Scientists from nine countries have issued a joint statement’ strongly condemning conspiracy theories’ on the origin of the latest coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and asking those who spread the myths to recognize the harmful consequences of disinformation.
On Wednesday of this week, a joint statement published in The Lancet was issued by 27 public health specialists from international research institutions in nine countries.
We express that concern in the statement about the spread of unsupported claims that the latest coronavirus— SARS-CoV-2 — was developed and leaked out of a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
“We are public health scientists who have followed closely the advent of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and are deeply concerned about its impact on global health and wellbeing,” the scientists report.
The rumors— which have permeated social media and fed tabloids — have sparked the fears of specialists that disinformation could dramatically prejudice progress in resolving SARS-CoV-2.
“Rumors and speculation around its source are now threatening the swift, free, and clear exchange of data on this outbreak,” warn the writers of the statement in The Lancet.
‘We strongly condemn conspiracy theories’
Although the statement does not mention specific names or organizations, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which studied coronaviruses in bats, has been incriminated by speculations about the suspected origin of the virus.
However, those statements have been repeatedly denied by researchers officially associated with that organization.
“The Wuhan Institute of Virology has no diseases, and the patient zero hasn’t come from us,” reportedly told media outlets Chen Quanjiao, a researcher at the hospital.
Yet experts could not quash these rumors, perpetuated even by people with highly public profiles, such as politicians.
One recent example is that of U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, who has publicly accused Chinese authorities of secrecy surrounding the new virus ‘ true origins.
The specialists who co-signed The Lancet’s new statement underline that such statements are not actually based and challenge what is currently a strong international partnership between researchers and health officials. Writing:
“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
“Multi-country scientists have reported and analyzed the causative agent genomes, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and generally believe that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” they add.
Potential for real harm
“Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors and biases that threaten our global cooperation in the fight against this virus,” the specialists say.
One co-author, Peter Daszak, Ph.D., founder of the U.S.- based public health research group EcoHealth Alliance, noted that rumor-mongering could also promote social discord and violence as well.
“We are in the midst of the age of disinformation on social media and these rumors and conspiracy theories have real consequences, like threats of violence to our Chinese colleagues,” Daszak commented to Science Insider.
“We have a choice between standing up and supporting colleagues who are daily harassed and threatened by conspiracy theorists, or just turning a blind eye. I am really proud that people from nine countries can quickly come to their defense and show solidarity with people who, after all, are in an epidemic coping with horrific conditions,” he said.