Angela Rasmussen and Michael Worobey: Conspiracy Theories About COVID-19 Are Dangerous and Unsupported


Foreign Policy

Argument An expert’s point of view on a current event.

Conspiracy Theories About COVID-19 Help Nobody

The continued pushing of a “lab-leak” theory is unsupported and dangerous.

By Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan, and Michael Worobey, department head of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona,

September 15, 2022, 11:49 AM

In July 2020, the Lancet, one of the world’s premier medical journals, announced the creation of a COVID-19 “Commission” with the stated mission “to help speed up global, equitable, and lasting solutions to the pandemic.” Many of the commissioners are distinguished scientists, doctors, former politicians, or policy experts with a clear connection to the remit of a COVID-19 Commission. But the choice of chair was an unusual one. Jeffrey Sachs is a Columbia University economist with no expertise in virology, evolution, epidemiology, or public health.

Cooperation among experts in different fields is usually a positive and rewarding effort. But as a virologist specializing in host interactions with emerging viruses and an evolutionary biologist with expertise in viral pandemic origins, we find it troubling how easily Sachs has leveraged his academic celebrity to publish grave, unsubstantiated accusations under the guise of legitimate scholarship.

Sachs has consistently pushed the idea that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was engineered in a laboratory. Michael Worobey, one of this article’s authors, has been one of the most vocal proponents of taking the idea of a lab leak seriously, proposing an influential letter published in Science that brought the hypothesis into the mainstream. It was a hypothesis worth considering, especially the version that posited a natural bat virus infecting an unsuspecting lab worker; the evidence now, however, overwhelmingly indicates the pandemic did not originate via any kind of laboratory incident.

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