Category Archives: Science

New Federal Pandemic Policy Could Be Based on Personalized Medicine

The Epoch Times,  11/23/2021  by  Joel S. Hirschhorn

Sometimes there’s a simple, commonsense way to refine public policy. Surely there’s need for a better public health policy to address the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s time to let medical evidence overcome stubbornness by public health agencies and disagreements among physicians. It’s time to give Americans medical choice without sacrificing public health.

Here I use long-used personalized medicine principles to define a two-part pandemic policy that most Americans can understand and support, and that could bring together parts of society in conflict with each other over COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Part One: Individuals decide either on their own or with the advice of their personal physician to be vaccinated for COVID-19. And to accept what government officials have decided are the best COVID-19 medical solutions.

Part Two: Individuals choose a preferred medical professional who, on the basis of their education, training, experience, and successful clinical results, offers alternatives to vaccination and government promoted medical solutions for outpatients and inpatients. The medical professional uses the patient’s medical history, biologic and genetic conditions, and unique personal circumstances to reach the best personalized medical solution.

This flexible policy has the potential to bridge the ugly gap between pro-vaccine and anti-mandate camps.

In terms of medical science, this two-part policy recognizes that there’s a huge array of reactions to both SARS-CoV-2 infections and vaccines based on diverse biology, genetics, and medical conditions of individuals. Missing from current government policy is recognition of fundamental differences among people.

Medical history tells us the wisdom of making the medicine fit the person. This is the cornerstone of personalized or individualized medicine. Good physicians also find the combination of drugs to best address an illness or disease that’s best for the individual patient.

These medical truths contrast with mass use of off-the-shelf, one-size-fits all drugs and vaccines.

The medical literature and government databases tell us that there are myriad different responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection and to COVID-19 vaccines. The differences are indisputable and extreme. Most people who get infected either have no symptoms or only minor ones. Others get terribly ill, require hospitalization, and sometimes die.

Many who get vaccine shots feel a slight discomfort for a few hours or days; others are falling ill with a broad range of blood and neurological problems and sometimes die despite having been very healthy.

When people are profoundly different in their biological makeup, when reactions to SARS-CoV-2 infection are remarkably different, and when a broad range of adverse vaccine impacts are acknowledged, then one thing is crystal clear.

There can’t be one pandemic “solution” pushed by the government that makes common sense. By not respecting all the differences, the inevitable result is what we’re seeing in our society: division, conflicts, and anger among millions of people who want more choice, more medical freedom.

The two-part policy recommended here would not deny use of COVID-19 vaccines for those who want the shot. But it would see the truth that vaccine mandates for the entire population are not consistent with medical science and the diversity among people. Mandates rub so many people the wrong way because they eliminate sensible choice. They replace medical freedom with medical tyranny.

Interestingly, in the first months of the pandemic there was considerable thinking in the medical and public health community that personalized medicine should be pursued. That soon gave way to vaccine fixation, not just for a small, high-risk part of the population but for everyone.

Here are examples of some early interest in personalized medicine for addressing the pandemic:

The Mayo Center for Individualized Medicine said there was an opportunity for the COVID-19 response.  Their document detailed a number of initiatives Mayo was pursuing to address the pandemic by obtaining medical data that could lead to personalized pandemic solutions. This is what Mayo wanted to do:

“When COVID-19 spread across the U.S. in March 2020, the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine urgently responded to accelerate research, development, translation and implementation of novel tests, lifesaving treatments and diagnostics. Now, collaborative teams of scientists are continuing to unravel the mysteries of the novel virus, including using advanced genetic sequencing technologies to investigate how the virus can infiltrate a person’s immune system and wreak havoc on organs, tissue and blood vessels, leaving some patients with long-term effects.”

A September 2020 article had the intriguing title “How to use precision medicine to personalize COVID-19 treatment according to the patient’s genes.”  Here are excerpts:

“In recent years, a gene-centric approach to precision medicine has been promoted as the future of medicine. … But the imagined future did not include COVID-19. In the rush to find a COVID-19 vaccine and effective therapies, precision medicine has been insignificant. Why is this? … If precision medicine is the future of medicine, then its application to pandemics generally, and COVID-19 in particular, may yet prove to be highly significant. But its role so far has been limited.”

The specialty germane to a personalized pandemic strategy is called pharmacogenomics. It’s the study of the role of the genome in drug response. It combines pharmacology and genomics to discover how the genetic makeup of an individual affects their response to drugs, including vaccines. The central goal is to develop rational means to optimize drug therapy, including vaccination, with respect to the patients’ genotype, to ensure maximum efficiency with minimal adverse effects.

By using pharmacogenomics, the goal is that pharmaceutical drug treatments, including vaccination, can replace or at least complement what is dubbed as the “one-drug-fits-all” approach.

An August 2020 journal article was titled “Pharmacogenomics of COVID-19 therapies.” Here are its optimistic views and findings:

“Pharmacogenomics may allow individualization of these drugs thereby improving efficacy and safety. … Pharmacogenomics may help clinicians to choose proper first-line agents and initial dosing that would be most likely [to] achieve adequate drug exposure among critically ill patients; those who cannot afford a failure of ineffective therapy. It is also important to minimize the risks of toxicity because COVID-19 particularly affects those with comorbidities on other drug therapies.”

A July 2020 NPR show was titled “Research On Personalized Medicine May Help COVID-19 Treatments.” This was deemed newsworthy:

“The nationwide All of Us Research Program aims to tailor medical treatments of all kinds, including treatments that may be developed for the new coronavirus. So far, more than 271,000 people nationwide have signed up to share data with the initiative. …

Said Dr. Elizabeth Burnside, co-principal investigator of All of Us at UW-Madison, and a UW Health physician, ‘This focused initiative could be especially important for members of communities that are often underrepresented in health research and who may question the overall and personal benefit of research participation.’”

In sum, there was legitimate medical interest early in the pandemic to use personalized medicine. It accepts the reality that many people want to use alternatives to vaccines, such as generic medicines widely used in other countries to treat and prevent COVID-19 disease. Many oppose vaccine mandates, not necessarily COVID-19 vaccines. Now is the time for the two-part strategy given here to be the basis for legislation by Congress.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Dr. Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of “Pandemic Blunder” and many articles and podcasts on the pandemic, worked on health issues for decades. As a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he directed a medical research program between the colleges of engineering and medicine. As a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association, he directed major studies on health-related subjects; he testified at over 50 U.S. Senate and House hearings and authored hundreds of articles and op-ed articles in major newspapers. He has served as an executive volunteer at a major hospital for more than 10 years. He is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and America’s Frontline Doctors.


Climate change is no catastrophe

UnHerd by Michael Shellenberger, November 3, 2021

No global problem has ever been more exaggerated than climate change. As it has gone from being an obscure scientific question to a theme in popular culture, we’ve lost all sense of perspective.

Here are the facts: in Europe, emissions in 2020 were 26% below 1990 levels. In the United States, emissions in 2020 were 22% below 2005 levels. Emissions are likely to start declining, too, in developing nations, including China and India, within the next decade. Most nations’ emissions will be bigger this year than last, due to post-Covid economic growth. But global emissions are still likely to peak within the next decade.

And the result will be a much smaller increase in global average temperatures than almost anyone predicted just five years ago. The best science now predicts that temperatures are likely to rise just 2.5-3°C above pre-industrial levels. It’s not ideal, but it’s a far cry from the hysterical and apocalyptic predictions of 6°C, made just a decade ago. A 3°C increase is hardly an existential threat to humanity.

Not that you’d know it, if you had half an eye on the headlines this summer. The floods, fires and heatwaves that plagued the world were, for many observers, proof that the impacts of climate change have already become catastrophic. In Europe, more than 150 people died in flooding. In the United States, wildfire season started earlier and lasted longer, razing hundreds of thousands of acres. Around the world, hundreds died from heatwaves.

But again, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the facts: there has been a 92% decline in the per decade death toll from natural disasters since its peak in the 1920s. In that decade, 5.4 million people died from natural disasters. In the 2010s, just 0.4 million did. Globally, the five-year period ending in 2020 had the fewest natural disaster deaths of any five-year period since 1900. And this decline occurred during a period when the global population nearly quadrupled — and temperatures rose more than 1°C degree centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

Suggested reading

The great climate change fallacy

By Tom Chivers

But then, 1°C is not that much. What determines whether people die in heat waves is not whether temperatures rose to 110°F — or even 115°F— instead of 109°F. It is whether or not they have air conditioning. Heat-related deaths have halved in the US since 1960 — even as the population expanded and heat waves grew in frequency, intensity, and length — because more and more people did.

Though climate alarmists steadfastly ignore it, our capacity to adapt is extraordinary. We are very good at protecting people from natural disasters — and getting better. To take just one example, France in 2006 had 4,000 fewer deaths from a heat wave than anticipated thanks to improved health care, an early-warning system and greater public consciousness in response to a deadly heat wave three years earlier. Even poor, climate-vulnerable nations like Bangladesh saw deaths from natural disasters decline massively thanks to low-cost weather surveillance and warning systems and storm shelters.

And today, our capability for modifying environments is far greater than ever before. Dutch experts today are already working with the government of Bangladesh to prepare for rising sea levels. The Netherlands, of course, became a wealthy nation despite one-third of its landmass being below sea level — sometimes by a full seven meters — as a result of the gradual sinking of its landscapes.

Global sea levels rose a mere 0.19 metres between 1901 and 2010. But the IPCC estimates sea levels will rise as much as 0.66 meters by 2100 in its medium scenario, and by 0.83 meters in its high-end scenario. Still, even if these predictions prove to be significant underestimates, the slow pace of sea level rise will likely allow societies ample time for adaptation.

Where the secondary effects of climate change do cause catastrophe, it’s often due to failures on the part of authorities. The extent of the devastation wrought by wildfires on the West Coast of America was, for instance, preventable. California has mismanaged its forests for decades — including by diverting money that the state’s electric utilities could and should have spent on clearing dead wood.

Given how good we are at mitigating the effects of natural disasters, it’s ironic that so many climate alarmists focus on them. It’s perhaps because the world’s most visually dramatic, fascinating events — fires, floods, storms — make their cause stick in the minds of voters. If it were acknowledged that heat deaths were due to lack of air conditioning and forest fires were due to the buildup of wood fuel after decades of fire suppression, alarmist journalists, scientists and activists would be deprived of the “news hooks” they need to scare people, raise money and advocate climate policies.

And not all climate alarmists are altruists. Elites have used the cause to justify efforts to control food and energy policies for more than three decades. Climate alarmists have successfully redirected funding from the World Bank and similar institutions away from economic development and toward charitable endeavours — which don’t power growth.

Suggested reading

Is this the end of the world?

By Doug Coupland

This is part of a common pattern: the people who claim to be most alarmed about climate change are the ones blocking its only viable solutions, natural gas and nuclear. This year’s increase in coal production is a case in point. China has been widely criticised for waiving environmental and safety regulations on its mining recently, in a mad rush to meet winter heating demands. But less attention has been paid to the fact that the increased demand is mostly due to climate activists’ efforts to prevent oil and gas development in Europe and the United States. Lack of natural gas is what led directly to China having to reopen coal mines — and to Europe, North America, and the rest of Asia having to burn more coal. Had climate activists not fought fracking in America and expanded oil and gas drilling in Europe, then we would not be experiencing its worst energy crisis in 50 years.

Meanwhile, the organisations claiming that climate change dooms poor Africans to war, drought and poverty — including the WWF, the World Economic Forum and the United Nations — are the ones seeking to deny poor Africans life-changing natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, and funding for fertiliser, roads and tractors. It goes without saying that all those organisations are dominated by rich, white Westerners.

The truth is that prosperity and environmental progress go hand in hand. Reductions in carbon emissions came from fracking and off-shore natural gas drilling; both lowered electricity prices, too. Technological innovation like this lowers energy prices, which reduces natural resource use, moving humans from wood to coal to natural gas to uranium. So it’s better to see growth — such a bogeyman to Team Green — as a solution, rather than a problem.

Instead of putting the brakes on, we should be facilitating more innovation, prosperity and wealth. For instance, the melodramatic UN’s own Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) concludes, as do all reputable analysts, that future food production, especially in poor African nations, will depend more on access to technology, irrigation and infrastructure than on climate change — these are the things that made all the difference, last century, in today’s rich nations. Humans today produce enough food for ten billion people, a 25% surplus. And even the FAO suggests that we’ll produce even more, under a wide range of climate change scenarios.

Indeed, the best available economic modelling finds that, by 2100, the global economy will be three to six times larger than it is today, and that the costs of adapting to a high (4°C) temperature rise would reduce gross domestic product by just 4.5%. Why kill ourselves trying to eliminate a problem that just isn’t that severe?

Suggested reading

Eco-fascism is our future

By Paul Kingsnorth

Consider the other threats humankind has recently been forced to cope with. In July 2019, NASA announced it had been caught by surprise when a “city-killer” asteroid passed by — just one-fifth of the distance between Earth and the Moon. In December 2019, a volcano unexpectedly erupted in New Zealand, killing 21 people. And in 2020 and 2021, four million people died from coronavirus.

While nations take reasonable actions to detect and avoid asteroids, super-volcanoes, and deadly flus, they generally don’t take radical actions — for the simple reason that doing so would make societies poorer and less capable of confronting all major challenges. Richer nations are more resilient, which is part of the reason why disasters have declined. When a hurricane hits Florida, it might kill no one, but when that same storm hits Haiti, thousands can die instantly through drowning — and thousands more subsequently, in disease epidemics like cholera. The difference is that Florida can afford to prepare properly, and Haiti can’t.

The richer the world gets, the better it will cope, then. But the climate alarmists have taken against economic growth. According to their holy scripture, the industrial revolution, powered by fossil fuels, was our fall — and the consequence is, according to the United Nations, “extinction.” The only alternative is puritan: don’t eat meat and don’t fly. There are even indulgences, for the wealthy who feel guilty, in the form of carbon offsets sold through the airlines.

This is the heart of the matter: climate alarmism is powerful because it has emerged as the alternative religion for supposedly secular people, providing many of the same psychological benefits as traditional faith. It offers a purpose — to save the world from climate change — and a story that casts the alarmists as heroes. And it provides a way for them to find meaning in their lives — while retaining the illusion that they are people of science and reason, not superstition and fantasy.

Naturally, as a religion, climate change has a fraudulent aspect. Some offsets pay rich landowners not to cut down trees they could not profitably cut down anyway. Exposed, the climate religion seeks to censor. The American government’s Forest Service has repeatedly silenced one of California’s most published and respected scientists, Malcolm North, who stressed to me and other reporters that the cause of high-intensity forest fires is not climate change, but rather wood fuel. The Center for American Progress, which raises tens of millions from natural gas, renewable energy, and financial interests, has been pressuring Facebook to censor critics of renewable energy.

It’s working: few people have a realistic understanding of climate change. Few consider whether, at its current rates, it might be less dangerous than efforts to mitigate it.


The Lab-Leak-Theory Cover-Up – James B. Meigs, Commentary Magazine

July/August 2021

‘Someday we will stop talking about the lab leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots. But alas, that day is not yet here,” a writer named Apoorva Mandavilli recently posted on Twitter. It would have been easy to scroll right past the comment—Twitter is full of people ranting about COVID and calling everyone racist—but for the writer’s Twitter bio: “Reporter @nytimes on mainly #covid19.” Later that day, the Times reporter took down her tweet, saying it had been “badly phrased.” The day in question was May 26, 2021. The mounting evidence that the COVID-19 coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, rather than spontaneously emerging from nature, had become the hottest topic in journalism and potentially the most consequential science story in a generation.

If researchers had manipulated the SARS-CoV-2 virus to be more virulent, and then that virus had escaped the lab, it would mean the pandemic was arguably the worst manmade disaster in history. (A slightly less creepy—but still horrifying—possibility: COVID-19 is caused by a naturally occurring virus that happened to leak while being studied at the Wuhan Institute.) Many observers have compared the accident to the Chernobyl meltdown, another high-tech screw-up compounded by government deceit. But, with a global death toll likely to approach 4 million, a Wuhan lab leak, if it did in fact occur, would be perhaps 10,000 times deadlier than the Ukraine nuclear accident.

For a science journalist, helping figure out the true genesis of this catastrophe would be the opportunity of a lifetime. And yet here was one of the New York Times’ top pandemic reporters fretting that too many people were interested in the question. In a way, you can understand her frustration. Elite institutions and media outlets had been trying to get people to “stop talking about the lab leak theory” for over a year. From their perspective, the issue was raised by the wrong sort of people—including Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton and President Donald Trump—and giving the story oxygen might mean lending credence to conservative talking points. Moreover, focusing on China’s sloppy research practices and possible cover-up would distract the public from the media’s preferred COVID narratives: Trump’s incompetence, racial injustice, and red-state recklessness. Desperate to avoid those risks, media outlets, health organizations, government agencies, even the scientific community labored seemingly in concert to discount the lab-leak possibility and discredit anyone who raised it.

But, to the frustration of gatekeepers like Mandavilli, evidence that COVID-19 did originate at the Wuhan Institute of Virology keeps getting stronger. In recent months, there has been one bombshell disclosure after another. Even some scientists who initially pooh-poohed the idea are now demanding an investigation.

The dam is breaking. And with the surging floodwaters, comes a stunning realization: Almost across the board, our elite institutions got the most important question about COVID wrong. Worse, they worked furiously to discourage anyone else from getting it right. The leading scientific experts turned out to be spinning the truth. Our public-health officials put their political agenda ahead of any scientific mandate. And the press and social-media giants eagerly played along, enforcing strict rules about which COVID topics were acceptable and which had to be banished from the national conversation.

During the Trump years, we heard a lot of hand-wringing about the public’s unwarranted “distrust” of our society’s designated experts and leaders. But to be trusted, people and institutions have to be trustworthy. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a profound corruption at the heart of our expert class. The impact of that revelation will reverberate for years to come.

Interestingly, the idea that the virus might have leaked from a lab wasn’t particularly controversial in the early weeks of the pandemic. Initially, no one thought it was “racist” to note the coincidence that a disease caused by a virus similar to ones found in Chinese bats just happened to emerge at the doorstep of the world’s top laboratory devoted to studying…Chinese bat viruses. But once Senator Cotton brought up the possibility in a January 2020 Senate hearing, the lab-leak notion had to be squelched.

Our country’s most esteemed media outlets moved as one. First, they twisted Cotton’s question. He had said we should investigate whether an accidental leak had occurred. But the Washington Post suggested that Cotton had called COVID-19 a deliberately released bioweapon. It was all downhill from there: Politifact labelled that idea a “pants-on-fire” lie. The Post accused the senator of “fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has already been debunked by experts.” Slate attributed the notion to “good old-fashioned racism.”

Overnight, the self-appointed fact-checkers all agreed that the lab-leak question was “a lunatic conspiracy theory,” as Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting put it last year. Of course, that meant anyone who raised the question couldn’t simply be searching for the truth—such a person had to have a political agenda. When Trump mentioned “the theory from the lab,” last April, CNN’s John Harwood concluded that the president was “looking for ways to deflect blame for the performance of his administration.” In an interview on CBS, China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, showed a surgical deftness in manipulating elite American opinion: He cagily warned that pursuing lab-leak questions “will fan up racial discrimination, xenophobia.”

Our leading institutions took their cue, universally declaring that the Wuhan theory wasn’t just incorrect but dangerous and malicious. The World Health Organization called the spread of the idea an “infodemic” of misinformation. Social-media platforms tweaked their algorithms to ensure that these dangerous notions wouldn’t infect the defenseless population. When a New York Post opinion writer raised the possibility of a lab leak, Facebook slapped a “False Information” alert on the piece and made it impossible to share. Facebook also warned it would throttle the accounts of any users who persisted in spreading such wrongthink, ensuring that any dissenters from the approved COVID talking points would fade into the social-media background.

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It almost worked.

For nearly a year, mainstream news outlets barely mentioned the lab-leak hypothesis (except to ridicule it). The scientific community, too, largely banished the topic. In February 2020, a group of 27 eminent virologists had published a statement in the influential medical journal the Lancet, soundly rejecting the idea that the virus might have emerged from a lab rather than passing to humans from bats or some other animal. “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” the scientists wrote. One of the organizers of that letter was Peter Daszak, an epidemiologist and president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a group that helps distribute federal grant money to researchers studying viruses. Not surprisingly, discussions about a potential lab leak tapered off dramatically. Working scientists’ careers depend on getting their papers published and winning research grants. How many want to contradict the biggest names in their fields? Only later did it emerge that Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had funneled some U.S. government research money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Daszak’s efforts to shut down debate on the question of that lab’s role in the disaster entailed a massive conflict of interest.

Perhaps most disturbing was the response of the U.S. intelligence community. Two different teams in the U.S. government—one working out of the State Department, the other under the direction of the National Security Council—were tasked with examining the origins of the outbreak. According to a blockbuster investigation by Vanity Fair reporter Katherine Eban, those researchers faced intense pushback from within their own bureaucracies. Four former State Department officials told Eban they had been repeatedly advised “not to open a ‘Pandora’s Box.’”

In particular, they were urged not to reveal the role the U.S. government might have played in helping fund the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s controversial “gain-of-function” projects. Gain-of-function research involves manipulating potentially dangerous viruses to see if they might more easily infect human cells. Advocates, including Peter Daszak, say the process can help scientists anticipate future outbreaks and possibly develop vaccines. Critics say, “It’s like looking for a gas leak with a lighted match,” as Rutgers professor of chemistry and chemical biology Richard Ebright told Eban. Either way, the possibility that U.S. research grants might have helped finance the creation of a super-virus was a revelation some members of the intelligence establishment were loath to see exposed.

Despite the resistance, the State Department team uncovered some stunning intelligence supporting the leak hypothesis. In particular, researchers discovered that three WIV scientists studying coronaviruses had fallen ill in November 2019 and had gone to the hospital with COVID-like symptoms. The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 began erupting around Wuhan less than a month later. In the chaotic last days of the Trump administration, the State Department released a vague statement about its Wuhan finding, but the news didn’t gain much traction at the time. Then the incoming Biden administration promptly disbanded the State Department’s Wuhan team.

The whole investigation into COVID-19’s origins might have petered out at that moment. The story of why the line of inquiry survived is not an account of leading scientists and health organizations dutifully parsing the evidence. Instead, it is largely the story of little-known researchers—many working outside the bounds of elite institutions—who didn’t let the political implications of their findings derail their efforts. Much of what we know today about the Wuhan Institute’s risky research is thanks to these independent skeptics who challenged the institutional consensus. Some risked their careers to do so.

One key group was an international assortment of independent researchers—few of whom were established virologists—that self-assembled on the Internet. The group called itself the Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19, or DRASTIC. The name made them sound like a band of online gamers, but the group diligently uncovered a series of damning facts. Defenders of the Wuhan Institute often describe the lab as a virtually fail-safe Biosafety Level 4 facility. But one DRASTIC researcher discovered that much of the work at the Wuhan lab was performed at lower levels—BSL-3 or even BSL-2, a degree of protection similar to that in a dentist’s office. Another showed that SARS viruses had previously leaked from China’s top research labs with alarming regularity. “The DRASTIC people are doing better research than the U.S. government,” a State Department investigator told Vanity Fair.

Alina Chan, a young molecular biologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, was particularly fearless in challenging the premature consensus laid down by the elders in her field. She zeroed in on the virus’s genetic structure. If the virus had gradually evolved to target humans, those changes should have left traces in the genome. Instead, SARS-CoV-2 appeared “pre-adapted to human transmission,” she wrote in May 2020. Other researchers confirmed that the virus contains a particular genomic sequence that doesn’t typically occur naturally in this family of viruses but that is commonly inserted during gain-of-function research. By early 2021, these sorts of revelations were building into a compelling argument that the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab. Meanwhile, researchers trying to find the natural “reservoir” of the virus—in bats or some other animal—were coming up shockingly empty.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve often heard admonitions to “follow the science.” Looking back we can see that few scientists—and even fewer journalists—really did. 60 Minutes, which aired a skeptical report on the WHO’s milquetoast COVID-origin investigation, was a rare exception. But most journalists who aggressively pursued the Wuhan story tended to work slightly outside the mainstream. In January 2021, Nicholson Baker—a novelist, rather than an established science writer—published “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis” in New York magazine. In May, former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade published a massively detailed argument for the theory on the self-publishing website Medium. Wade (who has faced criticism on the left for his writings on genetics and race) quoted Nobel Prize–winning microbiologist David Baltimore saying that a specific genetic modification at the virus’s “furin cleavage site” was “the smoking gun for the origin of the virus.” Two weeks later, Donald G. McNeil Jr.—who was humiliatingly forced out of the Times last year due to his perceived violations of woke etiquette—posted on Medium a piece entitled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lab-Leak Theory.”

Notice the irony here: While two refugees from the New York Times were publishing deep, well-reported articles on an alternative outlet, the Times itself was still mostly ignoring the Wuhan-lab story. And one of its current pandemic specialists, Apoorva Mandavilli, was on Twitter urging everyone to “stop talking about the lab leak.” Fortunately, people didn’t stop talking. The lab-leak hypothesis had moved into the mainstream. Scientists and journalists could finally discuss it without fear of excommunication. Facing mounting pressure, the Biden administration reversed course on May 26, announcing it had asked U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate the “two likely scenarios” for the virus’s origin. But so much damage had already been done.

When the pandemic hit last year, we were all urged to fall in line and listen to the authorities. Scientists and bureaucrats were elevated to near-divine status. “Let us pray, now, for science,” Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote last February. “Pray for reason, rigor and expertise…. Pray for the N.I.H. and the C.D.C. Pray for the W.H.O.” Now the public is waking up to the fact that, prayers notwithstanding, those institutions largely failed us. The WHO kowtowed to China’s deceptions. Anthony Fauci trimmed his public statements to fit the prevailing political winds. Some of the nation’s top virologists didn’t just dismiss the lab-leak possibility, they appeared to be covering up their own involvement with Wuhan gain-of-function research. Journalists and social-media companies conspired to suppress legitimate questions about a disease that was killing thousands of Americans each day.

We may never get complete confirmation that the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute; certainly, China will never allow an honest investigation. But the idea that the virus resulted from scientific research—and that some U.S. scientists then tried to hide their involvement—is already gaining acceptance with the public. How will Americans react to this perceived betrayal? Not well, I’m afraid. “We may very well see the expert-worshiping values of modern liberalism go up in a fireball of public anger,” writes Thomas Frank. The financial crisis of 2008 triggered widespread suspicion of elite institutions and free markets, burning over political ground that eventually became fertile for both Bernie Sanders and Trump. If the public concludes that COVID-19 was, in effect, an inside job, the political fallout could last a generation. I don’t mean people will believe the virus was deliberately released—although far too many will embrace that idea—but that they will see the disease as a product of an elite power structure that behaves recklessly and evades responsibility.

It would be tempting to cheer on a populist uprising against elite expertise and institutions. But that would be a tragic mistake. The vast majority of scientists, health-care institutions—even many public officials—did vital heroic work during the pandemic. Just look at those miraculous vaccines! Moreover, we can’t survive in a complex and dangerous world without expertise. Replacing today’s expert class with conspiracy theorists, anti-vax charlatans, and populist mountebanks might satisfy the public’s anger for a time. But it would only make our society more vulnerable—to domestic unrest, pandemics, you name it. Can we reform the institutions that failed us? Can they reform themselves, perhaps to be more humble, more attuned to facts and less focused on power? I wish I could say I’m optimistic.