China peddles conspiracy theories (1)

The researcher Gilles Demaneuf has compiled a useful list of “Some basic errors commonly repeated in relation to Covid-19 origins.”

This is handy because even now, the media continue to perpetuate misunderstandings and misinformation on Covid origins, including those intentionally spread by the Chinese government as part of its efforts to deflect attention from its actions.

As for why misinformation continues, one supposes it has to do both with (a), the complexity of the issues and the science; and above all, (b), how we are living the aftermath of how major media outlets and some researchers (despite the absence of scientific evidence either way) went along with the Chinese government’s tabooing and blocking of the lab related hypotheses as “conspiracies,” — and are now scrambling to walk that back, and deflect questions about how they could possibly have succumbed: the media without factchecking themselves, and the scientists presuming to pronounce on science even without evidence.

The most stunning by far, is Danish food scientist Ben Embarek, back in February-March the chair of the defunct Chinese-select WHO scientific committee, who now says his committee’s condemnation of a lab leak possibility as “extremely unlikely” was forced on him and his colleagues by the Chinese authorities — and that, shamefully, they gave in. The full history of this major un-scientific/propaganda debacle of the 21st century remains to be written, by those investigating fake news and factchecking failures and propaganda victories, especially in the US and perhaps especially by those scholars in Science and Technology Studies, etc. who study science in social context.

But at least, as we all know, it soon came to an end, after more scientists stepped forward — and, the WHO director general himself stepped forward and reconfirmed the obvious, that the lab hypothesis remains possible and must be a continued focus — even as this now meets bitter obstruction from the Chinese government.

Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

China peddles conspiracy theories

Source: NYT (8/25/21)
Rejecting Covid Inquiry, China Peddles Conspiracy Theories Blaming the U.S.
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
A new wave of disinformation follows President Biden’s order for the United States to investigate the origin of the pandemic, including the possibility of a lab leak in Wuhan.
By Austin Ramzy and 

A lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Beijing is peddling groundless theories that the United States is the source of the coronavirus. Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

When a conspiracy theory started circulating in China suggesting that the coronavirus escaped from an American military lab, it had largely stayed on the fringe. Now, the ruling Communist Party has propelled the idea firmly into the mainstream.

This week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman repeatedly used an official podium to elevate unproven ideas that the coronavirus may have first leaked from a research facility in Fort Detrick, Md. A Communist Party publication, the Global Times, started an online petition in July calling for that lab to be investigated and said it gathered more than 25 million signatures.

Officials and state media have promoted a rap song by a patriotic Chinese hip-hop group that touted the same claim, with the lyrics: “How many plots came out of your labs? How many dead bodies hanging a tag?”

Beijing is peddling groundless theories that the United States may be the true source of the coronavirus, as it pushes back against efforts to investigate the pandemic’s origins in China. The disinformation campaign started last year, but Beijing has raised the volume in recent weeks, reflecting its anxiety about being blamed for the pandemic that has killed millions globally. Continue reading

Foreign journalists harassed over floods coverage

Source: The Guardian (7/26/21)
Foreign journalists harassed in China over floods coverage
Reporters confronted in street and accused of ‘smearing China’ amid increasing sensitivity to any negative portrayals of China
By  in Taipei @heldavidson

People wade across a flooded street in the city of Zhengzhou in China’s Henan province.

People wade across a flooded street in the city of Zhengzhou in China’s Henan province. The official death toll from the floods is at least 63, with five missing, but Chinese media have identified at least 22 people who have not been heard from since Tuesday afternoon. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Foreign journalists reporting on the aftermath of China’s flooding disaster have faced hostile confrontations in the street and been subjected to “vicious campaigns”, amid increasing nationalistic sensitivity to any negative portrayals of China.

Reporters from the Los Angeles Times and German outlet Deutsche Welle were confronted by an angry crowd in Zhengzhou on Saturday, who filmed and questioned them, and accused them of “rumour mongering” and slandering China. Other journalists have also been targeted, with a specific focus on the BBC.

The journalists Alice Su and Mathias Boelinger, were on the ground in Zhengzhou, covering the aftermath of last week’s deadly floods, after almost a year’s worth of rain dropped around Zhengzhou in three days, overwhelming streets and subway tunnels. The rains then moved north, further devastating major cities and rural areas. Continue reading

Beijing protests a lab leak too much

Perry Link is absolutely right here (see article below), in his guide to how to read the Communist Party’s China. He just got one detail wrong: The regime actually abandoned the wet market theory after only a few months. It was never explained why, but probably because they realized it would soon become obvious that it could not be true (virus contagion was not just at the market, and this fact could not be concealed like the many other things and science data that have been successfully concealed). Since then, the regime has focused, Putin-like, on fabricating and spreading a cascade of disinformation and distractions, such as that Covid came from foreign frozen food, that it originated in Italy, and so on and so forth — the message clearly being: “Anywhere but the lab!” –Which actually supports Perry Link’s position even more.

Even more so with the just-released Chinese film from the Wuhan lab) which shows its camera system, until now a secret, monitoring lab accidents and their handling. It also shows the bats bred at the lab … also news. And, it shows the lionizing of the brave Wuhan lab researchers going to caves and fearlessly and recklessly expose themselves to grave virus dangers. It’s like the earlier cave-researcher hero movie “Youth in the Wild” which, believe it or not, is STILL up on YouTube, showing how the researchers endanger themselves, and the rest of us. As Alina Chan has said all along, the virus route to the city of Wuhan may have been riding on such researchers. She includes this scenario in the range of lab leak/research related hypothesis  — I say, think of this possibility as a version of the recent global frog-killer fungus spreading around the world, where it turned out one major vehicle of the spread was … well-meaning but careless globetrotting frog researchers who brought the fungus on their boots! The flagrant recklessness of the Chinese researchers on display here, and in the new lab video, is comparable.

Sincerely, Magnus Fiskesjö, nf42@cornell.edu

Source: Wall Street Journal (6/14/21)
Beijing Protests a Lab Leak Too Much
By Perry Link

I am as eager as anyone to follow the world’s virologists as they try to determine how Covid-19 emerged in Wuhan, China. But as a longtime student of Chinese Communist political language, I will need considerable persuading that the disease came from bats or a wet market. The linguistic evidence is overwhelming that Chinese leaders believe the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source.

Many years ago a distinguished Chinese writer, Wu Zuxiang, explained to me that there is truth in Communist Party pronouncements, but you have to read them “upside down.” If a newspaper says “the Party has made great strides against corruption in Henan,” then you know that corruption has recently been especially bad in Henan. If you read about the heroic rescue of eight miners somewhere, you can guess that a mine collapse might have killed hundreds who aren’t mentioned. Read upside-down, there is a sense in which the official press never lies. It cannot lie. It has to tell you what the party wants you to believe, and if you can figure out the party’s motive — which always exists — then you have a sense of the truth. Continue reading

Wandering elephants

Source: CNN (6/11/21)
Millions of people in China can’t stop watching a pack of wandering elephants
By Julia Hollingsworth and Zixu Wang, CNN

Wild Asian elephants in Jinning District of Kunming, southwest China&#39;s Yunnan Province on June 6.

Wild Asian elephants in Jinning District of Kunming, southwest China’s Yunnan Province on June 6.

(CNN) At least a dozen buzzing drones monitor them around the clock. Wherever they go, they’re escorted by police. And when they eat or sleep, they’re watched by millions online.

For more than a week, China has been gripped by a new internet sensation: a herd of 15 marauding elephants, who are large, lost and wrecking havoc in the country’s southwest.

Millions have tuned in to livestreams of the elephants, which have trekked more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) across the country since escaping from a nature reserve in South China last year.

And online, netizens have followed transfixed as the elephants trampled crops, causing more than a million dollars worth of damage, and roamed through towns, prompting local residents to stay inside. Continue reading

The science suggests a Wuhan lab leak

Source: Wall Street Journal (6/6/21)
OPINION: The Science Suggests a Wuhan Lab Leak
The Covid-19 pathogen has a genetic footprint that has never been observed in a natural coronavirus.
By Steven Quay and Richard Muller

ILLUSTRATION: MARTIN KOZLOWSKI

The possibility that the pandemic began with an escape from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is attracting fresh attention. President Biden has asked the national intelligence community to redouble efforts to investigate.

Much of the public discussion has focused on circumstantial evidence: mysterious illnesses in late 2019; the lab’s work intentionally supercharging viruses to increase lethality (known as “gain of function” research). The Chinese Communist Party has been reluctant to release relevant information. Reports based on U.S. intelligence have suggested the lab collaborated on projects with the Chinese military.

But the most compelling reason to favor the lab leak hypothesis is firmly based in science. In particular, consider the genetic fingerprint of CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the disease Covid-19.

In gain-of-function research, a microbiologist can increase the lethality of a coronavirus enormously by splicing a special sequence into its genome at a prime location. Doing this leaves no trace of manipulation. But it alters the virus spike protein, rendering it easier for the virus to inject genetic material into the victim cell. Since 1992 there have been at least 11 separate experiments adding a special sequence to the same location. The end result has always been supercharged viruses. Continue reading

Lab-leak theory explained (1)

Okay. But unfortunately, the New York Times isn’t the most credible guide to the dramatic developments since the outbreak of Covid. Even now that the paper has lifted its longstanding censorship and demonizing of the scientists who have preferred to remain open to the possibility that the pandemic originated in one of the Wuhan labs, the paper is still prone to errors generated from that same unfortunate paradigm.

In this article, for example, Alina Chan, the brave, Boston-based scientist who’s done more than most to explain to the public what is going on, is painted up as saying the virus came from a lab. Problem is, she never said that. She’s been insisting all along that there’s no more hard scientific evidence for the lab leak than for the zoonosis hypothesis, both of which are plausible for a number of reasons each (see Alina Chan’s Twitter feed), and therefore real research must continue. And she’s also talked about the problems with the media’s reporting on the science issues. For one thing, news media should have been paying attention to issues of conflict of interest in science, not least in this case, when the lab leak hypothesis was baselessly branded a trumpian conspiracy by scientists who were deeply implicated in … big-money research in those same labs in Wuhan!

Media scholars and science and technology scholars already have much to sift through to evaluate and understand how it came to be that US media behaved like they did, all the way up to the moment when Mr Trump was gone and could no longer be blamed — which is the main factor that has changed here, although this goes unacknowledged by the NYT. The paper really owes the public an apology for misleading us on these grave issues.

Magnus Fiskesjö nf42@cornell.edu

Critical China Scholars statement on the “lab-leak” investigation (3)

Ah, I was actually secretly hoping the statement was an aberration, a mistake, and that it would be retracted!

As I said the main problem is that we now already know the Chinese regime has made it clear there will be no further international investigation.

As with Xinjiang, they won’t allow any real inquiry — it’s who they are, it’s how their system works, especially when they are hiding too much, in the case of Covid, not just embarrassing mistakes but intentional wrongdoing — and we can compare the massive historic crimes the same men are committing in Xinjiang, where the international demands for a UN investigation also have long passed their best-before date (See my “Michelle Bachelet should not go to Xinjiang on Chinese government terms“).

We know this about China: On Covid, as elsewhere, they are protecting the set narrative of the infallible great leader who won’t be contradicted and who only allows parrots. They believe absolute thought control is priority #1, to keep the power elite in place. This is why the regime has gone so far as to humiliate the WHO, the international organisation that should have been handling this on the world’s behalf. We now know a lot about how WHO officials and professionals have been seething with frustration over this treatment.

In this situation, when the WHO has been disabled, there is no alternative to other countries opening their own investigations as best they can, and we should applaud that, for the sake of the millions who died. This is serious business that can’t wait for the Chinese regime’s approval. Continue reading

Critical China Scholars statement on the “lab-leak” investigation

The Critical China Scholars have issued the following statement. See criticalchinascholars.org/interventions for more.

STATEMENT ON THE “LAB-LEAK” INVESTIGATION
June 2, 2021

The Critical China Scholars issue this statement to register grave concern about the politicized re-opening of the inquiry on the “lab-leak hypothesis” about COVID-19 origins. The specific political motivations underlying the inquiry, led by the Biden administration, guarantee that there can be no findings that will be useful for the kind of internationally trusted science necessary to promote global health. The only likely outcome is the further deterioration of relations between the US and the PRC, stoking already high degrees of Sinophobia and anti-Asianism in the United States and beyond. Countries such as the PRC have no good reason to believe the United States is engaged in a legitimate inquiry as every bit of information that has been released already has become inflamed and embedded into a political quagmire of antagonism and mistrust. The further poisoning of the political atmosphere means, moreover, that the scientific collaborations that have been ongoing throughout this past 18 months – those collaborations that yielded the vaccines, the sequencing, and other breakthroughs in understanding the behavior of the virus – could also be curtailed, which would be a setback for science, humanity, and our common global society.

The safety of biomedical research is a concern greatly exacerbated by the narrow pursuit of national and corporate interests; it will require a global approach that rigorously avoids privileging any country – including or especially the US. A Biden-led inquiry cannot lead to anything but the further empowering of US supremacists. Programs such as the Department of Justice’s China Initiative – which has engaged in a nationwide witch hunt for US-located Chinese and Chinese-American lab collaborations allegedly connected to the Chinese state – sow distrust and embed racist assumptions into the very core of the scientific world.

A multilateral inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 is desirable, but it can only succeed if it is carried out on a foundation of trust between China and the other powers. The measures required to establish such trust are also desirable on their own terms: cooperation to end the pandemic globally and, in place of the US’s current zero-sum orientation toward economic growth and technological development, cooperation for global sustainable development.

Taiwan prays for rain

Source: NYT (5/27/21)
Taiwan Prays for Rain and Scrambles to Save Water
Some of the island’s lakes and reservoirs have nearly run dry. And water restrictions have forced many residents to modify how they shower, wash dishes and flush.
By Amy Chang Chien and Mike Ives; Photographs by Billy H.C. Kwok

Tourists taking pictures at Sun Moon Lake in Nantou, Taiwan.

Tourists taking pictures at Sun Moon Lake in Nantou, Taiwan.

TAICHUNG, Taiwan — Lin Wei-Yi once gave little thought to the water sluicing through her shower nozzle, kitchen faucet and garden hose.

But as Taiwan’s worst drought in more than half a century has deepened in recent weeks, Ms. Lin, 55, has begun keeping buckets by the taps. She adopted a neighbor’s tip to flush the toilet five times with a single bucket of water by opening the tank and directly pouring it in. She stopped washing her car, which became so filthy that her children contort themselves to avoid rubbing against it.

The monthslong drought has nearly drained Taiwan’s major reservoirs, contributed to two severe electricity blackouts and forced officials to restrict the water supply. It has brought dramatic changes to the island’s landscape: The bottoms of several reservoirs and lakes have been warped into cracked, dusty expanses that resemble desert floors. And it has transformed how many of Taiwan’s 23.5 million residents use and think about water.

“We used too much water before,” Ms. Lin said this week in the central city of Taichung. “Now we have to adapt to a new normal.” Continue reading

China’s vaccination campaign roars ahead

Source: SupChina (5/18/21)
China domestic vaccination campaign roars ahead, now at four times peak U.S. daily rate
True to form for the world’s most populous nation, China is now administering eye-popping numbers of COVID-19 vaccinations. In a span of nine days, 100 million people in China recently received a shot.
By Lucas Niewenhuis

A COVID-19 vaccination site in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, on May 18. Photo via Xinhua.

After a surprisingly slow start earlier this year, China’s domestic COVID-19 vaccination program has finally kicked into high gear. And true to form for the world’s most populous nation and leading industrial powerhouse, the numbers are as eye-popping as you might expect:

  • Almost 14 million people per day are getting a dose, Bloomberg reports, about four times faster than the daily rate of the U.S. at its peak of 3.38 million per day last month.
  • In a span of nine days, 100 million people in China recently received a shot, Xinhua reports.
  • China is on track to widely surpass the goal it set two months ago to vaccinate half a billion people by the end of June. More than half of the almost 400 million shots that China has administered to date were given in the past month, per Bloomberg.

What changed?

Most important, presumably, is supply — but there is limited public information on the exact capacity of China’s vaccine manufacturers. Continue reading

Taiwan confronts a Covid flare-up

Source: NYT (5/20/21)
‘This Day Was Bound to Come’: Taiwan Confronts a Covid Flare-Up
The island’s border controls had shielded it from the worst of the pandemic. But new variants and a slow vaccine rollout gave the virus an opening.
By Raymond Zhong and Amy Chang Chien

Amid a sudden rise in Covid-19 cases, the Taiwanese government has ordered residents to stay home whenever possible and to wear masks outdoors, though it has not declared a total lockdown. Credit…Ritchie B Tongo/EPA, via Shutterstock

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Closed schools and restaurants offering takeout only. Lines around the block at testing sites. Politicians on television urging the public to stay calm.

If the scenes around Taiwan this week have a distinctly early pandemic feel, it is because the coronavirus is only now washing up on the island’s shores in force. A crush of new infections has brought a swift end to the Covid-free normality that residents had been enjoying for more than a year.

By shutting its borders early and requiring two-week quarantines of nearly everyone who arrives from overseas, Taiwan had been managing to keep life on the island mostly unfettered. But all that changed after enough infections slipped past those high walls to cause community outbreaks. Continue reading

Culture, Covid, Controversy: Tokyo 2021 and Beijing 2022

CULTURE, COVID, CONTROVERSY: TOKYO 2021 & BEIJING 2022
An Olympic Symposium
Wednesday, May 5, 2021 at 7pm
Presentations by MIT undergraduate students of 21M.848 and guest speaker Dr. Susan Brownell

Register for free tickets: https://mta.mit.edu/olympics (information, guest speaker and student photos/bios, registration link)

There have been only eight Olympics located in Asia in the 126-year history of the Games, two of them occurring in the next year.  The Tokyo 2020 Olympics being held in 2021 due to COVID-19 is the first time the Games have ever been postponed. Next February, Beijing will become the first city to ever host both a Summer and Winter Games.

This symposium offers a closer look at Tokyo and Beijing’s sport cultures and Olympic histories, their path to the upcoming Games, and the challenges and controversies surrounding them—and provides helpful history, cultural context, current events, and fun facts leading up to the the grandest spectacle on earth viewed by more than three billion people worldwide.

Please join the students of 21M.848 (Performance Studies: Advanced Theories of Sport) for two panels of their individual presentations and group Q&A, along with our special guest Dr. Susan Brownell, who will deliver a talk about the connections between the Olympics, NGOs, and human rights.

Precious Scroll of the Rat Epidemic

I did a translation of the Shuwen baojuan 鼠瘟宝卷 from 1910, in which the author comments on the plague epidemics of 1896/1897 and of 1910/1911. It was published in Sino-Platonic Papers 313 as the Precious Scroll of the Rat Epidemic, so it is freely available online. It may not be a great work of literature, but Chinese writings on epidemics are rare, and this text is interesting in combining a traditional description of the epidemics as divine punishment for the sins of humankind with more modern ideas on the cause and spread of the plague, which may have been picked up at an exhibition of public health posters. The text is also interesting in describing the reactions of the population at large to the disease, which in many ways resembles that of people these days. The translation comes with a short introduction.

I hope that some colleagues who want to pay attention to epidemics in their teaching might find the translation of some relevance.

Wilt Idema

US and China agree to work together on climate

Source: NYT (4/17/21)
Despite Tensions, U.S. and China Agree to Work Together on Climate Change
The two countries said they would treat global warming “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”
By Steven Lee Myers

China and the United States must “prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively,” John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, said in an interview in Seoul on Sunday. Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

SEOUL — The United States and China have agreed to fight climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands” by stepping up efforts to reduce carbon emissions, a rare demonstration of cooperation amid escalating tensions over a raft of other issues.

The agreement, which included few specific commitments, was announced on Saturday night, Washington time, after President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, visited China for three days of talks in which the negotiators managed not to be sidetracked by those disputes.

“It’s very important for us to try to keep those other things away, because climate is a life-or-death issue in so many different parts of the world,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview on Sunday morning in Seoul, where he met with South Korean officials to discuss global warming. “What we need to do is prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively.” Continue reading