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Pre-empting bad science

A friendly discussion about a very flawed risk assessment paper

The lab leak hypothesis is dead, but the lab leak myth will never die.

A new paper makes the rounds in the media by claiming a risk assessment score sheet can determine the "unnatural" nature of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. A stark contrast to the scientific consensus on zoonotic spillover.

Over the years, we have seen many such probabilistic, Bayesian, or “common sense” analyses from various sources and all of them were of dubious quality and distributed by dubious actors with a very limited grasp of scientific evidence. However, this does not mean that alternative methods for looking at a problem can not add valuable insights.

Will a risk assessment questionnaire finally offer something new? A hard look at the facts? A real conceptual contribution to the scientific literature? Or is it going to be what I tend to call a “meme paper”, abusing the format of a scientific article to launder unsubstantiated opinions and influence public perception?

To answer this question, I invited two fantastic guests for a scientific discussion:

Prof. Alice Hughes, a conservation biologist, bat huntress, and directly involved in the scientific search for the origins of SARS-CoV-2. She has published multiple papers of critical importance on the topic and continues to research with her team at the University of Hong Kong.

Dr. Sam Gregson is a former CERN physicist, scicomm YouTuber, and bad statistics debunker. He has monitored bad actors and sensationalist claims on the origin topic while giving renowned experts room to lay out the scientific case for a zoonotic origin of the pandemic.

If you see somebody reference this new paper as strong evidence for a lab leak, please share our video discussion to correct the record. Thank you!


PS: If you have not gotten enough about this topic, I also was interviewed this week by the journalist Walker Bragman asking about the status of the origin controversy.

Important Context
WATCH: Interview Molecular Biologist Philipp Markolin on COVID Origins
If you asked a stranger on the street where they thought the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, originated, you might be surprised by the answer. Although once a fringe idea pushed by motivated actors on the political right—many of whom…
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I think this was a very nice conversation and some meta-discussion about the forces driving the lab leak myth, despite it having no evidence behind it.

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Protagonist Science
Protagonist Science
Science journalism, scicomm, and science fiction prototyping to bring science and society closer together.
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Philipp Markolin, PhD