In 2011, science journalist Laurie Garrett wrote on the “alarming regularity” of accidents in biosafety labs around the world. The accidents are as much a matter of numbers as any one lab’s poor safety record. A 2013 Princeton University study showed an increasing global population exposed to the risk of accidents from biosafety laboratories pursuing studies of some of the world’s most dangerous diseases.
The study, conducted by health geographer Thomas Van Boeckel and colleagues, showed the population living within the commuting field of BSL‑4 labs increased by a factor of four from 1990 to 2012. The fields summed together encapsulate nearly 2 percent of the world’s population. Any escape infection could potentially seed an outbreak able to hop upon the global travel network to infect the rest of the world in short order. Since 9/11, thousands of new BSL‑3 and ‑4 labs have been built for studying pathogens. The team noted a particular surge in Asia, describing, among others, new labs in Taiwan, Singapore, Pune, Bhopal, and, listed in the appendix, Wuhan.
The lab bubble appears to have arisen out of a combination of legitimate concerns about emergent infectious diseases, the return of “respectable” biowarfare research, the ideological demands of the War on Terror, and the next iteration in Keynesian military economy. The sum effect includes producing the very threat of outbreak the labs were ostensibly set up to stop. Expanding such labs in number and geographic extent bends rare events like viral escape toward inevitability. The labs represent a political logistics folding in calculated dangers that science propaganda spins away as so much conspiracy theory.
In 2004 alone, four separate SARS escapes were reported _out of the Chinese National Institute of Virology in Beijing. In 2018, the Wuhan Institute of Virology used a “less virulent” SARS strain to test lab disinfectants. Are we going to pretend such things don’t happen ?
You can find a dossier that an anonymous group of self-identified researchers put together in favor of the lab accident theory here. I find some of its inferences and criticism on target and others unconvincing.[…]
So, what is the Solomonic choice here ? All the contending parties—the United States and Chinese governments, the EcoHealth Alliance, scientists, and conspiracy theorists alike—can piss off. Because they told us all to do so ourselves and are attempting to dump responsibility on each other, letting the whole gang escape. Allowing such hubris to continue to run amok would be an act of self-destruction beyond the COVID pandemic and what climate change already has in store for us.[…]
Philosopher Alain Badiou writes of liberal parliamentarianism’s neo-Kantian opposition of truth and opinion. In the spectacle of debate, we are allowed to struggle over opinion, the core of the extreme center’s politics, but truth is never up for grabs, we’re told. It’s instead locked away in journals and think tanks that the state and philanthrocapitalists own. And the plebs—left coughing on their couches, not from ritual fire but a virus, their pains and sorrows untrue because these are carefully left undocumented—are never allowed access to the official story as a matter of first principle.
Consciously or not, by devious intent or the best of intentions, in accepting what appear diametrically opposed premises that in actuality are scattered together around the dictates of capital and the imperial states that serve it, the various factions of power—money, political class, the latest in colonial medicine—all back some version of expropriation or empire building that regularly spring deadly diseases. By this season, Midvinter 2019, that Great Game finished off a drag race of protopandemic SARS across lab and field alike.
One strain of the many still circulating got out. I’m betting this round that pandemic SARS emerged along the increasingly industrialized wild animal commodity chain from hinterlands and border towns as far south and west as Yunnan. On the last leg of its domestic tour, the virus made its way to Wuhan by truck or plane and then the world.