Don’t Pass This On

31 January 2022
Don’t Pass This On - Featured image

What happened in Wuhan is a worry but what’s happening here now is even more disturbing, argues IPA Adjunct Fellow Cian Hussey.

Until quite recently, few journalists were willing to even report on the possibility COVID-19 originated in a laboratory. Sharri Markson is an exception, and deserves credit for this. When the new coronavirus emerged in late 2019 and early 2020, the narrative promoted by the Chinese Communist Party quickly became the official dogma of scientists, politicians, and journalists all over the world: COVID emerged naturally, and any suggestion it did not was a dangerous conspiracy theory that needed to be shut down.


What Really Happened In Wuhan: A Virus Like No Other, Countless Infections, Millions of Deaths
Sharri Markson
HarperCollins, 2021, pp432

As it turned out, plenty of scientists disagreed with this narrative; it was just that they couldn’t get any airtime. The same is true of intelligence officials and various government advisers (particularly in the United States), although these individuals do not generally broadcast their views to the public. Members of the IPA are all too familiar with the problem here. The emergence of ‘scientism’ and statements like “the science is settled” surrounding the climate change debate are perversions of science. [This is also why it is so pleasing that Dr Peter Ridd, who was sacked by James Cook University after questioning the official narrative about the Great Barrier Reef, has now joined the IPA as a Senior Fellow to lead the Project of Real Science.]

Scientism is a new secular religion based on established Truths rather than contestable theses, and for the most part is what we have seen across the West, especially with regard to climate change and COVID. It makes a powerful political tool because, as American author Matthew Crawford has written, it is presented as an apolitical field, a “disinterested arbiter of reality”.

As a way of generating knowledge, it is the pride of science to be falsifiable (unlike religion).

Yet what sort of authority would it be that insists its own grasp of reality is merely provisional? Presumably, the whole point of authority is to explain reality and provide certainty in an uncertain world, for the sake of social coordination, even at the price of simplification. To serve the role assigned it, science must become something more like religion.

The deeper problem is, ‘what really happened in the West?’

The pandemic has only accelerated the crisis of confidence in experts because eventually it turns out many scientific answers are provisional. The result, for the scientists and politicians who promote an absolute and unwavering view of, in this case, where a new virus came from, is that trust is undermined. In June 2020, many who questioned the natural origins of COVID were silenced. By June 2021, however, the media and political class were forced to backtrack and admit they could not rule out the possibility COVID came from a lab.

To anyone who accepts the scientific method, the lab leak theory was always a possibility. In her book What Really Happened In Wuhan, Sharri Markson outlines why these people were right to be sceptical from the very beginning.

Markson’s work is important because it documents in detail the cover-up the CCP engaged in, and tells the story of a few in the West who “have their receipts” and asked the right questions about the virus and its origins from the start. Despite the depth of the research and the sometimes-complex scientific concepts being discussed, Markson breaks this down in a way that makes the book accessible to the lay reader.

Markson’s research demonstrates lab leaks are actually reasonably common (with one expert she cites highlighting they can be expected around once every 12 years); that scientists and public health experts across China and the West were very concerned about such a leak; that the Wuhan Institute of Virology has undertaken dangerous gain-of-function research, often in potential violation of international agreements; and, concerningly, funded and assisted by the West; and that there was an abundance of evidence available from the beginning that COVID was an unlikely candidate for a naturally-occurring virus.

That being said, that the CCP would respond in the way it did—suppressing any and all information about the outbreak of a new virus and disappearing those who tried to raise the alarm—was unsurprising. As Markson highlights in his chapter, ‘Transparency’:

The SARS epidemic delivered a political shock to the Communist Party, which was widely condemned for mismanaging the outbreak, covering up cases and smothering news reports,” The Washington Post reported in January 2020. This should have instantly encouraged suspicion and inquiries about what information China was sharing and whether it was being transparent. But everyone was ready to give China the benefit of the doubt. None more so than the WHO.

The answer to the question ‘what really happened in Wuhan?’ is simple: the Chinese Communist Party operated in a manner that those who are wary of their motives would expect them to. The deeper problem we must confront is, ‘what really happened in the West?’

The idea behind allowing China to join the World Trade Organisation in 2001 was that after becoming part of the liberal, rules-based order, China would liberalise. It would become more like us. Instead, the opposite has happened. For some, this trend has emerged over time as Western states have built up massive security structures to spy on their own citizens, and the economy has become dominated by the bureaucracy and the corporate oligopolies they enable while small business owners have been shut out.

Our response to COVID has shown little care for liberty, privacy, or proportionality.

But the West’s response to COVID was a clear inflection point. The lockdowns in Australia were far from liberal or democratic. While they were inspired by an initial panic to the new virus, that they have eroded the fabric of our society and way of life is not the CCP’s fault. Victoria Police arrested Zoe Buhler, a pregnant mother, in front of her two children in her Ballarat home, for posting her opinion about the lockdowns on social media.

What happened in Wuhan is an important issue, but only one part of the broader topic of what COVID means for Western Civilisation. Wherever COVID came from, the CCP obfuscated what was happening on the ground, and was deceitful and negligent in allowing the virus to spread internationally without cooperating with other countries or international bodies. But as recent history has shown—in SARS specifically in this case, but also in trade and intellectual property theft—the West should have been more aware of the CCP’s domestic machinations. That notwithstanding, liberal democracies should respond to a pandemic in a different manner to an authoritarian communist regime. But we chose not to.

The Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza was first written in 2014 and updated by the Department of Health in August 2019, and provides a concerning contrast to what happened in 2020 and 2021. Almost all aspects of the Federal and State response to COVID—from interstate border closures, mandatory isolation and quarantine, hotel quarantine, school closures, and mandatory masks—entirely contradict the evidence-based Plan which sought to balance competing rights, responsibilities, and freedoms.

The Plan is based, in part, on an ethical framework outlined in 2008 under the Labor government, meaning there was a bipartisan agreement this framework is how Australia should approach the next pandemic. Individual liberty, privacy and confidentiality of individuals, and proportionality are three of the nine values outlined in the framework—and in fact, they come before protection of the public and the provision of care, two more key values.

This implies an appropriate response would maintain the institutions and values so key to our culture, which inevitably come under pressure during a national crisis. Instead, there has been little care for liberty, privacy, or proportionality in Australia’s response to COVID.

The Plan says a proportionate response would “minimise social disruption” in the knowledge that “the risk is not the same across population groups”. This principle was quickly overturned in favour of blanket measures which caused the largest peace-time social disruption and inflicted the most harm on those who are least at risk from the virus: young Australians. We could go on here in more detail, but I will direct readers to Adam Creighton’s excellent essay in Volume 1 of Essays for Australia, published by The Centre for the Australian Way of Life at the IPA in October 2021. Creighton lays out a range of evidence about our misguided approach to COVID, but his conclusion strikes at the heart of the matter:

This was and remains a debate about the rights of the individual in relation to the State. It’s about ideology… Since Mill’s time liberal democracies have undermined the idea, going back to ancient Greece, that democracies are inherently unstable. They might be stable, but they have steadily undermined individual freedoms in the name of ‘safety’. It’s hard to see the pandemic of 2020-21 leaving anything but a legacy of more powerful government and less concern about individual rights.

Part of this legacy is that the West has become more like China under the CCP.

Markson’s book has earned its place on many bookshelves across the country. It is important we get to the truth of what happened in Wuhan, but this is only the start of the story. Perhaps the topic for Markson’s next book should be What Really Happened In Australia.

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This article from the Summer 2021 edition of the IPA Review is written by IPA Adjunct Fellow Cian Hussey.

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