You can’t handle the truth

1. In a previous post I showed that the recent NYT article on the lab leak hypothesis was based on an ignorance of Chinese geography.

Philipp Markolin has a very long piece that is well worth reading. It does an excellent job of debunking the view that the Covid-2 virus looks “suspiciously engineered”. At one point he offers this interesting quote:

“If you gave me a billion dollars to find the origins, I`d probably spent 90% of that outside of China in South East Asia” 

— Bat immunologist Linfa Wang, Duke-NUS Singapore

No, that doesn’t mean the pandemic began in SE Asia, it probably began in China. But the Covid-2 virus was likely created by a sort of natural gain of function research, as SARS virus recombined trillions of times in nature, before hitting on a format that was ideally suited to transmission in humans:

A comprehensive body of scientific evidence has shown us that the immediate bat ancestor to SARS-CoV-2 came from one of the countless natural “gain-of-function labs” spanning the vast biodiverse Karst region from Yunnan in Southern China towards Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and maybe even Malaysia in Southeast Asia. The lingering and promiscuous endemic viral elements in that enormous geographic region constantly mix and bring forth new chimeric combinations within their socially intricate reservoir hosts; while human activities and encroachment on bat territories stir the genetic cauldron ever faster.

Once a particularly combustible set of genetic elements produced a potential pandemic pathogen with broad host tropism, the legal and illegal mammalian wildlife industry likely became the maturing vessels through which the virus we now know as SARS-CoV-2 reached its final explosive form. From there, it was dragged in front of hundreds of immune-naïve future hosts visiting the largest wet market of one particular Chinese megacity well connected with the entire world. . . .

Maybe after four years of political myth-making and societal inaction, it is time to face scientific reality. I certainly believe we’d be better off fighting for solutions rather than for who is to blame.

2. It seems that QAnon conspiracy theories have also caught on among older women in Japan:

Triggered by the bitter U.S. presidential election and followers of former U.S. President Donald Trump, such conspiracy theories have spread via social media and videos, even in Japan. 

There are widening gaps between people who believe in groundless information and their families and people close to them in Japan as well. 

An expert warns that social anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed such conspiracy theories to flourish.

The Aichi woman’s mother is believed to have been influenced by videos on QAnon, which she watches for about eight hours in a day.

Presumably this is all because these people lost coal mining jobs due to “neoliberalism”.

3. Jordan was a very good defender, but not DPOY good:

In the six games, the box scores indicated that Jordan’s total steal count was 28. After comparing our notes from the film study, we each counted 12 steals. An astounding difference of 16 excess steals. Almost every excess steal was being allocated to Jordan.

Those were all home games, which seems to be the problem:

Between them, Russell and Chamberlain registered 26 games with 40-plus rebounds. None of the 26 games were tabulated on the road, per tracking.

4. Janan Ganesh says it’s not just greed that is pushing billionaires toward Trump:

It doesn’t explain the pro-Brexit industrialists who had little obvious to gain outside the European single market. It doesn’t explain why I can’t attend a finance dinner without hearing the Kremlin script (“You know, Zelenskyy’s no saint”) from someone who neither profits from the Ukraine invasion nor loses from the retaliatory sanctions.

There is such a thing as sincere wrongness. . . . First, business people struggle to understand fanaticism. In commercial life, all actors are negotiable, even if their price is high. You might pass decades in the private sector without encountering someone who has total commitment to an abstract doctrine (socialism), to an individual (Trump) or to a cause (Russian amour propre). This blind spot for zeal is why corporations were such sitting ducks for “woke”. And why oligarchs a generation ago thought Vladimir Putin was their pliable instrument.

The twitter feed of Elon Musk shows that it’s possible to be a brilliant businessman and still be completely clueless about politics.

5. Will we ever learn?

A group that claims to have hacked CDK Global, the software provider to thousands of car dealerships in North America, has demanded tens of millions of dollars in ransom, according to a person familiar with the matter.

CDK is planning to make the payment, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The hacking group behind the attack is believed to be based in eastern Europe . . .

A demand in the tens of millions of dollars comes after hackers sought $50 million from a lab services company at the center of an ongoing ransomware attack that’s caused outages in London hospitals. UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest medical insurer in the US, acknowledged earlier this year it paid hackers a $22 million extortion fee.

The solution is simple. Pass a law requiring long prison sentences for any US corporate official that pays ransomware. Then the bad guys will start going after foreign firms. This is a classic externality problem—why are we too stupid to see that?

6. Why am I not surprised?

7. On a lighter note, Herman Melville anticipated the concept of “the wisdom of the crowd” in his novel Mardi:

But who has seen these things, Mohi?” said Babbalanja, “have you?”


“Who then? —Media?—any one of you know?”

“Nay: but the whole [Mardi] Archipelago has.”

“Thus,” exclaimed Babbalanja, “does Mardi, blind it be in many things, collectively behold the marvels, which one pair of eyes sees not.”

From the end of chapter 116. Note that “Mardi” is the name of an island chain.



21 Responses to “You can’t handle the truth”

  1. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    25. June 2024 at 19:18

    You’re the one that can’t handle the truth.

    It’s clear that it started at the Wuhan lab. Fauci funded Wuhan to engage in precisely the type of research that would lead to this kind of virus. The Chinese new about the virus well before they made it public, and everyone did the best they could to silence voices that disagreed with them. A respected virologist and nobel lauraete who looked at the virus under a microsocope said: “I am certain that this came from a lab”, and a Chinese whistleblower who, of course, disappeared shorly after posting to wechat, said he suspected it came from the lab.

    You wrote an article about how it came from Thai caves, postulating that it emerged from a marketplace, and even mentioned, alongside Chinese state media, that it came from the damn Americans and their horrible, dirty, naval sailors (at least you didn’t use the word dog, which the Chinese state used) to describe them.

    In your view, which is the Chinese state media view, it came from anywhere but your beloved China, and their perfect, immaculate, ever so clean laboratory. Because it could never come from there. That is just too crazy. How could it possibly come from a lab conducting gain of research. How silly of us to even consider the possibility. We just “can’t handle the truth’.

    I will give you an A for effort (at last on defending China) and an F for logic. Good try.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    25. June 2024 at 20:14

    Sara, LOL, Everything you say is false, even when you claim to describe my views. Just a horror show of false claims. You’d think you would accidentally stumble on one true fact—but no.

  3. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    26. June 2024 at 05:37

    I had to get some blood tests at one of those hospitals about a week before the attack – very glad it was a week before, not a week after!

    Also glad the British Library told the people who hacked them to piss off, even though it has seriously frustrated some of my research.

    Many very wealthy / successful people are idiots. Unfortunately, their wealth/success gives them an inflated sense of their own intelligence and concurrently leads to less criticism than they deserve.

    Sara, are you even trying anymore? It feels like your heart just isn’t in it.

  4. Gravatar of Student Student
    26. June 2024 at 06:37

    It’s interesting that private businesses seem to pay. Governments refuse (Baltimore and Cleveland didnt pay as just two recent examples). Perhaps because it’s easier to lose other people’s money (it’s almost alway cheaper to pay up) or perhaps it’s a tragedy of the commons situation.

  5. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    26. June 2024 at 09:11

    –“Presumably this is all because these people lost coal mining jobs due to “neoliberalism.”–

    It’s tribalism and lost trust plus the internet.

    Most things are not independently verifiable, due to lack of proper training, expense, or effort. If you lose trust in the official sources (even if that lost trust is in many ways justified), there’s a very good chance you can get lost.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    26. June 2024 at 09:18

    Justin, Tribalism in Japan? Why would they identify with the MAGA tribe?

  7. Gravatar of Franz Franz
    26. June 2024 at 15:45

    4. Billionaires prefer Trump’s policy of mild deregulation combined with reckless borrowing to fund tax cuts over Biden’s policy of more regulation combined with reckless borrowing to fund more government spending.

    Plus, most of them are old white men, a group that is generally more likely to vote Republican whether they’re billionaires or not.

  8. Gravatar of Jon Jon
    26. June 2024 at 17:19


    I have yet to see someone debunk the actual lab-leak hypothesis. A lot of focus on strawman versions of the hypothesis.

    The concern here has always been about sloppy laboratory protocols allowing the wuhan-virus to infect a lab worker who then proceeded to spread it to the general population, possibly by visiting a market in wuhan while ill.

    That’s it. Getting caught up whether the virus was a natural sample or genetically spliced or natural selection driven gain-of-function is an irrelevant, or at best secondary aspect of the narrative.

    Party pride and avarice is all you need for this story. Sloppy work is enough for shame. Sloppy techniques to save money and move fast. Avoiding shame is enough of a reason for a coverup, and better a yet a coverup that attaches the blame to the part of china the Party wants to leave behind (the wet market) and not the part it holds up as the new china (the lab).

  9. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    26. June 2024 at 19:39

    Here’s a sad interview with David French, who describes being chased out of his church by uncivil exremist MAGA “Christians”:

    But, the right doesn’t divide socirty or cancel people, so French must be lying.

  10. Gravatar of Viennacapitalist Viennacapitalist
    26. June 2024 at 22:38

    refering to your Brexit chart:
    You knonw, there is a guy on the web – Scott Sumner – who has repeatedly (and convincingly) that polls are nonsense and people do not know what they want..

    Now we can add: polls are nonsense as long as they are contrary to the political views of Scott Sumner 🙂

  11. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    27. June 2024 at 00:11

    Jon, is that a falsifiable claim? How could one ‘debunk’ whether or not a lab worker got sick and spread the virus at a wet market versus an animal at the wet market being sick?

    As Scott has noted multiple times, China denies that the wet market was an important part of the story! So, I’m not sure why you’re saying the cover up is because of shame etc.

    If anything, China would probably like us (the West) to believe the lab leak vs the west market narrative.

  12. Gravatar of steve steve
    27. June 2024 at 07:08

    Jon- Look at the debate that Scott Alexander covered. It went into a lot of detail and covered nearly every aspect of the covid origin. While you cant say with 100% certainty it was not a lab leak the large majority of evidence points away from it, that large majority supporting zoonotic origin.

    #1- China needs to get rid of the wet markets. Risk is not worth running the markets.

    #2- I think you miss how seductive this is for people. If you are unhappy because you are in that ld age stage where you think the world isn’t like it used to be and you want something or someone to blame QAnon and similar can give you that. If you are convinced you would be better off if “the system” wasn’t rigged against you it gives you answers. Doesnt matter if they are made up. Also, anger is addicting. You get that little dopamine surge as you find your daily outrage plus you get to bond with your fellow conspiracists.


  13. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    27. June 2024 at 07:33

    YouGov has a poor track record. Not to mention, blindly quoting a polling company without reviewing how the data was obtained is irresponsible. You also provide no citation for the poll, so we can’t go through the data.

    Here is a White woman attacked in broad daylight, though, which is more proof you are wrong. We’re not past “peak woke”. They didn’t even take her purse. Being white was enough.

    Maybe we should form a clan that goes around attacking academics like Sumner. Since he doesn’t care about the working class, why should we care about him? Maybe if the subsurban white woke, like Sumner, get slapped around a few times, and their gated communities get raided and ransacked, they might begin to change their marxist tune. Maybe after getting slapped around they won’t just clean the streets for Xi Jinping, like Newsome, but they’ll clean the streets because we paid them 35% of our labour.

    A little wild west community justice might bring the so-called “elite” back down to earth.

  14. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    27. June 2024 at 09:44

    The overwhelming majority of the time, novel viruses like Covid-19 jump from animals to humans outside of labs. Hene, one can make the argument that this should be something like the null hypothesis. I don’t know what happened in the case of this virus, but I’ve seen no reason to believe the lab leak hypothesis. Given the very limited evidence, the jump directly from wild animals to humans seems the most plausible explanation.

    This entire discussion may be a waste of time, because China isn’t cooperating with investigators. Whether the origin was in a Chinese market or lab, the Chinese government bears some responsibiity. I don’t understand the fixation on the lab leak possibility.

  15. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    27. June 2024 at 09:50

    On Brexit and the aftermath, it could be a big part of the reason the prospects for a wipeout of conservatives in the next parliamentary election looks so certain. Yes, polls may be less reliable in this age of political and party realignment, but will they be so far off as to allow the conservatives to be competitive?

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. June 2024 at 12:16

    Jon, You said:

    “I have yet to see someone debunk the actual lab-leak hypothesis.”

    What?!?!? Numerous articles have debunked almost every single claim in the lab leak hypothesis.

    Yes, it might have been a lab leak, anything is possible.
    But zoonosis is far more likely.

    And the animal market explanation makes China look far worse than the lab leak theory.

    Viennacapitalist, As I’ve said before, I include poll results partly for all you people that believe in polls.

    In addition, I’ve never argued that all polls are wrong. For instance, elections polls are usually correct within 2% or 3%.

    But yes, this poll may partly reflect the very low support for the Conservative Party.

  17. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    28. June 2024 at 01:16

    The U.K. is not suffering because of Brexit; the very act of removing oneself from the EU has no bearing on success or failure.

    The EU is not European, rather it’s a marxist ideology that wants to centralize power into the hands of a few bureaucrats.

    The U.K is suffering because open borders has raised housing prices, increased unemployment, and made most streets unsafe. Indeed, no rational person walks the streets at night, because it’s liking walking the streets of an African ghetto or walking into a Hells Angels bar. You’re bound to get raped or stabbed or both.

    And there is nothing libertarian about the EU, so I’m not sure why you continue to praise Brussels. It’s the enemy of liberty.

  18. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    28. June 2024 at 05:42

    Most streets in the UK are unsafe? No rational people walk the streets at night? LOL!

    Try making *somewhat* reasonable claims.

  19. Gravatar of Babak Mozaffari Babak Mozaffari
    29. June 2024 at 18:06

    4- The author seems to start with an implicit assumption that most people create a mental checklist of pros and cons, give each item a weight, and do the math to decide what option to pick. I don’t believe that’s how the vast majority of people arrive at their views. Instead, it is usually a single or at most a couple of issues that leads them to side with a politician or a party, and then they use their power of (motivated) reasoning to explain why they are onboard with everything else, or why those concerns are overrated.

  20. Gravatar of Babak Mozaffari Babak Mozaffari
    29. June 2024 at 18:12

    Student: perhaps private businesses are much likelier to pay, because they live in a system of competition where their win is someone else’s loss. It is therefore the right business decision to solve the immediate problem, versus paying a “price” to avoid future incidents that are likely to affect others anyway.

    Governments in contrast exist to coordinate and solve collective action problems, regardless of how bad they might be at it sometimes. So while you could argue state governments often also compete in a near zero-sum environment, acting in a way that pays a price in the short term to benefit the “collective” in the long term is in the DNA of any system of government.

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. June 2024 at 10:46

    Babak, I agree that this would be bad reasoning, but Ganesh is too smart to be quite so reductive. Yes, there is motivated reasoning, but there’s something beyond that taking place in much of the West, including the billionaire class.

    Both billionaires and blue collar workers see something in Trump that I don’t see. To me, he’s obviously an idiotic clown. That’s also what many of his advisors ended up saying about him after his first term. But 47% of people don’t see him that way.

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