Most experts believe COVID-19 was probably not a lab leak

Link post

The Global Catastrophic Risks Institute conducted an anonymous survey of relevant experts on whether they thought COVID was more likely caused by a lab accident (aka lab leak) or zoonotic spillover. Their summary, bolding is mine:

The study’s experts overall stated that the COVID-19 pandemic most likely originated via a natural zoonotic event, defined as an event in which a non-human animal infected a human, and in which the infection did not occur in the course of any form of virological or biomedical research. The experts generally gave a lower probability for origin via a research-related accident, but most experts indicated some chance of origin via accident and about one fifth of the experts stated that an accident was the more likely origin. These beliefs were similar across experts from different geographic and academic backgrounds.

The experts mostly expressed the view that more research on COVID-19’s origin could be of value. About half of the experts stated that major gaps still remain in the understanding COVID-19’s origin, and most of the other experts also stated that some research is still needed. About 40% of experts stated that clarity on COVID-19 origins would provide a better understanding of the potential origins of future pandemics. Given clarity on COVID-19’s origin, experts also proposed a variety of governance changes for addressing future pandemics, including measures to prevent initial human infection, measures to prevent initial infection from becoming pandemic, and measures to mitigate the harm once the pandemic occurs.

The vast majority of the experts express the belief that a natural zoonotic event will likely be the origin of the next pandemic.

The experts also provided a set of clear recommendations for preventing, preparing for and responding to future pandemics, which generally align with many previous studies.

Link to the main report is here, and link to their (much longer) methodological and analytical annex is here.

[EDIT: I currently think there are enough problems with the survey that they should be mentioned alongside the results.

Firstly, the sample seems to have been based on personalized outreach, rather than mass emails. This runs the risk of selection bias. [EDIT 2: I’m told that ‘personalized outreach’ looks more like “sending individual emails to everyone on a big list” than “the authors emailing their friends”.] Also, some participants were recruited by recommendations from other participants, which may reduce the effective sample size by over-drawing from pools of people who agree with each other. [EDIT 2: But this was mitigated to some degree by disciplinary and geographic diversity.] [EDIT 3: See this comment and replies by one of the authors of the report on the survey.]

Secondly, the survey asked people if they were familiar with a few different papers that analyse the evidence for or against a lab leak. They also included a fake paper to see how often people lied about their familiarity. A third of the sample claimed to be familiar with a fake study, more than were familiar with one relevant piece of evidence, the DEFUSE proposal, but much fewer than were familiar with most other pieces of relevant evidence.]