Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19 : A Book That Should Make You Angry

We all know that accidents happen.  They happen to ourselves, and to people around us.

Generally, if the person most responsible for the “accident” (being responsible implies some causal link, of course, whereas “accident” implies – often incorrectly – a guilt-free event) admits their role, hadn’t been outrageously negligent, and apologizes promptly, fully, and sincerely, all parties are satisfied, particularly if there’s a learning experience involved that reduces the chance of the accident repeating.

That’s how it works with aviation safety, for example.

But if the person who was responsible for the accident denies it, blames other people, laughs at you for suggesting it was their responsibility, persuades your friends to believe them rather than you, bribes the police, and refuses to admit any responsibility at all, then ultimately starts blaming you for the accident, it becomes much harder to feel good about the event and the outcome.

I have of course just described the appearance of the coronavirus in Wuhan, haven’t I, and China’s reactions – starting off with pretending the virus didn’t exist, then claiming it wasn’t a serious infection, and couldn’t be passed from person to person, then blaming it on some convoluted path between bats in caves 950 miles away, pangolins (an animal most of us had never heard of before), and a seafood market – a market that just happened to be over the road from the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and a few miles away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

China clearly believes the best defense is a strong offense.  The country first brought pressure on WHO, causing WHO to delay by up to three months its acknowledgement of a crisis unfolding (“up to” because it depends what trigger point you start counting forward from), then, through its friends and financial dependents around the world, made sure that social media such as Facebook, and “fact-checkers” galore either deleted or refused to publish or flagged any suggestion that the virus’ origins were not a natural coincidence.  Scientific journals refused to publish papers from respected scientists on the topic, and “conventional wisdom” eagerly vilified anyone daring to raise such a “crazy conspiracy theory”.

The irony was that while they were being accused of being conspiracy nutters, the reality has always been that anyone with half a brain and an open mind could always clearly see that the most likely source of Covid was from one of China’s virus labs.  In ironic reality, the real nutters were the people making laughable statements such as “it is impossible to genetically engineer a virus like this without leaving traces”, or just to outright say “it is impossible to make a virus like this”.  (Were they lying, or just ignorant on a topic they were claiming to be experts on?)  These days, it takes little more than a home chemistry kit to genetically engineer viruses (well, a bit more than a home chemistry kit, but surprisingly and terrifyingly not as much as you’d think), and researchers are doing it, every day, all around the world.

Slowly there’s been a steady drip of inconvenient truths.  We now know as certain truth that the bat virus that is most likely the original starting point for the evolved/altered Covid virus didn’t magically travel to Wuhan via long-distance flying bats (there is no such thing) and pangolins (an extraordinarily unlikely viral vector due to how the animals don’t socialize with each other), but in sample jars carried from the caves by the Wuhan virus researchers.  The former pathway is conjecture, the latter pathway is known to have happened.

We now know that some of the researchers themselves appeared to come down with Covid-19 earlier in 2019.  It also seems there may have been no mammals in the seafood market to pass the virus on to people (and almost certainly no pangolins – a most unlikely path for the virus in any case).

Yes, many but not all of the first cases can be traced to the seafood market.  But what does that really mean?  It is much more likely that the people who became infected there caught the virus from other people in the market, not from living or dead, fresh or frozen animals.

And, most of all, we know that at many major points, China and its chief mouthpieces in the west have distorted, omitted, or lied about the facts of the matter.  They have tried to suppress relevant data, and to prevent western researchers from conducting their own reviews and analysis.

We still don’t know how the virus got from the various research labs around Wuhan to the market.  We don’t know if this was deliberate or accidental.  We don’t know if the virus as it was released into the wild had been edited or deliberately boosted through “gain of function” experimentation.  But we do know, to a high degree of confidence, that it came from one of the Wuhan labs, and we also know that, contrary to the laughable claims by China’s “friends” that were earlier accepted without question by people who know better, it would have been remarkably easy to engineer the virus, and to leave no trace of having done so.  And we know that even if the Covid virus hadn’t been edited and enhanced through “passaging” (gain of function) that is exactly what researchers were doing on assorted coronaviruses at the time, in those labs.

Explaining and establishing these issues defies simple sound-bites.  To create a credible case setting out the most likely evolution of the situation that sees us all wearing masks and anxiously accepting multiple shots of experimental mRNA medicines, while mourning the loss of 800,000 people now dead from Covid in the US alone and 5.2 million worldwide – this requires and indeed deserves a very careful point by point analysis and review.

So, with this lengthy introduction, may I introduce you to a new book, “Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19“, written by Dr Alina Chan and Matt Ridley.  This excellent book gives us exactly the fastidious analysis and review we need.  It describes, in sometimes overwhelming detail, and with at times a frustratingly exaggerated impartiality, everything that you’d need to know about the virus and its origins.

Alina Chan is a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.  She has a background in medical genetics, synthetic biology, and vector engineering, and is working on human gene therapy issues.  She has been engaged in the frontline of Covid research since the early days of the outbreak.

Matt Ridley – a hereditary British Lord (he is the Fifth Viscount Ridley) is an award-winning science writer, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and has written in publications such as The Economist, The Wall St Journal, and The Times.  He has authored a number of popular books on genetics as well as broader scientific topics.

Together, they’ve created a compelling narrative that is simultaneously rigorously scientific but also generally easy to follow and engaging to read.

I mentioned exaggerated impartiality.  As an example, the book doesn’t ever actually say “Dr Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance is a liar”.  Instead, it quotes him saying one thing on one page, then a couple of pages later, without comment quotes him as saying the opposite.  Did the Wuhan Institute of Virology keep bats onsite?  No, absolutely not, said Daszak.  But after a couple of pages of evidence clearly showing that bats were kept on site, the book then quotes Daszak as saying at a later time that it is normal and common to keep bats on site, and agreeing the WIV did indeed keep bats on site.

Without actually saying what it is doing, the 404 page book goes through a series of 14 chapters, each taking one of the claims that the virus couldn’t have possibly emerged from a lab and had to be naturally occurring, only to pick that claim apart, and tear it to shreds.  Then, the next chapter, the next argument by the lab-deniers, and the next overwhelming rebuttal.

The book is well foot-noted, and has 63 pages of additional notes and reference sources to support its claims.  It has a few poor-quality black and white pictures and a couple of helpful maps.  It would have been nice to have had a color picture section.  The Kindle version of the book also and needlessly restricts itself to only low-quality black and white pictures, too.

Sadly, because of its fastidious detail, and the authors’ evident desire to give us the understanding and background so we could understand the sometimes complex issues involved and make our own judgments rather than just rely on those of others, the book gets complicated and dense in parts.  While much of the time, the narrative moves forward and is well-told and keeps one interested, at times the science gets a bit heavy-going.  But, if you want to emerge with a well-informed understanding, and the ability to see through the half-truths that even now are still being offered to support the natural-emergence theory, keep reading.  Or, if the worst comes to the worst, simply move on to the next chapter and topic.

You’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping details of China’s distortions and obfuscations.  For example, when the farcical WHO investigatory team visited early this year, they were shown the maximum containment BSL-4 level biosecurity lab in the new WIV building.  But they weren’t shown the two much less secure (BSL-2 and BSL-3) facilities where the virus research actually took place!  How is it the WHO team didn’t ask to see the actual labs, and instead were content to see a better and newer lab that was not used?

Why has China removed virus databases, and renamed earlier virus samples?  Why does it refuse to reveal information that it almost certainly has?  The most telling thing about such actions is that by refusing to cooperate, and visibly obfuscating or even lying, China’s actions hint at its guilt.  One of the strongest recurring threads through the book is China’s unwillingness to share the information it has on the virus and its origins.

You’ll be amazed at the hold China has over WHO.  For example, WHO – the same organization that says there isn’t enough evidence to support ivermectin as a treatment, has acknowledged the entirety of Chinese Traditional Medicines as being valid medical science.  The evidence in support of this?  The Chinese government’s demand that WHO do so.  Nothing else.  Just political pressure from the Chinese government.

I’m not arguing against the possible benefits of some aspects of TCM, but I am pointing out the hypocrisy that has WHO embrace it without question or complaint, while refusing to acknowledge the (as of late November 2021) 131 studies, 85 of which are peer reviewed, and 67 with treatment and control groups, and with 49,492 participating patients that almost uniformly give strong support for ivermectin use.

You’ll laugh at some of the ways the Chinese have tried to keep investigators out of the specific bat cave where the virus may have originated from.  “Rampaging elephants” made it too dangerous for investigators to get near it was one of the more delightful excuses.

But, most of all, the chances are that, the same as me, you’ll quietly rage at how China has managed, for two years now, to avoid stepping up and admitting its role in Covid’s appearance on the world stage, and the careful lack of interest and passive acceptance of China’s lies shown by most groups and governments – made all the more aggravating by the vilification of people who dared to state the much more obvious truths of China’s culpability.

Sure, we can’t put the Covid genie back in the bottle, but if we’d known, in late 2019, that a highly infectious new coronavirus was “in the wild” we could have done many things different between then and three (or more) months later, at the end of March 2020, when WHO finally deemed to declare it a global pandemic.

And if we know now about the virus escape, we might be motivated to add controls on laboratory experimentation – and that thought in particular might explain the “conspiracy of silence” among so many scientists who should know better.

The book, released on 16 November 2021, is published by mainstream publisher HarperCollins and is broadly available.  Amazon of course has it, currently in both hard-cover ($27) and Kindle ($13) forms, as well as audiobook and audio CD forms too.

Strongly recommended.

14 thoughts on “Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19 : A Book That Should Make You Angry”

  1. I strongly suggest reading this review in the Washington Post for an insightful analysis of the book.. ​
    November 11, 2021

    1. Hi

      Can I in turn strongly suggest you actually read the book itself.

      These comments in the WaPo article are unfair and very narrowly limited in scope, interlaced with the inevitable ad hominem attacks that scoundrels love to employ when they have no substantive arguments to offer.

      I’m reminded of the phrase “Methinks he doth protest too much” – this article is a desperate remaining attempt to try to obscure the truth as is clearly and broadly revealed by Ridley and Chan.

  2. Two other articles that are very good: They are fairly scathing.

    “Caught in the Crossfire Over Covid’s Origins
    Alina Chan suggested last year that the coronavirus was “pre-adapted” to humans. Critical reaction was swift and harsh.”

    “These authors wanted to push the COVID-19 lab-leak theory. Instead they exposed its weaknesses”

    1. The NY Times article is paywalled so I can’t see it. But is there any surprise that last year there was critical reaction to a suggestion the virus leaked from one of China’s virus labs? Back then, that was the prevailing notion being aggressively pushed by so many pro-China factions. Now, the prevailing opinion has become much more supportive of the reality of the virus emerging from a lab.

      The LA Times article is amusing because it ends up accusing the authors of being even-handed! “We have tried to lay out the evidence and follow it wherever it leads, but it has not led us to a definite conclusion.” That’s not a weakness, it is a commendable honesty by the authors. Some issues remain unknown, but on balance of probabilities, the lab leak theory is now being seen as greatly more likely than the bizarre animal to animal to animal to human alternate theory. Or the “it came from a US bioweapons lab via frozen food” theory that China is also ridiculously asserting.

      The major theme of the LA Times criticism seems to be that the book doesn’t slavishly accept the Chinese lies! Or, as it phrases it, “Yet if the authors were truly concerned with the origin of COVID-19, they would give proper due to the prevailing scientific judgment about it: that COVID was “zoonotic,” spilling over from infected animals to humans via natural contact the way most viruses known to science have reached humankind”. The whole theme of the book, and of other leading articles now being bravely published, is that “prevailing scientific judgment” was spectacularly wrong and was shaped not on the basis of science but on the basis of influence from China.

  3. I wish I could consolidate my list of scathing reviews, but here is another:

    “Viral by Alina Chan and Matt Ridley review – was Covid-19 really made in China?” “Two champions of ‘rigorous science’ fail to provide a shred of evidence that Covid-19 was engineered and leaked from a lab.”

    1. The lede on the Guardian’s article is “Two champions of ‘rigorous science’ fail to provide a shred of evidence that Covid-19 was engineered and leaked from a lab”. That’s not entirely true, but putting that to one side for a minute, where are the shreds of evidence that Covid-19 came from animals. The Chinese authorities have brought their almost infinite resources to bear and tested thousands – probably tens of thousands – of animals and have been unable to find a single animal in the possible chain of transmittal that was infected.

      So, there is no evidence at all against the Ridley/Chan theory, and a wealth of necessarily circumstantial evidence strongly implying they are correct.

      As I said to your earlier post, please read the book. If you’ve an open mind, you’ll be convinced. But I wonder if you do, because you’re being unusually active – three messages on this review – and have “come from nowhere”. You’re not one of my mailing list members, and you’re only citing these negative reviews, nothing positive. Why does this issue excite you so much?

  4. I do not like seeing wild speculation being spread around. I generally only read vetted, well-researched articles and you quote this as if it is reliable information. The scathing reviews I posted show it is not mainstream, well-vetted thought. From reading your views, you seem to endorse this apparently, weak theory. I also detest all of the wild, unsubstantiated anti-vax information. There is too much misinformation out there. Thank you for at least posting some scathing reviews from well-vetted publications.

  5. “Fastidious analysis”? This book, written by a longtime libertarian climate-denying aristocrat with a zoology degree, is “excellent”? A friend of mine (who is a public health and epidemiology researcher) said “Lord Ridley’s leaps of logic are visible from space”.

    It’s important to ask questions about covid’s origins and (regardless of its origins) how China and other countries have responded, but this biased ideological book is not the place to look for answers.

    1. Have you actually read the book, Bruce? And please be even handed with your ad hominem attacks – lavish them not only on Matt Ridley, but also on the other author and the hundreds of cited scholarly papers, too.

      You can do better than this…..

    1. I’ve not censored a single negative comment.

      And your own credibility sadly zeroed out when you said you’ve not bothered to read it. How can you assess a book when you refuse to read it? Sure, maybe you trust other reviewers, but your ability to criticize my review and assessment of the book is very marginalized.

      I can understand how other reviewers have made you think the book is junk. I’ll try not to be aggrieved that I failed to overturn those impressions. 🙂 But I think you’ve now said all you fairly should say in this discussion.

  6. I haven’t read this book (yet), but I know a fair amount about Alina Chan (starting in March/April 2020) and have a lot of respect for her ability and her willingness to seek the truth when many “establishment” scientists were trying to silence and intimidate her. She is no rightist or libertarian, but she appears to be a (rare) scientist who seeks the truth no matter where it leads. I wish we had more of them …

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