Premises

Here I tackle some bold claims made by Roko in three separate posts about SARS-CoV-2 being an engineered virus (Brute Force Manufactured Consensus is Hiding the Crime of the Century, The Math of Suspicious Coincidences, and A Back-Of-The-Envelope Calculation On How Unlikely The Circumstantial Evidence Around Covid-19 Is).
A first rebuttal to Roko's post is already out, and since I have been preparing this post for some time, certain arguments are going to be similar. 

The purpose of this post is not to incontrovertibly demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 was of zoonotic origin, as I myself believe a laboratory leak to be somewhat plausible, but rather that the degree of Roko's confidence in the engineered-pandemic belief is terribly overstated in light of the presented evidence.

I believe that the RootClaim debate is a great way to familiarise oneself with core arguments from all sides, it is exceedingly comprehensive and up to date. I also found Wikipedia articles on the lab-leak hypothesis and adjacent topics to be pretty informative.

I definitely drew inspiration from many comments to the main post, if you recognise a comment in this post please let me know and I will link it.


A Set of Explainable Coincidences

Roko asserts that there the odds of zoonotic spillover are 1 in 80,000,000.

What are the chances that the bat coronavirus which caused a once in a century pandemic managed to navigate its way all the way from a Yunnan cave and home in on the city with the lab having the top Google hits for "Coronavirus China" and also the location of China's first BSL-4 lab? Well, that would be approximately 1 in 200, since that is the fraction of China's population in Wuhan. 

'One-in-a-century' pandemic

The '1 in 200' figure is restated here as

Coincidence of Location: Wuhan is a particularly special place in China for studying covid-19; the WIV group was both the most important, most highly-cited group before 2020, and the only group that was doing GoF on bat sarbecoronaviruses as far as I know. Wuhan is about 0.5% of China's population. It's a suspicious coincidence that a viral pandemic would occur in the same city as the most prominent group that studies it. 

First of all, a global pandemic is much more likely to start in a large city with high internal and external traffic, most of which are bound to have research centres for virology research, especially if one is referring to a fast-growing megacity of 11 million inhabitants. Secondly, a zoonotic spillover requires frequent and direct human-animal contact, and wet markets are strong candidates for this. The cities with highest presence of wet markets with live animals per-capita are located in large Chinese cities in the centre-south (see the section 'From Yunnan to Wuhan' for more on this).

Roko writes that (italic added)

Coincidence of timing: several things happened that presaged the emergence of covid-19. In December 2017, the US government lifted a ban on risky pathogen research, and in mid-2018 the Ecohealth group started planning how to make covid in the DEFUSE proposal. A natural spillover event could have happened at any time over either the last, say, 40 years or (probably) the next 40 years, though likely not much before that due to changing patterns of movement (I need help on exactly how wide this time interval is). 

As explained throughout this post, global pandemics require a specific set of simultaneous circumstances, that is why most natural spillovers end up not being pandemics: because it is a rare combination of factors.
In China alone, natural spillovers of various kind take place quite literally all the time, which should lead to a much higher prior probability of zoonosis. A five-minute web search led me to find these:
Nov 2019 - Pneumonic Plague in China;
2016 - Peter Daszak (!) on why southern China is a hotbed for disease development;
2014-2017 - 616 Norovirus outbreaks reported in China;
Apr 2013 - H7N9 avian flu in Shanghai.
 
In constructing a comprehensive catalogue of epidemics in China between 243 B.C.E. and 1911 C.E., Morabia (2009) reports that (bold added)

Outbreaks were quasi-decennial in the 6th century. During the 16th century there was an outbreak every couple of years. The same held true during the 19th century, but outbreaks were simultaneous and occurring in more locations
[...] 
There is a striking parallel between the evolution of population size, and that of epidemic frequency and density. The burden of epidemic diseases seems to have grown at the same rate as the population enumeration throughout the Chinese Empire.

The number of outbreaks is also likely to be severely understated because of data collection and source availability.

Furthermore, since 1911, the population of China:

  1. has roughly quintupled;
  2. the percentage of urban population increased at least sixfold (from <10% to >60%);
  3. is several times more densely populated;
  4. internal mobility is increased by arguably orders of magnitude since 1911, making any outbreak in an urban area all the more dangerous and frequent.

I recommend playing around with the data yourself using this interactive map, which tracks disease outbreaks and allows to change time-frame, type of disease, and location. The disease-outbreak frequency in China over the past two decades seems to be in the hundreds a year, broadly consistent with historical demographic trends. One should also take into account the fact that pandemic preparedness in China has greatly improved since 1911. I personally cannot tell the extent to which this mitigates the above-mentioned factors.

The bat coronavirus

As explained in Corman (2018), apart from the coronavirus which caused the pandemic, 

Six different CoVs had been identified in humans. The earliest reports of endemic human CoV (HCoV) date back to the 1960s, when HCoV-OC43 and -229E were described (Hamre and Procknow, 1966; McIntosh et al., 1967). HCoV-NL63 and -HKU1 were discovered only in 2004 and 2005, respectively (van der Hoek et al., 2004; Woo et al., 2005). In addition to these four endemic HCoVs, two epidemic CoVs have emerged in humans in the last 2 decades, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV discovered in 2003 and 2012, respectively (Drosten et al., 2003; Zaki et al., 2012).

It was already a well-established fact that, also due to the high genetic recombination rate, a natural coronavirus spillover was just a matter of when rather than if.
 

The BSL-4 lab

The presence of a BSL-4 lab adds nothing to the Wuhan 'coincidence' since SARS-related research was not being conducted at that high a level anyway.
As in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's report on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic,

As of January 2019, WIV researchers performed SARS-like coronavirus experiments in BSL-2 laboratories, despite acknowledgements going back to 2017 of these virus’ ability to directly infect humans through their spike protein and early 2019 warnings of the danger of this practice. Separately, the WIV’s plan to conduct analysis of potential epidemic viruses from pangolin samples in fall 2019, suggests the researchers sought to isolate live viruses.

From Yunnan to Wuhan

Yunnan is already the most likely place of origin of the 2003 SARS epidemic that was first detected in Guangdong, more than a thousand miles from Yunnan. Coronaviruses similar to the one that caused the pandemic were also found in Laos, Cambodia, and Japan
Finally, naive as-the-crow-flies distance is the wrong unit of measurement, what matters is the link between areas. If two cities or regions experience a lot of mutual traffic they are in many senses closer than two that do not, regardless of physical distance.
Pre-pandemic research had already highlighted the risks posed by live-animal markets and animal trade to zoonotic spillovers. In this study conducted between 2015 and 2017 in rural Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong, 0.6% of participants tested positive for bat coronaviruses. 

I could not find data for the number of wet markets in Wuhan (there are also problems with defining a wet market, since not all have live animals), but circumstantial evidence seems to show a higher prevalence of wet markets in the centre-southeast rather than in the north-east.[1]
Wuhan is the most populous city in Central China and is the centre of a metropolitan cluster of eight neighbouring cities with more than 30 million people, all within <2h commuting distance to Wuhan, with its population having expanded at a rate of 2-3% per year for decades and especially since it became an important logistics hub.
Wuhan being home of a virology institute is also an overall unremarkable coincidence: most China's large cities have important research institute that carried out experiments that concerned coronaviruses (such as Hong Kong and Beijing).
Back in 2014, Edward Holmes was accompanied by WIV researchers to the Huanan wet market (yes, that market) as it was considered a potential hotbed for virus outbreaks.


Probabilities and Confounding Factors

So coronavirus gain of function from a lab could only have occurred after say 2010 and was most likely after 2017 when it had the combination of technology and funding. This is a period of about 2 years out of the entire 1920-2020 hundred-year window. Now, we could probably discount that hundred year window down to say an equivalent of 40 years as people have become more mobile and more numerous in China over the past 100 years, on average.

Over the past forty or so years, the probability of a global pandemic starting in China has increased incalculably due to ecological and demographic factors (see sections above), and gain-of function research arguably exists because there is a higher prior belief of a pandemic starting from a given pathogen. If everyone believed coronaviruses to be harmless and noncommunicable to or between humans, there would be little incentive to fund coronavirus-related gain-of-function research.

One final way to look at this is imagine a time traveler appears to you in the 2000s and tells you that a massive global pandemic caused by a bat coronavirus happens at some point before 2020. If that pandemic is a natural spillover you shouldn't be able to use Google results from 2019 and Google Scholar results from 2019 to predict where and when it will occur by googling the type of virus and the host.  

This counterfactual only stands assuming that scientific research acts randomly and does not look at past history, such as a natural spillover that has happened countless times in world and Chinese history, and caught researchers' attention at least since the SARS outbreak in 2002. 
Natural spillovers are stochastic but they are not all equal, and fortunately for us scientific research is not completely blind to what appear to be the most pressing questions: hence the focus on coronaviruses, given that there had already been increasingly frequently outbreaks and close calls that warranted research in that direction.

Roko however soldiers on, noting that (bold added)

Specific Features of covid-19 are a close match for what was planned in the DEFUSE proposal: This gets a lot more technical, but you can imagine a world in which labs randomly generate GoF proposals like DEFUSE and nature randomly generates viruses via natural evolution. Even in cases where you get a location coincidence as in (1), the average GoF proposal might not match a randomly paired up natural virus as well as covid-19 matches DEFUSE. This is very hard for me to assess, but US Right to Know has a summary.

At the cost of sounding pedantic, labs do not randomly generate gain-of-function research, they track the most potentially dangerous pathogens. I insist: it is not a memoryless process independent of zoonotic events.
The only thing that the existence of the DEFUSE program definitely shows is that some experts were setting out to work on one of the many strands of SARS that scientific consensus at that time considered might have led to a pandemic. 
And they were proved right. 
It seems obvious that, given the extensive pre-pandemic literature on the possibility SARS zoonosis, gain-of-function research would focus on the most contagious coronavirus mutations, therefore the similarities between DEFUSE and SARS-CoV-2 are at least partly explained by this factor alone.

Roko further adds that

EDIT: Another thing I thought of is that independently of time, location and prior warnings, the mere fact that covid-19 was so wildly successful as a disease is evidence of a lab leak of a GoF virus, since GoF viruses are deliberately made to be more harmful and more transmissible. But it may be a bit hard to quantify this. I think there's probably a factor of 10 for LL here though. 

A global pandemic pretty much by definition requires specific, rare mutations, since if these were not rare we would not have only one global pandemic a century. Under this framework, any 'successful' pandemic is, simply by existing, evidence of a laboratory leak.

On top of all this, to the best of current knowledge no experiments such as those allegedly proposed[2] in the DEFUSE program were actually conducted in Wuhan or elsewhere.
It is worth here to again quote the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's report on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic disclosed in June 2023:

We assess that some scientists at the WIV have genetically engineered coronaviruses using common laboratory practices. The IC has no information, however, indicating that any WIV genetic engineering work has involved SARS-CoV-2, a close progenitor, or a backbone virus that is closely-related enough to have been the source of the pandemic.


Questionable Use of Sources

Misrepresentation of evidence

Worobey being cited as part of the Brute-Force Manufactured Consensus is at least bizarre since in May 2021 he had co-signed a letter calling for more thorough investigations into the lab-leak theory against the WHO report: this is also plainly stated in the NYT article that Roko cites and it would have been useful contextual information for the reader.
Roko's only genuine attempt at engaging with the scientific literature consists in a refutation of Worobey's study that is so plain-vanilla to be applicable to almost any paper ever written

There are two problems with this: one, it's still an unlikely coincidence that a natural spillover event would just happen to occur right on the doorstep on WIV and right at the point in time when the Daszak/Ecohealth group was working on making a humanized coronavirus. Second, these papers have various fatal flaws, such as drawing heatmaps based on biased sampling - essentially they went and looked for covid-19 RNA around the raccoon dogs and they found it. But they didn't look as much elsewhere - obviously if you look more in one place, you'll find more in that place! But these downgrades to the credibility of the Worobey paper have not been widely reported on.

The first 'problem' is not actually one, it is simply restating the refrain of Roko's post, which can be summarised in "what are the odds?" while dismissing actual object-level research in answering such question.
The second is vague references to 'these papers' (the two mentioned?) and to 'biased sampling'. 
Such persistently handwavy approach does not hold up to scrutiny. By reading the two papers mentioned in the NYT article it does not seem that they even suffer from such 'fatal flaws' (although the second one is too technical for my expertise).

Roko fails to mention that the sudden focus on the Huanan market was not driven by it just being a place as any other, and even misrepresents the article's claim as 'RNA around raccoon dogs' as if live animals (not just raccoons) were chosen at random and looked really hard into to find traces of coronavirus at all costs. The truth is quite different (bold added)

Of the initial 41 people hospitalized with pneumonia by 2 January 2020 and later confirmed to be infected with a novel coronavirus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – 27 (66%) were epidemiologically linked to the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market (hereafter “Huanan market”) in the Jianghan District of central Wuhan (2, 5, 6). Importantly, initial diagnoses of pneumonia cases of unknown etiology in Wuhan hospitals between 18 and 29 December 2019 were free from ascertainment bias as they were made based on signs and symptoms before the Huanan market was identified as the shared risk factor for the preponderance of unexplained pneumonia cases (5). Indeed, it was the clinicians and administrators at the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine who noticed that four of the first seven cases they diagnosed worked at the market (5, 7).

And

We demonstrate that December 2019 COVID-19 cases were geographically distributed unexpectedly near to, and centered on, the Huanan market, irrespective of whether or not they worked at, had visited, or were knowingly linked to someone who had visited this market in late 2019. Furthermore, of those cases epidemiologically linked to the market, the overwhelming majority were specifically linked to the western section of the Huanan market, where most of the live-mammal vendors were located. Validating this spatial link between live animals and human COVID-19 cases, we show that positive environmental samples distinctly associated with animals clustered within a small area of the Huanan market where live mammal sales were most concentrated. We report that vendors at the Huanan market sold SARS-CoV-2-susceptible live mammals, including Asian raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides; hereafter “raccoon dogs”), hog badgers (Arctonyx albogularis), and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), in November and December 2019.

I leave two additional quotes from the first article (bold added) for your perusal.

Multiple lines of evidence establish the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan as the site where the COVID-19 pandemic originated in late 2019: (i) SARSr-CoV-susceptible animals, including raccoon dogs, were sold at the market in November and December 2019; (ii) vendors known to have sold raccoon dogs in earlier years – and known to have sold illegal live mammals in late 2019 – yielded a large number of SARS-CoV-2-positive environmental samples, including several objects clearly associated with animals; (iii) positive environmental samples in the market were concentrated in the southwest corner of the western section of the market, the same area where most live mammals were traded; (iv) most cases among vendors within the market occurred in the western section where live mammals were sold; (v) a large proportion of the earliest known cases were identifiable as individuals who worked at, visited, or were linked to somebody who visited the market (5); (vi) this epidemiological link to the Huanan market is genuine and not due to ascertainment bias caused by special focus on the market as a possible site of cases (5); (vii) lineage A – and not just lineage B – viruses were circulating near to and centered on the Huanan market in the early stages of the outbreak, suggesting multiple spillovers may have occurred at the market; (viii) the spatial pattern of cases in December being so close to and centered on the Huanan market cannot be explained as arising by chance given population density patterns in Wuhan; (ix) this pattern holds when considering only cases that had no history of exposure at Huanan market, demonstrating that community transmission began in the direct vicinity of the market; (x) only by January and February 2020 did the spatial pattern of cases reflect that of the population density patterns in Wuhan precluding an earlier period of general transmission; and (xi) in a city of 11 million people there are thousands of sites (office buildings, factories, places of worship, universities, bars, restaurants, schools, etc.) that would be at least as likely to be the site of the initial cluster of a respiratory disease as the western section of the Huanan market – which measures only about 150m by 70m (see Fig. S16) – if the pandemic had not involved the trade in live mammals.

And

Given lack of detail, we also do not know the specific scheme employed for the environmental sampling at the Huanan market and it is possible that biases may exist. Further details on exact sampling mechanisms would be required to fully resolve such issues, but we note that our results are robust to significant sampling biases and these results should also be considered in the larger context of the strong association of early cases with the Huanan market.

Roko does not refute this nor reconciles the WIV lab-leak with the market spreader event.

In the edit, Roko's post contains a "particularly damning" quote from a 2015 article in Nature that omits in my view a pretty crucial part (shown in double parentheses, non italic, bold added)

In an article published in Nature Medicine1 on 9 November, scientists [Zhengli-Li Shi from Wuhan Institute of Virology & Ralph S Baric who is on DEFUSE] investigated a virus called SHC014, which is found in horseshoe bats in China. The researchers created a chimaeric virus, made up of a surface protein of SHC014 and the backbone of a SARS virus that had been adapted to grow in mice and to mimic human disease. 
((Although almost all coronaviruses isolated from bats have not been able to bind to the key human receptor, SHC014 is not the first that can do so. In 2013, researchers reported this ability for the first time in a different coronavirus isolated from the same bat population2. The findings reinforce suspicions that bat coronaviruses capable of directly infecting humans (rather than first needing to evolve in an intermediate animal host) may be more common than previously thought, the researchers say. ))
Other virologists question whether the information gleaned from the experiment justifies the potential risk. Although the extent of any risk is difficult to assess, Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, points out that the researchers have created a novel virus that “grows remarkably well” in human cells. “If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory” 

Another thing to note, the authors of the original article were not exclusively Baric and Shi, but also all these researchers affiliated to US and Swiss institutions.
Despite all this, the same article is used in another of Roko's post as 'proof' that warnings were accurate (at point 3).

Ironically, an editor's note the bottom of the article reads

We are aware that this story is being used as the basis for unverified theories that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was engineered. There is no evidence that this is true; scientists believe that an animal is the most likely source of the coronavirus.

Finally, Roko's analysis brazenly and preemptively dismisses any scientific, object-level discussion of the matter

Some of the more involved arguments about enzymes and stuff are pretty neat. But they are more involved, there are more places to go wrong or make a false assumption, and more places for an adversary to mess with the evidence.

Therefore, any attempt at disproving Roko's hypothesis on scientific bases either is part of the manufactured-consensus machine (as Worobey's publications) or is intrinsically biased or easily tampered with.

However, in two separate occasions, Roko refers to the DEFUSE project as a 'recipe for covid-19' (bold added)

And the evidence keeps piling up - just this January, a freedom of information request surfaced a grant proposal dated 2018 with Daszak's name on it called Project DEFUSE, with essentially a recipe for making covid-19 at Wuhan Institute of Virology, including unique technical details like the Furin Cleavage Site and the BsmBI enzyme.

And

However, about 80% of these "experts" said that they had not heard of the DEFUSE grant from 2018 that I just showed you above. You know, the one with Daszak's name on it, pictures of flappy bats and a step-by-step recipe for how to make covid-19.

Roko's own main source flatly denies this being the case and actually corroborates the idea that part of the scientific community was just keenly aware of dangers posed by plausible mutations of SARS-CoV-2 (bold added)

The documents describe the SARS-related viruses to be studied in the grant as posing “a clear-and-present danger of a new SARS-like pandemic.” The documents do not prove a precise step-by-step instruction manual for how SARS-CoV-2 was generated in the lab. The genomes of some of the SARS-related viruses the scientists planned to work with remain unknown. But they do describe experiments that could have generated the virus’ rare properties. They detail the scientists’ interest in working with viruses precisely like SARS-CoV-2.

A further 'technical' dive is attempted about the furin cleavage site

So not only is there a coincidence of timing and location, but also the virus has unique functional parts that occur in no other natural sarbecoviruses?

This point broached often enough that there is a section on Wikipedia covering this in detail, which I find persuasive enough. Roko does not elaborate to meaningfully dispute any of the evidence there summarised. As the rest, it further speaks to the idea of a global pandemic necessitating somewhat exceptional circumstances to arise, otherwise pandemics would not be so rare in the first place.
 

'Daszak&Friends' outsized influence

Throughout Roko's posts there seems to be a creeping tendency to presume that Daszak and the WIV possess godlike political clout, a cabal able to monopolise coronavirus research and wield absolute power over the world scientific community to the point where nobody can dispute coronavirus-related scientific output that runs against the "NYT orthodoxy". Arguably, this could also be done to show how unique and peculiar Wuhan is as the starting point of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To prove the point, Roko proposes the following:

If we search Google Scholar for "Coronavirus China" from 2000 to 2019, the top result is the WIV group. Granted, publicity since then may have boosted the scholar rank for WIV results more than for other groups, and Scholar doesn't allow you to easily see what the results would have been in 2019. But if we add the term "bat" to the search, Daszak, Ecohealth or WIV are included in all 8 of the top 8 results, for example in highly cited pre-2019 papers going back as far as 2007. Then there's this paper by Daszak from 2013 on coronaviruses and the ACE2 receptor which has 413 citations from before the pandemic. 
Also, if we search Google limiting results to before 2019, we get various articles on WIV, Ecohealth and Daszak. There are some other groups who work on this. But the Wuhan/Ecohealth group is the most prominent by a long shot. 

So I took the first two-page results that appear here and sorted them by author affiliations. Here the breakdown:

Predominantly/Only Hong Kong: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
One EcoHealthAlliance: 1 (1 out of 8 authors, no WIV)
Various China + Others (2): 1, 2 (mostly Beijing), 3 (mostly Yunnan and Changchou/Yangzhou), 4 (mostly Nanjing), 5 (pretty much from everywhere)
With WIV or 1+ EcoHealthAlliance: 1, 2, 3, 4 (minority from Minnesota), 5 (some from Denver and Kingston Universities), 6 (roughly even split between Wuhan and Beijing, plus Guangzhou), 7

Based on this, I am not fully persuaded that "the Wuhan/Ecohealth group is the most prominent by a long shot", and I am also perplexed by what this would supposedly prove: that some researchers, mostly in China and US, were publishing papers about coronavirus before it happened? That having a lot of articles and citations gives you and your acolytes enough power to stifle world research on the topic?
Further, it seems to me that if the pandemic had started elsewhere in China, especially Guangdong or Beijing (quite likely given size, wet markets, traffic), the whole 'exceptional coincidence' model would have worked just as fine. 
Tweaking a bit the search terms on Google Scholar or using similar platforms would probably leave one with a different impression of which groups are most influential, or maybe just listing the top five most-cited articles, changing time-frame (why not include only studies from 2010 or 2015?), and so on.

Conclusion

I have presented evidence that anyone with high degree of confidence in the origins of the pandemic ought to be somewhat familiar with. For the most part, Roko's posts not only fail to engage with any scientific literature on the subject, but employ an extremely naive and ultimately misleading model that does not hold up to empirical and theoretical scrutiny. Further, Roko often misquotes and misrepresents the few expressly referenced sources.
Boiled down, Roko's main argument is an uninterrupted reiteration of 
'This is simply too much of a coincidence to explain, we require not do any further technical research into it because it would be biased/complicated, except for the parts where research appears to agree with an engineered virus'.
 

Errata: 
I have deleted a sentence that appeared twice, "Such persistently handwavy approach does not hold up to scrutiny. By reading the two papers mentioned in the NYT article it does not seem that they even suffer from such 'fatal flaws' (although the second one is too technical for my expertise").
I have deleted the word 'nature' that was before 'zoonotic event' as redundant.
I have replaced 
'The second is a vague reference to 'these papers' (the two mentioned?) and to 'biased sampling'.' 
with 
'The second problem is vague references to 'these papers' (the two mentioned?) and to 'biased sampling'. 

 

  1. ^

    As in Zhong (2020)
    Classic urban planning suggested a standard wet market should serve a population of 20,000 to 30,000 living in a 2-km radius. Major metropolises have struggled to achieve the planned ratio: Shanghai in Southeast China (population 24.2 million), as of 2018, has 985 wet markets (i.e. 1 per 25,000) (Shanghai Government 2018). Beijing in North China (population 21.7 million) had 182 wet markets (i.e. 1 per 130,000) within its third ring road as of 2009, but the number has dropped rapidly recently under city government policies to suppress informal settlements. Guangzhou in South China (population 14.5 million) possesses more than 400 in the urban district (i.e. 1 per 36,000). In these tier one cities, a number of wet markets have been demolished because local governments, performatively enacting the rhetoric of a modernizing ‘retail revolution’, deemed them as outdated and damaging to a city’s appearance (Maruyama et al. 2016).

  2. ^

    Here is the 1,400-page FOIA document about DEFUSE. I counted 11 mentions of 'furin', some are doubles so unique mentions are about four. For lack of expertise, I personally could not make out whether these instances definitely demonstrate the intention to modify any virus or rather only study it.

New Comment
10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:36 AM

I think the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2 is a largely irrelevant question. 

Given that it's plausible it could have come either from a wet market or risky biological research, we should shut down both.

(Personally I would say 60% "wet market", 40% "unintentional lab leak")

[-]bhauth2mo8-3

Roko's argument and the Rootclaim debate are both low-quality. For a stronger case for COVID coming from a lab, you can see Prof Richard Ebright.

(I don't see any particular reason to trust this somewhat random professor more than the what seemed to me quite sane and exceptionally well-conducted Rootclaim debate. The linked tweet thread seems quite cursory and a lot of its content was indeed covered in the Rootclaim debate. I do still appreciate the links, since additional sources and takes seem good on the margin) 

Ebright was warning about gain-of-function applied to Wuhan coronavirus in 2015

Ok, that's definitely interesting (in the sense that it's an implicitly registered prediction). Though conditional on that him arguing for it being a lab leak is also a bit less evidence. 

[-]EZ972mo0-5

I cite and contextualise the news article in my post (see second half of sec. 'Misrepresentation of evidence')
Ebright is cited in Butler's news post on Nature also referred to by Roko. The post is a brief summary of a debate on the usefulness of GoF research, and makes some other points, among which:

-Barich arguing that the project was funded because not so risky as to fall under the moratorium;

-"Although almost all coronaviruses isolated from bats have not been able to bind to the key human receptor, SHC014 is not the first that can do so. In 2013, researchers reported this ability for the first time in a different coronavirus isolated from the same bat population." 
Natural coronaviruses were already able to bind to human receptors, that's arguably why GoF research was conducted in the first place.

In light of this, I don't think the news article is worth a significant update toward the lab-leak hypothesis: if anything, it shows that it was known since 2013 that coronaviruses could infect humans without host animals.



 

it shows that it was known since 2013 that coronaviruses could infect humans without host animals.

Some amount of binding to some human receptors doesn't mean a virus can infect humans. When something can infect humans, people say that instead.

Also, you're not using those words correctly. Perhaps you mean "without evolution in an intermediate host" - which was, of course, never found.

[-]EZ972mo20

Most of the sources he cites are also referred to in my article, which of his points do you find the strongest that are not already addressed here?

[-]bhauth2mo1-1

I linked to a thread on twitter, but what I was pointing at was not primarily the thread but the person. He also wrote replies to many arguments.

" For the most part, Roko's posts not only fail to engage with any scientific literature on the subject, but employ an extremely naive and ultimately misleading model that does not hold up to empirical and theoretical scrutiny. "

Can be applied generally.