Monthly Archives: April 2022

The Lab-Leak Hypothesis is not dead

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; April 16, 2022)

Disclaimer: I am statistician, freelance writer and a serviceable Tex-Mex chili cook. All grammatical errors and factual inaccuracies in this essay are mine alone. And, as always, do not make financial, medical or personal decisions based on the contents herein.


The lab-leak hypothesis proposes that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. While the theory does not necessarily require the virus to be “man-made,” that is often a key component of this theory.

The natural-origin hypothesis, in contrast, posits that the coronavirus is natural in origin (e.g., bats and/or raccoon dogs) and was spread from a host animal species to humans, most likely occurring initially through a food market in Wuhan, China.

When news broke last November that the first known COVID-19 case was, in fact, a Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market vendor in Wuhan, China and not an accountant with no clear link to the market, a couple of ‘I told you so’ emails appeared in my inbox.

When, four months later, a team of scientists released two papers offering the strongest statistical evidence yet that the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic was the Huanan market — thereby, presumptively, supporting the natural-origin hypothesis for SARS-CoV-2 — my inbox was flooded with personal rebukes.

“You should be ashamed of yourself for pushing the lab leak conspiracy theory,” said one email. “Congratulations Kroeger, you fell for another Trump con,” started another.

But the most hurtful admonition of them all was this one: “You chide others for letting their partisan biases infect their judgement. But face it. You’re no better.” My wife knows how to cut to the bone.

In my defense, I never claimed the lab-leak hypothesis was the definitive explanation of SARS-CoV-2’s origin. I said the lab-leak hypothesis should be seriously considered along with the natural-origin-theory and that partisan attempts to shut down legitimate inquiries into it only creates distrust and division.

And its not like interest in the lab-leak hypothesis has been limited to xenophobic Trumpers, anti-China activists, and garden-variety conspiracy theorists. In his January 2021 article — The Lab-Leak Hypothesis — New York Magazine writer Nicholson Baker was one of the first mainstream journalists to sincerely lay out the facts supporting the lab-leak hypothesis. He offered no smoking gun, just a compelling litany of circumstantial evidence that cut through the partisan hackery attempting to the drown the lab-leak hypothesis in its infancy.

By the time Jon Stewart appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in June 2021 mocking those still clinging to the belief that SARS-CoV-2 was a natural creation, the lab-leak hypothesis had gone fully mainstream — perhaps the dominant view.

But the natural-origin hypothesis has made a comeback, and for good reason. While not definitive, significant evidence still supports the animal-to-human scenario.

What we know with some certainty about the early pandemic

U.S. Intelligence Community assessments concluded that Chinese officials became aware of SARS-CoV-2 in November 2019 and, according to Dr. George Gao of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Chinese officials collected extensive environmental samples from the Huanan Seafood Market in January 2020, including from 18 animal species present at the market.

From all outward appearances, Chinese officials made the Huanan market the prime suspect from the beginning.

Along with the recently released geospatial statistical analysis that found the earliest Wuhan cases of COVID-19 clustered around the Huanan market, analytic efforts have resulted in three generally accepted findings:

(1) The first known human infection of SARS-CoV-2 was a vendor at the Huanan market and the subsequent spread of COVID-19 clustered around the that market.

(2) The two original mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — lineage A (which is related to similar bat coronaviruses, though its discovery in humans has been less frequent than lineage B) and lineage B (which was the first to infect humans and has been more common in humans) — were present in the Huanan Seafood Market in early January 2020. Finding these two mutations in the same geographic location supports the theory that the jump to humans occurred at the Huanan market.

(3) While there were animals at the Huanan market capable of carrying and spreading SARS-CoV-2, among those tested in January 2020, none were found to have the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, according to Gao, Chinese officials did not test every species available at the Huanan market, including raccoon dogs which are capable of spreading the virus to humans. Is there any wonder why conspiracies theories form when such inexplicable government decisions occur?

Was it not in the Chinese government’s interest to identify the animal origin-species for SARS-CoV-2 as fast as possible? Nothing would have killed the lab-leak hypothesis faster.

And it is not like Chinese scientists are inexperienced in the virology forensics required to identify a virus’ animal origins. They identified the probable animal source of the 2003 SARS-CoV virus within months of its spread to humans.

And, most discouraging, it may be too late to find the original animal-carrier(s) of SARS-CoV-2 and, thereby, definitively confirm the natural-origin-hypothesis.

“The clincher would be direct evidence that some mammals at the market were infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” wrote Michael Le Page for the The New Scientist about the virus’ possible origins. “But that almost certainly doesn’t exist any more.”

As of now, no such direct evidence exists and perhaps never will — which is a nagging problem for proponents of the natural-origin hypothesis, whether they are willing to acknowledge it or not.

Why the lab-leak-theory will survive…for now

The fact remains, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, no virus in nature was found to have the same (or nearly the same) genetic structure as SARS-CoV-2. The closest known match (RaTG13), found in bats in southern China, is considered by virologists, including a nationally-known virologist I consulted with before writing this essay, as too genetically different from SARS-CoV-2 for any man-made genetic modification techniques (e.g., gain-of-function research) to bridge the gap.

But there are still too many questions to close the book on the lab-leak hypothesis.

SARS-CoV-2 has no known direct antecedent in nature, and lacking concrete evidence otherwise, the lab-leak hypothesis has an oxygen supply.

Lab-leak hypothesis supporters are probably not persuaded by the geospatial studies showing the earliest COVID-19 sufferers clustered around the Huanan market. Their sample of those individuals were drawn from Chinese/WHO records and Weibo, China’s most popular social media platform — but how can we be certain they are representative of the early SARS-Cov-2 infected population in Wuhan? It is not clear from these recent geospatial studies how the investigators tested for sample biases or corrected for it if it existed.

If early assumptions about the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus centered on the Huanan market, it is not surprising that Chinese government, WHO and social media reports may have concentrated on finding infected patients in its vicinity. It is potentially a serious selection bias problem.

Furthermore, who is to say a virus housed in the Wuhan Institute of Virology — natural or man-made — didn’t leak into Wuhan’s natural environment and subsequently emerge in its local food supply (i.e., the Huanan market)? Would that scenario play out differently in geospatial analyses?

The Huanan market resided in one of the most densely populated sectors in Wuhan. How many WIV employee lived near the Huanan market or frequented its vendors?

The latest research on SARS-CoV-2 origins is persuasive but raises as many questions as it answers, and while it has shifted my confidence between the two competing hypotheses (I now lean slightly towards the natural-origin hypothesis), it hardly closes the book on the debate.

The lab-leak hypothesis remains alive.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to:

Was the Russia-Ukraine war predictable and preventable?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; April 4, 2022)

Could anyone have predicted, years in advance, Russia’s February 24th invasion of Ukraine?

The answer is so emphatically ‘Yes!,’ it is hard to fathom what the counter-argument might be.

Perhaps we should start with the main instigator himself, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said to American film director Oliver Stone four years ago during an interview, “I believe that Russians and Ukrainians are one people … one nation. In fact, when these lands that are now the core of Ukraine joined Russia … nobody thought of themselves as anything but Russians.”

And we are surprised that, as U.S. and NATO allies supplied Ukraine over the past five years with millions of dollars with some of the most sophisticated anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons in existence, Russia would decide to respond?

Barack Obama’s administration was at war with itself over whether to significantly arm Ukraine in its defense against Russia, but it took Donald Trump’s deep-seeded insecurities to end that debate. Trump poured gas on a flammable situation when he approved the sale of anti-armor Javelin missiles to Ukraine in 2019. The Biden administration’s subsequent increase in military assistance to Ukraine, including 300 additional Javelin missiles as part of a $200 million military package delivered in January 2022, only ensured that war would break out between Russia and Ukraine.

Is Russia ultimately responsible for this war? Of course. Did the U.S., Europe and Ukraine make a credible effort to prevent it? The answer appears to be ‘No.’

Why does this debate about predictability even matter?

Because, as predictable as the invasion may have been, it was most likely preventable. And because it was preventable, what alternative paths could have been followed that could have preserved Ukraine’s independence without the current bloodshed?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, elected in 2019, placed a negotiated peace with Russia near the top of his agenda.

Whether or not, due to the actions of others or his own failure, Zelensky did not achieve his most central promise to the Ukrainian people.

As of today, as many as 4,600 Ukrainian soldiers have died, along with 3,400 civilians and, as yet, unknown damage has been inflicted on Ukrainian infrastructure and economic capacity.

Today, as the Russians are apparently withdrawing from areas around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, the Ukrainian people can’t be blamed for asking, was this bloodletting necessary to ensure Ukrainian independence? Is NATO membership for Ukraine this valuable? And is NATO even relevant anymore given Russia’s demonstrated inability to conduct an effective military operation against a significantly weaker country along Russia’s most important defensive border?

Russia’s conventional military is clearly not a meaningful threat to democratic Europe anymore. They wouldn’t get past Warsaw if they tried.

And while the Ukrainians may have won their freedom on the battlefield, at what cost did it occur? And could an equal, if not superior, outcome have been achieved without the needless bloodshed?

That is for the NATO allies to ponder and the Ukrainian people to decide when they go to the polls to elect their next president, most likely in 2024.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to

More research needs to be done on hormone therapies meant to address gender incongruence among children

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; April 3, 2022)

The need for objective research research cannot be compromised simply because the issue is socially sensitive or politically contentious.

I recently watched a conversation between Joe Rogan and Adam Conover, the comedian host of truTV’s Adam Ruins Everything, about trans-athletes. The conversation was from two years ago, but it remains relevant, even if it was only a semi-cogent conversation between two people marginally qualified to talk about the fairness of allowing trans-women to compete in women’s sporting events.

At one point in the dialogue, Conover justified his acceptance of transwomen competing in women’s athletic competitions by citing his podcast conversation with a transwoman who had served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot before her gender transition.

“There’s an author named Brynn Tannehill who’s a former military helicopter pilot I just interviewed. She’s one of the people affected by the Trump’s military ban on trans-service people who wrote a fantastic book called “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask),” Conover told Rogan. “She is now a researcher and went into deep detail about the medical science.”

Subsequent to the Rogan-Conover debate, the University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete, winning the 500m freestyle at the NCAA swimming championships arguably offers supporting evidence to those concerned about the fairness of allowing trans-woman to compete in women’s athletics.

After agreeing to disagree on trans-athletes, the Rogan-Conover moved into whether there is enough research to understand the impact of hormonal therapies and transition surgeries on adult and pre-adult individuals.

Writes Tannehill for The Huffington Post:

“Given the level of harm involved when medical care is denied (to trans-persons), and given how unusual regret is, denying medical care to everyone based on the outliers makes no logical or ethical sense. In other words, you would do more harm to more people by denying everyone access than by keeping the system we have in place or even expanding access. Every major medical organization supports access to transition-related care and deems it medically necessary for a reason: The actual peer-reviewed evidence supports it.”

The Rogan-Conover conversation, however, turned much more combative when discussing hormonal therapies and other conversion procedures for gender incongruence among children (‘trans-children’).

Unintentionally, Tannehill’s book highlights how genuinely limited the research has been on the impact of gender-transition, hormonal therapies conducted on pre-pubescent children.

In the absence of definitive research, Rogan and Conover were left with their instinctive feelings and crude understanding of the transgender issue as it relates to children.

But, after all, that is how public opinion forms. People talking about things they don’t fully understand, helping others form opinions based mainly on gut instincts in lieu of anything more substantive. And this is O.K…that is how our social system works.

It isn’t perfect, and it typically doesn’t solve any issue to an acceptable extent. As social scientist Charles Lindblom observed many years ago, our institutions (including the scientific establishment) tend to muddle through, or to borrow a phrase from actor Will Smith’s son Jade Smith in a more contemporary context, “That’s how we do it.”

Unfortunately when it comes to effective public policy, it is usually not defensible just to say ‘that’s how we do it’ and proceed to ‘muddle through.’ At some point, analysts and policymakers must acknowledge their personal biases and intellectual limitations and help us all form more evidence-based opinions.

It’s a tough process, and not always linear in its progress.

Furthermore, it is always necessary to assess the objectivity the research, particularly when the researchers hold known, pre-existing opinions — such as Tannehill’s belief that hormonal trans-therapies are safe and optimal for pre-pubescent children.

Why would anyone reading “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask)” be surprised on the author’s conclusions? They were most likely determined before one word in the book was written.

In fact, her conclusions are far from conclusive, particularly with respect to children.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Tannehill’s conclusions are without merit either. It does mean, the existing research doesn’t definitively inform us about the long-term effects of altering natural hormonal processes during pre-pubescent periods. There are early attempts at addressing this issue, but they are just that…early attempts.

“Gender-affirming hormone therapy is considered safe, but is not without risk,” says Julia Cartaya, MD. The benefits include a general improvement in mental health functioning, a decrease in body dissatisfaction and an improved sense of wellbeing, according to Cartaya.

But policymakers need better information than that to make long-term decisions.

The long-term impact of hormonal trans-therapies on pre-pubescent children is a legitimate analytic question that is yet to be fully answered by existing research. Admitting that and doing something about it, sooner rather than later, will be critical to moving society forward on policies related to the trans-community.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to