House Oversight Democrats finally held a hearing on Wednesday into the origins of the coronavirus but invited as a witness a man who is a cohort of Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance and has argued since the early days of the pandemic for continued cooperation with China.
EcoHealth Alliance infamously used National Institute of Health grants to fund gain-of-function research at a lab in Wuhan, China, which has come under suspicion in the aftermath of the virus’s outbreak.
The witness, Stanley M. Perlman, professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Iowa, and Daszak both signed letters voicing support for continued scientific cooperation with colleagues in China, despite Beijing’s attempts to cover up the virus’s origins.
The first letter, in February 2020 during the early days of the spread of the virus in the United States, pledged solidarity with Chinese scientists and health professionals in China and dismissed the theory the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab as a “conspiracy.” It said:
The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens. This is further supported by a letter from the presidents of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and by the scientific communities they represent. Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus.
The second letter, published recently on July 5, 2021, and signed by Perlman and Daszak, reiterated their support for their Chinese colleagues. They also reiterated support for their belief that the coronavirus originated in nature and not in a lab, but called it a “working view” and added the caveat that it could change, writing:
We reaffirm our expression of solidarity with those in China who confronted the outbreak then, and the many health professionals around the world who have since worked to exhaustion, and at personal risk, in the relentless and continuing battle against this virus. Our respect and gratitude have only grown with time.
The second intent of our original Correspondence was to express our working view that SARS-CoV-2 most likely originated in nature and not in a laboratory, on the basis of early genetic analysis of the new virus and well established evidence from previous emerging infectious diseases, including the coronaviruses that cause the common cold as well as the original SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.
Opinions, however, are neither data nor conclusions. Evidence obtained using the scientific method must inform our understanding and be the basis for interpretation of the available information. The process is not error-free, but it is self-correcting as good scientists endeavour to continually ask new questions, apply new methodologies as they are developed, and revise their conclusions through an open and transparent sharing of data and ongoing dialogue.
Perlman is also a member of the Lancet COVID Commission Task Force on the Origins of SARS-COV-2, which was chaired by Daszak until he had to recuse himself.
The Democrats’ hearing into the origins of the coronavirus comes about 10 months after Republicans released a report on their investigation into the coronavirus outbreak.