IsaacKing avatar
closes Jan 1, 2040
Did COVID-19 come from a laboratory?
73%
chance

This market resolves once we have a definitive answer to this question.

(i.e. "I've looked at all notable evidence presented by both sides and have upwards of 98% confidence that a certain conclusion is correct.")

I will be conferring with the community extensivly before resolving this market, to ensure I haven't missed anything and aren't being overconfident in one direction or another.

(For comparison, the level of evidence in favor of anthropogenic climate change would be sufficient, despite the existance of a few doubts here and there.)

If we never reach a point where I can safely be that confident either way, it'll remain open indefinitely.

"Come from a laboratory" includes both an accidental lab leak and an intentional release. It also counts if COVID was found in the wild, taken to a lab for study, and then escaped from that lab without any modification. (But only if a significant fraction of the pandemic can be attributed to the leak. It won't count if the pandemic primarily came from natural sources and then there was also a lab leak that only infected a few people.)

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Sjlver avatar
Sjlver
sold Ṁ227 of NO

A detailed analysis by Rootclaim arrives at 89% lab leak:

https://www.rootclaim.com/analysis/What-is-the-source-of-COVID-19-SARS-CoV-2

Sjlver avatar
Sjlver
is predicting NO at 60%

https://www.vox.com/22961822/covid-19-origin-coronavirus-wuhan-china-market-lab-leak

This is quite a good article for laypeople, albeit from March 2022.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 60%
IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 60%
IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 60%

Some biological arguments against the lab leak theory: https://www.worksinprogress.co/an-inconvenient-sleuth/

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 60%

Ah, someone just pointed out an ambiguity to me: How should this resolve if it came from a lab worker who was gathering wild samples and got infected? It came "from a lab" in the sense that the lab's activities and poor containment practices were responsible, but it didn't "come from a lab" in the sense that it never escaped a laboratory building.

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
is predicting YES at 56%

Mathematically pretty near impossible for zoonotic origin at the Wuhan wet market. See details inside on how many wet markets there are in Asia.

"wet markets is two blocks from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The chance that a brand new never before seen SARS coronavirus variant would emerge at the only wet market two blocks from a laboratory whose primary function is to study never before seen SARS coronavirus variants, specifically from bats, is simply too astronomical to believe. If a brand-new world epidemic virus were to emerge every day from a wet market in east Asia, it would be three years or more on average before one emerged from Wuhan. No honest scientist would believe that coincidence given what we know.

Phrased another way, if we had one new novel bat coronavirus outbreak per year, every year since Jesus Christ was born, there’d still only be about a 20% chance that any of them came out of Wuhan."

https://hwfo.substack.com/p/everyone-is-wrong-about-covid-19

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
is predicting YES at 56%

@NickAllen so OP, if you're only looking for 98% likelihood, there's the math for considerably higher than that.

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
is predicting YES at 64%

@IsaacKing exactly, thanks. This is like that lottery example; the article I linked lays out the math showing that the prior for zoonotic origin should be considerably less than 1%.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 60%

@NickAllen Ok, and all the mainstream scientists saying it was likely a zoonotic origin have shifted my posterior to below 98%.

I'm not going to resolve this market based on a single easily-hackable numerical argument. It's not hard to put together a framing under which any desired conclusion is placed at extremely low odds. Here's an example.

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
is predicting YES at 60%

@IsaacKing for sure, I'm certain it'll get cleared up at some point.

What would it take to break the expert chorus update? Fauci coming out saying it was from the WIV, or a similarly high-level missionary?

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
bought Ṁ0 of YES

@NickAllen No, I don't unilaterally trust any one person, and especially not those with a clear political agenda. If culture war dynamics around China and Covid reverse again in the next few years, I wouldn't be surprised to see such pronouncements being made. I'd like to see at least the beginnings of a scientific consensus that seems unmotivated by politics.

(For example, consider the consensus that IQ is mostly genetic, and the fact that Wikipedia is willing to make that claim on their site, despite how unpopular that belief is.)

I would be willing to resolve against consensus only in the event that it becomes extremely clear that the mainstream is wrong, and I can understand the technical aspects of the situation well enough to see this myself.

(For an example of this, consider how cryonics is called a pseudoscience because it hasn't yet been tested. This is a basic misunderstanding of what claims cryonics advocates are making, and another basic misunderstanding of how intelligent agents perform inference about the world and the purpose of performing experiments. It seems to be largely motivated by religious beliefs and culturally-ingrained rationalizations about death, not by the relevant details of the actual claim.)

I don't have a good enough understanding of biology at the moment to be comfortable declaring that so many biologists are wrong based only on a statistical argument that has nothing to do with the actual details of the virus in question. If the topic stagnates and it seems likely that no more information will be forthcoming then I might start investigating it more seriously myself, but at the moment it makes a lot more sense for me to let other people do that investigation and argument.

(I would love to see a biologist respond to the statistical argument though!)

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
is predicting YES at 61%

@IsaacKing makes sense, thanks for putting the question together.

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
is predicting YES at 61%

@IsaacKing actually something occurred to me about that "all the mainstream scientists" point: it's circular, because mainstream in this case is defined as someone who repeats the political conclusion. There are plenty of scientists who were mainstream before COVID who say it came from a lab.

WieDan avatar
Wie Dan
is predicting NO at 61%

@IsaacKing If you are in TPOT please just talk to the TPOT(adjacent) biology anons on twitter, like Halvorz, SilverVVulpes, etc They can explain to you why it didn't come from a lab.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 61%

@NickAllen When I say "mainstream" I don't mean "people who won't get yelled at on Twitter if they state their conclusions", I mean something more like "people who have devoted their lives to serious scientific pursuits and/or academia, with more weight given to those who have more prestigious credentials or awards. (Ignoring awards that were then withdrawn for political signaling.)" Many mainstream scientists disagree with each other, but you can take a weighted poll of their beliefs and call that the "scientific consensus". What gets shared on social media and in popular news articles is a gross distortion of the actual consensus, and I give it near 0 credibility.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 61%

@WieDan I follow them both on Twitter, but I'm not comfortable messaging them out of the blue to ask for an explanation. Do you know of any they've posted previously?

MichaelWheatley avatar

@IsaacKing You're never going to rack up the referral bonuses with that attitude!

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 61%

@MichaelWheatley Presumably they've already discussed this at length with others, so it seems rude for me to just be like "Hey, can you come spend a bunch of your time arguing with people who don't know very much about biology and saying all the same things you've said before in a new forum?"

MichaelWheatley avatar

@IsaacKing They could presumably at least link you to their definitive threads on the subject, I expect.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 61%

@MichaelWheatley Alright fine, I'll send them a message.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 60%

@NickAllen Bats are not distributed evenly around all wet markets, so the prior on the Wuhan market should be much higher than the naive 1/[number of wet markets in Asia] argument suggests.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-021-00285-x

AlexCritsChristoph avatar
Alex Crits-Christoph
bought Ṁ500 of NO

can we have some more Yes votes so I can take their money? thx

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
bought Ṁ100 of YES

@AlexCritsChristoph Certainly! Here you go.

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
sold Ṁ67 of NO

Not sure what just happened. I saw the market at 5%---it was almost like the limit orders didn't kick in. (Are limit orders not instantaneously applied?)

Anyway, glad to have a net YES position at ~50%. Obviously if the market goes back up I'll sell :)

AlexCritsChristoph avatar
Alex Crits-Christoph
bought Ṁ900 of NO

@ScottLawrence cheers. and yes, that was weird... funny things happen in small markets I guess?

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
bought Ṁ100 of YES

@ScottLawrence I don't see any limit orders from you. Maybe they never went through?

Are limit orders not instantaneously applied?

They definitely are, they're even calculated into the "payout if [result]" display you see before betting.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 47%

@AlexCritsChristoph I am curious what makes you so confident.

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting YES at 47%

@IsaacKing No, not limit orders from me. I was looking at your order, and didn't notice that it was only just placed.

AlexCritsChristoph avatar
Alex Crits-Christoph
is predicting NO at 47%

@IsaacKing have just looked into the issue very closely, something of a hobby. I wish it was on PredictIt, then I could actually justify the time I've put into it

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 47%

@AlexCritsChristoph Hopefully one day Manifold will allow us to cash out mana for real money, and then all our effort will finally be worth it. (Or, for those of us who would be donating to charity anyway, it already is.)

Feel free to post your evidence here if you like. Obviously that's not the optimal strategy for turning a profit, but it'll make for some nice conversation.

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
bought Ṁ0 of YES

@AlexCritsChristoph help yourself, yes limit 500 at 50%>

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
bought Ṁ50 of YES

Oh wow. The TL;DR:

Based on the analysis of the publicly available information, it appears reasonable to conclude that the COVID-19 pandemic was, more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident. New information, made publicly available and independently verifiable, could change this assessment. However, the hypothesis of a natural zoonotic origin no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt, or the presumption of accuracy. The following are critical outstanding questions that would need to be addressed to be able to more definitively conclude the origins of SARS-CoV-2:

  • What is the intermediate host species for SARS-CoV-2? Where did it first infect humans?

  • Where is SARS-CoV-2’s viral reservoir?

  • How did SARS-CoV-2 acquire its unique genetic features, such as its furin cleavage site?

Advocates of a zoonotic origin theory must provide clear and convincing evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover is the source of the pandemic, as was demonstrated for the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak. In other words, there needs to be verifiable evidence that a natural zoonotic spillover actually occurred, not simply that such a spillover could have occurred.

LivInTheLookingGlass avatar
Olivia
is predicting NO at 74%

Isn't this put out by the Republican half of the committee, rather than the full body? Or am I misunderstanding?

NickAllen avatar
Nick Allen
is predicting YES at 74%

@LivInTheLookingGlass yes, it's not the full committee report, it's the minority report.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 60%
SG avatar
S G
is predicting YES at 51%
ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

Meta-market created.

Gigacasting avatar

If you think a virus with long runs of amino acids that never occur naturally just happened to appear within a few hundred feet of the world’s premier lab studying it, and who was given money to engineer it to attack human cells, and had openly bragged about doing so, wasn’t from a lab…

Could have resolved yes months ago.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 51%

@Gigacasting Wikipedia and much of the world's media would disagree, so I don't think I can safely call that "definitive".

Gigacasting avatar

🤔

Gigacasting avatar

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

@Gigacasting I assume you're declining to bet in this market because you don't trust it to be correctly resolved, right?

I think the chance that it came from the lab is <50%, you clearly think it's substantially higher. Right now we can't bet against each other, because this exact question is so heavily politicized that no news report (and therefore no market) can be expected to prioritize object-level reality over political convenience.

Is there some more narrowly defined market where we might both trust the resolution, but that's still coupled to this question? Predictions about how China's (or US) funding of these

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

@ScottLawrence oops clicked to early

...labs might evolve. Or future frequency of novel viruses of different types. These questions aren't themselves so politicized.

Gigacasting avatar

There’s a lot of highly technical beyond-definitive evidence about splicing and codon patterns, but they also literally tweeted out that they’d built a recombined virus that infects humanized mice and produces “SARS-like signs” within a football field’s length of where the pandemic started, within weeks of the pandemic starting….

Bayes’ Thereom does the rest, absent very heavy motivated reasoning

Yes, SCIENCE! created the virus and all the interesting questions are how/why it got out of that lab

Gigacasting avatar

I’d be very interested in evidence about monkeypox/lab and Omicron/lab (very likely but only seen a few sources);

The timing of the next “virus” is also intriguing;

Wouldn’t be uninterested in a “when will the mainstream media say the virus probably came from a lab” but pretending the current party line (op-eds and Jon Stuart can say it did, main publication can’t) has any relation to fact is silly

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 51%

@ScottLawrence Is there a particular reason you don't trust me to resolve this market correctly?

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

@IsaacKing There's a reason that's particular, but it's not particular to you. Uhh... this requires careful phrasing, because it's easy to say something that's technically wrong, or misleading about what my actual beliefs are. I'll do my best, and I apologize for the lack of clarity.

The resolution of this market---whoever is resolving it---is probably downstream of claims made by the media, and if not, is downstream of the consensus of relevant scientists. Crudely speaking, I don't trust either.

To be a bit more specific, I believe that (all statement are probability somewhat >50%): the virus was not created in a lab, the media will continue to claim it was probably not created in a lab, and the scientific consensus will continue to be that it was not created in a lab. But that doesn't mean that I believe in causal links between those statements. Conditional on the virus being created in the lab, my estimate for the probability that media claims it was created in the lab does not much change. Ditto, perhaps a bit less so, for the scientific consensus.

So when I bet on this market, I'm not really betting on what I believe about the virus. But then, neither am I betting on what I believe about you---I have every reason to believe that you'll do your honest best to resolve this market correctly and fairly. But there aren't many observable things in our universe that are causally connected to "did the virus come from a lab", so the causal chain for this market, as far as I can tell, begins in political considerations. I'm betting on those.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 51%

@ScottLawrence My hope is that in 5-15 years there will be less political incentive to hide evidence, and we may be able to arrive at a clear answer. If there isn't, the market will just stay open indefinitely, allowing people to win or lose money as new evidence comes out and people's subjective probabilities change. I don't plan on resolving this market if there's still a credible doubt either way.

(This likely does bias the market slightly in favor of YES, since it's easier to get definitive evidence that it was lab-created than that it wasn't.)

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

@Gigacasting Okay, the first two suggestions you made (monkeypox/omicron/lab evidence, and the timing of the next virus) are interesting to me, and in line with what I asked about.

I believe that monkeypox/omicron/lab evidence is itself too politically tainted to be worthwhile betting on---moreover we'd be very likely to end up in a nasty/futile debate over what types of evidence should count, blah blah blah. Very boring.

How about the timing of the next virus? If I understand your thinking correctly, you would bet that it would come sooner than suggested by the base rate, on the grounds that the rate of viruses appearing has been increased by all of the labs, right?

I assume you mean the next new virus to appear in humans and spread a decent amount? You've obviously done much more reading than I have about this; can you suggest a precise definition of what qualifies as "new" (the current monkeypox issue isn't, right?), and what amount of spread you'd accept as a threshold? I would then bet purely based on the base rate.

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

@IsaacKing Okay, in that case my strong expectation (since I think you and I probably define "credible doubt" the same way) is that this market does not resolve, ever. Given that the virus emerged in a context that could create a virus naturally, and also right next to a lab that could release it by accident... what would decisive evidence possibly look like? I really can't think of any event that would remove my own doubts. (I can think of events that would remove society's doubts, but they all involve war and propaganda campaigns, not actual evidence.)

I wrote a lot more but deleted it, because, well, god this is depressing. Ignoramus et ignorabimus.

I appreciate the effort and all, I just think this is a singularly unproductive question. Hence my attempts to lure @Gigacasting into a bet more likely to be unambiguously and uncontroversially resolvable, which is nevertheless somehow correlated with beliefs about covid and the lab.

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 51%

@ScottLawrence Definitive evidence of manufacture seems pretty straightforward: The Chinese government or a group of scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology publicly say it was created there. A US intelligence agency turning up verified documents that explicitly discuss its creation and/or release would also come pretty close.

Definitive evidence of zoonosis is a bit harder, but maybe finding a genetic predecessor in wild bats could do it? Or finding out that there were earlier cases far away from Wuhan? The Chinese government choosing to cooperate fully with a non-politically-driven western investigation and that investigation concluding zoonosis would also be compelling, though I'm sure there would still be concerns they'd destroyed all the evidence or it was created elsewhere.

(I don't know all that much about the evidence on its origin at present; I would obviously do a lot more research into it before resolving this market.)

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

@IsaacKing Huh. You've moved me slightly in the direction of "this market might resolve this century". Nevertheless, we seem to disagree either on the strength of political forces at work, or the number of levers available for political forces to influence the evidence and arguments that are made public. I suspect it's the latter. None of the scenarios you describe seem like they'll result in a resolution, just because it's too easy afterwards to cast various types of doubt on the conclusion.

Anyway, we're on a betting site. The point isn't to have long arguments! Mind if I make a meta-market about whether this market ever resolves?

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 51%

@ScottLawrence How would such a market itself resolve? :)

IsaacKing avatar
Isaac King
is predicting YES at 51%

@ScottLawrence Sure, go for it.

ScottLawrence avatar
Scott Lawrence
is predicting NO at 51%

@IsaacKing Sorry I should have been more precise. Numeric market (on which I'll stake M$500 liquidity to make it more interesting) for "when does Isaac resolve his market". Min of 2025, max of 2040? So it's no worse than an ordinary long-term market.

SG avatar
S G
bought Ṁ25 of YES

I doubt there will ever be definitive, officially acknowledged evidence, but I think Nicholson Baker's piece for NYmag a year ago holds up well: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/coronavirus-lab-escape-theory.html