Science journalists never question science establishment views

Says ex-science journalist Matt Ridley

In a recent article on, Ridley writes:

By contrast, there is almost nobody who has a vested interest in the origin of Covid being a lab leak. Even the media, which ought to see this as the story of the century, have mostly steered clear of it. That’s because unlike every other kind of journalist, science and health journalists for some reason generally see it as their duty to fawn over and echo but never challenge the establishment view. Where political, business, even arts reporters challenge and critique their subjects, science reporters almost never do. I should know: I used to be one and when I occasionally did question the establishment view, I was treated like a pariah.

A glimpse of the attitude of science journalists can be found in a now-deleted tweet from Apoorva Mandavilli, the science and global health reporter of the New York Times. In 2021, she wrote: ‘Someday we will stop talking about the lab-leak theory and maybe even admit its racist roots.’

Why exactly was it racist to consider a lab leak, but not racist to write long articles – as the New York Times did – about the ‘wet markets’ of China with their allegedly unsavoury habit of selling live, exotic animals in unhygienic conditions? We all remember those articles with their graphic speculations about bat soup and pangolin stew – even though there were no bats or pangolins on sale in Wuhan. One op-ed claimed that ‘China’s domestic demand and customs for exotic and live food are a direct threat to the health, safety and welfare of the world’. But it seems that ‘racism’ only applies to speculation about middle-class scientists, not about working-class market traders, who are not the sort of people New York Times reporters break bread with.

I tested the reluctance of the establishment to discuss the lab leak first hand. I asked the biological secretary of the UK’s Royal Society if she would organise a debate about the origin of the virus. No, she said, we only debate scientific matters. Eh? I asked the Academy of Medical Sciences, of which I am a fellow. Too controversial, they said. I asked a government minister. Better left to the World Health Organisation, he replied. I asked another government minister. Surely it’s time to move on, he said. I asked a very senior scientist. Better we never find out, he said, lest it annoy the Chinese. At least he was honest.

[. . .]

Millions are dead around the world and the most likely cause is an accident during a risky experiment in a laboratory. Should we not be learning lessons from that? Should we not share information globally on what virology experiments are being done, on which viruses, and at what biosafety levels? Should we not bring pressure to bear on those countries that refuse to share such information or that authorise such risky experiments? None of this is happening.

The World Health Organisation’s website is awash with calls for conferences and treaties on pandemic prevention. Yet the one issue that almost never gets mentioned is laboratory leaks. Search its website for the words ‘laboratory leak’ or ‘lab leak’ and just one single item comes up: the comical episode in 2021 when the WHO endorsed the ludicrous Chinese claim that Covid was more likely to have started with imported frozen food than with a lab leak.