Fig. 1. Photograph by author, November 8, 2022.
The Department of Energy has concluded, with “low confidence,” that a lab leak is the most likely source of COVID-19. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had earlier reached a similar conclusion with “moderate confidence.” The reason the lab leak hypothesis lives is that an animal source has not been conclusively identified and the expectation is that such a source for a zoonotic disease should surely have been identified by now. And it doesn’t help that the Chinese have been less than forthcoming about what may or may not have happened at their labs.
But the truth is that an absence of evidence is an absence of evidence, nothing more, nothing less. It is reasonable to be suspicious. It is not reasonable to affirm any conclusion. And nothing about any perceived need for such a conclusion changes that.
Michael R. Gordon and Warren P. Strobel, “Lab Leak Most Likely Origin of Covid-19 Pandemic, Energy Department Now Says,” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-origin-china-lab-leak-807b7b0a
Fig. 1. “Destroyed Russian military vehicles located on the main street Khreshchatyk are seen as part of the celebration of the Independence Day of Ukraine in Kyiv, August 24.” Photograph by Gleb Garanich for Reuters, August 24, 2022, fair use.
No one, it seems, but the Ukrainians think they can expel Russia from Crimea. The expectation seems to be for a long slog of trench warfare.
Part of this is surely that we are now in a winter pause where progress on either side is halted. Under such circumstances, it is easy to forget that the Russians have consistently underperformed expectations and the Ukrainians have consistently outperformed expectations. The nay-sayers are the same people who, a year ago, were certain Kyiv would fall within days.
We need to be skeptical of conventional wisdom in this conflict. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely wrong. And we also can’t discount the possibility that Vladimir Putin may go nuclear if defeat is imminent.
But what this is really all to say is that nobody knows what is going to happen. Pundits and politicians are flapping their lips because they’re supposed to be experts. Real experts will be much more cautious.
Ishaan Tharoor, “An awkward tension lies beneath the West’s support for Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 27, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2023/02/27/tension-ukraine-public-private-support-west/
Robert Barnes and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, “Biden’s student loan forgiveness program comes before Supreme Court,” Washington Post, February 26, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2023/02/26/biden-student-debt-supreme-court/
- Michael R. Gordon and Warren P. Strobel, “Lab Leak Most Likely Origin of Covid-19 Pandemic, Energy Department Now Says,” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-origin-china-lab-leak-807b7b0a↩
- Michael R. Gordon and Warren P. Strobel, “Lab Leak Most Likely Origin of Covid-19 Pandemic, Energy Department Now Says,” Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-origin-china-lab-leak-807b7b0a; Deborah Netburn, “Did the coronavirus escape from a lab? The idea deserves a second look, scientists say,” Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2021-05-13/did-coronavirus-escape-from-lab-scientists-urge-second-look; Matthew Rozsa, “A virologist unpacks the lab leak hypothesis,” Salon, May 29, 2021, https://www.salon.com/2021/05/29/a-virologist-unpacks-the-lab-leak-hypothesis/↩
- Reuters, “Ukraine puts destroyed Russian tanks on display in Kyiv,” August 25, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/ukraine-puts-destroyed-russian-tanks-on-idUSRTSALV9Q↩
- Ishaan Tharoor, “An awkward tension lies beneath the West’s support for Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 27, 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2023/02/27/tension-ukraine-public-private-support-west/↩
- Julia Ioffe, “Peace & Gossip in Munich,” Puck, February 21, 2023, https://puck.news/peace-gossip-in-munich/↩
- Richard K. Vedder, “Eliminate or Radically Restructure Federal Student Loans,” James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, September 16, 2020, https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2020/09/eliminate-or-radically-restructure-federal-student-loans/↩