Feb 17 • 55M

Jill Filipovic On Feminism And Abortion

A robust debate with a blogger from the early days.


Appears in this episode

Andrew Sullivan
Unafraid conversations about anything

Jill is a journalist and lawyer. She has been a columnist for The Guardian, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, and an old-school blogger at Feministe. She’s the author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind and The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. Currently a columnist for CNN, Jill also runs her own substack and writing retreats around the world. 

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app — though Spotify sadly doesn’t accept the paid feed). For two clips of our convo — on the state of feminism and gender equality, and whether freedom brings more gender differences — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: to what extent gender differences are biological or cultural, testosterone and the aggression of men, bonobos, when trans ideology reinforces the gender binary in kids, a non-zero-sum feminism, why men want quickies while women are more picky, the dating differences between gays and lesbians, the need for parental leave, child custody law, the abortion debate, pro-life women, a human life vs. personhood, individual rights vs. democracy, the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, contraception, porn, and the recent spike in depression among teen girls. Just a few topics. Nothing controversial.

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Here’s a dissent on last week’s episode with Nicholas Wade (followed by a reply from Nicholas):

I was excited to listen to your interview with Wade because I had heard his name come up as a prominent lab-leak theorist, but I hadn’t actually read his work. I have to say I was pretty shocked at how bad he was. His two major claims in favor of a lab-leak hypothesis were: 1) that the presence of genetic code for a furin cleavage site found in SARS-CoV-2 could really only be explained by human manipulation and, 2) the total lack of evidence for a zoonosis event. Both of those claims are wrong.

Wade rightly points out that coronaviruses can pick up new genetic code by grabbing a little genetic material from a related virus that happens to infect the same cell at the same time, but then notes that no other viruses in the same family as SARS-CoV-2 code for the furin cleavage site. In fact, many coronaviruses code for furin cleavage sites. Two of the five coronaviruses that cause common colds in people code for furin cleavage sites. He may have meant that no other viruses within the subgenus sarbecovirus code for a furin cleavage site, but that is largely irrelevant because there is no reason to believe that genetic swapping is strictly confined to other members of the same subgenus.

In short, the presence of code for a furin cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2 is perfectly consistent with a zoonosis and is not suggestive at all of human manipulation.

So what about his claim that there is no evidence for a zoonosis? What about the most basic observation that the epicenter of the initial outbreak was a market that sold live animals that could have served as a likely intermediate host?

That claim is based on both early cases and early hospitalizations for pneumonia. It could be that the clustering of cases simply represented sampling bias. Officials thought that the outbreak was happening near the market and so that is where they tested. But that wouldn’t explain the hospitalizations. Lab leak theorists seem to be quite impressed by the fact that this pandemic started in the same city that has a high biosafety lab studying coronaviruses. But wouldn’t it also be a remarkable coincidence if a person was infected in a lab, but then the epicenter of the earliest spread was at a market over 10 miles away that also happened to be one of the few places that would suggest a zoonosis?

Beyond that, it is important to note that the genetic diversity of the earliest virus isolates strongly suggests two different spillover events with two viruses that were already slightly mutated away from each other and both of those mutants have their epicenter around the wet market. Such diversity would be easy to explain with a zoonosis origin because the virus likely would have been transmitting for some time in the intermediate host species, with different animals containing the slightly different variants.

But to believe the lab leak theory, one would need to believe that two separate infections happened in the lab and that both infected people then happened to go spread the virus exclusively in market that is over 10 miles away and also happens to be one of the few places in the city that would be consistent with zoonosis.

Nicholas responds:

It’s true that many coronaviruses have furin cleavage sites. But the point is, as I said to Andrew, that no known Sarbecovirus does. This is the coronavirus sub-family to which SARS-CoV2 belongs. The virus is therefore unlikely to have acquired its furin cleavage site by the natural process of recombination, which occurs mostly between family members. On the other hand, virologists have quite often inserted the site into viruses being manipulated in the laboratory. We know that the idea of inserting a furin cleavage site into SARS1-like coronaviruses — the exact procedure that could have created SARS-CoV2 — was at the very least being considered by the Wuhan virologists because in 2018 they applied for a grant to do exactly that.

The listener does not address the other reason for suspecting the furin cleavage site to be artificial, namely that its codons are more likely to be derived from humans than bats. Human-favored codons are available in lab kits, rather less commonly in populations of wild bats. All in all, the furin cleavage site is a giant red flag, very easy to explain in terms of laboratory manipulation, very hard on the basis of natural origin.

As for the listener’s second point, proponents of a natural origin for SARS-CoV2 have made much of the outbreak at the Wuhan wet market, where everyone agrees that the virus was amplified. But was it introduced to the market by an infected person or by the wild animals that were presumptively its natural source? Not a single infected animal was found in the market, making it much more likely that it was introduced there by an infected person. In any case, the market samples were gathered in December 2019 whereas the epidemic very probably got going silently and much earlier, after an event in September 2019. 

Lastly, don’t lose sight of the basic geography. The bats that harbor SARS-like viruses hang out in caves in Yunnan, 800 miles away from Wuhan where the epidemic broke out. Right in the city itself is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists were known to be manipulating SARS-related viruses in appallingly lax safety conditions. Give common sense a chance!

Another dissenting voice:

Now that you’ve given a forum to Nicholas Wade — who may be “fearless” in your view, and has been published in Nature and Science, but please note his books have also been negatively reviewed there — give some time to an actual scientist at the forefront of studying the evolution of SARS-CoV-19: Kristian Andersen.

Another view from a listener:

I’m a fellow at a nonpartisan research institute focused on public health, economics and social policy where I’ve been publishing my in-depth investigations into the origins of the pandemic response.

There’s a huge part of the SARS-CoV-2 origins story that is missing from your episode: the involvement of the national security/intelligence community in gain-of-function research. Fauci and Collins are not involved in this research as public health experts — Collins isn’t really involved at all, and Fauci is involved in his role in biodefense research. (Fauci and the NIAID sit on top of billions of dollars in biodefense spending.) The goal is not to “get ahead of naturally occurring viruses so we can make vaccines.” The goal is to get ahead of hypothetical bioweapons that might be waged by our enemies so we can make countermeasures.

Thus, it is not just the CCP who would be responsible for a lab leak — it’s the national security arms of the US government and several others who all had their hands in this type of research in general, and the WIV in particular. Leading Covid response scientists were involved in Wuhan research — not just from the US, but also from Germany (Christian Drosten is Germany’s Anthony Fauci).

In the context of the Covid pandemic response: knowing that it was a potential bioweapon leak led to a series of government actions that put the National Security Council in charge of Covid policy, replacing the CDC and NIH who were supposed to be in charge (as per all pre-Covid US government pandemic planning documents). The cascade of consequences is mind boggling.

Another expert perspective:

The podcast with Nicholas Wade was fascinating and deeply disturbing.

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