Eighteen months after publishing the infamous letter organized by Peter Daszak, disgraced British rag The Lancet made a U-turn. Now it is making “an appeal for an objective, open, and transparent scientific debate about the origin of SARS-CoV-2”. Talk about shutting the barn door after the horse has reached the other continent.
If the biologists are serious about cleaning up the scientific process, they should start with retracting all papers from Zhengli Shi and Peter Daszak. Let me explain why.
Why Do Scientists Retract Papers?
I closely followed a famous case of a retraction of physics papers, because my PhD advisor was in the review panel. After the panel found evidence of scientific misconduct in 2/3 of the cases it investigated, all of his papers and even his PhD thesis were retracted.
Was this large-scale retraction a punishment? Was it possible that many of his retracted papers had elements of truth and science could be better served by filtering out the ones with proven fault? Not at all, because trust is an important component of science.
At an individual level, a scientist must critically examining all claims and assumptions of him and others to ensure that he is arriving at the truth. Physicist Richard Feynman said - “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Scientists making error in the process is acceptable.
In addition, there is also a social component. A physicist sitting in Boston cannot travel to every country from Australia to Zambia to measure the gravitational constant. Instead he relies on trusted agents to perform various experiments, and this trust allows scaling up of science. Without trust, every person will have to repeat every experiment making scientific discoveries horrendously expensive.
If an agent intentionally deceives the community, he is not trustworthy and all his scientific contributions should come under scrutiny. It may be far less expensive to retract all of his papers than sorting through them to find out whether some of them contain elements of truth. Peter Daszak appears to be such a person, and the most recent leak of DARPA grant makes that abundantly clear.
Daszak’s deception may have cost many lives as @Harvard2H pointed out in twitter. A recent Biorxiv paper observed that kidney cells were affected by SARS-CoV-2, which would be unusual for a respiratory virus. It is less unusual if the virus was indeed leaked from lab and was optimized in vero cells from kidney as proposed in the DARPA grant. Shouldn’t Daszak have released information about the kind of experiments being conducted at Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Jan 2020? Instead we learn it 18 months later and that too from a leaked grant proposal. In the meanwhile, Daszak called scientists looking for lab leak as “conspiracy theorist” and delayed the understanding of this disease.
Let’s look at another example discussed by @ydeigin. In twitter, Daszak challenged another group of “conspiracy theorists”. He called any claim of keeping bats at WIV a “widely circulated conspiracy theory”, and this also delayed understanding what was going on at WIV. Daszak wrote in twitter -
No BATS were sent to Wuhan lab for genetic analyses of viruses collected in the field. That’s not how this science works. We collect bat samples, send them to the lab. We RELEASE bats where we catch them!.
In contrast, his grant application from 2018 proposed to house bats within an ABSL3 facility at WIV.
The most egregious deception was about the sequence of the virus as @Rossana38510044 pointed out. Right from the beginning, bioinformaticians were puzzled about the furin cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2 with two CGG codons for arginine. The usage of that codon is extremely rare in the SARS coronaviruses. Daszak wrote in his grant - “we will introduce human-specific cleavage sites”, and that is the most plausible explanation of how the virus could have acquired this furin cleavage site. Segreto explained -
What a coincidence that the FCS in SARS2 is identical to the furin-cleavable peptide on the human epithelial sodium channel α-subunit https://twitter.com/Rossana38510044/status/1274810105633144840 And that it is coded with the best codons for arginine (CGG) found in humans https://twitter.com/quay_dr/status/1401516754346528776
Also, Daszak wrote in the grant about having 180 different SARS-like coronaviruses at WIV, but they are still hidden from the world. Did WIV already have the virus recently discovered in Laos that appears to match SARS-CoV-2 closely ? The understanding of the origin of covid would have taken a completely different trajectory if this virus from Laos were among those 180 viruses.
Last but not the least, Daszak organized the Lancet letter claiming others “conspiracy theorists” and nowhere did he mention his conflict of interest. Neither did this conflict of interest stop him from joining the WHO panel to investigate the origin of covid.
How Trustworthy is Zhengli Shi?
As the scientist leading the SARS virus research team at WIV, Zhengli Shi also had deep knowledge of everything mentioned above. In addition, she was found to be deceptive in her reporting of RaTG13, the claimed virus from bat that was closest to SARS-CoV-2. When did she have the complete sequence of the virus? Why was the raw data file submitted to SRA full of garbage? Was she trying to be deceptive in her reporting of RaTG13 in early 2020 to paint a false picture? Why was the WIV virus database deleted in Sept 2020, three months before the claimed beginning of the outbreak?