I think their claim is that labs only (or usually) work with viruses that have been described / that they have published the sequences for. And furthermore that they would have published such GoF work if they had done it (?). Like I said, not very compelling claims, especially because they're general and unclear.
I followed Google to this post via Googling: "how to include images in lesswrong posts"
Based on the advice, I tried to upload my photo to Google Drive and share it, but it looks like Google Drive doesn't support this kind of URL-embeddable sharing anymore, if I understand correctly. Next time I will try Dropbox, but if you could update this post to reflect Google Drive no longer supporting this (if you can confirm this is true), I think that would be helpful to others. Including a link on how to upload then share a link to an image would also save future people time who use the same Google query to find this post.
@jimrandomh pointed towards this HN comment thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23652804
I would like to see someone collect information about this hypothesis is a more organized fashion (not a youtube video), specifically to outline which labs are a possibility, who the people were at the labs, what their prior publications were, etc.
Also, for the other zoonosis, how did they arise? (I.e., in a city? In the country? etc.) Same question for other lab escapes.
This Nature article argues that two new features of SARS-CoV-2 look like they've undergone selection for humans or human-like hosts: the "receptor-binding motif (RBM) that directly contacts ACE2" and the "polybasic (furin) cleavage site". They argue that the virus had to acquire these features somewhere other than bats, and investigate several hypotheses:
1. Natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer2. Natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer3. Selection during passage
They think the third option is unlikely, though I don't entirely follow their argument:
"In theory, it is possible that SARS-CoV-2 acquired RBD mutations (Fig. 1a) during adaptation to passage in cell culture, as has been observed in studies of SARS-CoV11. The finding of SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses from pangolins with nearly identical RBDs, however, provides a much stronger and more parsimonious explanation of how SARS-CoV-2 acquired these via recombination or mutation19.The acquisition of both the polybasic cleavage site and predicted O-linked glycans also argues against culture-based scenarios. New polybasic cleavage sites have been observed only after prolonged passage of low-pathogenicity avian influenza virus in vitro or in vivo17. Furthermore, a hypothetical generation of SARS-CoV-2 by cell culture or animal passage would have required prior isolation of a progenitor virus with very high genetic similarity, which has not been described. Subsequent generation of a polybasic cleavage site would have then required repeated passage in cell culture or animals with ACE2 receptors similar to those of humans, but such work has also not previously been described. Finally, the generation of the predicted O-linked glycans is also unlikely to have occurred due to cell-culture passage, as such features suggest the involvement of an immune system"
I think their argument boils down to "it's more parsimonious that SARS-CoV-2 ended up with RBD sites with ACE2 affinity via recombination with a pangolin virus than that it acquired it via selection in animal or cell culture, given the virus had not previously been described". I think this argument could be made cleaner, and that better steelman arguments for both "lab escape" and "zoonosis" origin could be produced.
Government and tech companies / tracking
Palintir already helping government track cases -- Article notes that government can get location data from telecoms, but that google has even more precise data from maps and android, which the government can also ask for in an emergency
My collection of links to the projects I know about in this space and some news coverage of them.
Private Kit, Safe Paths
SMS messages about cases locations, etc.
Wired’s reporting on S Korea and China’s use of appshttps://www.wired.com/story/phones-track-spread-covid19-good-idea/]
Open letter asking tech companies to implement opt-in contact tracing:
Israeli intelligence efforts to track people and use that data for epidemiological purposes
Contact Tracing at Scale!
One thing we need, that the Less Wrong community could likely help with, is contact tracing capability at scale. I know of one such project in the US - https://www.covid-watch.org/ The Covid Watch project, based out of Stanford.
I think the major tech companies need to set up and throw a ton of engineering and design resources at contact tracing efforts. They currently control the software supply chain to most mobile devices on earth, and thus are ideally placed to help track the spread of infections.
The more testing we have, the more effective contact tracing will be, so this needs to be paired with an increase in testing world-wide, as previously mentioned in the thread.
The limited choices is not good, but they're at least competing on the overall experience rather than just engagement inside of a browser. In my experience, OSes seem to have more usability features than social apps do. (night mode, do not disturb, etc.)
I don't want everyone and their grandmother to join, but I would like to see a lot more of the rationalist facebook content on LessWrong. Basically low-medium effort posts that abide by the spirit of truth-seeking norms. If I'm sharing memes I'll do it somewhere else, but if I'm brainstorming about a nuclear winter hypothesis it would be cool to do it here.