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[Slashdot] - Snopes Disputes 'Shakiness' of COVID-19 Origin Story Claimed By Washington Post OpEd

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Thursday an Opinion piece in the Washington Post touted what the paper's own health policy reporter has described as "a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts." That conspiracy theory argues that instead of originating in the wild, the COVID-19 virus somehow escaped from a research lab. Now the fact-checking web site Snopes has also weighed in this week, pointing out that the lab nearest the Wuhan market hadn't even published any coronavirus-related research prior to the outbreak. Instead the nearest coronavirus-researching lab was about 7 miles away, a maximum security "biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory certified to handle the world's most deadly pathogens." A February 2020 document erroneously described by several media outlets as a "scientific study" provides the supposedly science-based evidence of a virus escaping from a lab. This paper, such as it is, merely highlights the close distance between the seafood market and the labs and falsely claimed to have identified instances in which viral agents had escaped from Wuhan biological laboratories in the past... While SARS viruses have escaped from a Beijing lab on at least four occasions, no such event has been documented in Wuhan. The purported instances of pathogens leaking from Wuhan laboratories, according to this "study," came from a Chinese news report (that we believe, based on the similarity of the research described and people involved, to be reproduced here) that profiled a Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention researcher named Tian Junhua. In 2012 and 2013, he captured and sampled nearly 10,000 bats in an effort to decode the evolutionary history of the hantavirus. In two instances, this researcher properly self-quarantined either after being bitten or urinated on by a potentially infected bat, he told reporters. These events, according to the 2013 study his research produced, occurred in the field and have nothing to do with either lab's ability to contain infective agents... In sum, this paper -- which was first posted on and later deleted from the academic social networking website ResearchGate -- adds nothing but misinformation to the debate regarding the origins of the novel coronavirus and is not a real scientific study. In February the Washington Post had quoted Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as saying that it's "highly unlikely" the general population was exposed to a virus through an accident at a lab. "We don't have any evidence for that," said Narang, a political science professor with a background in chemical engineering.

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