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On the Search for the Origins of COVID-19: A Forum

This article is part of the following series:

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the origin of the virus causing the disease remains uncertain. The predominant theory is that its emergence in human populations was the result of zoonotic transmission, via an as-yet to be determined animal host. A competing (if still marginal) theory holds that a more likely source of the initial outbreak was an …

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Pandemics are not only caused by viruses

Experts know that coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is of viral origin. But where did the disease-causing virus, SARS-CoV-2, originate? Two compelling theories permeate public discussion over this question at present. Either the initial outbreak involved viral transmission among animals that “spilled over” into human populations, or the novel coronavirus strain accidentally “leaked” out of a high

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Dangerous Practices of Sovereign Science

In November, 2015, a group of coronavirus researchers produced a novel, laboratory-made, chimeric virus with the potential to infect human airway cells and cause SARS-like disease. The research elicited a brief moment of controversy that followed a familiar pattern. Critics claimed that the experiment’s primary contribution was to make the world a riskier place. Its defenders did not disagree, …

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Chinese COVID science and its ‘cosmopolitan anxieties’

In 2012, I wrote The Cosmopolitanization of Science in which the Chinese life science community’s increasing engagement with global research and policy discussions was used to demonstrate a new era of North-South collaborations in identifying and responding to risks. In 2021, as China tries to stall WHO’s investigation on COVID-19’s origins, one may lament that, perhaps ‘cosmopolitan science’ is

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The Role of Critical Researchers in the COVID Origins Controversy

My engagement with the Covid origins question began in early January of 2020, when mnetwork of biodefence experts, policymakers and practitioners began exchanging notes on the ‘mysterious lung infection’ in Wuhan. A naturally suspicious group, it wasn’t long before questions were privately raised about potential accidental or deliberate origins. This wasn’t conspiratorial.

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Outside the Virus Lab

Scientists have pursued the origins of Covid-19 from the very beginning of the pandemic. In February 2020 the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of China’s top virus laboratories, published research comparing the SARS-Cov-2 virus to a range of other coronaviruses held in their own collection. Based on the phylogenetic comparison of genome sequences, the Wuhan Institute found

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