Wuhan lab leak theory-comments
Comments on Clive Hamilton's opinion piece of 9 May are closed in the Age but can be continued here. Comment by Robert Durkacz, 12 May 2020.
No-one who reads the Age wants to align themselves with Trump and that is perfectly reasonable. It may be that Clive Hamilton is being just a little provocatively contrarian in linking his piece to Trump to attract attention to it. In any case we get past that quickly enough. Still most of the comments that people made were hostile, criticizing Hamilton for getting out of his field of expertise as an academic.
"Iris" wrote "he is not an expert virologist or epidemiologist" and she is obviously right. I am interested then to look more closely and ask whether he has or has not something valid to tell us the general public.
If Hamilton was explaining his own theories as a biological scientist then the right place to publish that is in specialist journals. If he was a scientist explaining accepted understandings of the biology involved in this epidemic that would be appropriate to publish in the Age but the article is not of that type.
If we came across Hamilton's article out of the blue and out of any context we would not know what to make of it because any of the factoids presented in support of the main argument could have been cherry-picked. The fact that Hailton points us to references is useful. It gives some confidence in what has been collected, but it does not help us with what might have been left out. We would want to know how Hamilton came up with the information. Presumably it is not his own detective work. It seems that he may have simply collected what has been revealed in press reports that we have already seen. If there is more to it than that he should say.
Iris reminds us that Hamilton is known for writing about the challenges brought by China to Australia's independence and goes on to call him a politician. I think that is fair. By the same logic it would justify his article as reminding us of that political question; how will we Australians relate to China (and will our attitude to the US change; see Paul Keating's article and discussion).
Only investigation will eventually resolve what went on in Wuhan in late 2019, as many commmented. Again that is justification for Hamilton's piece as a journalistic effort, to remind us that these questions should be answered and to encourage investigations to happen.
Iris tells us that Hamilton is an ethicist. As far as I know that means he is an expert in nothing but he is practiced in writing about ... whatever. Unlike Iris, I think it is fine that he should ask us to think about China, but even so he might be glossing over the main weakness in the case he is making which is that there is a strong alternative hypothesis.
In his words, "Nor is there any evidence of an intermediate host (speculation has centred on pangolins)." It is enough to make me suspect he might be trying too hard to build the case because as we hear it the hypothesis most favoured by the relevant scientists is exactly that: an intermediate host. It is not known at this time what was the intermediate host just as many other things are not known. But if Hamilton was wanting to give the impression that there are not likely alternatives to the lab escape theory, that would be misleading.