PART 5: Critical Thinking about COVID-19 Conspiracies – Snopes’ “Fact-check on the Origins of COVID-19”

By Nathaniel Doromal

In this section, we’ll examine this piece by Snopes, which attempts to debunk the hypothesis that COVID-19 originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and was accidentally released to the public. This hypothesis is termed the lab-origin hypothesis.

After examining the piece, you will see that the article does not actually succeed in debunking the lab-origin hypothesis. The Snopes article argues for a natural origin for COVID -19, using an authoritative tone with seemingly scientific rhetoric, and relying heavily on the weaponization of conspiracy theory.

In several ways, the article presents a biased characterization of the lab-origin hypothesis. First, it presents a series of non-sequiturs that appear to be authoritative facts but have nothing to do with the veracity of the lab-origin hypothesis. The article states: “While SARS viruses have escaped from a Beijing lab on at least four occasions, no such event has been documented in Wuhan.” The conclusion here is absurd – since viruses have escaped from other Chinese labs, why can’t it happen in Wuhan?

The non-sequiturs continue.

The article states, “In two instances, this researcher properly self-quarantined either after being bitten or urinated on by a potentially infected bat, he told reporters.”

In summary, the disconnect here is the assumption that because the researcher took precautionary measures after being bitten or urinated on by potentially infected bats, COVID -19 cannot be tied to the Wuhan lab. Furthermore, it is absurd to assume that proper waste disposal disproves the lab-origin hypothesis. The article’s seemingly authoritative facts have nothing to do with the veracity of the lab origin hypothesis; they only serve as a distraction.

The Snopes article continues with its biased characterization through commentary on the interview between Dr. Joseph Mercola and lawyer Francis Boyle. Several ad hominem fallacies are used to discredit both of these men. Mercola is termed an “alternative medicine guru” without acknowledging his status as an osteopathic physician. Francis Boyle is termed a “lawyer with no formal training in virology” without acknowledging that he is a Harvard-trained lawyer. The article’s use of the biased term “pseudoscientific internet personalities” is meant as an attack.

Personality Attack, Not Checking Facts

The Snopes piece then proceeds to refute the possibility of the lab-origin hypothesis by citing a Nature paper and accompanying commentary by National Institute of Health director Francis Collins in which a different virus with a spike-binding protein adaptation similar to the one in SaRs-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19) was found in pangolins.

The Nature paper argues that natural evolutionary mechanisms could have led to the actual SaRs-CoV-2 virus, and also makes the argument that the SaRs-CoV-2 genome shows no traces of genetic manipulation. However, the article does not even acknowledge that scientists do have the means to genetically alter viruses in ways that leave no traces of manipulation.

It is not hard to see that the Nature paper’s hypothesis does not necessarily debunk the lab-origin hypothesis of COVID-19. Rather, the article is a blatant attempt to present another hypothesis and make a persuasive case regarding the most probable origin of COVID-19.

The key question remains: Is the natural origin hypothesis for COVID-19 the most likely explanation?

The Snopes article leads readers to believe that science has settled the question, and they use the scientific consensus tactic to do so. However, a nagging question remains: Do we have enough evidence to decide one way or the other?

The Snopes article incorporates several lies of omission; it fails to discuss material plausible information and the author cherry-picks the facts and arguments to influence readers to accept its conclusion.

More Lies of Omission

  • The Snopes article fails to discuss gain-of-function (GOF) research, a form of research designed to increase the virulence of pathogens to infect different species, including humans, even though gain-of-function research was being done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Furthermore, it is a fact that this research was done on bats (natural carriers of coronaviruses) and that the NIH was instrumental in funding this research.

The non-profit U.S. Right to Know commented: “To date, there is not sufficient evidence to definitively reject either zoonotic origin or lab-origin hypotheses. We do know, based on published research articles and US federal grants to the EcoHealth Alliance for funding WIV’s coronavirus research, that (1) WIV stored hundreds of potentially dangerous SARS-like coronaviruses, (2) they performed GOF experiments on coronaviruses in collaboration with US universities, and (3) there were biosafety concerns with WIV’s BSL-4 laboratory.”

  • Second, the US government appears complicit in the Wuhan gain-of-function research. The Washington Times reported in April 2020 that the WIV was given $3.7 million under the auspices of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) which is part of NIH. The funding was made available via the organization EcoHealth Alliance to perform this gain-of-function research.

Stat News article reported, “EcoHealth had previously established a partnership with a virology laboratory in Wuhan, China — the city where the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have begun — under the terms of a five-year grant from the NIH. That grant was due to run through 2024 but was abruptly canceled in April.”

  • Third, regarding the sudden cancellation of this grant, Stat News reported: “Earlier this summer, the NIH told EcoHealth its grant could be restored if the organization met a number of prerequisites, including securing access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for US investigators, and a virus sample from Wuhan — conditions the organization is unlikely to be able to meet.”
  • Fourth, the US government players are reluctant to entertain an investigation into the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In a similar vein, the Snopes article dodges any notion of investigation or verification of its assumption, thereby giving the impression to the reader that the lab-origin hypothesis cannot be considered.

Regarding the plausibility of an escaped pathogen scenario from the WIV, it is interesting to note that US government officials raised safety concerns in 2018. According to The Washington Post, “Two years before the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the world, US Embassy officials visited a Chinese research facility in the city of Wuhan several times and sent two official warnings back to Washington about inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats.”

Why would Snopes, which claims to thoroughly evaluate “the facts”,  overlook these reported safety concerns and other material facts, all of which would likely substantially change the conclusions about the origin of SaRs-Cov-2? Shouldn’t we at least wonder about the potential for accidental release of such a virus and whether it is related to the SaRs-Cov-2 virus? Given the controversial nature of gain-of-function research, might the NIH have quietly decided to cancel the grant to the WIV to prevent further inquiry?

The Facts Are On Our Side

Promulgation of the hypothesis of the natural origin seems to have been orchestrated from within EcoHealth Alliance. U.S. Right to Know commented that public scientific support for a natural origin for COVID-19 appears to have been orchestrated from within EcoHealth Alliance, the very organization that received US federal grants for funding WIV’s coronavirus research. This seems to be a deliberate public relations scheme to draw attention away from the lab-origin hypothesis.

In summary, it is important to always ask one question: Who benefits? For example, who benefits from the natural origin hypothesis? Dr. Anthony Fauci would certainly benefit as this hypothesis draws attention away from his funding of the GOF research and potential culpability in case of a lab release. Certainly, the pharmaceuticals and vaccine developers can make use of this new research to develop new vaccines that lead to new market opportunities.

The US military might have interests in such research as well. Francis Boyle is a lawyer who has for decades argued against the use of bioweapon technology, and during an interview with Dr. Mercola, Boyle stated that the US government spent $100 billion on biological warfare programs from September 11, 2011 through October 2015. Though attacked in the Snopes article, the point stands that the military would be interested in gain-of-function research.

Boyle stated: “As for the CDC, it has been involved in every … BSL-4 biological warfare death science you could possibly imagine. It’s a matter of public record that during the Reagan administration, the CDC and the American Type Culture Collection sent 40 shipments of weapons-grade biological warfare agents to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, with the hope and expectation that he would weaponize these agents and use them against Iran.”

To effectively rule out the lab-origin hypothesis, an actual investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology would be needed. At the printing of the Snopes article in April 2020, no such investigation had been done, so it seems strange that any inquiry into COVID-19 lab origins is dismissed as “conspiracy theory.” Finally, in December 2020, it was announced that the World Health Organization (WHO) would investigate the virus’s origins in Wuhan.

Is it possible that government authorities want to stifle any questioning of COVID-19 origins to avoid drawing attention to gain-of-function research and its use in our government’s bioweapons development efforts? Should gain-of-function research even be allowed, given that it allows better infectivity of humans?

Whatever the origins of COVID, the weaponization of “conspiracy theory” hinders citizen inquiry and transparency. Citizens must stay the course and keep inquiring because they can play an important role in judging whether authorities are adhering to moral and ethical guidelines.


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Nate Doromal is an activist and writer within the Vaccine Awareness and Vaccine Safety movement. He is a veteran software engineer, formerly with Google. Doromal now works in finance. He holds an MS and an MBA in Computer Science from the University of Chicago. He holds an Executive MBA from the Smartly Institute. He was originally trained on vaccines and vaccine activism by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny in her Mastering Vaccine Info Bootcamp. He has also studied immunological science extensively with Dr. Tetyana Obukhanych through her Building Bridges Course. He is a contributing writer for Children’s Health Defense.

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