Demand grows for retraction of influential paper on COVID-19 origins after emails reveal authors doubted their own conclusions

A petition with over 1,700 signatures is urging for the retraction of the scientific correspondence paper titled “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2.”

The paper, published in the Nature Medicine journal on March 17, 2020, asserted that COVID-19 was “not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus” and is widely known as the “Proximal Origins” or “Nature Medicine paper,” according to The Defender.

Biosafety Now — a nongovernmental organization that “advocates for reducing numbers of high-level biocontainment laboratories and for strengthening biosafety, biosecurity, and biorisk management for research on pathogens” — launched the petition July 19, stating, “It is imperative that this clearly fraudulent and clearly damaging paper be removed from the scientific literature.”

Biosafety’s leadership team features 27 experts in biomedicine, mathematics, public health, public policy, public advocacy, law, and social science, according to The Defender.

The group’s co-founder, Bryce Nickels, Ph.D., a professor of genetics at Rutgers University, said the petition seeks “to expose a clear case of scientific fraud and misconduct that has had a major impact on public opinion and policy.”

He told The Defender: “The removal of ‘Proximal Origins’ from the scientific literature is the first step in a long process needed to repair the damage this paper has caused to public trust in science.”

The petition states: “This paper played an influential role — indeed, the central role — in communicating the false narrative that science established that SARS-CoV-2 entered humans through natural spillover, and not through research-related spillover.”

The recently-released internal emails show the paper “was, and is, the product of scientific fraud and scientific misconduct,” the petition notes further.

Investigative journalist Paul Thacker told the outlet, “The thing that’s really the most troubling, which is why it should be retracted … [is] the ghostwriting and the undue influence [of federal public health officials on the drafting of the paper], which we know from the emails by Francis Collins, by Anthony Fauci, and from Jeremy Farrar.”

Fauci retired from government service in December after heading up the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since early in Ronald Reagan’s first term. He was the highest-paid federal employee earning more than $400,000 annually, and still has a taxpayer-supplied security team.

Almost everything he recommended Americans do during the pandemic turned out to be wrong or harmful, especially holding a generation of children out of school for nearly two years.

“These guys basically ordered up a piece of science — or some sort of publication — that they could then point to, which they all did afterwards, as definitive proof that this thing could not have come from the lab,” Thacker added. “The whole thing was orchestrated for political purposes. It has nothing to do with science.”

Thacker is a distinguished investigative writer and a former fellow at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. His work has been published in prestigious publications such as The New York Times, The BMJ, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Washington Post.

According to Thacker, weeks before the “Proximal Origins” paper was published, one of its co-authors, Kristian Andersen, Ph.D., sent an email to Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins, thanking them for their “advice and leadership” on the manuscript.

Despite being invited by Andersen to provide comments and suggestions on the paper, Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins are not mentioned in the acknowledgments section of the final version published by Nature Medicine.

“Both Collins and Fauci then promoted the Nature Medicine paper as evidence of ‘independent science’ pointing against a possible lab accident — Collins in a post for the NIH Director’s blog that alleged the study left ‘little room’ for argument in favor of a lab accident, and Anthony Fauci in a White House press briefing,” Thacker added.

“In both cases, neither Collins nor Fauci disclosed their involvement in orchestrating Andersen’s study. This last March, Congress released further emails showing that Fauci helped to orchestrate the Nature Medicine paper,” he said.

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