National Security Experts Criticize Media, Scientists Who Dismissed COVID-19 Lab Leak Theory in Open Letter

National Security Experts Criticize Media, Scientists Who Dismissed COVID-19 Lab Leak Theory in Open Letter
Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus make a visit to the institute in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Feb. 3, 2021. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
Ryan Morgan
A group of 43 national security experts published an open letter on Jan. 11 criticizing news organizations and scientific publications that dismissed the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic might have been the result of a lab leak.

The letter is addressed “To the editors, authors, and contributors to major scientific, medical, and journalistic publications worldwide.” The addressees include The Lancet, Nature Medicine, The New York Times, and TIME magazine.

The letter was coordinated by the Vandenberg Coalition, and included signatures from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), former U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien, Former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger, and analysts from the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and other security and foreign policy analysts.

“Leading scientific journals censored dissenting voices; many science writers at major news outlets promoted narratives or asserted conclusions unsubstantiated by evidence; reporters failed to make even cursory attempts at surfacing potential conflicts of interest of their sources,” the letter states.

“This served to hamper national and international policy discussions about how to mitigate against future pandemics of any origin—natural, accidental, or deliberate.”

The letter faults editors and reporters at news organizations and scientific publications for stifling debate on the origins of the virus.

The letter references a Fox News article about a May 2021 tweet by a New York Times reporter who said, “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.”

The New York Times reporter deleted the tweet the same day she wrote it.

“Our security and prosperity depend on rigorous scientific debate, research, and scholarship, as well as an intrepid and independent news media,” the letter continues.

“The responsibility of scientists and journalists alike is to ask hard questions and seek truth. By prematurely dismissing or stigmatizing certain questions—from the very outset of the pandemic—many prominent scientists and journalists failed in their duty.”

The letter went on to list “notable failures” by the various news and scientific publications. A February 2020 statement by The Lancet “asserted without evidence that questioning the supposed natural origin of COVID-19 constituted ’misinformation‘ and a ’conspiracy theory,” the letter states.
Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, was listed as a co-author the February 2020 statement by The Lancet. EcoHealth Alliance worked directly with China’s Wuhan laboratories to research coronaviruses. The Lancet subsequently acknowledged questions if Daszak had a “competing interest” when he co-authored the 2020 statement.
The letter authors also noted that a report by Nature Medicine, which “became one of the most-cited academic journal articles in history” had “effectively stigmatized anyone who questioned whether the outbreak may have originated in a laboratory.”
The letter also said the New York Times provided “biased-coverage” of a pre-print publication “asserting ‘dispositive’ proof that the pandemic originated in a Wuhan wet market, without a careful follow-on story after that specific assertion failed to survive a peer-review process at Science magazine, and when other data called into question the premise of the research.”

The Lancet, Nature Medicine, the New York Times, and TIME magazine did not respond to requests for comment.

A report (pdf) released in October last year by the minority oversight staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions in October concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic “was most likely the result of a research-related incident” at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan, China.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.