Another lab leak bombshell fizzles out

Over the past few weeks, there has been one press report after another of an imminent bombshell showing conclusive evidence in favor of the claim that Covid-19 leaked from a Chinese lab. Today, the US intelligence community finally issued its report, and found no evidence for the claim of a lab leak. But I’m more interested in the hysterical reporting of the media, which is a case study in confirmation bias.

Consider this article in normally reliable Reason magazine:

The lab leak theory of COVID-19’s origins gained tremendous legitimacy this week as The Wall Street Journal confirmed independent reports that the earliest outbreak occurred at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in November 2019.

Wow! That sounds pretty definitive. After all, the WSJ is a very reliable newspaper. There’s just one problem with the claim—it’s untrue. The Reason article links to a WSJ article that makes no such claim. Here’s what they did say:

A prominent scientist who worked on coronavirus projects funded by the U.S. government is one of three Chinese researchers who became sick with an unspecified illness during the initial outbreak of Covid-19, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Today’s intelligence dump confirmed that these three scientists could have had an ordinary respiratory illness, which would not be surprising given that Wuhan was in the midst of a flu outbreak in November 2019.

Again and again, we see lab leak proponents breathlessly claim bombshell evidence for their hypothesis, and each time it turns out to be a lie. A dataset mysteriously taken offline in September 2019? Nope, a lie. Reports of a safety crisis at Wuhan lab in the fall of 2019? Nope, another lie. The virus “looks engineered?” Nope, another lie. And now we find that there is no evidence that lab scientists had Covid in November 2019.

We are back to precisely zero evidence in favor of the lab leak hypothesis, and a great deal of circumstantial evidence pointing to the Wuhan animal market. Unfortunately, the CCP is covering up evidence that the pandemic began at the animal market (and peddling a silly theory about imported frozen fish), so we may never know for sure.

I’m not surprised that the Trump administration tried to peddle this story back in 2020, when it was exposed as having done zero preparation for a Covid pandemic that was already widespread in China. I’m not surprised by the congressional Republicans, who will do anything to discredit China. I am surprised by the number of serious journalists who have been conned by the lab leakers.



34 Responses to “Another lab leak bombshell fizzles out”

  1. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    23. June 2023 at 23:26

    They said “No direct evidence”.

    The key word in the sentence is “direct.”

    What does “direct” mean?

    It means the evidence they have is circumstantial. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, because the CCP did a really good job at controlling the flow of information, including imprisoning and disappearing doctors who spoke out in 2020.

    The lab leak hypothesis is certainly grounded in better logic than your… “Thai bat cave theory” which is so utterly bizarre that two virologists I work with said: “That doesn’t make any sense. And who the hell is Scott Sumner?”

    Which is a great response, and a poignant reminder that you are not an expert in virology. That means you shouldn’t be calling for mandatory vaccines (2020 fear mongering version of Sumner), or telling us it came from a Thai cave (2021 desperate to deflect blame from CCP Sumner), or then telling us the vaccine has 90% efficacy (citing one pharma backed study when the rest of the literature shows lower rates), or tell us alternative medication doesn’t work when some have proven effective, then tell us we have no evidence it came from a lab because the evidence isn’t “direct.”

    Everything we know about gain of function research, and everything we know leading up to January of 2020, leads us to the conclusion that it is more likely than not that it came from a lab.

    When you add these pieces of circumstantial evidence together, they begin to tell a story. But it doesn’t surprise me that you are desperately trying to sweep circumstantial evidence under the rug, along with most of the mainstream media, including the coward who runs and hides from harmless public debates (Peter Hotez) and your gain of function pal (Fauci). You all have financial interests in the pharmaceutical industry. On everyone of these posts, you should write a disclaimer that your wife works for Pharma. And put it in bold.

  2. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    23. June 2023 at 23:38

    His wife works for Pharma? Wow! I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.

    Well, I guess that explains most of his bizarre posts.

    Look at this:

    James O’Keefe did it again. This is called real journalism, Sumner. Take note. For those without the time to view it, a Black Rock recruiter claims they actually buy politicians, and that they own the world.

    How nice.

    Is there any bigger threat to humanity then these globalists?

  3. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. June 2023 at 04:16

    I do not understand how Scott has such certainty that the Wuhan lab basically had nothing to do with Covid’s release.

    In other words, I have no way of being certain one way or another. So how does Scott have such certainty? You cannot possibly know. You may say you don’t, merely your alternative hypothesis is more reasonable. But it’s simply your opinion.

    Where does he get it from? His wife works for Pharma? Even if she does, it proves nothing——but if she does, it would seem appropriate to mention it—- or deny it. And yes, Reason is not a hack rack—-so when they say something —-even if they are quoting from WSJ, I tend toward believing them.

    It is also interesting you find WSJ a hack journal on this topic. You have an aggressive belief that China does not want to prove it’s a wet market issue, as that would be bad for business. I hope you are being honest in your opinions——if not——that’s not good for you. I cannot believe you are so certain on your opinion——it makes no sense.

  4. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. June 2023 at 04:22


    You even had to toss in some mumbo jumbo on Trump——-as if that is further proof of ………..what? That he was right about Biden? 🙂

  5. Gravatar of Llewellyn. Llewellyn.
    24. June 2023 at 05:52

    The This Week In Virology podcast recently had a panel of virologists discussing the lab leak hypothesis for a whole episode, very interesting listening. The Decoding the Gurus podcast had a lengthier interview with several other virologists, including some who had led the initial call for looking into potential lab leak origins. Both are fascinating and reasonably detailed, highly recommended for anyone curious about the topic.

  6. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    24. June 2023 at 06:19


    It’s not just republicans that think it came from a lab.

    Most of the moderate democrats I speak to think it came from a lab too.

    Certainly nobody thinks it came from a cave in Thailand.

    Frankly, this is just another weird attack on conservatives and Trump.

    I seriously don’t get your hatred towards that man, or towards the party in general. It’s got to be TDS.

    Out of all the possibilities the lab hypothesis is the most likely. I think most people recognize that.

    And most people don’t support gain of function.

  7. Gravatar of Rick G Rick G
    24. June 2023 at 07:46

    The new evidence is weaker that it was made out to be a week ago, but it still on net pushes us more towards lab leak than away. It is circumstantial, but so is all the recent genetic evidence from the wet market. The new intelligence report also solidifies that lab safety practice were poor and gain of function research did occur.

    It still comes down to priors.

    Scott, you are too biased here. Uncertainty is still the best position, and consequently the main lessons are that we should have neither wet markets nor gain of function research.

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. June 2023 at 08:11

    Edward/Sara/Ricardo, Still don’t know how to read, eh?

    Michael, You said:

    “I do not understand how Scott has such certainty that the Wuhan lab basically had nothing to do with Covid’s release.”

    Of course I’m not certain, don’t you know how to read?

    “Reason is not a hack rack—-so when they say something —-even if they are quoting from WSJ, I tend toward believing them.”

    I literally provided a link to the WSJ article that shows their claim was false. Don’t you know how to read?

    “It is also interesting you find WSJ a hack journal on this topic.”

    I didn’t criticize the WSJ, don’t you know how to read?

    “That he was right about Biden?”

    I claimed Biden would be a lousy president. Was I wrong?

    Rick, Sorry, but there’s not one iota of new evidence in that report, and it doesn’t overturn the fact that the vast majority of evidence points to the animal market.

    “It still comes down to priors.”

    The first SARS outbreak in 2002 began in a animal market in a big Chinese city nearly 1000 miles from the bat caves. Virtually all the early cases in late 2019 were close to the Wuhan animal market and very far from the lab. What’s your “prior”?

    Sure a lab leak is possible, but I see no persuasive evidence for that claim. Talk of lousy safety procedures proves nothing. And they do not say or even imply “poor” standards, just some safety issues (which all labs have to some extent.)

    In any case, this post is not about lab leak, it’s about the appalling standards used by the media when it comes to reporting this story. So much misinformation. People should be outraged.

    Llewellyn, Thanks, I’ll take a look.

  9. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    24. June 2023 at 08:25

    I don’t understand why so many seem to have an investment in whether Covid-19 came from the wet markets verus a lab leak. That is, except for those who claim that the US helped sponsor the lab that supposedly leaked the virus. There seems to be an element of foreign propaganda in some lab leak claims.

    What difference does it make? Any gain of function research on such virsuses should end. Wet markets should be better-regulated/and people who depend on such markets need to be able to afford safer food sources. The latter obviously comes with continued economic development. Either way, China bears some responsibility.

    Since such pandemics usually result from the natural process of animal-based viruses mutating so they can infect humans, this would seem to be the most likely explanation for the origin of Covid-19, in absence of evidence to the contrary.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. June 2023 at 09:38

    Michael, My view as well. Except I do understand what’s going on here—it’s part of a broader anti-Chinese campaign, which is willing to use disinformation.

    From a rational perspective, China is somewhat culpable either way. The animal markets are actually a bigger policy failure than the lab. But politics isn’t rational.

  11. Gravatar of Is "Lab Leak" now proven? – Marginal REVOLUTION Is "Lab Leak" now proven? - Marginal REVOLUTION
    24. June 2023 at 09:41

    […] Second Addendum: This new national intelligence report doesn’t seem to confirm the Lab Leak take (though it doesn’t refute it either).  It pretty definitely downplays the import of the scientists getting sick.  Again, it is fine to not trust this report, but still a likely mistake to think new information has been coming out.  Here is a good WaPo look at where things stand.  Here are comments from Scott Sumner. […]

  12. Gravatar of steve steve
    24. June 2023 at 11:03

    Agree that this is not meaningful new evidence. We know that in other cases it has taken many years to find the natural origin of the virus causing a disease. Look at HIV. I also agree with Michael. Regardless of exact origin it did come from China. There should be pressure on them to clean up the wet markets and if the reports are true about poor protocols at the lab they should be fixed.


  13. Gravatar of John Thacker John Thacker
    24. June 2023 at 11:19


    Agreed. I don’t know why people like Scott are so intent on insisting that the (likely natural) virus travel to Wuhan via the wet market rather than being a natural virus that was brought back to the lab that studies bat viruses, and, due to poor lab protocols (and bad luck – viruses have escaped for Western labs thought to have good protocols plenty of times).

    Almost all of the evidence for traveling to Wuhan via some other methods has fizzled out as well. Lots of breathless reports of having this time found the animal intermediary that could have transported it to Wuhan without evidence of humans in the thousands of miles between Wuhan and bat caves getting sick first – and each one fizzles out.

    We know that the wet market was a superspreader site, yes. We really don’t have any evidence that it, or any other similar wet market, was the point of entry to Wuhan, and the natural habitats of the bats that the virus originated from a very far away.

    If “the animal markets are actually a bigger policy failure than the lab”, then perhaps that means that Scott is participating a “broader anti-Chinese campaign.”

    Some viruses have spread through wet markets before, but some have escaped from even well-regarded labs before.

    Even if the virus was brought to Wuhan specifically by survey teams bringing viruses back to Wuhan (which could be the case even if the virus didn’t leak from the lab – a survey worker could get infected in the bat cave and then come back to Wuhan to deliver the sample and spread the virus without that particular worker setting foot in the lab), that could still be a spot that spread it.

    Some people are unusually insistent in seeing confirming evidence for one hypothesis or another. To me, it seems like Scott’s priors make him grasp at straws and seize on weak evidence in exactly the same way as people who desperately want a lab leak to be true.

  14. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. June 2023 at 11:25

    Scott, I have read so much on your opinions on lab leak it’s nauseating. You seem to be missing some reading skills. I never had a view on lab leak. But you have constantly made the point that lab leak idea was absurd. How do you know? I have no view on on wet markets versus lab leaks. Other than I don’t know.

  15. Gravatar of TMC TMC
    24. June 2023 at 11:34

    Scott, all the news reports put the lab at about 500 meters from the market. Lab workers could easily visit the market on the way home.

  16. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. June 2023 at 11:35

    I agree John T

  17. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. June 2023 at 11:41

    Guess you did not see the Kristoff comment. My Biden point was a joke and had nothing to do with your rate comments on Biden

  18. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    24. June 2023 at 11:45

    By “you” I meant Scott—-anyone read the Kristoff comment and Joes forgiving and loving nature? It may have been a joke—-but wasn’t worth the time of making sure.

  19. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. June 2023 at 12:11

    Steve, Yup.

    Michael, You are just hopeless. I explain that you lack any reading comprehension, and you respond by switching to more claims that I never made. Please respond to what I said.

    John, Sure, anything is “possible”. But what’s the most plausible explanation? That’s my point.

    TMC, You said:

    “all the news reports put the lab at about 500 meters from the market.”

    From Fox News? You need to re-evaluate where you get your news. The lab was far from the market. A completely separate part of Wuhan (A city that I’ve visited–I know first hand how far away.)

    More generally, this is the problem I keep harping on. The almost nonstop lies that feed these conspiracy theories.

  20. Gravatar of TMC TMC
    24. June 2023 at 13:13

    There seems to be several labs, but you may be right. My source was even more suspect than Fox. A WHO scientist quoted by the AP.

    “While numerous experts have questioned whether there might have been a lab accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — where scientists were studying coronaviruses — there has been less interest in another nearby facility.

    “What is more concerning to me is the other lab,” Ben Embarek said. “The one that is next to the market,” he explained, referring to the Wuhan branch of the Chinese CDC, located just 500 meters (547 yards) away from the Huanan market.”

  21. Gravatar of TMC TMC
    24. June 2023 at 13:30

    There is a lab 18 km from the market also. That would make a lab leak less obvious, but more likely than from caves 1000 km away.

    I have no dog in this fight, but it seems most of the evidence leans to the lab leak, as some US agencies believe. This would be a black eye on the US as well, given our funding of the lab. You have pro Chinese leanings while my leanings are against those who tried to shut down the debate about the lab leak theory when we had no evidence either way. We all have our biases.

  22. Gravatar of Robert Gressis Robert Gressis
    24. June 2023 at 15:14

    Hi Scott,

    Speaking as just one person, but I may be able to be taken as a data point:

    Emotionally, I want the lab leak hypothesis to be true, not because I dislike China, but because (IIRC) a bunch of public health officials said that there was little to no chance it was true, and then, when Trump left office, it seemed like a lot of people did a 180 and said there was a good chance it was true. Thus, emotionally speaking, if true the lab leak hypothesis would confirm the view that there are a bunch of experts who only pretend to be experts, but are really political hacks lined up to support the Democrats.

    Intellectually speaking, though, that would be horrible if true, and so, as Cowen pointed out, I shouldn’t want a world in which the lab leak hypothesis is true. He’s right! But it doesn’t seem to move my emotions on the matter; I *want* to think the worst of a lot of progressive experts, which of course says a lot more about me than them.

    But I don’t think this is an anti-China thing so much as it is intra-American sniping.

  23. Gravatar of Scott H. Scott H.
    24. June 2023 at 17:22

    So, a wet market origin for COVID is (potentially) racially and politically worse than a lab origin, but you passionately attack the lab origin hypothesis because you are fighting anti-China racism.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to attack the anti-China racism head on rather than getting so emotionally involved in this completely ancillary (and potentially losable) proxy war?

  24. Gravatar of TGGP TGGP
    24. June 2023 at 18:55

    It’s not just “serious journalists” who have been “conned”. Actual domain experts (unlike basically everyone here) have been arguing for its plausibility (although I recall Slate citing Richard Ebright against it when he’s actually argued for it). I agree that the Chinese government is not going to enable the rest of the world to figure out what really happened, and this applies whether it was a lab leak or a wet market, so we can’t really conclude anything about either hypothesis from that. Ideally we’d have a prediction market on the topic, but because so much evidence is unavailable it would be hard to resolve.

  25. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    24. June 2023 at 19:36


    Fox News has admitted multiple times, through multiple people, including on-air personalities, and in multiple ways that they lie to their audience. This includes examples of sworn testimony, private conversations made public, etc. Why would you believe anything those people say?

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. June 2023 at 19:39

    TMC, People were interested in the WIV because it was doing research on coronaviruses. What would make anyone believe a Wuhan CDC office would be relevant?

    It’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole, shoot down one theory and another pops up.

    “but it seems most of the evidence leans to the lab leak,”

    I find these claims to be bizarre. Almost all of the evidence points to the animal market. Where are people getting these ideas? I don’t know of ANY persuasive evidence pointing to a lab leak.

    BTW, most of our intelligence services favor the animal market.

    “You have pro Chinese leanings”

    What does that mean? I despise the CCP. If you wish to be taken seriously, stop spouting this nonsense.

    Robert, Either explanation makes China look bad. I just want the truth. I could not care less about the reputation of “progressive” experts.

    Scott, So GOP bigots in Congress are also stupid, and don’t understand what makes China look bad? Big surprise!

    You said:

    “Wouldn’t it make more sense to attack the anti-China racism head on”

    I’ve done that in other posts. I post on what I enjoy discussing, and I enjoy discussing issues where the consensus is behaving irrationally. Like the lab leak theory.

    “and potentially losable”

    What would it mean to “lose”? If tomorrow it were shown with 100% certainty that it was a lab leak, I’d stand 100% behind everything I said. I never denied that it might be a lab leak, I pointed out (correctly) that people were making dishonest arguments. And they are. This is not a game of football, where one side wins.

  27. Gravatar of TMC TMC
    25. June 2023 at 09:59

    @Michael Sandifer Neither my link nor quote were from Fox News. That was Scott making that up. You should be more concerned that as bad as Fox is they are still better then their competitors. THAT’s scary.

    @Scott “What would make anyone believe a Wuhan CDC office would be relevant?” There’s probably a lot of people going back and forth between the two. Anyways, this was the most cited vector from all news sources, and they have yet to find the animal that it came from. At first it was bats, then racoon dogs, and who knows what else. Talking about whack-a-mole.

    @ both Scotts The talk of any of this being anti-Chinese racism is idiotic. Just confirms when you have no actual support for your arguments you have to cry racism to be heard.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. June 2023 at 11:33

    TMC, Sorry about the snarky Fox comment, but they are not better than CNN or MSNBC. They are worse. The liberal networks are biased (and often dumb), but generally believe what they say. Fox just makes things up to please their audience. Plus it’s annoyingly loud and dumb, even worse than the others. Totally unwatchable.

    The lab leak theory has always been about the WIV in Wuhan, not the CDC in the same city. That’s where the three sick workers were employed, for instance. If you want to cite the CDC, then all the arguments about the “weird coincidence” of the pandemic starting in the same city with the WIV go right out the window. Lots of big Chinese cities have facilities like the CDC. So what’s left?

    I’m obviously not suggesting that all lab leak proponents are racists, far from it. But there’s a huge amount of anti-Chinese bigotry, clearly including Trump himself. So the anti-Chinese bigots are attracted to this like a moth to a flame.

  29. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    26. June 2023 at 08:05

    A couple more links to back you up:
    – Why the lack of perfect evidence of the animal host is not proof that one did not exist:

    – Another article basically saying what you’re saying here:

    I’m reading “The Invention of Science” right now and it posits that science as we know it today did not become possible until the invention of the printing press. By making it possible to disseminate information to a broad group of educated people, we created the feedback mechanism necessary to challenge and correct error while disseminating new observations and insights. I guess we’re learning today that it might be easier today to disrupt that feedback mechanism than it was 500 years ago.

  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. June 2023 at 08:41

    Carl, Good observation. Check out my new Econlog post.

  31. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    26. June 2023 at 09:30

    Good article on Econlog. It seems our pundits aren’t pundits.

  32. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    26. June 2023 at 10:16

    It’s sad to see so many conservatives turn against America, just because the country is moving past their extremist fundamentalist religious values.

  33. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    27. June 2023 at 16:38

    In 2022 I fell ill with stuffy nose, sore throat, fever, and body aches.

    Are these symptoms consist with cold or flu? Are they consistent with Covid?

    You understand what utter garbage it is for the Central Obstruction Agency to generalize in this way, while omitting any primary data that one can use to make a proper analysis or ask better questions?

    I was missing exactly one symptom I have had with every previous flu bout: gastrointestinal distress. And yes, I did have Covid.

  34. Gravatar of Gordon Gordon
    1. July 2023 at 11:32

    I think “falsehood” is a better claim than “lie”.

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