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Nicholas Wade On The Lab Leak Covid Theory

Nicholas Wade On The Lab Leak Covid Theory

The fearless science writer is one of the few to take the subject seriously.

Nicholas Wade is a journalist with a long, distinguished career at the New York Times, the magazine Nature, and the journal Science. He’s the author of many books, including A Troublesome Inheritance, The Faith Instinct, and Before the Dawn. Last year he became one of the few mainstream journalists to seriously consider the lab leak theory, so in this episode we focus on his querulous and disturbing tract, Where Covid Came From.

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 doesn’t accept the paid feed unfortunately). For two clips of our convo — whether Fauci had any role in the events that led to Covid, and the media’s cowardice over covering the lab leak theory — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: RNA and coronaviruses, the eerie structure of SARS-CoV-2, the shockingly lax security at the Wuhan lab, the NIH money that went to Wuhan, the Chinese grant proposal to the DOD, unpacking the Orwellian euphemism “gain of function,” the alarming behavior of the Chinese government in the fall of 2019, the implausibility of the wet market theory, the PR behavior of science journalists, Fauci’s distrust of the masses, the polarization of Trump’s “China virus” comments, the left’s lockstep resistance against lab leak (with notable exceptions like Jon Stewart), what the new GOP House could find with subpoenas, and a brief discussion of Wade’s controversial book A Troublesome Inheritance — namely the ongoing interplay between human genetics, culture and the rest of the environment.

Jill Filipovic will be on the pod next week to discuss abortion and feminism. A Dishhead is looking forward to it:

I try to subscribe to a diverse set of substacks, including a number of left-feminist writers such Jill Filipovic, Jessica Valenti, Julie Bindel and Suzanne Moore, as well as the more centrist Tara Henley, Meghan Daum, etc. In my now overloaded Substack app, Filipovic is always one that gets a read. She strikes me as much more balanced on the “woke” topics than people like Valenti or the other usual suspects. And you get the sense that Filipovic is sometimes struggling not to reflexively denounce the latest woke idiocy that she sees before her while also walking the cancellation tightrope. For example, listen to her pod debate with Bari Weiss and Louise Perry. You kind of get the sense that most of what Perry said, Filipovic agreed with but couldn’t necessarily say so. Anyway, I’m looking forward to listening — and please, let her talk!

Many listeners enjoyed last week’s conversation with Ben Appel, who broke away from both a Christian cult and a woke cult. Here’s Ben talking about his cultural observations as a gay hairdresser:

A listener writes:

Turns out your episode with Appel was very timely, since one of my 26-year-old twin boys just told me he’s dating a guy. Apparently he has been parallel dating for a while now. He told me this while on a call with his brother and my wife and me. It felt like I was the only one out of the loop. I said the only thing that bothered me about this new information was if he had felt I would have a problem with it. I don’t. All I need from any of my kids’ partners (we love his brother’s girlfriend) is that they appreciate how amazing our sons are!

This is all a preamble to something else my son said: that “bi” may be the least loved of the LGBTQ alphabet (the “B” right in the middle, until you start piling more letters on). He has on occasion been told he should describe himself as “pan” because “bi” is exclusive and perpetuates the two-gender binary. His reaction? “Fuck right off with their nonsense.” Seems fair.

That’s the spirit! We need to say “Fuck Off!” to the woke crazies more regularly. Julia Shaw just came out with a new book called Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality, which we may feature on the Dishcast at some point. Back in the blog days, the Dish had a long and popular thread on the challenges that bi people face.

Another listener:

Your discussion with Ben Appel was helpful in my understanding of the thinking about sexual identity that you have been talking about, specifically your observation about the erasing of the sexual basis of human behavior embodied in the ideas of gender identity.

I also resonated with the idea that both you and Appel put forth — that the woke movement is like a religion (or a cult, if I may), in which adherence to dogma is required and excommunication or more is the penalty for not doing so. Both of you talked about the primacy of feeling over intellect — that objective truth, scientific data, or any data has no place in understanding any phenomenon, especially about human experiences. That’s also true about most religions.

It seems to me that what you are describing is a parallel process to what is occurring on the right, and what Eric Hoffer talked about in The True Believer — that the extreme left and the extreme right are more alike than different. While the content of their beliefs may be different, the process of adhering to those beliefs, and the impulse to impose those beliefs on others by any means, and the punishment of those who stray, are very much alike.

If that is so, then we are on the road to a theocracy. Certainly the right is trying to impose a version of Christianity on us all, as we see clearly in states that are dominated by the Republican Party, and even in the Supreme Court’s recent rulings. And on the left you suggest a similar theocracy — not so much based on a hypothesized divine entity, but on an idea akin to Maoism, or Marxism, or (if I may) German or Russian Romanticism, which is equally rigid and equally dangerous.

This brings to mind my 2018 piece, “America’s New Religions” (which is featured in my essay collection, Out on a Limb). I think of these tendencies on both right and left as forms of fundamentalism — sacred and secular. And the entire project of conservatism, as I understand it, is about resistance to fundamentalism of every kind. That’s the core point of The Conservative Soul, which attempts to root a coherent conservatism in skepticism. It was directed at Bush-era certainty; it applies to Trump-era wokeness and cultishness as well.

Another listener runs through more similarities between wokeness and religion:

White supremacy is very much like original sin: an unfalsifiable pervasive evil that is credited for all the failings of our society. No further explanation of our problems is necessary; in fact, further explanation is blasphemy. Original sin and white supremacy are both conditions that we didn’t create but are responsible for confronting; both are the root explanation of all undesirable human behaviors; both are denied by the degenerated morally blind; both require special knowledge to confront. All of us are in their thrall, and only certain wise people can show us the way out — and those people must not be questioned. 

The most frightening similarity is the affirmation that there are only two types of people: the saved and the unsaved, the racist and the anti-racist. All other distinctions are illusions, and being an honorable kind person is just not good enough. You are on one side or the other no matter what you say. What is in your heart doesn’t matter, and your actions don’t matter; only your proclamation of affinity does.

I think human minds have a “plug and play” need for these moral categories, most likely a vestige from our days as pre-human primates in small groups fighting against other small groups. Like our appendix, these vestigial thought patterns can’t be banished and they will always find some way to manifest themselves. Our best hope is not to grow out of them, but to recognize them for what they are and relegate them to a lower place.

A quick note from another listener:

If there is no objective truth, according to the postmodern woke, and no conversation to be had because the entire landscape is simply one of power structures, then the traditional cis-white-male-patriarchy-supremacist power structure should give not one inch because, if they do, they will simply be run over. Not exactly a hopeful message.

Exactly! This next listener makes a connection with a previous episode:

During your talk with Ben Appel, I thought about your disagreement with John McWhorter about his labeling woke dogma as a new religion. You saw a distinction between a “real religion” like Christianity versus Marxist ideas of human history. Fast forward to Ben, his upbringing in a Christian cult followed by a new cult at Columbia University (where John teaches). Has your thinking about wokeness as a religion evolved? What’s the distinction between cults and real religions? Is it mercy and forgiveness?

There is no hidden message in a real religion, no layers of truth to be first concealed and then revealed, no cognoscenti, no exclusivity. Here’s a guest recommendation:

Perhaps you should try to get Mark Bauerlein, a sociologist who’s studied the rise of extreme progressivism in academia. I heard him on the First Things podcast a few weeks ago, and he had some very interesting observations about the structure and incentives of Wokism. He notes, for example, that its purported relativism doesn’t apply to its core principles.

Another listener brings up a persistent challenge with booking certain pod guests:

You make clear that your intellectual enemies are the woke, the radical left, the neo-Marxists, the followers of Foucault, and all the combinations thereof. Are there any representatives of this group you could bring on the podcast?

For this listener, at least, it would be instructive to hear, say, an adherent to the idea of socially constructed sexuality or radical gender fluidity explain the theory in detail. We laypeople get the watered down dregs of the theory in news media regularly, but we (or at least those of who don’t spend much time in universities) rarely get the unadulterated product. To better refute the knee-jerk virtue signaling of, say, the New York Times, I think I need to understand better its root causes.

Now, it may be that none of these folks would sit down with you, which would prove your point about their close-mindedness. If that’s the case, I’d love to read why in your newsletter. 

I’ve tried, believe me. But I will keep trying. This next reader isn’t tired of all the woke coverage on the Dish:

At the end of the episode with Ben Appel, you said:

I’m tired of being told that I should just move on. This is not a minor issue. It is a fundamental, epistemological issue about the survival of liberal democracy, the unit of which is the reasoned individual, regardless of their characteristics. It is the replacement of that with a really totalitarian ideology that makes us all mere expressions of structural forces of power and oppression, and denies our individuality, our agency, our humanity and our homosexuality.

Don’t move on. The assault on objective reality generated by postmodernist ideology is also wreaking havoc with science. In several countries, most notably Canada, South Africa and New Zealand (where I am), this has led to demands that indigenous knowledge be considered equivalent to “Western science” in school and universities. There’s no such thing as “Western science,” which is just a confection that allows ideologues to associate science with European colonisation and to reify the notion of “indigenous science.” All indigenous peoples had to learn about their environment to survive, and so what is termed “indigenous science” is just what humans have done throughout history. This makes the term “science” meaningless, and in doing so it allows spiritual and ideological concepts to be smuggled into the science curriculum. 

I became involved in this battle with six other concerned colleagues at the University of Auckland. We raised two issues in a letter to the editor published in the New Zealand Listener in July 2021.

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