The Hamburg physics professor Roland Wiesendanger has now gone public with a paper that he and the press department of his university dubbed a “study”. “I am convinced that the evidence is clear and that the current pandemic began as a laboratory accident,” Wiesendanger told Tagesspiegel.
The “study” consists of a more than 100-page discussion of all possible sources – from YouTube videos and articles from the “Epoch Times” portal, which is popular with conspiracy theorists, to specialist publications.
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Non-technical answer to an unanswered question
Wiesendanger, who has not previously worked scientifically in areas such as virology, evolution and epidemiology, has not submitted his article to a scientific journal and therefore has not subjected it to any expert assessment. He has also not uploaded it to a “preprint” server, which is used for technical discussion before final publication. It is only accessible via “Researchgate”, a kind of Facebook for scientists.
The communication from the university does not go into this and does not speak of a thesis paper, but of a “study”. According to media information, this procedure was not an accident.
The publication and announcement in this way was coordinated with University President Dieter Lenzen, reports the ZDF website. Wiesendanger writes that virologists only assume a zoonotic origin – that is, a pathogen that has developed in animals naturally spreads to humans.
The molecular biological data do not allow one of the two possibilities to be excluded.
Real experts, who Wiesendanger does not count as a nanophysicist, consider a natural origin to be much more likely based on the information available to them and are also able to substantiate this in a technically plausible manner.
On the other hand, there is not only the fact that a biological-theoretical origin via genetic manipulation in the laboratory cannot be ruled out, but also the extremely restrictive behavior of the Chinese authorities.
Even the most recent survey by World Health Organization experts in China wasn’t necessarily free. It was delayed several times, numerous possible traces no longer exist, not all laboratory samples have been released.
The re are also other indications that Wiesendanger lists.
Laboratory theory is criticized by many scientists
The re are also a few publications from professionals who conclude that laboratory origin is more than possible. However, these have been well-grounded by specialist colleagues and are widely regarded as methodologically inadequate and flawed.
The critical professional discussion about virological research, in which there is a fundamental risk that dangerous variants arise and can also be released in the event of a lack of care or accidents, has also intensified significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.
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Wiesendanger says that the laboratory orthosis was branded as a conspiracy theory at an early stage, especially in Germany. In other countries, the reporting was “much more critical”. “I largely missed this critical reflection on the subject in Germany,” says the physicist.
Virologists had discredited the laboratory hypothesis partly out of self-interest, such as the US researcher Peter Daszak, “who carried out high-risk research on corona viruses in Wuhan”. Wiesendanger says that the main aim of the publication is to stimulate a debate about the “gain of function” research. This is the scientific work with artificially engineered viruses that can be more dangerous than their naturally occurring variants.
Virologists would have to fear for approval of such research projects if it were to be found that Covid-19 began with a laboratory accident. Research on zoonoses would also be affected. “If someone could prove that it was a laboratory accident, no one would provide any more money,” says Wiesendanger. But even he cannot provide proof of this hypothesis.
Great response to Wiesendanger’s publication
In any case, he got attention. Wiesendanger’s publication met with wide and varied echoes on Twitter and elsewhere. Numerous experts criticized his approach and that of the university. Colleagues from his university distanced themselves or made sarcastic comments.
The molecular ecologist Mathilde Cordellier wrote, for example: “Now my university has its own Levitt”. She thus refers to the biophysics professor Michael Levitt from Stanford University, who has become known through a number of grossly incorrect theses on Covid-19.
The ma:Angst vor Corona-Mutanten – was man jetzt über die neuen Virusvarianten wissen muss]
In addition, it can be heard from circles of the university that many are appalled and fear for the reputation of their university, which has recently become a university of excellence. Wiesendanger’s paper also has only about the level of an average student seminar paper, according to a university lecturer compared to the Tagesspiegel.
The Dean’s Office of the Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Natural Sciences distanced itself in a statement on Friday from the “evidence-based statements”. It was “strange” to the Dean’s office and a large number of the faculty scientists that the “study” was disseminated through the official channels of the University of Hamburg and that “it was about sound scientific findings”.
Independently of this, scientists of the “Coronavirus Structural Task Force” at the university have dealt with key statements from Wiesendanger. Regarding Wiesendanger’s argument that no intermediate host has yet been found from which the bat virus has been transmitted to humans and that this is therefore unlikely, they write that it is not uncommon.
The ignorance of an intermediate host does not in any way disprove a zoonosis as the cause”.
The “free association of student bodies”, for example, calls the process a “scandal”. Its board member, Jonathan Dreusch, sees the paper as “a work of thrown together studies, articles taken over without criticism and YouTube videos”.
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