Members Only | December 21, 2022 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
The best worst lab leak book yet
Andrew Huff explains how he told on yourself in 312 pages.
Imagine if Dwight Schrute of The Office worked in global health instead of paper sales. That’s how Dr. Andrew G. Huff comes across in his new book The Truth About Wuhan: How I Uncovered the Greatest Lie in History.
Huff is a former vice president of the EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), a science charity that studies the impact of the illegal wildlife trade on emerging infectious diseases. The EHA looms large in the fevered imaginations of lab leak boosters, because it’s a nexus between the US government, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and by extension, the Chinese government.
Huff bills himself as a whistleblower with firsthand knowledge of the origins of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the covid, aka SC2), but he offers little more than speculation based on publicly available documents and stale anecdotes from his time at EHA.
Huff quit the EHA three years before the pandemic. While he was there, Huff was never anywhere near the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Huff is so stridently anti-Chinese that he has refused to work with Chinese partners, believing any scientific collaboration to be a threat to US national security. His main recollection of the virologists he now blames for the pandemic, Drs. Shi Zhengli and Ralph Baric, was that they gave boring guest lectures.
Huff’s unabashed hostility extends beyond the Chinese state to the Chinese people. This animus casts further doubt on his credibility. He asserts not only that Chinese people “lie, cheat or steal every step of the way” in business negotiations but that such behavior is acceptable in Chinese culture. He also accuses the Chinese of killing his cat with melamine-tainted pet food.
The book also serves up a dose of paranoia worthy of Schrute himself. Huff states that has been hunted by a team of up to 30 agents of the US government who are waging an illegal “psy-op” against him because he knows too much. He claims these shadowy operatives tormented him with glowing green drones the size of mosquitos, hacked his car, burglarized his house, terrorized his dogs with lasers and even stole the key to his snowblower.
The book is supposedly an exposé of a secret bioweapons program that has killed over 6 million people and counting, but Huff seems more interested in settling scores with his former boss, Peter Daszak, the British-born zoologist who heads the EcoHealth Alliance.
Among other epithets, Huff describes Daszak as a petty, unqualified, insecure, inconsiderate, demeaning, scientifically illiterate idiot. This over-the-top condemnation, coupled with Huff’s clumsy self-promotion, and his wild accusations about a state-sponsored attack on his snowblower, make him a highly suspect narrator.
A red herring
In true Schrute style, Huff is preoccupied with Daszak’s managerial quirks and complains bitterly and repeatedly about EHA’s lack of a corporate onboarding process and standardized pay grades.
Huff gestures at alleged financial irregularities within EHA but offers no proof. His main beef is that the charity wasn’t charging the government enough money. Allegedly Daszak’s habit of lowballing his contract bids put EHA on an uneasy financial footing and forced it to turn to wealthy donors to keep the lights on.
Huff humblebrags that EHA put him, a straight man, in charge of schmoozing wealthy gay donors because he’s irresistible to gay men. To hear Huff tell it, he kept EHA afloat with his raw sex appeal.
Huff states that it was obvious to him from the outset that EHA and its partners in Wuhan and North Carolina were deliberately making coronaviruses deadlier to humans, in violation of a federal ban on such research. If so, it makes you wonder why a fervent rule-follower like Huff would put up with it. Huff says he resigned in 2016, not over any concerns about bioweapons, but because he didn’t like Daszak’s management style.
Huff didn’t come forward as a “whistleblower” until October of 2021, nearly two years into the pandemic.
The closest thing Huff has to evidence for his far-fetched claims is a now-familiar grant proposal to study bat coronaviruses, which Huff admits says nothing about gain of function. He claims that’s because the proposal is written in code that only he can translate.
Lab leak boosters love to conjure secret codes from banal documents. What Huff doesn’t tell the reader is that none of the viruses that were studied under the proposal were closely related to SC-2, which makes the proposal a red herring.
All lab origin theories have the same fundamental problem, which Huff never acknowledges: There is no evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (or any other lab) ever possessed SC-2, or any virus that could have been engineered to make SC-2. A lab can’t leak what it hasn’t got.
Lab leak boosters love to kick up dust about allegedly lax safety protocols or risky research projects at the Wuhan Institute, but nobody has been able to show that any of these shortcomings could possibly have resulted in a leak of SC-2.
Like many lab origin proponents, Huff plays fast and loose with the distinction between a lab accident and a bioweapon attack. He switches between accusing the WIV of lax biosecurity and accusing malevolent actors of releasing the virus deliberately.
This is an important analytical flaw because lab leak boosters tend to soften up the reader for their more outlandish charges by pointing to alleged biosecurity failings at the WIV. But even if those concerns were valid, a heightened chance of an accidental release has no bearing on the likelihood of a deliberate release.
Huff baldly asserts that there is no evidence for a natural origin of SC-2 whatsoever. In fact, there’s a large and growing body of evidence pointing to a natural origin. The fact that Huff refuses to acknowledge any of it further undermines his credibility.
Not a set-up
By the time SARS-Cov-2 emerged in late 2019, nature had already spun off two deadly coronaviruses in less than two decades, and both of them jumped from bats to humans via an intermediate animal host.
The first such virus, SARS-Cov-1, jumped to humans from trafficked wild palm civets. This time around, scientists established a strong epidemiological link between the earliest known cases of covid and the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which was one of only a handful of markets in the teeming metropolis of Wuhan that sold wild animals.
Samples taken from the market show that the SC-2 virus was highly concentrated not only in stalls where wild animals were kept, but in the cages where they lived. Are we supposed to believe that some hapless peon at the WIV accidentally infected themselves and then went to hang out in the racoon dog cages?
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for a natural origin at the market comes from a reconstruction of SC-2’s family tree, which shows that the virus jumped from animals to humans twice at the same market.
This is exactly what you’d expect to see if SC-2 came to town in a cage of infected raccoon dogs or palm civets. It’s not what you’d expect to see if the virus escaped accidentally from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, on the opposite side of the Yangtze River.
Huff seems to be aware of this research because he spends a whole chapter speculating about how SC-2 could have been released from labs twice. He speculates that the Wuhan Institute might have leaked the virus accidentally and then the Chinese government deliberately leaked it again to make it look like the virus naturally emerged from the market. Huff is tacitly admitting that it sure looks like the virus came from the market. His twist is that China set it up to look like that by releasing a bioweapon in their own country.
After auditioning many potential villains, Huff eventually settles on a Big Bad for his cinematic universe. The puppet master is none other than Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum (WEF), whom Huff suspects of deliberately releasing a bioweapon to advance his vision of “stakeholder capitalism,” which aims to expand corporate power at the expense of governments.
Huff offers no explanation for why the WEF, a group dominated by multinational corporations, would want to paralyze global capitalism with a bioweapon. Nor does he explain why the Chinese government, a totalitarian regime, would want to help Schwab devolve power from nation states to corporations.
Before I read The Truth About Wuhan, I wondered why the lab leak community didn’t afford Andrew Huff a higher-profile role. As a well-credentialed defector from the EcoHealth Alliance, he seemed like a perfect spokesman for the cause.
This book answers that question.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.