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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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Cryopolitics of Covid-19

The debate on the origin of the virus causing Covid-19 has so far been framed in terms of a failure of biosecurity: it balances the risk of buying live animals in a wet market against the risk of studying zoonotic viruses in a laboratory. As such, it may at first appear to replicate debates that occurred around artificial mutation (or …

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Lectures

Reflecting on SARS, 17 years and two flu-like epidemics later

This article is part of the following series:

On April 12, 2003, I was evacuated from my post teaching English at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, China. I packed my belongings into two suitcases and a duffle bag, got on a bus, crossed the border into Hong Kong, and flew, with my N95 mask on, back to the United States. It was the height of China’s outbreak of SARS, …

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Untimely Ends and the Pandemic Imaginary

This article is part of the following series:

It was one of those typical late spring afternoons in Beijing, when the desert sand blowing from the North begins to give way to an electric atmosphere more pregnant with thunder than rain. Seated on a covered leather-armchair, I tried to concentrate my attention away from the rasp of the polyethene sheet under me and repeat the question: So what …

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Where Has SARS Gone? The Strange Case of the Disappearing Coronavirus

This article is part of the following series:

The emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in China’s Guangdong Province in the winter of 2002 was an exemplary spillover event: it marked the passage of a lethal pathogen from nonhuman to human animals and was widely heralded as the first “plague” of the twenty-first century. The SARS coronavirus seemed to burst out of nowhere and demonstrated …

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