Scientists who helped Dr. Anthony Fauci dismiss the theory that the coronavirus leaked from a Chinese lab now claim to have located the real culprit behind the pandemic’s outbreak: fluffy, fox-like creatures known as raccoon dogs.
According to Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard Ebright, the claim that humans contracted the virus from raccoon dogs sold for consumption in a Wuhan wet market is "pseudoscientific nonsense," peddled by "stooges who have been peddling pseudoscientific nonsense for three years." The researchers based their claim on data from Chinese scientists, which they have not made available for independent or peer review. Nor have they published the text of their study, choosing instead to send their findings to the Atlantic, which on Thursday declared the unvetted study "the strongest evidence yet that an animal started the pandemic."
The researchers' claim comes as lawmakers scrutinize Fauci and others who dismissed the lab leak theory at the outset of the pandemic. The FBI, Department of Energy, and a growing cadre of independent virologists say COVID-19 likely emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. House Republicans recently launched an investigation into the pandemic’s origins but have conceded that Chinese obstruction will make it hard to uncover the full story. Fauci commissioned two of the lead scientists behind the raccoon dog research to author a paper dismissing the lab leak theory in February 2020.
The researchers claim that a swab taken in January 2020 from a cart at the Huanan wet market contained genetic material from a raccoon dog and COVID-19. But as the New York Times reported, the data do not prove the raccoon dog was infected—just that it was in the same location as the virus. Even if the creature was infected, the Times added, it wouldn’t prove that it was spreading the virus to humans at the market.
Former National Security Council official Jamie Metzl told Yahoo News that there’s a "zero percent chance that the evidence released so far constitutes a smoking gun proving a market origin of the pandemic," and that anyone pushing the raccoon dog claim as proof of such "is engaging in fraud."
The trio of lead researchers on the study —Scripps Research Institute virologist Kristian Andersen, University of Arizona evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey, and University of Sydney biologist Edward Holmes—have a history of pushing sensational claims to the media designed to detract from the lab leak theory.
All three were involved in a February 2022 pre-print study covered breathlessly by the New York Times that initially claimed "incontrovertible evidence" that the Huanan wet market was the "unambiguous epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic." That language, however, was ultimately removed from the study following a peer-review process. The final version published in July 2022 stated the "precise events surrounding virus spillover will always be clouded" and that the wet market was an "early epicenter" of the pandemic.
The trio’s "track record of past false claims on the subject warrants extreme caution about their new claims on the subject, especially claims for which the data are not presented," Ebright told the Washington Examiner.
Andersen is best known for privately warning Fauci in January 2020 that COVID-19 contained features that "look engineered," only to publicly reverse his stance weeks later and become one of the most outspoken opponents of the lab leak theory.
Emails uncovered in March by House Republicans show that Fauci prompted Andersen and Holmes in February 2020 to create the now-infamous "Proximal Origins of SARS-CoV-2" article to "disprove" the lab leak theory at the onset of the pandemic. Fauci later alluded to the paper during a White House press briefing in April 2020 to reject the notion that a lab leak could be connected to the pandemic’s outbreak.
The House voted unanimously on March 10 to declassify all intelligence about COVID-19’s origins, and the Senate passed its own version of the measure earlier in March. President Joe Biden said last Monday he hadn’t decided whether or not he will sign the bill.