Internal communications finding that virologists did not believe the conclusions they published in a prestigious journal has triggered scientists to circulate a petition calling for Nature Medicine to retract the influential “Proximal Origins” paper that denied the possibility of a lab accident in Wuhan, China, and misled the public during the pandemic’s first crucial years. Within days, the petition garnered over 1,300 signatures and set the hashtag #RetractProximalOrigins trending on Twitter.
The torrent of virologists’ internal communications became public following a House hearing earlier this month, during which Scripps Research’s Kristian Andersen submitted false testimony about the Nature Medicine paper. Last week, The Intercept published newly revealed documents finding that Andersen and his co-author, Robert “Bob” Garry of Tulane University, both lied to Congress during the House hearing about whether they had pending federal grants controlled by Anthony Fauci that could have been used as to influence them.
The NIH is clear about its process. “Council recommends an application for funding. NIAID makes the final decision,” the agency explains. “The main NIAID advisory Council must recommend an application for funding before we can award a grant, although the Institute makes the final funding decision,” the agency goes on.
The grant wasn’t finalized until May 21, 2020. In other words, it was on Fauci’s desk at the time of the conference call. Andersen’s lab announced the funding in a press release in August 2020, nine months after he claimed it was already finalized. The press release describes it as a “new $8.9 million grant.”
Many of the virologists’ internal emails and Slack messages began leaking onto Twitter, followed by a joint Public and Racket investigation. The messages showed scientists were deeply concerned that the COVID virus could have been engineered or leaked from a Wuhan lab, even as they publicly ridiculed such thinking as a “conspiracy theory.”
In one example, Andersen wrote his colleagues on February 1, 2020, in a private Slack message, “I think the main thing still in my mind is that the lab escape version of this is so friggin’ likely to have happened because they were already doing this type of work and the molecular data is fully consistent with that scenario.”
That following day, Andersen added another private message to virologists, “The main issue is that accidental lab escape is in fact highly likely – it’s not some fringe theory.”
“Someone needs to lay out the science of all this before it gets out of hand (and creates more formal investigations),” emailed Andersen’s Nature Medicine co-author a week later.
After Andersen and colleagues published the Nature Medicine piece denying the possibility of a lab accident, Andersen tweeted that the paper failed to sway conspiracy theorists, likening people who questioned a Wuhan lab accident to those who denied the moon landing.
On Friday, The Telegraph published an article on the virologists’ communications, noting that one of the Nature Medicine authors feared the “shit show” that would result if they accused China of starting the pandemic. Nature Medicine told the paper that the journal would not retract the piece, which was intended to present a "point of view" on the issue rather than being a research study.