The Bat Lady from Wuhan and the Very Clumsy Lies She Tells
MIT Technology Review has a new piece by Jane Qiu on Shi Zhengli, the renowned Wuhan virologist at the centre of the lab leak. Qiu is Shi’s personal propagandist, responsible for the notorious 2020 Scientific American piece on How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses From SARS to the New Coronavirus.
In her latest whitewash, Qiu explains that Shi has granted her “unparalleled” access, because of her “strong science background” which “allows [her] to grasp the nuances and complexity” of what it is that Shi and her den of virologists get up to. Qiu further admits that her purpose is not to investigate anything; instead, she wants “Shi and her team [to] tell their side of the story on the record, and in the most detail to date.” As you might expect, nobody at the Wuhan Institute of Virology has any interest in disclosing new information, which leaves Qiu with little to report that we didn’t know already. Just a lot of the same old dissimulations, with the occasional update.
The most interesting of these surrounds the Mystery of the Mojiang Cave. The story goes that workers were cleaning up bat droppings in this abandoned copper mine in Yunnan province in the spring of 2012, when six of them fell ill with pneumonia. Shi’s lab tested blood samples to see if they’d contracted SARS or a SARS-related virus, and afterwards the Wuhan virologists developed a persistent interest in the Mojiang mine. Among the bat samples collected there, they claim to have found RaTG13, the closest known relative of SARS-2.
Note all of the bizarre coincidences you must live with, if you believe SARS-2 has natural origins: You have to imagine the virus just happened to enter humans via some zoonotic event in Wuhan, the only city on earth with a lab devoted to sampling and culturing SARS-related bat coronaviruses like SARS-2, where its closest known relative also just happened to be sitting in a freezer. And we haven’t even gotten to the furin cleavage site yet.
It is curious, then, that nobody can ever get the story straight, about what happened with those mine workers. In 2020, Shi’s line was that the miners had a fungal infection of some kind, and never tested positive for SARS antibodies. Then The Seeker, an anonymous Twitter investigator, uncovered this pre-pandemic Ph.D. thesis from 2016, which states plainly that the Wuhan Institute of Virology indeed detected SARS antibodies in their blood. Thereafter George Gao, head of the Chinese CDC, conceded to French reporters that the miners had antibodies to a SARS-related virus, but suggested (implausibly) that these might have been caused by some prior infection and they might well have nothing to do with the cave.
In Qiu’s article we find the latest excuse: “Shi said her team did not find such antibodies, although she said some early tests did produce false positives that were corrected when the assays were fully validated.” So, the miners tested positive for SARS, before they tested negative for SARS. The only problem with this lie, is that it can’t explain why Shi and her team ever took an interest in the Mojiang mine in the first place:
It’s not unusual for respiratory illnesses to have an unknown cause, but even though Shi couldn’t figure out what had sickened the Mojiang miners, her instinct told her that something interesting might be going on. “What viruses were lurking in the cave?” she remembers wondering. Between 2012 and 2015, her team undertook more than half a dozen trips to the mine shaft, about 1,100 miles from Wuhan, and collected 1,322 bat samples.
Emphasis mine. Shi found nothing in the miners’ blood, but decided nevertheless that the distant cave where they got sick was the perfect place to spend three years sampling bats for SARS-related coronaviruses. Totally by coincidence, bats in the cave turned out to be full of SARS-related coronaviruses, including RaTG13.
The virologists are not troubled by any of that, of course. Economies and lives may lie in ruins, but it is the personal plight of Shi Zhengli, the Bat Lady from Wuhan, that worries them above all. We need more cooperation. We need less prejudice. That’s what The Science says.