American journalists have been giving increasing prominence and credence to the theory that the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 was created in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, located in the city that recorded the first cases of COVID-19. With scant evidence, former U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly pushed the narrative that the virus somehow escaped from the Wuhan lab. Yet the renewed focus on the theory isn’t supported by any new evidence, and few virologists say that a lab leak is a more plausible origin than transmission of the virus from animals to humans. So why is the lab-leak theory getting so much media coverage?

For Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, the attention snowballed from two blog pieces by prominent science journalists—despite the absence of new evidence. Political partisanship plays a central role, Rasmussen says, with right-wing support for the lab-leak theory coloring coverage by news organizations on both sides of the U.S. partisan divide. As Rasmussen sees it, self-interest drives many of the journalists and scientists promoting the lab-leak theory, as many of them have now written books advocating for the theory. In the end, she says, there is more evidence that the virus jumped from animals to humans outside a laboratory, but no conclusive proof has emerged for either possibility. This is the second in a two-part conversation with Rasmussen about the lab-leak theory; you can read the first, on the evidence for the origins of the virus, here.

Michael Bluhm: Where did the renewed interest in the lab-leak theory come from?

Angela Rasmussen: It’s certainly not because any new information has come out in support of the lab leak hypothesis. It’s because the media started covering it in a different way.

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