Quantum Quokka

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I think Michael Weissman's v5.7 research/analysis might be exactly what you are looking for. I've been searching for a long time for analysis that makes a compelling case in either direction, especially for the absolutely most important core components of the debate. In a sea of high-effort research and analysis, Michael's post is the first one that has convinced me. He dives into very similar points to what you're searching for.

Even if you don't read it in full (it's long), I still see value in searching for specific elements to see his analysis on those points, such as his discussion about the wet market. For example, if you search for "animals/year" and "HSM" (Huanan Seafood Market), you'll see he goes into the animal trade numbers specifically at the HSM when compared to numbers for other wet markets in China. There are many other topics he analyzes that you might find similarly interesting.

Like you, I am wary of getting distracted too much with lines of evidence that may ultimately carry little weight. I appreciate that Gwern likely was motivated by the cat evidence to demonstrate to everyone how Peter may misrepresent evidence/arguments; I also think this evidence is so insignificant to the overall debate that it's not important enough to get bogged down in. 

This is an oversimplification, but for brevity, I think the case really rests on two components: the wet market as the origin, and the DEFUSE proposal. The wet market is so foundational to a Zoonosis argument that if it were disproved, it really seems like the closest thing we've got right now to a "does the DNA match?" question.

Here's a brief list of some recent information (some as recent as March 2024) that updated me towards lab leak and added crucial evidence for what we actually "know". This is for the sake of explaining my thoughts to others, but is in no way all-encompassing. Michael does a far superior job of explaining these in great depth.

  • Study published March 5th, 2024 finding intermediate sequences between Lineage A and B. This research shows that Lineage B very likely came from Lineage A. All cases in the market were Lineage B, but none were Lineage A. In short, the research shows that a single spillover is much more likely than a double-spillover Zoonotic event. The double-spillover theory is a foundational argument of the ZW theory that Peter Miller and others use. This is a massive blow to the probability that the wet market was the origin of the virus, to the point where it now seems extremely unlikely that the wet market was the origin.
  • Wildlife trade in Wuhan is significantly less than Wuhan's percentage of the population, which significantly changes the probabilities downwards of a ZW origin in the bayesian calculations that Peter Miller and others use.
  • Although the DEFUSE proposal leaked in 2021, more recent drafts were discovered in 2024 which contain what appears to be damning evidence. New information included their approach using restriction enzymes (BsaI/BsmBI) that ultimately matched precisely with what Bruttel et al. (2022) found as the assembly process that would create exactly this virus, years before this DEFUSE draft leak was even public. Michael describes the degree of how unlikely this would be if the origin was Zoonotic. The DEFUSE budget leak confirms that they were purchasing these enzymes. To your point about focusing on things that we "know", the BsaI/BsmBI restriction enzyme information is new and now falls in the category of actual high-weight evidence for a high-weight core component of the overall debate. Additionally, the new documents contained draft comments that were not available in the original leaked proposal. Among many other things, the comments show that the research work was actually planned to be done at the WIV at BSL-2 levels for cost reduction, but they edited the final document to "BSL-3" because they thought "US researchers will likely freak out" if they knew this research was being done in lower safety BSL-2 labs. The researchers seemed to think the distinction didn't matter for their research and that it was bureaucratic tape slowing them down, so they fudged the proposal to hide this. Considering BSL-2 labs are not sufficiently designed to contain airborne disease (whereas BSL-3 labs are), this does not seem to be an insignificant point in this whole debate.

The DEFUSE proposal is especially difficult because it's uncertain and very much in the realm of "how much can we really know", but it seems so incredibly relevant and high-weight to the debate that I really think it still should be considered at the core and should be hammered out as much as possible. When looking at how SARS-CoV-2 ended up, they are unbelievably spot-on with describing specifically what they were working on, how precisely they would do it, the restriction enzymes they would use, the Furin cleavage site, the locations they would do it, the unsafe biosecurity levels the research would be done at, their motivations for the research, and much more. My understanding is that there were only 3 institutions in the world that were doing this exact research, and two of them (WIV and UNC) were involved with this proposal. The proposal describes a research plan that uncannily resembles the precise sequence of events and conditions one would anticipate if a pandemic were to emerge from a laboratory incident at or near the WIV. It really is almost as close a match as you could possibly expect.

 

I hope this helps. I'm curious what you and others think.