Wuhan Lab Leak: It’s Not a “Theory”

Wuhan Institute of Virology. Photo by Ureem2805. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Wuhan Institute of Virology. Photo by Ureem2805. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Was SARS-COV-2 — the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic — created (or at least weaponized by being made transmissible to and between humans) in a Chinese research lab? Was it then leaked, accidentally or intentionally, from that lab into the human population? It’s impossible to overstate the explosive potential of a provable “yes” answer to those two questions.

Seventeen months into the news cycle surrounding those questions (they were first publicly hinted at in a tweet on January 5, 2020), they’re still putting off lots of heat and very little light. And that’s likely to remain the case, because the “Wuhan Lab Leak theory” is not a theory.

A theory has to be objectively testable such that if it’s false it can be PROVEN false. Otherwise, it’s just a hypothesis.

If my car keys go missing, I can hypothesize that little green faeries (who have the power to fool security cameras) took them in the middle of the night, then forgot to put them back after taking my car out for a joyride, filling the gas tank back up, parking it back where they found it, and rolling back the odometer.

My hypothesis “explains” the missing car keys. But it can’t be falsified. If I find the keys in my jacket pocket, well, the faeries obviously put them there, dummy!

Many “conspiracy theories” are just hypotheses which continuously change to accommodate any evidence that might disprove them.

No, I’m not saying the “Wuhan Lab Leak” hypothesis is a wild-eyed “conspiracy theory.” But it’s also not likely testable or falsifiable.

For one thing, the Chinese regime, while notable for many things, is not notable for its likely willingness to let western investigators poke around Wuhan at will, actively assisting those investigators in determining whether it accidentally or intentionally killed  millions of human beings and cratered the global economy.

For another, the regimes urging such an investigation have a long record of lying about pretty much everything (does “Saddam has WMD” ring any bells? How about “the NSA doesn’t spy on Americans?”), and have already spent a good deal of time setting  China up as their latest  “adversary.” It’s hard to imagine any situation in which those who WANT to believe in — or stand to gain political power from selling — the “Wuhan Lab Leak” hypothesis would concede that they were mistaken.

It’s a hypothesis, not a theory, and it’s likely to stay that way. When dealing with hypotheses, our best analytical tool is Occam’s Razor. Simple version: The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is the likeliest.

Which explanation requires fewer assumptions?

That, like most human infectious diseases (60% according to the US Centers for Disease Control), SARS-COV-2 jumped from animals to humans via random mutation?

Or that, unlike (almost — the 2001 anthrax attacks may be an exception) any other past disease, SARS-COV-2 was weaponized in a lab and released into the human population?

Occam tells us to choose Door Number One. And good sense tells us to stop obsessing over questions we cannot hope to provably answer.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.