New Documents Expose Duke University Researcher Linfa Wang’s Dissembling
Why does Science Magazine keep swooning over EcoHealth Alliance researchers?
5 minute read
Recently released documents made public under the Freedom of Information Act expose misleading comments by Linfa Wang, a bat coronavirus researcher at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, about chimeric virology work done by his collaborator Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Wang is co-investigator on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant awarded to EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit run by Peter Daszak. From the beginning of the COVID19 outbreak, Daszak has been a central player in efforts to shield the Wuhan laboratory from suspicion as the source of a leak of the COVID-19 virus. In February 2020, Daszak orchestrated a letter in The Lancet that labeled a Wuhan lab leak a “conspiracy theory”—without disclosing that one of the subcontractors on his NIH grant is frequent co-investigator Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Last September, The Lancet shut down its COVID19 task force over concerns of bias due to ties to the EcoHealth Alliance. That same month leaked Department of Defense documents showed that EcoHealth Alliance had applied for a 2018 grant to do risky research with chimeric coronaviruses.
About a week after the Department of Defense leak, Science Magazine’s Jon Cohen hosted an awkward panel of scientists designed to ferret out whether the COVID-19 virus came from a Wuhan lab leak or from a natural spillover from bats in the wild. The problem, of course, is that Science Magazine has shown a great deal of bias against the idea of a lab leak and spent a good part of 2020 defending Peter Daszak and the EcoHealth Alliance. (See: “Science Writers for Peter Daszak!”)
Having Jon Cohen of Science host a forum on the pandemic’s beginning is akin to choosing Tucker Carlson of Fox News to moderate a “fair and balanced” debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on the 2020 election.
During the “debate” the Broad Institute’s Alina Chan bore in on Wang, asking him who had proposed doing the chimeric virus research discussed in the 2018 Department of Defense research proposal. (As has become so common it barely needs mentioning, Science Magazine did not disclose in their article that Wang is a co-investigator on EcoHealth Alliance’s grant with Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.)
“Who proposed the furin cleavage site?” asked Chan, about the chimeric virus research in Department of Defense research proposal sent by EcoHealth Alliance. “Was it Shi Zhengli?”
“No,” responded Wang. He then explained that in EcoHealth Alliance research, each person had different responsibilities. Shi Zhengli’s Wuhan Institute of Virology was in charge of the field work, and the research with viruses happened at the University of North Carolina, or UNC.
“We each have a part, right?” Wang said. “The Wuhan Institute was the field research, I the bat immunology, and UNC is doing the virology, so that is pretty obvious, right? Yeah.”
Chan then asked more questions about who had the ability to do the chimeric virology research.
“UNC, right?” Wang responded, with a squirm.
Jon Cohen then leapt in to save a drowning Wang, and the conversation moved on.
But documents disclosed last week help show why Wang was so uncomfortable with questions about who does the chimeric virus studies in EcoHealth Alliance research. In an email sent to the NIH in the summer of 2017, Daszak explained, “UNC has no oversight of the chimeric work, all of which will be conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Wang did not return an emailed request asking him to clarify his awkward statements and why questions about chimeric research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology causes him so much discomfort. (Maybe he only likes questions when Science Magazine is around to help moderate?)
Of course, the most likely explanation for Wang’s obfuscation is that he was being deliberately misleading when questioned by Alina Chan. And we can expect Jon Cohen of Science Magazine to take Wang to task for this as soon as Tucker Carlson of Fox News does the same with Trump.