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L’origine del COVID-19 secondo David Quammen

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David Quammen, l’autore tra l’altro di  “Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus” sul Covid-19 e “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic”, sul New York Times (link alternativo) affronta in un lungo interessante articolo l’origine della pandemia, cercando di riassumere quello che ad oggi sappiamo, facendo presente che queste conoscenze non sono ancora complete.

More than three years into the pandemic and untold millions of people dead, that question about the Covid-19 coronavirus remains controversial and fraught, with facts sparkling amid a tangle of analyses and hypotheticals like Christmas lights strung on a dark, thorny tree. One school of thought holds that the virus, known to science as SARS-CoV-2, spilled into humans from a nonhuman animal, probably in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a messy emporium in Wuhan, China, brimming with fish, meats and wildlife on sale as food. Another school argues that the virus was laboratory-engineered to infect humans and cause them harm — a bioweapon — and was possibly devised in a “shadow project” sponsored by the People’s Liberation Army of China. A third school, more moderate than the second but also implicating laboratory work, suggests that the virus got into its first human victim by way of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (W.I.V.), a research complex on the eastern side of the city, maybe after well-meaning but reckless genetic manipulation that made it more dangerous to people.

L’articolo si conclude con una riflessione sulla sfiducia dell’opinione pubblica:

So, what’s tilting the scales of popular opinion toward lab leak? The answer to that is not embedded deeply in the arcane data I’ve been skimming through here. What’s tilting the scales, it seems to me, is cynicism and narrative appeal. I asked about this in conversation with David Relman, the biosecurity expert who was also an author of the “Investigate” letter with Jesse Bloom. To some extent, Relman agreed. “When you sow the seeds of distrust, or suggest that you haven’t been transparent with what you knew,” he told me, “you’re setting yourself up for a persistent, insidious, continuing distrust.” That inclines people to assume that “there was something deliberate, or deliberately concealed.” The seeds of distrust have been growing in America’s civic garden, and the world’s, for a long time.

Sulle pagine di Science intanto Jon Cohen ci propone un resoconto dell’audizione al Congresso americano di Kristian Andersen  e Robert Garry, autori insieme ad altri scienziati nel 2020 di un documento che smontava l’ipotesi che  SARS-CoV-2 fosse stato creato in laboratorio.

Two scientists who are co-authors of a 3-year-old article on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic faced down Republican lawmakers today in what might be the most in-depth discussion ever of a scientific paper in the halls of the U.S. Congress. At a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, Republicans asserted that top officials at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) prompted the researchers to write the paper to try to “kill” the theory that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

In una battaglia a colpi di documenti (i repubblicani hanno pubblicato un rapporto di 53 pagine, intitolato The Proximal Origin of a Cover-up, mentre i democratici hanno risposto con il loro rapporto di 22 pagine, intitolato They Played No Role) l’audizione si è concentrata in gran parte su come mai i due scienziati, nel lasso di un breve periodo di tempo, avessero prima sostenuto e poi escluso che il SARS-CoV-2 fosse stato creato in laboratorio, con Andersen e Garry che hanno invece spiegato il processo scientifico.

In a back-and-forth with Andersen that sounded something like a rudimentary lesson in scientific hypotheses, Representative Jamie Raskin (D–MD) brought up an email in which the Scripps Research scientist said he and his colleagues wanted to “disprove any type of lab leak theory.” Republican members assert that this betrayed Andersen’s ill intent. “You meant pursuing the scientific process by which you have a hypothesis, which stands unless it’s disproven, is that right?” Raskin asked Andersen.

“That is correct,” Andersen said. “I’m referring to the concept of what’s called falsification.”

During the hearing, however, Andersen noted the fight about the paper had gone way beyond scientific debate. “Misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories around the paper have resulted in significant harassment,” he said, noting that he had received death threats. And the scientist faulted Republicans on the subcommittee for having “amplified” the problem. “I think it sets a terrible example for future scientists,” Andersen said. “If I was a future scientist and looking at that, [I’d be] saying like, maybe I’m not going to go into infectious disease research.”

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