The term “Conspiracy Theory” has a very specific meaning. It is not simply a way to dismiss a claim you do not agree with. I’d guess that you are familiar with the term and also have a good grasp on exactly what it means. However, for completeness, let me cite the Wikipedia page on the topic (emphases is mine) …
A conspiracy theory is an explanation for an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy by sinister and powerful groups, often political in motivation, when other explanations are more probable. The term has a negative connotation, implying that the appeal to a conspiracy is based on prejudice or insufficient evidence. A conspiracy theory is not simply about a conspiracy; instead, it refers to a hypothesized conspiracy with specific characteristics, such as an opposition to the mainstream consensus among those people (such as scientists or historians) who are qualified to evaluate its accuracy.
There is of course a bit more to it. Generally such theories resist being disproven, and will adapt as wholly appropriate criticism and debunking arises.
Let’s work a few quick Examples
Claim: 9/11 was an inside job, the towers were brought down by a controlled demolition
- It’s a popular conspiracy theory. Those who accept it will generally embrace this as “truth” and not a conspiracy theory.
- There is “evidence”, but drill into it and it quickly evaporates until you are left with hand-waving and supposed evidence just over the horizon that is not actually there if you take the time to check.
- I’ve mentioned this one because the actual explanation is that there really was an actual conspiracy that involved fanatical religious fundamentalists. No controlled demolition needed, flying fully fueled aircraft into the towers was wholly sufficient.
If you do indeed think that the impact of jet aircraft at high speeds in combination with subsequent fires can’t explain the collapse of the Twin Towers then you need to take that up with the 9/11 Commission and most of the civil engineering community and persuade them. After over twenty years, so far nobody has managed to do that due to a lack of persuasive evidence.
Further Reading: Wikipedia – 9/11 Conspiracy Theories
Claim: The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting never occurred, nobody died, they are all actors
- I’ve pulled this one up because it is an example of how such ideas can be truly obnoxious. Imagine the horror of being a parent whose 6 year old died at Sandy Hook.
- Now take that a step further, imagine been harassed on a daily basis by people persuaded that it was all faked, and that your murdered child never existed.
- Lenny Pozner, whose son Noah was the youngest of 20 children murdered, was physically threatened and told that he would be killed if he did not drop his supposed act. The originator of this threats, Lucy Richards, went to jail.
My point here is that conspiracy theories are not simply whacky but harmless claims. Believing them has real-world consequences.
Further Reading: Wikipedia – Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting conspiracy theories
I’m really writing about the SARS-CoV-2 Wuhan Lab-Leak Conspiracy Theory
That’s enough background, let’s get into the reason for this posting.
There is a possibility that SARS-CoV-2 originated via a leak from the Wuhan lab.
I’ll be wholly clear about this and try to keep it very very simple.
- Right now the most probable origin is zoonotic. We don’t know the precise transmission path it took, but this is where this stuff comes from.
- The other possibility is an accidental leak from a lab in the area that studied it. This is the lab leak theory
Both are possible. Both are plausible. Put side by side the most possible and plausible by far is a natural zoonotic origin. I’ll explain why a bit further on.
There are fans of the Lab leak idea that have basically decided that this is the “truth” on the basis of no real evidence at all, and have dismissed the more plausible zoonotic explanation on the basis of no really evidence at all.
Because the issue has become so politicised, what we have now ended up with are lab leak proponents using a combination of bad science, appeals to incredulity, and conspiracy thinking to promote the lab leak claim. The net effect is that the plausible but improbably lab leak explanation has morphed into a full blown conspiracy theory.
Further Reading on the Lab Leak being a Conspiracy Theory
Dr David Gorski takes a deep dive into this within this recent posting – The “lab leak” hypothesis is becoming a conspiracy theory.
Be warned, it is a long detailed read, but also rather fascinating as well.
Where did COVID come from – What is the real truth?
The simple answer is this: I don’t know for certain and neither does anybody else.
We might never know.
What we do know is that the most probable explanation is zoonotic.
Why is this probably the case?
I did promise to explain why, so briefly, here it is …
- Past experience often tells us a great deal. SARS and MEARS both had a zoonotic origin
- When viruses have been in the freezer for many years, scientists can see the missing years of evolution in the viral genome. When viruses have escaped from labs, they looked like viruses that had been kept in labs. When H1N1 reemerged in 1977, it was missing 27 years of evolution due its time in the deep freeze.
- The Lab leak scenario for SARS-CoV-2 is inconsistent with several established facts regarding the origin of SARS-CoV-2, including the fact that the majority of early cases were linked to different markets that sold wildlife or wildlife products in Wuhan. Theories on the origin SARS-CoV-2 must also account for the fact that two distinct lineages of SARS-CoV-2 (lineage A and lineage B) were distributed at different Wuhan wildlife markets.
- The original SARS-CoV outbreaks in 2002-2004 were linked to the wildlife trade.
- Several independent sources indicate that wildlife species susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, including civets and raccoon dogs, were sold at the Huanan market and other wildlife markets in Wuhan.
I’ve not dived into all the details this time because I have already covered a lot of that within other postings …
- March 2020 – Does COVID-19 coronavirus have a natural origin?
- Sept 2020 – Did Covid leak from a lab?
- May 2021 – Did COVID escape from a Wuhan lab?
The bottom line is this. Anybody claiming with certainty that it was a LabLeak has made the leap from a possibility to a conspiracy theory, one that has no evidence. Your best friend here is doubt because facts matter. In this instance at the moment, LabLeak is just a remote possibility, and not an established fact.