In recent weeks, there’s been an abrupt and significant change in the way scientists, political leaders, and the media have talked about the origins of the Covid pandemic. There was once consensus that the virus had come from an animal, but new questions have emerged, and by May 26, even President Biden had called for a new, full, and transparent investigation into whether the virus actually emerged from a lab in Wuhan China. The sudden change has led to questions about the interaction of science and politics, how the media covers science, and how scientists communicate what they think they know.
Throughout most of the pandemic, for millions of readers and podcast listeners in the US and around the world, Donald G. McNeil Jr. has been one of the most trusted, thoughtful, and clear explainers on the science of the coronavirus and public health measures to control it. He was the lead reporter on the Covid-19 pandemic for the New York Times and his May 17 article in Medium titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory” is widely credited with helping to catalyze this re-examination of where the virus came from.