An open letter from a global coalition of eminent global scientists:
Reaction to the China-WHO joint study team report
CoV-2 origin hypotheses.”Having read the report entitled‘WHO-convenedGlobalStudy of Origins of SARS-CoV-2: China part’ and reviewed the statements made in the March 30, 2021 WHO-organized press event announcing the report’s release, we have regrettably concluded that our concerns were fully justified.
In addition to the issues regarding the joint mission structure and process outlined in our previous open letter, we wish to express the following concerns regarding the joint study process and report conclusions:
The joint study team saw its priority as seeking a zoonotic origin, not as fully examining all possible sources of the pandemic. Its Terms of Reference did not mention any possible lab-pathway and on the contrary explicitly stated a strict zoonosis origin from the very start (“identify the zoonotic source of the virus”).
The published data supporting the mission report mostly present reviews of Chinese studies that have not been published, shared with, or reviewed by the international scientific community.
Well over a year after the initial outbreak, critical records and biological samples that could provide essential insights into pandemic origins remain inaccessible. This withholding of key resources that could and should have been made available undermined the credibility of the joint study team work.
The joint study team used different evidentiary standards for the four origin theories it considered.No solid justification is provided for why a ‘lab-relatedaccident’(whether a lab-leak or sampling accident) should be considered ‘extremely unlikely’, or why a natural spillover via an unknown animal host should be considered ‘likely to very likely’.
At this stage there is still no direct evidence for either pathway nor any verified data or evidence sufficient to rule any one out, while historical evidence amply supports both.
In particular, a primary conclusion of the report, that SARS-CoV-2 was most probably introduced into the human population through an intermediate host, is not supported by the negative results of all the 80,000 tested samples of wildlife, livestock (35species) and poultry. That pathway remains entirely theoretical, which at the very least shows the necessity to remain open to other pathways.
The joint study report spends a mere 440 words examining the lab-accident pathway – less than 1% of the whole report – and does so in a dismissive and superficial way without considering all the possible versions of that pathway, including a possible infection of a sampling team member by a virus that may never have been isolated or sequenced. The joint study report also makes no mention of the Gain of Function researchon bat corona viruses that was being carried out in Wuhan in the second half of 2019.
The 440-word assessment of the lab-accident pathway is supplemented by Annex D7 of the report, which labels the lab-pathway as a ‘conspiracy theory’ five times while containing disputed, incorrect, imprecise, and contradictory assertions (as detailed in the supplement below).
The final process utilized by the joint study team for assessing the likelihood of the lab pathway – essentially a show of hands by the joint study team members based on an extremely superficial review – failed to reach some most basic standards of credible analysis and assessment. Further, it is at best unclear whether the Chinese joint study team members had the leeway to express their fair evaluation of all hypotheses in the presence of Chinese government minder
Against these significant limitations and procedural failures that call the conclusions of the China-WHOjoint study report into question,we fully support the March 30, 2021 statement by WHO Director-General Dr.Tedros AdhanomGhebreyesusthat all origin hypotheses must still be examined, including the possibility of a lab-related incident, that China must be more forthright in sharing essential data and biological samples, and that WHO is prepared to send additional missions and experts to China in order to thoroughly examine all origin hypotheses. We welcome this courageous defense of the WHO’s integrity and recognize the organization’s potential to lead a comprehensive investigation into pandemic origins, if given the mandate and necessary support.
We further welcome the March 30, 2021 Joint Statement on the WHO-convened COVID-19 Origins Study by 14 countries underscoring the need for “a transparent and independent analysis and evaluation, free from interference and undue influence” and voicing their shared
concern that the joint study “lacked access to complete,original data and samples.” We also recognize the EuropeanUnionStatementon the WHO-led COVID-19OriginsStudy underlining that the identification of the source of the SARS-CoV-2virus will “require full and transparent cooperation by all WHO Member States and a collaborative effort by scientists from various disciplines.
Colin D. Butler, Honorary Professor of Public Health, Australian National University, Canberra,Australia ORCID 0000-0002-2942-5294
Jean-Michel Claverie, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Virologist, Aix-Marseille University,France(ORCID 0000-0003-1424-0315)
Fabien Colombo, PhD Candidate, Communication and sociology of science, MICA, UniversitéBordeauxMontaigne,France
FranciscoA. de Ribera,IndustrialEngineer,MBA,MSc(Res),Data scientist,Madrid,Spain (ORCID 0000-0003-4419-636X)
Rodolphede Maistre,MSc engineering,MBA,IHEDN,France(ORCID 0000-0002-3433-2420)
GillesDemaneuf,Engineerand DataScientist,BNZ,Auckland,NewZealand, (Co-Organizer)
RichardH.Ebright,Professorof Chemistry and ChemicalBiology,RutgersUniversity,USA
Andre M.Goffinet,Prof.em., Neurobiology,Universityof Louvain,Belgium
Francois Graner, biophysicist,Research Director, CNRS and Universite de Paris,France, (ORCID 0000-0002-4766-3579)
José Halloy, Professor of Physics, Biophysics and Sustainability, Université de Paris, France(ORCID 0000-0003-1555-2484)
Makoto Itoh,Dr.Eng.,FullProfessorof Engineering,Informationand Systems,University of Tsukuba, Japan
HidekiKakeya,Dr.Eng.,Associate Professorof Engineering,Informationand Systems, University of Tsukuba, Japan (ORCID 0000-0003-3788-9133)
MiltonLeitenberg,Senior ResearchAssociate,School of PublicAffairs,Universityof Maryland,USA
Filippa Lentzos,Senior Lecturerin Science& InternationalSecurity,King’sCollege
JamieMetzl,Senior Fellow,AtlanticCouncil,USA (Co-Organizer)
DominiqueMorello,Molecularbiologist,formerly DRCNRS, science communicator, France
NikolaiPetrovsky,Professorof Medicine,FlindersUniversity,Australia(ORCID 0000-0002-1580-5245)
StevenQuay,MD,PHD,FormerlyAsst. Professor,Departmentof Pathology,Stanford
University School of Medicine,USA(ORCID 0000-0002-0363-7651)
MonaliC. Rahalkar,PhD,Scientist D,BioenergyGroup,Agharkar ResearchInstitute, Pune,India
RossanaSegreto,PhD,Departmentof Microbiology,Universityof Innsbruck,Austria (ORCID 0000-0002-2566-7042)
Günter Theißen,Dr.rer.nat.,Professorof Genetics,MatthiasSchleidenInstitute,
FriedrichSchiller UniversityJena, Germany (ORCID 0000-0003-4854-8692)
Jacquesvan Helden,Ir.PhD,Professorof Bioinformatics,Departmentof Biology,
Aix-MarseilleUniversité,France (ORCID 0000-0002-8799-8584).
RolandWiesendanger,Dr. phil.,Professorof Physics,Universityof Hamburg,Germany
Cross them off Xi Jinping’s Xmas card list. Full letter.