Manufacturing Consensus

After having been told for over a year that there was a scientific consensus that Covid had a natural origin — and that any suggestion of a possible lab leak in Wuhan was tantamount to a xenophobic conspiracy theory — it now appears that there is not, and never was, such a consensus. And the lab-leak hypothesis, which once marked any publication discussing it as fringe, has become the subject of an official presidential investigation.

To be sure, the science on this matter is no more settled now than it was before. A report commissioned by President Biden, and released in August, found conflicting assessments from U.S. intelligence agencies about the pandemic’s origin. Many scientists still believe that the virus most likely emerged from human contact with some kind of animal host, and the past few months have not revealed any definitive new evidence to the contrary. What they have revealed is that scientific, political, and media elites have not been entirely forthcoming about the true state of the experts’ knowledge of — and the uncertainty surrounding — the origin of the virus. Some appear to have actively suppressed public scrutiny of the question. At this point, we may never be able to arrive at an answer. But if the lab-leak hypothesis does turn out to be true, this episode will have done more to damage the credibility of scientific experts than any other in recent memory.

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