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Letter Condemns Virus Conspiracy Theories

More than two dozen public health researchers have penned a note appearing in the Lancet condemning the conspiracy theories that have emerged surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak and stating their support for researchers and clinicians in China.

In particular, the letter-writers, who include Colorado State University's Charles Calisher, the Wellcome Trust's Jeremy Farrar, and the University of Melbourne's Kanta Subbarao, among others, note that researchers in China were able to quickly identify and analyze the pathogen causing COVID-19 and openly shared their data. But, they write in their letter that this "rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation around its origins."

For instance, US Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has repeated a conspiracy theory that the source of the pathogen is a Wuhan lab located a few miles from the market where a cluster of cases were identified, despite a lack of proof, the Washington Post reports. The letter-writers point out that researchers "from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of [SARS-CoV-2] and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife."

"We're in the midst of the social media misinformation age, and these rumors and conspiracy theories have real consequences, including threats of violence that have occurred to our colleagues in China," Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and signatory of the statement, tells ScienceInsider. "We have a choice whether to stand up and support colleagues who are being attacked and threatened daily by conspiracy theorists or to just turn a blind eye. I'm really proud that people from nine countries are able to rapidly come to their defense and show solidarity with people who are, after all, dealing with horrific conditions in an outbreak."