Arguing virology with the mods
Fellow blogger Freddie deBoer responds to my Wednesday piece on the debate over the origins of COVID-19:
“OK, so then, what are we even arguing here?”
Among other things, we’re arguing that the immediate within-platform censorship of banning any discussion of this topic from several major social media platforms was wildly inappropriate given that there are many credentialed virologists and other subject-matter experts who have repeatedly said that it’s plausible that the virus escaped a lab. We know it’s plausible because, among other things, experts have been ringing the alarm bell literally for decades that a major lab leak epidemic was coming if nothing was done to systematically improve lab security and containment procedures. Now that the lab leak idea has been politicized, people who are angrily denying the possibility that it could be a lab leak are in effect acting as useful idiots for those corporations and institutions who run virology labs, who don't want to pay to upgrade their facilities. Lab safety practices have become polarized along culture war lines and the left, bizarrely, is obstructing efforts to improve those practices by accident through their rabid dismissal of the lab leak.
I think the lab leak theory is only plausible. But it certainly IS plausible. And if it weren't for culture war, most people would be perfectly willing to say “either of these two major theories are plausible, we don't know which is correct right now, and we may never know.” Why would that be threatening?
I appreciate this comment because it puts concretely the exact sort of thing I think people keep getting wrong in this case: arguing the meta-issue of what we are “allowed” to talk about rather than the facts before us.
I’ll note at the top that I have absolutely no problem with a public debate over lab safety, including one about the risks of so-called gain-of-function research. It’s an important debate and I’m glad we’re having it. And I am not “rabidly dismissing” the possibility of a lab leak. I am, and have been, very interested in the possibility that the pandemic was caused by human malfeasance of one kind or another.
What I’m asking for is some kind of coherent, falsifiable story about how, when, and where a lab — and, it must be repeated, which lab — caused the initial outbreak. Instead, Freddie is engaging in what you might call argumentum ex nuntius tabula: argument from message board. Basically, he’s saying that, because the moderators of social media platforms took down some posts three years ago, we have the right to — nay, public safety demands that we — treat an assertion for which we have no compelling public evidence as if it were equal to one for which we do.
On that point, I offer into evidence … bat soup. Remember bat soup? Those videos