Facebook 'fact checkers' cited Wuhan lab funder to 'debunk' leak claim

How Facebook’s ‘independent fact checkers’ cited letter secretly organized by Wuhan lab funder Peter Daszak to ‘debunk’ leak theory and punish news outlets that explored it

  • Article used by Facebook to ‘debunk’ lab leak theory cited Daszak’s Lancet letter
  • His non-profit, EcoHealth Alliance, funneled U.S. grants to Wuhan virology lab
  • Facebook cracked down on ‘debunked’ lab leak theory for nearly a year
  • Punished news publishers by limiting the reach and spread of their articles 
  • Late last month, the social media giant reversed its stance as evidence mounted 

Facebook’s ‘independent fact checkers’ relied on a letter spearheaded by a major financial backer of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to ‘debunk’ articles exploring the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a leak from the lab, it has emerged.

For nearly a year, Facebook censored articles exploring the lab leak theory, labeling them ‘false information’ and punishing news publishers by limiting their reach on the platform, before the social media giant sheepishly reversed course last month.

Facebook relies on third-party fact-checkers to ‘debunk’ false claims, and in the case of the lab leak theory, a February article from Facebook partner Science Feedback played a key role in the social media site’s censorship. 

The article, which purported to ‘debunk’ a New York Post opinion column questioning China’s denials of a lab leak scenario, prominently cited a letter to The Lancet, a leading medical journal, signed by ’27 eminent public health experts’.

It has now emerged that the Lancet letter, which played a key role in suppressing early debate on the pandemic’s origins, was not only signed but organized by Peter Daszak, whose group funneled U.S. taxpayer dollars to controversial gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). 

The article used by Facebook to ‘debunk’ lab leak theory cited Peter Daszak’s Lancet letter. He is seen above at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2020

Relying on the Science Feedback article citing the Lancet letter, Facebook swiftly cracked down on articles exploring the lab leak theory, including this February 2020 opinion piece

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen above. His company faces criticism after reversing its nearly year-long ban on posts proposing that COVID originated from a lab

Though no definitive proof has emerged yet to show whether COVID-19 leaked from a lab or crossed over to humans directly from an animal, mounting evidence in support of the lab leak theory has emerged in recent weeks — after academics dismissed it as impossible for more than a year. 

It is now clear that many of the leading experts in emerging coronavirus threats, who rushed to dismiss the lab leak theory early in the pandemic, were potentially conflicted, fearing that confirmation of a leak would shut down virology labs around the world and cut off their precious flow of funding.

However, few played as key a role in suppressing debate as Daszak, the British-born founder of non-profit EcoHealth Alliance, which takes in millions in U.S. taxpayer dollars and parcels them out to facilities conducting gain-of-function research, including WIV.

Gain-of-function research is a controversial field that involves collecting dangerous viruses and genetically modifying them to be more deadly, in order to study the risks of future outbreaks. 

Emails since released through public records requests show that Daszak secretly organized the February 19, 2020 Lancet letter, which established a veneer of ‘scientific consensus’ and quashed debate. 

The Science Feedback article (excerpted above) prominently quoted the Lancet letter that Daszak secretly organized to quash theories that COVID-19 escaped from a lab

For news publishers, being labeled false information by Facebook can have serious consequences

Controversial gain-of-function research boosts the infectivity of pathogens and makes them more LETHAL

Gain of function is controversial research that involves boosting the infectivity and lethality of a pathogen. 

PROPONENTS SAY: It helps researchers spot potential threats to human health and allows them to figure out ways to tackle a new virus.

Dr. Fauci has advocated for gain-of-function research in the past, including a 2011 op-ed he co-wrote that promoted it as a means to study influenza viruses. 

CRITICS SAY: It’s a risky endeavor that puts human lives at stake.

In 2014, the US government paused new funding of gain-of-function research on influenza, MERS and SARS to address concerns about risks and benefits.

The pause was backed by over 300 scientists called the Cambridge Working Group. 

In December 2017, the US government lifted the pause and announced a new framework called ‘Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight’ for evaluating whether funding should be granted. 

Research for ‘enhanced potential pandemic pathogens’ would be allowed if it was ‘essential to protecting global health and security.’

The review process is highly classified, and names of reviewers or details of the experiments are not released. 

Daszak urged colleagues involved in gain-of-function research not to sign the letter, in order to obscure the connection, telling one: ‘We’ll then put it out in a way that doesn’t link it back to our collaboration so we maximize an independent voice.’ 

Relying on the Science Feedback article citing the Lancet letter, Facebook swiftly cracked down on articles exploring the lab leak theory, including a February 23, 2020 opinion piece for the New York Post by Steven Mosher.

‘The piece was widely read online — until Facebook stepped in,’ the Post’s editorial board wrote of the incident. 

Facebook quickly reduced the spread of the article and slapped a ‘false information’ label on top of it, along with a link to the Science Feedback post ‘debunking’ the lab leak theory.

For news publishers, being labeled false information by Facebook can have serious consequences.

Facebook severely limits the spread of articles it deems debunked, pushing them far down in the News Feed, if they appear at all.

Anyone who tries to share a ‘debunked’ article on the social media site is met with blaring warnings that they are spreading ‘false information’.

Though Facebook’s system of ‘strikes’ against a publisher is opaque, a news organization that repeatedly publishes articles deemed false information can see the reach of all their articles reduced.

Publishers could also see warning labels blazed across their Facebook Pages if the company repeatedly labels their posts false information.

Facebook did not immediately respond to questions from DailyMail.com on Saturday morning about its fact-checking procedures and Daszak’s role in its early determinations on how to assess theories on the pandemic origins. 

Daszak declined to answer questions from DailyMail.com reporters who visited his home on Friday, instead warning them to ‘leave the area and never come back’ and calling police. 

Daszak has also not yet responded to a list of 34 questions about his involvement with the Wuhan lab that the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent him in April, despite a May 17 deadline to respond. 

Publishers can see warning labels blazed across their Facebook Pages if the company repeatedly labels their posts false information

Daszak declined to answer questions from DailyMail.com reporters who visited his home on Friday, instead warning them to ‘leave the area and never come back’ and calling police 

In its April 16 letter, the congressional committee asked Daszak to provide details of what federal funds were passed on to the WIV, what information they have on bat viruses worked on at the lab that are closely related to Covid-19, and what his charity knows about a mysterious database of virus genomes held by the lab taken offline in 2019.

The letter asked a total 34 questions and gave a deadline of May 17, 2021 – but has still received no response, a source close to the committee told DailyMail.com.

‘Total silence. They seem to be refusing to acknowledge anything from us,’ the source said.

After more than a year of censoring debate over the lab-leak theory, Facebook reversed course in late May, as President Joe Biden revealed that elements of the intelligence community consider the lab leak origin a likely scenario. 

‘In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps,’ Facebook said in a statement.

‘We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge.’

Now one of the original lab leak deniers calls for a ‘thorough investigation’ into Covid’s origin as he admits ‘a lot of disturbing information’ has surfaced since he signed Lancet letter denouncing theory 

By Joe Davies For Mailonline

Dr Peter Palese, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, has U-turned after previously supporting a letter denying that COVID-19 could’ve leaked from a Wuhan lab

One of the 27 Covid lab leak deniers who signed a letter denouncing the theory that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan has now called for a ‘thorough investigation’ into Covid’s origins, MailOnline can reveal.

Dr Peter Palese, a microbiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, signed the letter in the Lancet in February last year claiming the virus could only have been natural in origin and to suggest otherwise would create ‘fear, rumors, and prejudice’.

The ‘bullying’ letter, orchestrated by Dr Peter Daszak, the head of a non-profit that funnelled U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was criticized by experts for ostracizing anyone offering different opinions on the virus’ origins, dismissing them as conspiracy theorists.

It is only now, nearly 16 months after that letter was published in the world-renowned medical journal, that the theory Covid was accidentally leaked from a lab in Wuhan is being looked at seriously.

US President Joe Biden last week ordered intelligence agencies to launch a probe into whether Covid was man-made after all. But China immediately hit back and called the suggestion a ‘conspiracy’.

And now Professor Palese, 77, has made a significant U-turn, admitting all theories on how Covid came about now need proper investigating.

He told MailOnline: ‘I believe a thorough investigation about the origin of the Covid-19 virus is needed. 

‘A lot of disturbing information has surfaced since the Lancet letter I signed, so I want to see answers covering all questions.’

Asked how he was originally approached to sign the letter and what new information had come to light specifically, Professor Palese declined to comment.

Palese spoke out as America’s leading pandemic expert Dr Anthony Fauci continues to face fevered calls to resign after emails revealed that leading virus experts warned Covid could be man-made even as he downplayed the possibility.

The emails also showed he communicated with Dr Daszak, the head of the non-profit that funnelled U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Wuhan lab.

Biden threw his support behind the embattled expert on Friday, saying: ‘Yes I’m very confident in Dr Fauci.’ 

Another scientist who signed the letter, Dr Jeremy Farrar – director of the Wellcome Trust in London – declined to comment on the Fauci allegations but said it remains ‘most likely’ the virus came from an animal but ‘there are other possibilities which cannot be completely ruled out and retaining an open mind is critical’.

Pictured: Security personnel keep watch outside Wuhan Institute of Virology during the visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team in February

Dr. Daszak – a key architect of the Lancet letter – runs the New York-based, tax payer-funded non-profit EcoHealth Alliance, which has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

Guardian forced to amend article it published by Peter Daszak to reveal his ties to Wuhan lab as Lancet editor voices support for lab leak theory denouncement 

The Guardian was forced to amend an article it published by Dr Peter Daszak to include a reference to his work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The article, published in June last year, was amended three days after its publication. 

In the article titled ‘Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know Covid-19 wasn’t created in a lab’, Dr Daszak said the lab-leak theory was a ‘chapter in a tale of blame, misinformation and finger-pointing’.

He characterised lab-leak theorists as ‘conspiracy theorists’ believing in ‘frankenviruses’. 

The Guardian was forced to amend the original article to highlight Dr Daszak’s ties to the Wuhan lab from where some suggest Covid was accidentally leaked.

The paper said: ‘This article was amended on 11 June 2020 to make clear the writer’s past work with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.’

Editor of the Lancet Richard Horton — who published the letter dismissing theories Covid may not have originated naturally in his prestigious scientific journal — Tweeted support for the piece.

He wrote: ‘Peter Daszak rejects conspiracy theories about the origins of Covid-19 and he knows more than most of us about coronaviruses.’

Mr Horton has regularly criticised lab-leak theories during the pandemic.

He told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post it was it is ‘not helpful’ and ‘unfair’ to blame China for being the source of the pandemic last year. 

He worked with the lab’s so-called ‘bat woman’ Shi Zhengli as they investigated and modified coronaviruses. 

Shi, 57, proved that horseshoe bats were behind a SARS virus that killed nearly 800 people in 2002 and has collected thousands of samples from bat caves.

Dr Daszak was one four Brits to sign the letter, including SAGE advisor Sir Jeremy Farrar and two other experts working for the Welcome Trust at the time. The letters’ signatories included four others who worked for EcoHealth.

Jamie Metzl, who sits on the World Health Organization’s advisory committee on human genome editing and is a form Bill Clinton administration staffer, said Dr Daszak’s letter was a ‘form of thuggery’.

He said: ‘The Lancet letter was scientific propaganda and a form of thuggery and intimidation.

‘By labeling anyone with different views a conspiracy theorist, the Lancet letter was the worst form of bullying in full contravention of the scientific method.’

MailOnline has approached the letters’ other signatories for comment. 

One of them, Dr Jeremy Farrar – who sits on the UK Government’s SAGE scientific advisory panel and who spoke with Fauci and others in early 2020 – said in a statement: ‘The origins of Sars-Cov-2 are not yet certain – it is possible the origin will never be fully established – but nature is a powerful force and, in my view, the most likely scenario is that the virus crossed from animals to humans and then evolved in humans.

‘The best scientific evidence available to date points to this. It is most likely it crossed the species barrier to infect and then adapt to humans at some point in 2019, but there are other possibilities which cannot be completely ruled out and retaining an open mind is critical. There is no place for unsubstantiated rumour, or conspiracy theories often fuelled for political purposes.

‘Understanding the origins of this disease, and any zoonotic infection, is absolutely critical to successfully preventing future outbreaks and protecting lives globally. The answers can only be found in robust scientific evidence, with full transparency from all involved. There has been too much conjecture and theory without data or evidence, although still there is not enough transparency.’  

A Freedom of Information Act request revealed Dr Daszak told his fellow signatories in an email that the letter would not be sent under the EcoHealth logo ‘and will not be identifiable as coming from any one organization of person’. 

The emails show he even considered not signing the letter himself, although in the end he did.

The idea, he said was for it to be coming from ‘a community supporting our colleagues’.

The letter — titled ‘Statement in support of the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of China combatting Covid-19’ — praised the Chinese ‘who continue to save lives and protect global health during the challenge of the Covid-19 outbreak’.

It went on to add: ‘We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin.

‘Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors and prejudices that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against the virus.’

It ended with the words: ‘We declare no competing interests.’

The letter proved so influential that it virtually ended debate on the origin of Covid for more than a year.

Anyone who suggested it could have been man-made was shot down amid accusations of anti-Chinese xenophobia.

Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control told Vanity Fair he received death threats after floating the theory that the virus could have been man-made. 

He said: ‘I was threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis. I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science.’

Dr Peter Daszak, 55, from Manchester, orchestrated a behind-the-scenes ‘bullying’ campaign to ensure blame for Covid was directed away from a Chinese lab with which he had worked closely.

Dr Daszack worked with the lab’s so-called ‘bat woman’ Shi Zhengli (pictured left) as they investigated and modified coronaviruses. Shi, 57, proved that horseshoe bats were behind a SARS virus that killed nearly 800 people in 2002 and has collected thousands of samples from bat caves

The theory the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology was originally dismissed by left-leaning media outlets last year as a conspiracy theory after it was mentioned by then-President Donald Trump.

But they have now changed course with the launch of the US investigation. 

Liberal US outlets, who slammed Mr Trump when he said a year ago said he had ‘a high degree of confidence’ that the virus escaped from a lab, have finally conceded that he may have been right — after a year ridiculing the suggestion. 

Who signed the letter in The Lancet? 

The lab-leak theory was bolstered last week after it was revealed three workers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in November, 2019, months before Covid was first discovered in China. 

China claims the virus was transmitted to humans from an animal host, with bats and pangolins both named as potential sources. Many scientists agree that is the most likely theory.

Professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge Ravi Gupta, a member of Nervtag, said the theory has not yet been investigated with ‘scientific rigor’.

He told The Telegraph: ‘The possibility was not adequately explored due to lack of access to primary records by the WHO group. Lab leak has not been scientifically rejected as a cause using [the] scientific rigor that one would expect.’

A soon to be published report by a team of British and Norwegian experts suggests it is possible to trace the creation of the virus to research in China that began in 2008.

Professor David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University, said the theory needs to be investigated by an international consortium of scientists in collaboration with the UN. 

He said: ‘Ideally, an investigation would rely on an international consortium of scientists under the auspices of many national academies of science working in partnership, in collaboration with an international governance entity, the UN Secretary General’s Office, or something of that sort.’ 

And Harvard epidemiologist Professor Marc Lipsitch said a lab escape scenario ‘remains plausible enough that it should be looked into rigorously’.

He told the paper: ‘This is not a fringe position, given that multiple European governments and Dr Tedros have said the same.’

He said that while scientists are not saying a lab origin is more likely than a natural one, a thorough investigation is needed to reveal the cause of the pandemic. 

As Dr Daszak’s links to the Wuhan lab become clearer, more questions are being asked about his influence over the WHO team that went to China in January and stayed for four weeks searching for answers.

The team was met with resistance in China. Authorities there made them quarantine for two weeks in Wuhan and barred two members completely after they tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.

But critics say the WHO researchers were too cozy with Chinese authorities, who are desperate not to shoulder the blame for a worldwide death toll now approaching 3.6 million.

They claim its members may have been influenced by a tour they took round a ‘propaganda museum’ which described Wuhan’s fight against the virus and the leading role taken by President Xi Jinping.

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