Yesterday, The Intercept published an article based on documents, obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests, that revealed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) had in 2014 greenlighted previously “unpublished grant proposals” aimed at studying the SARS-CoV-2 virus on “humanized mice” in Wuhan, China, where Covid-19 was first detected. The news prompted a slew of disinformation actors to advance the unproven Wuhan lab-leak theory as fact.
The head of NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci, had previously denied his agency provided funding for gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. But Professor Richard H. Ebright of Rutgers University and others argue that these proposals constitute gain-of-function research, an ambiguous term that has divided scientists. Dr. Ali Khan, a retired assistant surgeon general and epidemiologist, tweeted, “Hyped news of new docs on US-funded research at Wuhan lab. Simple [sic] obtaining field viral isolates & testing for pathogenicity in special mice. Am I missing the part of altering the viruses for gain of function? How altered?” in a dissenting response linking to The Intercept story.
The phrase gain of function has become a rallying cry among pandemic skeptics who claim that Covid-19 was engineered and subsequently leaked out of the Wuhan lab. For example, Mike Cernovich, known for his role in promoting “Pizzagate” and other conspiracy theories, tweeted that “Fauci funded the creation of coronavirus and lied about it under oath.” His tweet has been shared at least 4,000 times. Other right-wing influencers, including Benny Johnson and Buzz Patterson, also took The Intercept story as concrete proof that Covid-19 was created in Wuhan.
At the same time, the hashtags #faucilied and #arrestfauci once again trended on social media. “BREAKING: Dr. Anthony Fauci lied to Congress,” wrote Ryan Fournier, leader of a pro-Trump group called Students for Trump. “Arrest him,” reads Fournier’s tweet, which has been shared at least 9,500 times.
An inquiry by US intelligence agencies into the virus’ origins came back inconclusive last month. Most scientists think Covid-19’s origins are likely zoonotic — via natural spillover in a wet market or rural area where people and animals are in close contact. — Keenan Chen