Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who has been indicted for fraud, is connected to a … [+] “whistleblower’ claiming that the Covid-19 coronavirus was manufactured in China. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
Being a real scientist would be easy if it weren’t for this “needing evidence” stuff, just like being a professional golfer would be simple if it weren’t for this “having to put the ball in the hole thing.”
Lack of real scientific evidence has been the big hole in ongoing conspiracy theories that claim that the Covid-19 coronavirus was actually manufactured by China. I covered these conspiracy theories back in March for Forbes, and mentioned how scientists and scientific studies outside of China have been debunking these claims and instead pointing to natural origins of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2).
But these days conspiracy theories, like the Covid-19 coronavirus, don’t seem to just go away and disappear, regardless of whether there is a herd mentality or whatever. Now, a person named Li-Meng Yan, who was referred to as a “whistleblower” by Fox News, is claiming that she has the big “e” word. No, not “eggplant Parmesan”, but evidence supporting the “China-made-the-virus” conspiracy theory. But does she really? Who is she? And what might Steve Bannon have to do with all of this?
On Tuesday, Yan appeared the Fox News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” As you can see in the following video, Carlson introduced Yan as a virologist who says that she has evidence of where this pandemic actually came from:
The trouble is they never quite got to the “what’s the evidence” part of the conversation. During the segment, Yan made various general statements but Carlson didn’t really push her to provide verifiable evidence to back her claims.
In fact, some of Yan’s statements took the conspiracy theory to another level. For example, she claimed that “the scientific world also keeps silent, works together with the Chinese Communist Party, they don’t want people to know his truth. That’s why I get suspended, I get suppressed, I am the target that Chinese Communist Party wants disappeared.”
The entire scientific world works with the Chinese Communist Party? Really? Does the scientific world outside China know that? Was there a memo? Getting scientists to wear tops that match their bottoms or agree on a dinner order can be a challenge, let alone getting every scientist outside China to go along with the Chinese Communist Party. What exactly would be the incentive for a scientist in countries like Japan, Taiwan, the U.S., the U.K., or Germany to follow the Chinese Communist Party’s bidding? Again Carlson never challenged Yan on such claims and threw enough softballs to start a league.
On his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson didn’t really push the “whistleblower” to produce concrete … [+] evidence to support her claims. Here Carlson is pictured the National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
So who exactly is Yan? Carlson did not delve much into her qualifications, expertise, or experience when introducing her. He called her a virologist but that’s far from an official title. A virologist is someone who studies viruses just like someone who studies mac-and-cheese could be considered a mac-and-cheese-ologist. There’s no virologist police that will apprehend you if you call yourself one. The only thing clear is that she is the lead author of a “paper” that has been posted on Zenodo and is entitled, “Unusual Features of the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route.” That is a rather long and unusual title for a “scientific research paper.”
When Carlson said to her “I know that you’ve published some of your research,” is posting a paper Zenodo what he meant? Keep in mind that Zenodo is to peer-reviewed scientific journals what the local miniature golf course is to the PGA Tour. Practically anyone can post a paper on Zenodo. All you need is Internet access and, well, all you need is Internet access. Oh, you also have to know how to use an Internet browser and have written something.
Therefore, before calling it evidence, it’s important to read what the paper actually said. After all, you can’t judge a book by its cover or an avocado by its skin. Currently, the paper actually reads more like an opinion piece than an original research paper. The paper made a number of unsupported claims such as “it is noteworthy that scientific journals have clearly censored any dissenting opinions that suggest a non-natural origin of SARS-CoV-2.” Clearly censored? In the words of Owen Wilson in practically every movie that he has made, wow.
The paper also didn’t provide much concrete evidence supporting its claims that the virus was manufactured. Instead, it mentioned some observations and then jumped to conclusions. For example, finding that the genomic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 is similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratories does not in itself mean that the SARS-CoV-2 was bioengineered. That’s a bit like saying, “oh you have a torso? So does Harry Styles. You must sing for One Direction.”
Ultimately, before this paper can be taken seriously, it needs to go through formal scientific peer-review by reputable virologists, who can further dissect the evidence that’s provided. During the peer-review process, reviewers may ask for more information and data to back the paper’s claims. If the authors can’t provide the information, the paper would have about as much credibility as a Tinder profile. You can say that you are really interesting and have moves like Jagger, but ultimately you have to prove on the dance floor that your moves aren’t more like a vacuum bagger.
Even more interesting is that the four authors of the paper, Li-Meng Yan, Shu Kang, and Jie Guan, and Shanchang Hu, all have the Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation as their affiliation. That doesn’t exactly sound like a virology lab or a scientific research center. Usually a virology lab will have the word “virus” or some other scientific term in its name.
So what exactly is this society or foundation? Well, if you go to the Rule of Law Society website, you’ll find a video of the Steve Bannon (as opposed to a Steve Bannon) announcing the formation of the Rules of Law Society and standing next to the founder. Bannon, as you may recall, was a strategist for U.S. President Donald Trump. The society lists as its mission: “To expose corruption, obstruction, illegality, brutality, false imprisonment, excessive sentencing, harassment, and inhumanity pervasive in the political, legal, business and financial systems of China.” Sounds like the society is not a fan of China.
Bannon hasn’t exactly been lovey-dovey towards people of Asian-descent either. His comments about Asians and Asian-Americans have even prompted Maya Kosoff to write an article for The Atlantic entitled, “Steve Bannon’s Racist Comments About Silicon Valley Are Also Wildly Inaccurate.” Then there was the article by Frank H Wu, a law professor and President of Queens College, City University of New York, for The Guardian that bore the headline, “Peter Thiel and Steve Bannon fuel a new Yellow Peril over Google and China.” So it looks like anything about Asia or people of Asian-descent supported by Bannon could have a bit of a COI, which in this case means “conflict of interest” and not “chicken on ice.”
As the following tweets showed, scientists on Twitter soon picked up on the Bannon connection:
So why affiliate yourself with a Bannon-supported organization to then try to get “evidence” about China out there. Again if you have any real scientific evidence that the SARS-CoV2 did not emerge naturally, just submit it to real reputable peer-reviewed scientific journals for publication. If you believe that such scientific journals are censoring “any dissenting opinions,” then show everyone the rejection letters and the reviewer comments. Scientific journals can be quite competitive with each other, competing for articles and eyeballs. (Not literally, which would be gross, but figuratively.) So if you really do have a “bombshell” piece of evidence, there’s a good chance that you’ll find at least one scientific journal to publish it.