sound evidence.
- There is very little or no non-circumstantial evidence for the SOHT, and similarly there is very little or no non-circumstantial evidence for the LLT. However, the evidence for SOHT is largely based around the fact it usually occurs this way, not proving it didn't happen a different way this time.

3. Constructive Arguments/Analyses

3.1 The (un)likelihood of a SARSr-CoV and the SOHT in Wuhan

Shi Zhengli, also known as the 'Bat Woman' for her work in bat-samples relating to CoVs, was interviewed by Scientific American, in which she said she initially thought the health authorities got it wrong when calling COVID-19 a SARSr-CoV, because her own research showed that the spread of CoVs from bats to other animals or to humans is most likely to occur in southern China, whereas Wuhan is located in central China[5]. She herself says she quickly thought of the WIoV, though disagrees with the LLT. Another study that plotted hotspots for potential CoV transmission to humans or other animals on a map showed a similar finding. The study, map with location of Wuhan marked, and an explanation in the description is found in citation 4. Moreover, COVID-19 allegedly began to spread months deep into winter when most bats would be hibernating[12].

" “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.” Her studies had shown that the southern, subtropical provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan have the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals—particularly bats, a known reservoir. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “Could they have come from our lab?” " -Scientific American[5]

Note: The fact Shi Zhengli humoured the possibility that COVID-19 originated from the WIoV and only put the idea to rest after what she claims to be a thorough investigation[5] proves that she had some reason to believe that, had something gone wrong, an outbreak could have occurred due to the WIoV. The lab, which would make everyone's life a bit easier if they would allow an independent investigation, clearly then has to hold or have held in the recent past some amount of SARSr-CoVs that, for whatever reason, had the capacity to impact humans, and yet she never mentions thinking it might be another SARS outbreak, only that it may have come from the lab.

Furthermore, we have yet to locate COVID-19 in any animal, whether that's a pangolin, a bat, or a pig. I mention multiple animals in that list because we aren't even sure what animal it came from[6]. While supporters of the SOHT may be quick to point out that studies show that the genome of SARS or other SARSr-CoV found in bats or pangolins share a significant amount of their genome with COVID-19, there has not been a confirmed study that shows COVID-19 shares more of its genome with any SARSr-CoV found in bats than humans do with apes (96%)[7].

Pro doesn't disagree that COVID-19 is a SARSr-CoV that originally came from a bat the same way humans came from apes, pro only claims that it's plausible that COVID-19 won't be found in any bat because what COVID-19 is today might not have been created by a bat no different from how no human was made from an ape. Even though we originated from apes and COVID-19 originated from a SARSr-CoV carried by a bat, neither you nor I will be found in a family of apes and COVID-19 might just never be found in a bat.

Finally, the first case(s) of COVID-19 had no relation to the Huanan seafood market as many of us were led to believe in the early days of the pandemic. The Chinese CDC themselves said that the first case(s) didn't come from the seafood market, but the market was the host of a superspreader event[8].

"The Chinese CDC said that samples collected from the market didn't show a link between the animals there and the new coronavirus, suggesting that they couldn't have infected shoppers." -Business Insider[8]

There are thousands upon thousands of seafood markets across Asia, but there are VERY few labs doing GOFR[9], fewer doing so that also have shown the ability to create completely new SARSr-CoVs[10]. While all of this is circumstantial evidence, it is one hell of a coincidence that:

  • Wuhan is home to one of the three labs on Earth conducting GOFR[9][12].
  • Staff at the WIoV once built a new CoV from an existing one and have done prior research on SARS/SARSr-CoVs[9][10].
  • Wuhan is not located in the area of China where CoVs are most likely to go from an animal to a human, so much so that it is almost similar to all of eastern China in that regard[4][5].
  • The location in Wuhan that was theorized to be ground-zero for COVID-19 was found to likely be nothing more than the host of a superspreader event[8].
  • The WIoV is known for a lack of transparency[9].
  • A researcher at the WIoV humoured the thought that COVID-19 could have originated from the WIoV[5], meaning they must have or have had in the recent past some amount of SARSr-CoVs that are capable of infecting humans.
In summary, I’ve shown good reason that the probability of COVID-19 beginning in Wuhan is low enough that Shi Zhengli “never thought this would happen in Wuhan.” For all the fish markets in the world, there are only 3 labs doing GoFR research, and the outbreak began not only in Wuhan where one of those labs were located, but the WIoV also has a significant history with SARS and SARSr-CoVs.

I’ve shown why the genetic evidence is not compelling, I’ve shown how we neither know where the pandemic originated or from what animal it originated. I’ll admit, this argument is somewhat poorly formatted (somewhat due to lack of time), and I gave many reasons that should be in 3.2 for the LLT’s plausibility, but nonetheless, I’ve shown that the evidence I’ve presented does not suggest the SOHT as the dominant theory, but at least places the LLT as an equal.

3.2 The case for the LLT regarding the WIoV

According to a report by US intelligence, two researchers at the WIoV were hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms in November of 2019. The CCP didn’t allow interviews with the two[11].

Furthermore, two diplomatic cables were sent to D.C. where inspectors at the WIoV expressed their concerns over the safety at the facility. Washington Post wrote:

“The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” states the Jan. 19, 2018, cable[13]-Washington Post, with regards to two diplomatic cables sent to D.C. by inspectors at the WIoV expressing their concerns.

China is no stranger to causing infections by failing to properly adhere to safety protocols either. In 2004, the Beijing Institute of Virology placed a fridge containing dangerous samples in an open hallway[14]. Almost a dozen people were infected with SARS as a result of the Beijing Institute. With that situation and the Beijing Institute we saw:

  • China being incredibly selective with what information gets out and who can publish information[14].
  • Chinese scientists stubbornly persistently defending unreasonable positions (e.g. believing SARS was Chlamydia and not Coronavirus)[14].
  • Chinese labs significantly failing to follow safety protocols[14].
  • Shi Zhengli, the ‘bat woman’, leading a team that some considered to be taking unnecessary risks in understanding how SARS infects humans[13].
  • A lack of relevant training or requirements for employment regarding high-risk research. Interdisciplinary research give unqualified individuals access to dangerous viruses.
  • There was no health monitoring of staff and no report was made even after a researcher was hospitalized and multiple members were reporting fever.
This is made even worse, when, again, China has stalled and prevented investigations into the LLT. When China sanctions Australia for criticizing their transparency in the COVID-19 pandemic[15], which is an action that self-evidently is an overreaction, or Chinese state-run media promote conspiracies that the virus originated in an American lab, their defensiveness is clear[19].

While some may counter the previous paragraph by citing the investigation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that claimed the LLT was ‘extremely unlikely’ (if we ignore how China stalled for over a year), there are some glaring issues with the report that all but nullify its credibility.

  • The director of the WHO, the person that commissioned the study, said the investigation was not extensive enough[16].
  • In a WHO report, it was shown they had difficulty acquiring data or flat out did not have access to certain data because of a lack of assistance from China[16].
  • They failed to declare competing interests[17] despite the fact Dr. Peter Daszak’s NGO received $39 million dollars from the Pentagon, some of which was then used to fund the Wuhan Lab[18].  
  • The team began the investigation already believing that the LLT was ridiculous[17]. 
To summarize, I believe it is very difficult to find a good explanation for China’s posture towards investigations into the origins of COVID-19 other than that they fear what the investigations may find. If past behaviour truly is the best indicator of future behaviour, it is only further damning that China has a track record of failing to properly implement safety procedures[12][13][14] and scientists raised concerns that the WIoV was engaging in risky research[13]. This is only worsened when you realize that this track record is not from two decades in the past, but cables sent to D.C. show the same pattern of behaviour only a year or two prior to the COVID-19 pandemic[13].

3.3 What makes the LLT an equally plausible hypothesis

Arguing "This is how most pandemics begin" is not sound evidence. It makes it more likely that is how the pandemic began only in lieu of other evidence, because it equates to nothing more than a guess. If we have equally good reason to believe that is and that isn't how COVID-19 started, just because it "usually happens this way" does not contribute to proving that it happened that way this time and didn't happen some other way this time. If there were patterns in how modified and unmodified viruses spread, that would contribute to the likelihood of the SOHT, but those don't exist as far as we know.

There is very little or no non-circumstantial evidence for the SOHT, and similarly there is very little or no non-circumstantial evidence for the LLT. However, the evidence for SOHT is largely based around the fact it usually occurs this way, not proving it didn't happen a different way this time. In the previous two arguments, I’ve given great reasoning to prove that the probability of a lab leak such as the one that may have occurred at the WIoV is not negligible by any means and is deserving of investigation.

In light of all the facts I have presented, I believe it’s very safe to say that the LLT, based on what we know now and the evidence we have, should be considered to be similarly as likely as the SOHT. The facts clearly show good reason to at least be suspicious, and I believe there are more facts for the LLT than the SOHT, perhaps even proving it to be the more likely theory.


4. Conclusion

In the words of Dr. Fauci:

“I think that we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out, to the best of our ability, exactly what happened,” he said during a panel discussion with the Poynter Institute earlier this month. “Certainly, the people who have investigated say that it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out.[11] -Dr. Fauci, with regards to the LLT

I’ve given compelling evidence to show that there are many factors that, in conjunction with each other, provide ground to believe that the LLT is a reasonable explanation for the origins of COVID-19. While all evidence may be circumstantial, the SOHT is also circumstantial and I’d challenge con to prove otherwise.

Pro has also undermined the validity of the SOHT by showing just how little evidence we really have. We don’t know what animal it came from[6], we don’t know where it originated[8], genetic evidence for the SOHT is incapable of proving more than that COVID-19 is a SARSr-CoV[6][7], something that nobody is attempting to debate, and the investigation from the WHO has a significant conflict of interest that nobody conducting the investigation will acknowledge[16][18].

For all these reasons, it seems to pro that while the LLT is not definitively proven by this evidence, it deserves to be equally considered and it is clearly a similarly likely conclusion as the SOHT is.

So proud to propose.


5. Citations
  1. https://www.utrgv.edu/ehsrm/programs/lab-safety/biological-safety-program/biosafety-levels/index.htm
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27502512/
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2012-7
  4. I had to figure out where Wuhan was on this map myself because holy shit good data is hard to find. Trust me. I was looking for a while. It's the next best thing to a bat population density map. https://imgur.com/a/QPdOpLM
  5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-chinas-bat-woman-hunted-down-viruses-from-sars-to-the-new-coronavirus1/
  6. https://www.businessinsider.com/wuhan-coronavirus-sars-bats-animals-to-humans-2020-1
  7. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/chimps-humans-96-percent-the-same-gene-study-finds
  8. https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-did-not-jump-wuhan-market-chinese-cdc-says-2020-5?op=1
  9. https://2017-2021.state.gov/fact-sheet-activity-at-the-wuhan-institute-of-virology/index.html
  10. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2012-7 
  11. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/wuhan-researchers-pre-pandemic-illness-raises-questions_n_60abab6ae4b09604b5252440 
  12. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/06/the-lab-leak-theory-inside-the-fight-to-uncover-covid-19s-origins 
  13. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/14/state-department-cables-warned-safety-issues-wuhan-lab-studying-bat-coronaviruses/ 
  14. https://gillesdemaneuf.medium.com/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-a-review-of-sars-lab-escapes-898d203d175d 
  15. https://www.republicworld.com/world-news/china/china-slaps-sanctions-on-australian-businesses-amid-souring-ties-with-canberra.html 
  16. https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-remarks-at-the-member-state-briefing-on-the-report-of-the-international-team-studying-the-origins-of-sars-cov-2 
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32087122/ (take particular note of Peter Daszak a contributor)
  18. https://www.legitgov.org/pentagon-gave-39-million-dr-peter-daszaks-ecohealth-alliance-charity-funded-coronavirus-research 
  19. https://www.ccn.com/did-coronavirus-originate-in-america-chinese-media-pushes-conspiracy/ 








Con
Forfeited
Round 2
Pro
My opponent has forfeit. I think this is an important debate to have, so I am saddened, but my arguments continue to stand nonetheless.
Con
Forfeited
Round 3
Pro
My opponent has forfeit.
Con
Forfeited