July 29, 2021

“The major scientific journals, Beijing’s ‘useful idiots’? “

LThe turnaround of the conversation has escaped no one. While the hypothesis of a laboratory accident as the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic had largely deserted the public space in recent months, here it is coming back in force, weighted down with a legitimacy that it does not have, so far never had.

To the point that it could seem to some (wrongly) that the case has been heard and that SARS-CoV-2 has indeed inadvertently left a Wuhan virology laboratory or its pet store. Presented as a virtual certainty and a scientific consensus for more than a year, the hypothesis of “natural zoonotic overflow” has now been reduced to a simple hypothesis which, although dominant, needs to be substantiated.

What happened ? Formally, there is no more evidence today in favor of the hypothesis of lab leak that it did not exist a year ago. The trigger for the turnaround lies in a text of two pages, co-signed by eighteen researchers and published on May 13 in the journal Science. The authors basically say this: “We need to take all assumptions about, both natural zoonotic overflow and lab leak, seriously until we have enough data. “

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Origins of Covid-19: the hypothesis of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology relaunched after the disclosure of unpublished work

One is justified in asking: why did it take eighteen months for such truism to be published in scholarly literature? The case illustrates the extraordinary power of the great scholarly journals, Nature, Science, The Lancet and a few others. That of framing the scientific debates which will then irrigate society, that of animating the talk on some issues, but also to close the door to discussion on others.

This is what happened in this case. In the online magazine UnHerd, journalist Ian Birrell put it forcefully, wondering if the major scientific journals had not been the « useful idiots » from Beijing. The former editor-in-chief deputy of The Independent notes that the major scholarly journals have promoted a narrative that always gives pride of place to the proponents of zoonotic overflow. And this, without solid proof that such an event had indeed occurred.

Blatant asymmetry

For several months, scientists who sought to argue that the scientific debate was open, and that the hypothesis of lab leak had to be considered, saw their texts systematically rejected – until Science accepts that of May 13.

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