Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that Ms. Chan admitted to the fear of “being associated with Trump” instead of “staying mum.”
Fears of being “associated with Trump” kept scientists from publicly speaking out about a possible lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2020, according to at least one researcher now calling for a probe into the possibility.
Alina Chan, a postdoctoral associate at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, admitted to the fear this week while speaking to NBC News about COVID-19’s origins.
“At the time, it was scarier to be associated with Trump and to become a tool for racists, so people didn’t want to publicly call for an investigation into lab origins,” she said Wednesday.
Ms. Chan was among the 18 scientists who last month called for a more thorough investigation of the “lab-leak hypothesis” in an open letter published in the prestigious journal Science.
“Getting angry tweets from Trump supporters since yesterday about a quote in @NBCNews @denisechow,” Ms. Chan added as the story spread on social media. “Best to clarify before it escalates: I publicly raised the lab leak hypothesis in Mar 2020 and have been pushing for an investigation for more than a year. … Gotta say these folks are definitely showing scientists that we shouldn’t talk to the media.”
Former President Trump was blasted by pundits throughout the pandemic as a racist for repeatedly spotlighting the contagion’s origins.
Similarly, social media giants banned or suppressed talk about the possibility that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute, whether released deliberately or accidentally, labeling it a conspiracy theory.
Ms. Chan acknowledged that the lab-leak hypothesis is unproven, but said clear-cut proof can’t be the standard.
“I know a lot of people want to have a smoking gun,” Ms. Chan said. “It’s more like breadcrumbs everywhere, and they’re not always leading in one direction. It’s like the whole floor is covered in breadcrumbs.”
Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN in March that evidence he’s seen highly suggests a lab leak.
“That’s not implying any intentionality [on China‘s part], you know?” he told the network. “It’s my opinion, all right? But I am a virologist. I have spent my life in virology. I do not believe this somehow came from a bat to a human and, at that moment in time, the virus that came to the human became one of the most infectious viruses that we know in humanity for human-to-human transmission.”