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Great essay and comments. Here are my two cents.

When I was a very little boy, one dinner time my father started talking about nuclear war, nuclear weapons, and the radiation that would come right through the walls and kill you. I remember how terrified I was, and I remember looking out the window and saying, Right through the glass? Yes, right through the glass.

I was too young to know about the Cuban missile crisis, but years later my father told me how frightened he had been. The Korean War had ended only a few years before, and my father's six years in the artillery in WWII was not a distant memory.

Funny how a scare turns to fascination. I read everything with the word nuclear in it, and 60 years later I build equipment for the nuclear industry. I am sure it started with that conversation.

I have been trained in something called Root Cause Analysis, common in the nuclear industry. When there is a catastrophe or a near miss (funny term that!) you analyse the snot out of it until you know what has to be done to prevent recurrence.

Complex systems like nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons systems, economies and countries have many checks, approvals, barriers to failure, redundancies and automated detection systems, so a catastrophe almost always has multiple causes.

Complex systems are never static. They either adapt and renew, or they stagnate and deteriorate. People leave, experience is lost, procedures are revised, equipment is replaced, minor problems have temporary fixes that become permanent, all with unforeseen consequences. Niall Ferguson in one of his books said that complex system can go on for years, seemingly healthy, with the residents blissfully unaware of the rot within. Then one day, a small operator error, a minor equipment failure, a valve that doesnt close at TMI, a foreclosure in 2008, or a gun shot from an obscure Serbian nationalist triggers a cascade of events that crashes through all the inadequate measures and best intentions in place. Black Swan! Unforeseen but predictable.

It is interesting that when you stand amidst the wreckage and the bodies, looking back in time, with a little investigation the path to failure is relatively easy to see, right back to the initiating event. But, when you go back in time and look forward, all you see is a mass of potential problems and which one is key? Resources are finite and you can rarely deal with them all. I like Kissinger's observation that choices are never between a good option and a bad option. They are about finding the least worst option.

One cause that comes up frequently is over confidence, ie hubris. With respect, I hear that in some of the comments.

I think America and its allies are going to be tested soon.

I like WigWag's comment about the disconnect between the college educated elite and the working class joes. No wonder Labour is switching to the Republicans in the US and the Tories in the UK. Charles Murray observed that today there is a cohort of wealthy young Americans that are going from high school to college to business, academia or politics, who have never worked with their hands, never mowed lawns, never waited on tables or cleaned toilets or worked in a factory.

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Jun 12, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Chilling and important, Claire.

It also lead me to a disturbing insight about stubbornness in refusing to abandon long-held views in the face of evidence. You mention KAL007. I am objectively certain later revelations support the “tragic accident” view you cite.

However, I was the leader and minder of 30 British university students studying Russian in Soviet Ukraine that fatal night, and not only recall every tense hour, and the fear we shared with our hosts, but came to support the cogent arguments of R.W. Johnson that it was not an accident. Many did: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v08/n13/paul-foot/the-scandal-that-never-was

Here I am, in 2021, knowing the later revelations and stil unwilling truly to accept them,Still thinking more about hysterical Americans pouring Stolichnays in the gutters, while our Soviet hosts hugged us. About the air boycott, so we barely got to make it home vis Air India

So I tell the story your way, but a part of me is waiting for new evidence....

I relate this to shed light on the stubborn cognitive dissonance of others... and my own.

Expertise on how to break through this?

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Jun 11, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

The key points that we should all be able to agree on is this:

(1) No one knows the future.

(2) There is a risk -- not calculatable -- of nuclear war -- among little powers, big powers or both. Because something hasn't happened, doesn't mean it can't happen. Because there is a risk of it happening, doesn't mean it will happen even given enough time.

So ... surely a rational, prudent person would ask: is there anything I can do NOW, at very little cost, that might make a significant difference to my own well-being, should the worst happen? (And note that the 'worst' is really not a point, but a spectrum -- ranging from an H-bomb bursting with you in the kill zone, all the way over to a nuclear power plant going up, with you in the fallout zone or a nuclear war among other countries that seriously disrupts our own supply chain.)

I used to think that American "preppers" were people leading boring personal lives who wanted to play-act in their own Mad Max fantasy. But whether or not that's true, the fact is that having a few weeks' food and other necessities in the basement, some potassium iodide tablets handy, and knowing that if you see a bright flash in the distance you should drop to the ground -- costs almost nothing. (Many, if not most, casualities from a nuclear weapon will be people outside the immediate death zone who are shredded by flying glass and other debris. So "duck and cover" isn't so crazy after all.)

How horrible to have to be talking about this, when we should be discussing how close we're getting to nearly-free energy via controlled fusion, defect-free genomes in our descendants via genetic engineering, the elimination of dangerous boring jobs via AI, and all the wonderful promises for the future that human rationality has come up with.

But we are where we are. And being rational includes understanding 'normalcy bias', and learning from the past.

"X will make war too terrible to wage/too expensive to wage." "We're at the End of History. Liberal democracy is inevitable."

Right. Go on, all you smart intellectuals. Take a few hours to prepare for the worst, just in case. No one else needs to know. [All you need to know can be found in the Civil Defense Manual, Volumes I and II, available here: CivilDefenseManual.com]

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We should not leave out the incident involving a Soviet submarine during the Cuban Missile Crisis -- every major Russian and American city should have a statue dedicated to one Vasily Arkhipov. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_submarine_B-59]

And this is a good opportunity to urge everyone here to spend a few dollars and buy a bottle of potassium iodide tablets: in the event of a nuclear war, or disaster, it will allow your thyroid gland to satiate itself on harmless Iodine-127 instead of the radioative Iodine-131 which will be produced by nuclear wars or accidents. Not so important for old people, but definitely indicated for children.

As for rational self-interest protecting us from nuclear war --- it didn't protect us from World Wars One or Two. And we should also consider the effects of the decline of America and the rise of China. The decaying soon-to-be-former world super-power is going to be subject to increasingly irrational impulses. Get that potassium iodide!

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Just finished reading the inventory of close-calls due to error. It takes me back to my 1980’s decade of nuclear war fear. I recall contemplating every foreign-policy action in terms of “closer to or farther from nuclear war. Of course- my analysis was naive and misinformed. One would assume or rather fantasize that there is a greater degree of mishap-safety, than actually is the case.

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People have exaggerated ideas regarding the risk of nuclear war. As a matter of fact nuclear weapons greatly mitigate the risk of a major war. As Machiavelli put it, fear is more reliable than love, since it involves self-interest, which love does not. The fabled balance of terror is no more than mutual self-interest, and it’s more to be relied upon than idealism and wishful thinking.

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I fully agree with you that nuclear weapons mitigate the risk of major war. I don't think we can otherwise understand the Pax Americana. This is why I would never support proposals to dismantle them all.* But I do not agree that our understanding of the risk of nuclear war is exaggerated. If you believe that, you need to explain why this system, alone among systems created by humans, is not apt to fail. Nothing else made by humans is fail proof. The list of close calls I've marshalled here isn't even the half of it. And for the most part of humanity's nuclear history, the nuclear powers didn't include North Korea, India, and Pakistan--the addition of these three changes the risk calculus considerably.

What's more, you've suggested that people have an exaggerated idea of the risk without specifying which people--and what counts as "exaggerated." In my experience of talking to people about it, most people have no idea how great the risk is. The perception most Americans had *during* the Cold War was fairly accurate; the perception most Americans have now--that somehow the nukes just ... disappeared or something?--is wholly inaccurate.

I'd also point out that US competence has declined along many spectrums: We're just not as good at managing complex problems as we were throughout the Cold War. (For example: We can't seem to pull off the mechanics of an election without a hitch anymore.) Why? Complicated problem. I've written about it here. https://claireberlinski.substack.com/p/incompetence-and-doomsday To my mind this suggests we should be even more worried.

*While I wouldn't support dismantling them, no one has yet explained to me why we need more than required to preserve a secure second-strike capacity. And the doctrines of sole authority to launch and launch on warning are simply too dangerous. I understand that I disagree with a number of my readers about whether Donald Trump was insane. But I do believe that. I did not sleep deeply for the duration of the Trump Administration. I don't think the odds of his reelection in 2024 are zero. I wish very much that Democrats took their own rhetoric about how dangerous Trump is seriously. If they did, they'd work *now* to reduce the ability of the Commander-in-Chief, all by himself, to end human civilization.

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As a matter of fact, the Commander-in-Chief has no power to end human civilization all by himself. The president cannot launch nuclear weapons; he can only order them to be launched. And the procedures governing the release of nuclear weapons are not automated. They require the participation of numerous other officials and officers, none of whom would transmit or obey an order to launch that came out of the blue. In such a situation NORAD and Strike Command would be well aware that no attack against the US was underway. In short, the "presidential insanity" scenario is fanciful.

The problem with proposals to strip the presidency of its unilateral control over nuclear weapons is that they would undermine unity of command and by extension, deterrence.

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I agree that there's some—albeit very little—risk of an accident involving nuclear weapons. I don't believe, however, that there's any chance that such an accident would touch off a full-scale nuclear war.

The well-understood consequences of a major exchange of nuclear weapons, say between the US and China, are sufficiently horrific to impose caution on political and military leaders. However, if you want something to worry about in this area, think North Korea, and Iran: two countries under the control of outlaw regimes whose collective mental stability is open to question.

North Korea's leaders, for example, could conceivably become crazy enough to attempt a nuclear strike on South Korea or even the US. That, of course, would lead to the obliteration of North Korea. While terrible to contemplate, however, it would not mean the end of the world.

The problem posed by Iran is somewhat different. That country's nuclear ambitions could trigger a regional nuclear arms race, possibly leading to a regional nuclear war. Again terrible to contemplate, but again it would not mean the end of the world.

Below is a link to a very interesting treatment of a hypothetical full-scale nuclear war between the US and the USSR in 1988, when the nuclear arsenals of both countries were at their peak. After reading it you will no longer wonder why the Cold War superpowers never risked a hot war.

http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/nuclear/nuclearwar1.html

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founding

Humans learn to ignore risks out of their control. It can be a good survival and mental health strategy.

I was born in the 50's. At some point I decided, probably subconsciously, that I had no control over nukes and would not waste time and energy worrying about it. Early on I concluded that ducking and covering under my desk was a joke.

It will either happen or not.

People who could not manage the nuclear risks this way found other ways. Some built bomb shelters to give themselves the illusion that they did have some control of the situation.

That their action (we have to do something) was based on an illusion, but for many it was a good thing as it reduced their anxiety and gave them as sense of greater control over their lives.

We each find our own way to manage the many risks we face as living beings.

I do expect the people in government and the military who do have some abilities to reduce the risks to worry about these issues and take what actions they can to minimize them.

I am at risk when I drive my car, but I have some control in that situation. I drive defensively to reduce the risk. I know I cannot reduce the risk to zero. I manage the risk so that I don't obsess over the risks and become to afraid to drive. Poor risk management can emotionally paralyze a person.

Never be shocked that others evaluate and manage risks in ways different from your own.

It is part of the diversity of our species.

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I agree with WigWag: a tour de force. Here's yet another close call, which played out in the Atlantic during the Cuban Missile Crisis:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/you-and-almost-everyone-you-know-owe-your-life-to-this-man

"It’s October 1962, the height of the Cuban missile crisis, and there’s a Soviet submarine in the Caribbean that’s been spotted by the American Navy. President Kennedy has blockaded Cuba. No sea traffic is permitted through.

The sub is hiding in the ocean, and the Americans are dropping depth charges* left and right of the hull. Inside, the sub is rocking, shaking with each new explosion. What the Americans don’t know is that this sub has a tactical nuclear torpedo on board, available to launch, and that the Russian captain is asking himself, Shall I fire?"

*Note: these were small depth charges, meant to annoy not destroy.

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Probably the reason that the nuclear torpedo was not fired is that if it had been fired, it would have destroyed the submarine itself. The weapon in question was the Type 53-58 or T-5 torpedo with a range of 16 kilometers and a 5KT warhead. It was a standoff weapon designed primarily to sink an enemy sub by creating an underwater shock wave. In other words, since the USN destroyers were right on top of the Soviet submarine, dropping depth charges, the T-5 was essentially unusable.

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Wow.

What your list of "close calls" actually demonstrates is that the checks and backups actually work.

I was on the front line in Germany during that 1977 incident My unit and the others like it were on the Soviets' battlefield prep list. Read about it in Stars and Stripes. None of that warning made it to us, either, except in S&S.

What a long list of "near misses" that is, and with nary a hit. Of course, no system built by man is perfect; however, I decline to cower under my bed--or in a bunker--in terror that sometime something might go wrong.

And a couple of examples that illustrate the hysteria of this sort of thing.

"Soviet bombers laden with nuclear weapons sat on their runways with their engines roaring, on red alert."

No, they weren't. When aircraft sit on their runways, their engines are in idle--not roaring--until they're actually taking off. For one thing, the brakes won't hold if the engines are that powered up, whether the jets of a badger or all those props of a bear.

"Everyone in the bunker began screaming. Sweat poured off Petrov’s face."

Widely claimed in hysterical reports--what eye witness, what person present in the bunker, says so? I've seen none.

"The United States still has an official policy of launch on warning...."

I certainly hope so. The policy was instituted when the Soviets developed a policy, and the tactic to execute it, to detonate warheads over our missile bases in sequenced arrivals to prevent us from being able to launch--the air bursts would rapidly dissassemble our missiles during launch phase. The now-Russian tactic would be easily adaptable to sequenced EMP, which would disrupt our missiles' electronics.

That pin-down tactic is also why we wound up eschewing a dense-pack plan of silo installation.

And yet, with that so-called hair trigger in place, nary a missile has been launched. Because checks and backups work.

"Once, an unstable pilot deliberately turned on the two arming switches on his plane’s nuclear bombs.

"Lost nuclear-armed bombers have flown into the Russian warning net. [And they weren't shot down? By the same government that shoots down lost civilian airliners?]

"Air Force officers have tampered with missiles so better to launch them without orders."

Things right out of a John Travolta sort of movie. You have sources for these incidents? Actual sources, quoting actual people, not newspaper claims quoting their childhood invisible friends.

Eric Hines

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author

Eric, for a full discussion of all of these incidents, see Scott Sagan, "The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons."

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In my next month's book budget. Thanks.

Eric Hines

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founding

"Because checks and backups work."

I think I prefer to think of it another way.

"Because, so far, checks and backups have worked."

I'm not sure the current US administration has the savvy, nor the current Russian administration the temperament, but ideally if we could manage to dial back the chances of a disaster even further, I would be for it. In fact, as an added bonus, it might reduce the risk of other nuclear powers doing something stupid, as we could advise them on the better systems to have in place. This shouldn't be construed as hiding under one's desk.

Is it wrong to tune to a slightly heavier trigger pull, if the situation warrants it? And if everyone agrees to it? I'm not sure letting Putin develop more medium range delivery systems was a step in the right direction.

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"...it might reduce the risk of other nuclear powers doing something stupid, as we could advise them on the better systems to have in place."

Yeah, Khamenei and Baby Kim are anxious to get our advice. So are Xi and Putin. Imran Khan wants our opinion. And Narendra Modi.

Nothing wrong with talking with these folks, but there's no reason to expect results.

"Is it wrong to tune to a slightly heavier trigger pull, if the situation warrants it?"

What's your plan for doing this? What situation would warrant it?

"I'm not sure letting Putin develop more medium range delivery systems was a step in the right direction."

With what would we prevent him? After all, he was doing precisely that during the INF treaty, which officially banned that sort of thing.

"And if everyone agrees to it?"

Who is this everyone? Putin--Russian government men generally--have a long and honorable history of ignoring treaty tenets whenever they become inconvenient. Xi and his predecessors of the People's Republic of China have already refused even to pretend to enter into any sort of weapons control agreement. And there're those Khamenei and Baby Kim fellows, again.... I suppose Merkel might agree to such a thing, but she's already disarmed Germany, even economically; I doubt she'd have trouble limiting Other People's Weapons.

The world got a whole lot safer when Reagan committed us to the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet Union couldn't keep up technologically or economically, and folded. Today, the PRC is attempting that against us, at least technologically. The nation also has (currently) a corner on the global supply of rare earth metals--their mining and processing, and they're working on expanding that corner, and to corner a range of other minerals and resources, as well as engaging in resource denial with their moves in the South China Sea (you didn't really think they cared about a few islands, did you?). I suggest the world will get a whole lot safer again if we reverse that trend, and tech and spend the PRC into folding.

Hoping for our enemies to honor their parts of treaties that will limit us is...suboptimal.

Eric Hines

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founding

You've brought up a lot here, so forgive me if I simply adopt brevity in my response.

I worry that you've adopted a Realpolitik here that has become cynicism, rather than merely pessimism. Is it possible that diplomatic efforts are merely difficult, not impossible? And if they're reasonably difficult, is it worth some effort by the State Department? Throwing up our hands when Vlad goes back on the treaty isn't helping. Greater cooperation with our allies would improve our chances of forcing good behavior.

And Modi may be vile, but we might be able to appeal to his sense of self preservation. "You guys need to buy yourselves some Red Phones, because look at our laundry list of near misses."

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"Nothing wrong with talking with these folks, but there's no reason to expect results."

Nothing in there about throwing up our hands or crying that results won't come. Difficult meaning possible has long been a mantra of mine, as the folks who follow my writing in other venues (all half dozen of them) know.

Indian self-preservation and Realpolitik are what moved India closer to the USSR than was comfortable for us during the first Cold War.

You might worry about my being cynical, but it's really just a recognition that we need to be much more hard-nosed about our national security--_our_ national security, recognizing that occasionally we need coalition partners for purpose-built operations, treaties needing to be rare--than we have been.

"Vlad goes back on the treaty isn't helping."

Neither is agreeing a treaty that nominally limits us both that we know a priori we're the only ones who'll be limited because Russia will welch on it as soon as Putin (or any of his successors) think we're not looking. Or have gotten far enough along that it no longer matters whether we're looking. See INF.

But we're wandering a little off the subject--the number of close calls and their meaning. Claire's laundry list is far from exhaustive, and the fact that we've so few accidental nuclear wars--even after actual shootdowns and deliberate collision knockdowns (ram tactics were practiced in NORAD; and apparently by others as well) by the PRC--gives me considerable confidence in the checks and backups that the USSR/Russia, the PRC, France, UK, and us have.

Of course, those checks and backups always could stand improvement, and I've no doubt those efforts are in progress. I decline to worry overmuch about that is, empirically, an extremely low (even if non-zero) probability event.

What does worry me is the deliberate nuclear war that Khamenei, or his successor, will start as soon as Iran has enough nuclear warheads with which to destroy Israel--which I estimate to be in the region of 4-5. Which destruction Iran has committed itself to, and never mind the damage to Iran. As Hashemi Rafsanjani has said, Islam (not just Iran) might be badly damaged by a nuclear war, but Israel will no longer exist. A fair exchange in Iran's eyes.

What also worries me is the deliberate nuclear war, or the accidental one borne of irrationality, that might come from Baby Kim.

We don't have any checks and backups for those two, and we're rapidly losing even our possibility for preventive measures regarding Iran.

Eric Hines

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founding

"Nothing in there about throwing up our hands"

Sorry, you weren't my intended subject. Rather the last government response.

I think in our wandering, we're either regressing towards the mean, or agreeing on broader points. I, too, have a laundry list of strategic concerns that aren't being addressed. I would like to see measures to lower the likelihood of accidental exchange with the new nuclear powers. On not sure the means that we could achieve that, but that's my failure of imagination.

On the topic of Iran, however... I cannot be remotely that confident about their intentions. I think we'll have to ask that the next CosGlo Controversy "Week" revolve around whether Iran believes their own shit, or if they're capable of conducting an honest Cold War like the rest of us have. I'm not sure that the Ayatollah would accept a beating that would benefit the Saudis to such a degree, but that's probably a book worth of analysis to determine...

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Plainly, I am confident of Iran's governing men's intentions. In any event, I'm unwilling to bet the existence of another polity, or the lives of Americans or those of our other friends (of which we actually have one or two), on the premise that Iran's men won't act on their acquisition and my posited intent.

I have written more extensively on my views of the intent of the men in Iran's government, but that's a different venue.

I agree that Iran, and I'd include northern Korea, would be a worthy separate topic, along the lines of "What can we do about nuclear powers whose governing men don't think like we do or have the same values toward life that we do?"

Eric Hines

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I hope the Russians love their children, too...

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I just finished reading I Love Russia - the impression I got from that brilliant book is that there isn't a lot of love for their children. At least from the state.

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Jun 8, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Just when I was despairing about Tiger Mom-gate and the spreading insanity among our intellectual elites, you've given me something else to worry about!

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Jun 8, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

Wow, this essay is a real tour de force; it’s both chilling and brilliantly written. Given the mistakes that almost led to nuclear disaster during the Cold War, is there any reason to believe that mistakes could not have led to the accidental release of SARS-CoV-2 from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

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Well, there's considerable circumstantial evidence pointing to a lab leak, and I would just note that circumstantial evidence has convicted a lot of criminals.

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None. Indeed the preponderance of evidence suggests it.

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Are you saying, Young Lady, that you believe the preponderance of the evidence supports the idea that SARS-Cov-2 was created in a lab and accidentally released? Also: thread hijacked. Call Putin and complain about it if you want. ;-)

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I'm saying that if I had to place a bet, I'd place it on, "SARS-CoV-2 emerged as the result of a lab accident."

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Jun 8, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

You’re right. The evidence is increasing that the virus was engineered through gain of function research and accidentally released though other explanations are plausible.

We can hope that these gain of function experiments were designed with a laudable purpose like finding ways to vaccinate against future diseases where corona viruses are the etiological agent but we will never know that for sure. Gain of function experiments conducted with a more nefarious intent are also possible.

Whether their motivations are fare or foul, it’s understandable that the Chinese want to cover up the evidence. The more interesting question is why American scientists also facilitated a cover up.

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"The more interesting question is why American scientists also facilitated a cover up." We know that answer, and it is two fold. Reason One is that the US funded the research in Wuhan, albeit indirectly. Nobody wants to be a associated with the headline "Global Pandemic Claiming 4M lives the result of US funded research in China." Reason Two is "Because Trump said it." If Trump said that it was man-made, and he did, then it must be completely and 100% refuted. It is obviously wrong.

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I think the more obvious reason is actually the reason: Daszak was the ringleader. Why? He stood to lose millions of dollars in grants. Probably, too, he was psychologically unable to face the possibility that an entity he funded had, rather than diminishing the pandemic risk, caused a pandemic. Why did so many other scientists go along with it? It looks to me as if they just signed the letter he put in front of them without reading it very carefully--probably because virologists are a clubby lot who all go to the same conferences. Those who didn't share his conflict of interest are now sheepishly admitting that the evidence in favor of the zoonotic hypothesis doesn't really seem slam-dunk to them anymore, especially in light of all the revelations from DRASTIC.

A bigger question is why the Lancet and Nature ran those letters without scrutiny. As I realized when finally I carefully read both submissions *and* the references, they made no sense. So clearly the editors didn't carefully read or understand the references. I was quite shocked by this, but as I learned more about the editor of the Lancet, I ceased to be shocked. This guy has fallen for hoax after hoax: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Horton_(editor). Why he still has a job is beyond me. That entry doesn't even mention that the Lancet was duped, too, by Russia's Sputnik V data. The Lancet needs a new editor, posthaste.

As for Nature, I don't know--but a lot of journals have published seriously shoddy research during the pandemic; this is a notorious problem, and the reason is probably as simple as this: Editors haven't been able to keep up with the pace of submissions. It takes a lot of time to read a scientific paper carefully and check all the references; they probably thought, "Well, these are the big shots in this field, we can probably trust them." Usually, that's a reasonably sound heuristic. In this case, it wasn't.

As for Reason Two, it doesn't fit the timeline: The infamous letters to the Lancet and Nature were published *before* Trump started banging on about this--I think they were published when he was still in his "Xi is doing a great job" phase. I may be wrong about that, but certainly it was either in his "Xi is doing a great job" phase or his "it will all go away in the summer" phase. The latter seems, by the way, to have been what Xi told him. (According to Josh Rogin, I don't know who his source on that was.) The person with the biggest interest in peddling the zoonosis consensus was Xi himself, and during this period, he had Trump's ear. Trump only decided it came from a lab when his friendship with Xi broke down.

Also, I think a lot of journalists--and Big Tech--were confused about the distinction between a lab accident and a deliberate release, i.e., a bioweapon. Part of the impulse to step on the latter theory, I suspect, was fear that coupled with China's efforts to sow the idea (among their own citizens) that this was a US bioweapon, this would put us on a path to war. After all, if China did this deliberately, it would be the worst attack on the US in our history, by far I suspect this was the thought they were trying to censor--and that was why--as opposed to the lab accident thesis. We could do with some serious and *public* soul-searching from Big Tech about how this decision was made.

Everyone made mistakes during the pandemic, and that's human: It was a situation none of us had dealt with before. It was an emergency, and the tech companies were in a difficult position because, without a doubt, organized and malicious foreign actors--Russia, to be precise--were doing their damnedest (and still are) to inject the most damaging and divisive lies possible into our discourse. It doesn't seem to me unreasonable that, e.g., Facebook thought, "We need to crack down on this," especially in light of the roasting they deservedly received for their role in the 2016 election. Russia's boosting of anti-mask and anti-vax propaganda has cost--and will cost--many lives. (I too lose my enthusiasm for freedom of expression when I contemplate anti-vaxxers.*)

But the enforcement of intellectual conformity about the pandemic's origins was a grievous mistake, one that will have ugly reverberations for decades, if not forever.

I can easily imagine how it happened: Some special task force was probably convened at Facebook, and likewise at the other social media giants, and told, "Step on these dangerous conspiracy theories: We don't want to be sued by the relatives of idiots who died after gobbling down anti-vax conspiracy theories." This task force was probably comprised of millenials with a limited science education; they didn't even think to check the references on the Lancet letter and the paper in Nature; they just deferred to authority.

Congress needs to hold hearings about this, and we need a full accounting of how this happened from Daszik, the Lancet, Nature, and the heads of Big Tech. The only way to restore confidence in our institutions is to air this out, publicly. The discovery of an actual conspiracy to hide the truth from the public--and this was indeed an actual conspiracy--will poison political discourse until we address it and shine sunlight on every nook and cranny of the story.

*It was the very same editor of the Lancet who created the modern anti-vax movement when he published Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent study about MMR vaccines and autism.

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founding

Either that or he was briefed on the possibility early, and again let loose with sensitive information when running his mouth.

Also bad.

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And do you think that lab accident involves a virus created in the lab, or a naturally occurring virus that simply escaped?

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It could be either.

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I'm in the camp of "I'm 100% confident it leaked from the lab, but only 50% confident it was made in that lab" camp. Just because it came out of the lab, and not a wet market, doesn't mean it's a virus the researchers made.

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Jun 8, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

I appreciate this position. There is a lot of undeserved certainty flying around the internet on this subject. Likely because certainty is seen as a virtue, deserved or not.

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