Senator Tom Cotton continues to push conspiracy theories about coronavirus that the scientific community has dismissed, again going on Fox News this Sunday to insinuate that the virus’ true origin may be a high-security Chinese biochemical lab. The Republican from Arkansas has repeatedly pushed this line of questioning that has, predictably, made headway on the internet’s far right nether regions. For some context, Russia’s disinformation spin doctors are pinning coronavirus on American biochemical adventurism. So that’s where we’re at.
“We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” Cotton said Sunday. “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.” See what he did there? “We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there,” the senator said, “but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all.” No evidence, huh?
It’s a very Trump move to just raise the question backed up by people are saying. It seems redundant to point out that that some questions are, in fact, not only dumb, but harmful. In Trump’s case, the residual harm is the point of his dumb questions. When it comes to Harvard-educated but very much not a public health expert Cotton, it’s unclear what the endgame is. Some sort of one-man Fox News-based public pressure campaign on the Chinese government to be… better? Maybe he just assumes soon the president will be saying it too. This is the new form of public recklessness amongst our political class that has been unleashed by this president.
Has China been collaborative and transparent in its initial response to coronavirus? Not really. Has it lied? Surely. Why? Party politics, internal stability, cultural differences, gross mismanagement, face-saving, political pressure, who knows, there’s a long list of everyday possibilities that don’t get you on TV. That’s of course why the Daily Mail first surfaced the “theory” and the Washington Times amplified it, before Fox News dunked it home. Why does anyone lie? Perhaps we’ll leave that at it’s complicated?
The point is there are legitimate questions to be asked and criticisms to be had about the coronavirus outbreak, but Tom Cotton’s inexpert just asking the question-line of questioning is as unhelpful as Trump’s spray tan. It just makes things worse.
Here’s what a couple of actual scientists had to say about Cotton’s, as he puts it, “hypotheses.” “There’s absolutely nothing in the genome sequence of this virus that indicates the virus was engineered,” Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University told the Washington Post. “The possibility this was a deliberately released bioweapon can be firmly excluded.” “It’s a skip in logic to say it’s a bioweapon that the Chinese developed and intentionally deployed, or even unintentionally deployed,” according to Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Cotton should spend more time funding the agencies in the United States that can help contain and combat the virus rather than trying to assign blame.”