The New Observer Sars-Cov-2 It was the racoons? Or maybe not?

It was the racoons? Or maybe not?


This post follows on from my two recent posts on the origins of Covid. One of these posts discussed the scientific findings, which, based on some DNA data from the Wuhan market, which had suddenly been located in a database, three years after the event, associated racoon DNA, human DNA and a Sars-Cov-2 genetic signature at a location in the market. [1] The racoon thesis was reported by a pro-natural origin French researcher Florence Débarre who “discovered” genetic sequences in a genetic database in 2023. [2] The data (assuming it was what it purported to be) did not demonstrate causality. It showed proximity of racoon DNA, human DNA and the virus signature. How was this reported? Here are some examples:

“The new evidence does not directly prove that SARS-CoV-2 jumped into humans from infected raccoon dogs, but it adds to a growing body of evidence in favor of a spillover from animals. Scientific American. [2].

Some say the analysis supports the hypothesis that the virus that causes COVID-19 spilled over from an animal — but falls short of definitive proof. Nature. [3]

The Strongest Evidence Yet That an Animal Started the Pandemic. The Atlantic. [4]

Covid-19 may have first jumped to people via raccoon dogs. An article on the NIH (National Institute of Health) scientific article website. [5]

New genetic data supports animal origin of Covid-19 pandemic. Le Monde. [6]

New data links Covid-19’s origins to raccoon dogs at Wuhan market. Guardian. [7]

Genetic Evidence Ties Covid’s Origin to Raccoon Dogs. The Smithsonian [8]

And, many. many more. (The only sceptical headline is in Nature).

This site is interested in media narratives. There is an absurd kind of naivety in certain quarters that ‘science’ proceeds on some kind of objective, neutral basis, discovering ‘facts’, which can then (at best) be subject to political discussion or (at worst) should simply dictate policy because politicians “follow the science”. In reality scientific discourses do not exist in some pure Glass Bead Game kind of a world, outside of the world of economics and power. At the crudest level we simply have to note that scientists are dependent on funding from political sources to call this thesis into question. Scientists, just like any other group, have organisational self-interest. More to the point; much of what passes for modern science is not in fact even empirical science in a traditional sense; studies are constructed and organised using selected base data to produce results sets which can be statistically manipulated to produce the desired result. The starting point for looking at any modern scientific claims should be healthy scepticism.

In the case of the racoon dog thesis the first doubt has to relate to the unexpected “discovery” of the relevant genetic material on a database 3 years after the event. The Chinese were/are very keen to dismiss the lab leak theory; surely any Chinese scientist in possession of swabs which could even potentially establish a link between the market and Sars-Cov-2 would have been testing them pro-actively?? The actual data seems to have been removed from the database after the reports based on it. [9] The story of the samples is somewhat murky.[9] They seem to have originally been used to produce a narrative that the market was not the source of the pandemic but was an early super-spreader event. Debarré later found the racoon traces, leading to the “tie-in” between Sars-Cov-2 and racoons. One possible interpretation [9] hinted at in the Science article is that Chinese state scientists initially used the data to support the outlying thesis that Sars-Cov-2 emanated from outside China and the market was simply a super-spreader event, and asked for the data to be removed from the virology database because they were not happy that the same data was used to support the market as origin hypothesis (better than lab leak but still not China’s preferred narrative since it raises questions about unregulated food markets and so on). However; one can speculate (just speculation) that this is some kind of a cover and the whole thing is a carefully constructed information operation with Debarré (a European scientist) being nudged in some way to wake up one day and suddenly “discover” the racoon traces. At any rate; given the stakes it is highly naïve just to take this “discovery” at face value.

However; even if we do take the data at face value we can ask: does it support the above headlines? The answer to that is no. Recall, that all this data does it connect the proximity of human DNA, racoon DNA and Sars-Cov-2 signatures in proximity. No causal link is established. The work seems, (and this is my point above about modern science being driven by the narratives it is trying to create), to have been too eager to produce the result. For example; a more thorough scientific analysis would not just have found the (apparent) tie-in between racoon DNA and the virus and shouted “Raccoon Dog, Raccoon Dog, Raccoon Dog!”, but would have tried to see how the virus signatures were spread through out the market. (Apparently the mistake made by this researcher even has a name: Texas sharpshooter error. This is when someone looking at statistics chooses a sub-set of the total relevant statistics which appears to confirm a hypothesis). Such work has apparently been done, in pre-print form. [10] A NYT author summarises it:

What he found was quite striking: In the sample that contained the most raccoon-dog genetic material, the presence of the virus was so vanishingly small as to be statistically indistinguishable from zero. To be precise, in the only sample with abundant raccoon-dog genetic material that contained any SARS-CoV-2 at all, the presence of the virus registered at only one sequence fragment in 200,000,000. Overall, across the full database of genetic material found in the market, the presence of raccoon-dog DNA was negatively correlated with the presence of SARS-CoV-2 material: When samples had more raccoon-dog genetic material, there was actually less SARS-CoV-2 than was found in other samples. [11]

Nb. this article [11] also makes the essential point we are making in this article. Scientific results can be rushed out, themselves quite selective, they are then amplified in even more selective (and often blind) reporting to produce the desired headlines.

And, as other critics have pointed out, even if we accept some proximity of virus and racoon DNA this could be an infected human visiting a racoon stall. (See also for slightly more detail).

Racoons as the zoonotic species for Sars-Cov-2 has not been established. The story of the racoon dogs though is a case in point of how “science” can work with the media to produce desired narratives.

(Finally – a good summary of the case for lab leak is here).


  1. The New Observer
  2. Scientific American. New Evidence Supports Animal Origin of COVID Virus through Raccoon Dogs / — See also Scientific American (Notice how Kristian Andersen – the scientist who did an about pivot on lab leak after a secret conference all with Fauci and key political players in the health world, endorses this work).
  3. Nature. COVID-origins study links raccoon dogs to Wuhan market: what scientists think
  4. The Atlantic. The Strongest Evidence Yet That an Animal Started the Pandemic.
  5. NIH. Covid-19 may have first jumped to people via raccoon dogs
  6. Le Monde. New genetic data supports animal origin of Covid-19 pandemic.
  7. Guardian. New data links Covid-19’s origins to raccoon dogs at Wuhan market
  8. Smithsonian. Genetic Evidence Ties Covid’s Origin to Raccoon Dogs
  9. Science
  10. Association between SARS-CoV-2 and metagenomic content of samples from the Huanan Seafood Market
  11. New York Times. Why Does Bad Science on Covid’s Origin Get Hyped?


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