The Wuhan Virus, Forensics, Bias, and the Looming Dark Ages

I’m a forensic scientist. I work in the cyberworld, tracing code and tracking down copying and other kinds of intellectual property infringement. I’ve worked on some of the most significant software cases of this millennium and the last one. I train others in forensics techniques.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, I began intensive reading and research into its origins and effects. As a forensic scientist, I look for the most likely answers, not the convenient ones. If the outbreak starts in the city that houses one of the world’s most advanced coronavirus labs, a lab renowned for its research into coronavirus-infected batsa lab where workers were noted to be getting sick, a lab where a whistleblower researcher was chastised by the Chinese government before his death, then the first logical implication, and the only conclusion that makes sense, is that the virus originated in the lab. You don’t need to be a forensic scientist to come to this simple conclusion. You can even be just a liberal ex-talk show host

And when the repressive Chinese government, known for its extensive misinformation campaigns, tells a story that bats from over 500 miles away (because there are no suspect bats in Wuhan) mysteriously transferred the virus from a pangolin to a bat or vice versa, which then made its way to Wuhan where it was undercooked and sold at a market to be eaten by some unknown person (though the market in Wuhan does not sell bats or pangolins) who then began spreading the disease, the story should be doubted. It certainly represents the least plausible theory.

Some people knew the truth but were afraid to come out and say so or were ignored by the media. So how did this very simple logic get overlooked and undermined? Bias. The mainstream media and the Democrats accepted this least plausible theory because it made President Trump look bad. And that, unfortunately, was more important than seeking the true origins of the viral killer of 4 million people including 600,000 Americans. Now, they wouldn’t state it that way. As the facts accumulate, the media and the Democrats are making all kinds of excuses about how they had been misled, and how new facts came to light. Actually, I knew all these facts over a year ago. They were there if you looked for them.

Everyone has their biases and must work very hard to overcome them when it comes to analyzing information and coming to conclusions. It’s very hard to ignore your own biases. Many people can’t do it. But forensics experts are paid well for just that ability. And journalists used to be trained to ignore their own biases. Unfortunately, the new journalism standards are to embrace your bias. Bias is now encouraged within journalism schools as a way of “promoting diversity and inclusiveness.” The logic of our society has turned upside down, so none of this should surprise me. But it does. And it makes me angry. If our rules of critical thinking and logical reasoning are discarded, then society becomes anarchy, and we eventually revert to prehistoric societies.

While the bias of politicians and the media has become more understood and accepted by the general population, scientists are still presented on a pedestal as beacons of logical thinking and consensus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Scientists are human. I train software forensic experts to ignore their prejudicial notions before actually performing an analysis. Yet I’m continually frustrated by forensic scientists who can’t overlook their own biases when analyzing data.

For example, some software forensic experts refuse to work for certain types of clients. Some experts won’t work for patent holders. They believe, contrary to over 200 years of U.S. law, that patents are unfair government-issued monopolies. Some software forensic experts won’t work for non-practicing entities (NPEs). These are companies that purchase patents from individual inventors who don’t have the resources to go to court to fight Big Tech infringers. Or purchased from companies that didn’t succeed in the market because of many possible factors like a downturn in the economy, poor internal management, inability to get enough funding, or abusive tactics by larger, better financed competitors.

My company has an (unfortunately) unique policy. We take every client who is willing to pay us, as long as we feel we have the expertise to do our job—that we have an understanding of the technology involved. This means that we go into every case with an open mind. We never prejudge the client or the facts. This means that sometimes, we have to give clients the bad news that we can’t support their case. 

I even worked on the infamous case against former Missouri governor Eric Greitens. I was hired by even more infamous St. Louis District Attorney Kim Gardner. When I was approached by her office, I asked why they had reached out to California for an expert. They told me they wanted the best person for the job. When I explained that I had supported Governor Greitens’ campaign, they told me that more than half the citizens of Missouri had too. I had even attended Gov. Greitens inauguration. I thought long and hard about my decision and talked to friends and to my rabbi. I decided that I couldn’t change my philosophy about taking on any case without prejudice, so I agreed to take on this one. My team and I did an analysis, and I even found an interpretation of the (poorly written) Missouri law that could find Gov. Greitens guilty. According to my interpretation, any person taking a picture at the beach that inadvertently included people in their bathing suits would be equally guilty. But the decision was up to the judge and in the end, he threw out my interpretation. I was relieved, though the case set in motion unfortunate events that led to Gov. Greitens resignation. I’m glad to see him reentering politics recently, and I hope he understood my position as I explained in the unanswered letter I wrote him after the case.

Unfortunately, there are many experts who feel an obligation to support their client’s position at all costs. After all, the client is paying a lot of money. And the client’s lawyers, as is their job, apply a lot of pressure to see things in favor of the client. In the case of the Wuhan virus, many scientists involved with the lab immediately came out strongly against the theory that the virus came from the lab. Were they protecting their funding? Were they purposely misleading? Or were they just refusing to accept that they might have been responsible for, or aided the research leading to the worst pandemic in modern history? While some people support biased, incorrect results because it gives them money or power, the great majority of people simply refuse to challenge their beliefs because they’re afraid to find out that they’ve been operating their lives according to false principles, something that most people can’t deal with.

That’s the reason for much of the polarization we have today. People appoint their own experts—politicians, scientists, media figures, and even friends that support their world view—and then trust them fully. They don’t question their own beliefs and they don’t question their appointed experts. This is a human characteristic we must all force ourselves to overcome. We must find ways to ignore our biases. We must challenge the conclusions of experts and, more importantly, challenge our own conclusions to determine whether they stand up to scrutiny. If more had done so a year ago, and spoken up, we might be closer to understanding the origins of COVID-19. If we don’t once again learn this kind of critical thinking, we are surely headed for a repeat of the Dark Ages.

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