But they’re not being discussed.
Over the last couple of weeks, the ‘lab leak hypothesis’, which claims that COVID-19 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (or some other Chinese facility) and didn’t jump from an animal host to people, has been revisited. Just about every commentator who isn’t a conservative propagandist pushing the CHI-NAH VIRUS11!!11 conspiracy line has concluded that determining the origin of the pandemic (lab leak or animal to human transmission) is a politically important issue, but not important for policy.
That’s actually wrong.
In the Before Times, going back at least several decades, microbiologists (and others) have been debating and worrying about the problems of microbiology lab leaks and mishaps*. Questions about the number of laboratories permitted to do BL3/BL4 research (every such lab is a potential leak), the type of research (‘gain of function‘), and their locations** (e.g., in Boston, near the intersection of key transit arteries for the Northeast U.S.) have been debated extensively for years by microbiologists and related disciplines–though if a political or econ pundit doesn’t hear about it, does it make a sound, I suppose…
These are important questions, and, obviously, were a laboratory escape to have led to a global pandemic which has killed millions that might have some relevance to these questions, as well as suggest how to prevent or limit future leaks.
So it does matter for scientific research (and public safety) policy. It’s just not policy most pundits care or think about***. Nor do the potential solutions fit neatly into the usual political boxes. So it doesn’t matter according to The Discourse. Same as it ever was.
*In 1994, there was a researcher was infected with Sabia virus while working with it at Yale Unversity. During the course of symptoms, the researcher had traveled from New Haven to Boston and back–the researcher did not report the leak because the researcher did not believe he had been infected. The ensuing policy discussion will sound sort of familiar…
**The Trump administration inexplicably green-lighted moving the Plum Island facility which researches critical and deadly animal pathogens to Manhattan, Kansas in 2023. There is a reason the facility was on an island, and not in an area with lots of farm animals….
***After a year of watching pundits struggle with biology–and their irrelevancy due to a lack of domain expertise–they are desperate to return to familiar ground.