JHU Prof. Dr. Adalja: Scientific Community’s Censorship of Lab Leak Was Political, ‘Other Tribe’ Had ‘to Say Something Different’ from Right

On Monday’s broadcast of NBC’s “Top Story,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health stated that the scientific community unfairly dismissed the lab leak theory partially because there was “no separation between the politics and the science.” And after people on the right started promoting the theory, “we live in a tribal culture and then it became, this tribe is saying that, so the other tribe has to say something different.”

Host Tom Llamas asked, “Dr., early on in the pandemic, the idea of the lab leak theory, it was shut down in many cases. It became incredibly political, especially on the right. But it’s strange — and then it sort of transferred into the medical community and into the media as well, where if you even brought up the lab leak theory early on in the pandemic, you were almost censored in a way. And I wanted to ask you, why did that happen, especially with scientists? I would think in the medical community, you’d want all options [on] the table to figure out where this thing came from.”

Adalja answered, “I think what happened was the lab leak hypothesis kind of got bundled up with an idea that this was a biological weapon, and there’s no evidence that this was a biological weapon. So, people were treating those two separate issues as one. And that caused people to say, lab leak is just a conspiracy theory just like the biological weapon was. But lab leak also got something that — because the right started to talk about it…they seized on it and we live in a tribal culture and then it became, this tribe is saying that, so the other tribe has to say something different. And unfortunately, when Donald Trump started talking about it and using words like kung flu, it just really got people completely to reject the whole hypothesis, when there actually was some concern that this could have been something that came from a lab.”

Llamas then said, “But it’s strange, even doctors and scientists were being shut down when they brought up the idea of a lab leak theory and they were being treated as conspiracy theorists as well. I’m just — I’m confused why that sort of — the politics leaked into the science or bled into the science community.”

Adalja responded, “That’s the whole story of COVID-19, where there’s been no separation between the politics and the science. The entire pandemic response has been politicized from day one, so it’s not surprising that this was as well. And I think it’s unfortunate, because there are important questions that need to be answered to prepare for the next infectious disease emergency. This isn’t the last pandemic we’ll face.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett


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