Podcast: China, COVID-19 and the Viscount | Cassandra Voices

Podcast: China, COVID-19 and the Viscount


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Did COVID-19 originate from a pathway connected to China’s trade in wildlife-for-consumption, or did laboratory activity trigger the pandemic? Where do things stand with the so-called Lab Leak Hypothesis? One thing is for sure: in this pressing matter, one of the hardest combined attitudes to take is to be both engaged and polite.

Many combatants, previously capable of professional comportment, have descended into bare knuckle insults of the kind academe has not seen since the world decided one must be on the Left or the Right, or that one should comport oneself responsibly in the face of a Cold War that may become hot. Are you on the right side of history, or involved at all? You are either ready for flak, in this situation, or keep your head down.

Many scientists with an opinion worth sharing are choosing not to do so.

They might be wise. After all, some of this fighting has gotten dirty. Where some engaged in respectable debate before, rivals are now trying to cancel and professionally immolate one another. Direct exchange rather than article or book writing now makes up the majority of this discourse. Peer-reviewed articles on either side of this exchange have been few. Before you say – ‘That’s because there’s no evidence for the lab-leak’, or ‘That’s because there’s no evidence for the wet market/ zoonosis’, consider this: the Chinese government most likely had insight, and most likely destroyed evidence related to one or the other.

Viscount Matt Ridley, our interviewee here, has been both interested and engaged with the question of the virus origin since the start. He has been so without lapsing into ad hominem jibes. Though he has lapsed into Twitter exchanges of fire, his manner throughout has been civil. He stands with scientists, skilled researchers and a majority of the public in thinking that COVID-19 resulted most probably in a misadventure connected to a Chinese lab.

This does not mean he is correct.

Why is it important to point this out? In a context where both sides of a highly contentious argument disagree over all but the smallest of premises, the question of decency – and its cousin attributes honesty and responsibility – does come to the fore. Decency is also a cousin of openness by the way, and as we encircle in our conversation, China’s rulers have been anything but open. Therefore, take a listen to this exchange, and a look at Matt Ridley and Alina Chan’s book, as a start about posing this question for yourself. For all of us who lived through the pandemic, and in memory of those who didn’t, asking questions about its origins remains a primary part of the aftermath.

Read Luke Sheehan’s account of his time in China, published by The Lilliput Press.


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