The New Observer Uncategorized The Proximal Origins article and Dr Fauci

The Proximal Origins article and Dr Fauci

This post follows from my post about Fauci’s appearances before a House of Congress hearing into the pandemic. In that article I noted that Dr Fauci is a master of deflection. His position on lab leak v. natural origin for Sars-Cov-2 is currently “I have an open mind”. At the same time he has pointed towards some papers or articles which assert that Sars-Cov-2 cannot have come from the work which his agency NIAID had funded at the Wuhan lab. He has also pointed towards the more general claim that the virus cannot have been artificially engineered. This was from May 2020:

If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated … Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species,” said Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It is worth pointing out that other scientists who have also studied the genome of the virus take the view that the evidence is that it was genetically modified. Fauci is being selective.

It is more than possible that when he made the above claim Fauci was referencing a particular piece of correspondence (not a paper) in the journal Nature.: The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2 [1]. One of the authors on this text was Kristian G. Anderson. Kristian G. Anderson has some notoriety in the story about the origins of Covid. He initially sent an email to Dr Fauci saying:

“The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to
look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look
engineered . . . . Eddie [Holmes], Bob [Garry], Mike [Farzan], and myself all find the
genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” [2]

Shortly after this email a conference call was held which included Andersen, Dr Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust, Dr Fauci and others. [3] Shortly after this Andersen changed his public opinion; the virus could not have been manufactured in a lab. The contents of that call are not in the public record. The question/suggestion is that (openly or through hints) it was suggested to the researchers by these powerful people in the funding world that it would be in their interests to downplay the lab leak theory. Andersen was later a beneficiary of a large research grant from the NIAID. [4] Personally I don’t find the grant especially significant; he is a well-known scientist in the field of molecular biology and might well be expected to be chosen to be a grant recipient. But the sudden change of position after the conference call, the contents of which are not in the public domain, does seem strange.

In the current Congress hearings Fauci declared that he did not prompt the proximal origins article. However; when pressed he admitted to being sent a draft. [5]. That seems interesting. He was at least clearly in on the loop. Given the secrecy around the call and the change of position one can see why people find something suspicious here. It is also interesting to note how this article which was not a scientific paper has been used to promote the natural origins hypothesis. Here, for example, the New York Times calls it a ‘paper’. But it was in fact an article, even a letter; it appeared in the correspondence section of Nature. [1] Fauci appears to have relied on this paper in his claims that the evidence from scientists is that Sars-Cov-2 cannot have been made in a lab. [5]

I am not a virologist or molecular biologist but I want to reference Nicholas Wade here. Wade is a former deputy editor of Nature. He authored a well-known critique of the lab suppression effort on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. [6] Please read the section where he critiques the proximal origins article directly. I will summarise here his main points;

  1. The authors claim; “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,”. But they also say “It is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.”. Which? The point is the former appears at the top of the article and is the headline they were looking to make. The latter appears in the discussion part of the article where they have to justify what they say. (From my own work on ADHD I am familiar with scientists who in fact are no less political actors than anyone else, just because they work in science, over-stating their findings in order to tell a particular story).
  2. Older methods of gene manipulation such as cutting and pasting can be detected but modern seamless methods such as “no-see-um” (I don’t know what this is) or such as serial passage, which simply accelerate natural mutation by passing a virus repeatedly through cell cultures, cannot be detected.
  3. The authors assume that had the virus been created in a lab the scientists creating it would have chosen the best possible solution to the genetic engineering problems. The actual virus does not show the best possible adaption to human infectivity. Therefore it was not engineered. However; a virus which resulted from serial passage would not necessarily have the best possible fit (between the virus binding proteins and human cells).
  4. Had the virus been engineered in a lab scientists would probably have used a known off-the-shelf DNA structure for this work. No such structure is visible. Therefore it was not engineered. Wade simply counters that the scientists could have used their own DNA structure. Such structures “DNA backbones” are, he says, not difficult to manufacture.

I would add that the authors do discuss passage. [1] They present arguments against passage being a likely mechanism for the creation of Sars-Cov-2. However; these are just arguments – not findings – and they mostly seem to rely on fairly conjectural points, e.g. previous work using the passage system that has shown it takes a long time and such a method would require a starting point of a virus which was close to the final product. They say this does not exist in the public record. However; we recall that the relevant genetic database from the Wuhan lab disappeared from the Internet. So – it is certainly possible that such a close starting point did exist. (I believe that some researchers believe they have identified this). The arguments against serial passage are conjectural.

The Proximal Origins letter can be seen in a certain way. I mentioned above my observations of a certain process happening in the ADHD-drugging world. This is when actual scientific findings are inflated for political purposes. The case I was referring to is that of a paper called Rare chromosomal deletions and duplications in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: [7] The paper took a data sample of people with an ADHD diagnosis and compared it with the general population and identified a statistically significant genetic abnormality in the ADHD group. This was all fine, and interesting; especially in as much as particular area of the human genome was identified. However; what was notable was how one of the authors of the paper used it to make a series of fake claims to the media including: “Now we can say with confidence that ADHD is a genetic disease and that the brains of children with this condition develop differently to the brains of other children”. [8] Interestingly the Wellcome Trust got in on the act and said: “Now we can show people that these children have a neurodevelopmental disorder with an observable genetic contribution.” The research certainly did not support these wild claims. Even the very cautious and mainstream BBC felt they had to say: “Because those bold claims do not seem to be borne out by the actual research paper.”. [quoted in 8]. I am not a virologist or a genetic scientist of any kind. But I do analyse media narratives and their creation. The Proximal Origins letter, with its unsustainable (even by their own admission) absolutist claim “clearly show … not lab” and, if Wade is right, “poor science”, together with the way it has been used – by Fauci and by the liberal media in general [9] – seem to fit into this type of politically driven science.

Fauci is a media master. But even Fauci sounds a little awkward when he is asked “Is lab leak a conspiracy theory” and he has to answer “conceptually it is not a conspiracy theory”. The problem is that he is associated with a narrative that called it just that and he has to somehow wriggle away from that in order to maintain his “I have an open mind” line. Hence these contortions.

In this video [5] Fauci is asked a rather clever question about whether he agrees with the conclusions of the Proximal Origins article. If he says yes he would be associating himself with what is now understood to be a rather crass attempt to squash the lab leak hypothesis. But he can’t say no, because he himself has relied on this paper in the past. He then appears to only just remember the contents of the paper. “I don’t have it in front of me”. (I bet he knows it inside out and back to front). Fauci says that the paper itself is open to serial passage and thus lab “they say if you passage it you could have done that” – trying to make it consistent with his “open mind” position. This part is at [1.20]. I am not a forensic psychologist but I find Fauci’s uncertainty in this moment “I think they said…” and his waving his pencil around unconvincing. In fact – please read the section in the paper called ‘Selection during passage’ – [1] the authors discuss the serial passage possibility and then shoot it down based on theoretical and conjectural arguments. Fauci’s characterisation of the article here is false. The questioner, a Republican lawyer, Mitchell Benzine, points out that the paper specifically said that no lab based scenario is plausible. Fauci is now caught out and says “I don’t want to speak for what they meant in that paper but I have said multiple times”, and goes on about his “open mind”. This section is probably the one part where we really see Fauci’s story coming apart. The article was a political piece aimed to suppress the lab leak theory but Fauci has relied on it for the “science” that the virus most likely did not come from a lab. The line that he is guided purely by the science is what is at stake here.

Fauci’s current line is now “I have an open mind”. His primary interest is to dissociate his agency and himself from having directly funded work in the Wuhan lab which led to Sars-Cov-2. He seems to be confident that he is secure in this, based on work that says that the published papers (from Wuhan) around the funded work show a virus which could not possibly have led to Sars-Cov-2. (These are different papers from the letter discussed above). However; he still needs to dissociate himself from the possibility that humanised mice (mice with some human genetic material) supplied as part of the funded work could have been used as part of the supposed (if lab leak is true) side-project which the Wuhan lab was working on which led to the pandemic. We discussed his struggles with that in our last post. Beyond that, he personally is largely in the clear, at least as far as responsibility for the pandemic goes, and so he can cheerfully say “I have an open mind”. All he has to manage now is to cover up how he initially did not have an “open mind” (perhaps because initially he was actually more worried that there was a direct connection between his funding and the Eco Health Alliance ‘sub-award’ and Sars-Cov-2 than he now is).

Finally; while I think lab leak is much more likely than zoonotic I do not know. Nor, perhaps, do the liberal media and progressive-democrats who spent months (“falsely”) calling lab leak a conspiracy theory. Even discussion of the possibility that it could be true puts (see our previous post) their junk science at risk. This is why, even though they do not know any more than I do 100%, they work so hard to shut down the lab leak theory. The interest of this site is in analysing the media narrative. Even if credible evidence eventually turns up for the necessary zoonotic reservoir all the commentary on this site about how the liberal political and media classes tried to block even discussion of the theory for fear that it could be true will remain valid.


  1. The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2
  5. [2.35f]
  9. E.g.

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