Will the 80,000 hours podcast release an episode about COVID origins by end 2024?
resolved Nov 10

80,000 Hours believes in pandemic preparedness and has released several episodes on COVID, pandemics, and biosecurity. They have not, to date, done an episode engaging (fully or partly) with the origins controversy. Will they do one and release it before the end of 2024?

cc @RobertWiblin

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I am not going to bet on this one to avoid controversy but I’m seriously considering a YES resolution based on the latest episode. They address the origins question upfront, though that’s not central to the episode, which fulfills the ‘partly’ condition. Thoughts?


predicted YES


They make a very notable comparison of the Covid-19 origins investigation with that of the 1978 anthrax leak. I think this should qualify as partially engaging the origins controversy. But since it is very brief, I am not sure if it qualifies with what you had in your mind.

Luisa Rodriguez: Yeah. A point you made in your book was that we might end up seeing something similar with COVID-19. It’s very much still up for debate whether COVID-19 was the cause of a lab leak or had some more natural origin. I’ve followed it a bit, and have felt that it seems totally possible to me it was a lab leak, but also that there’s just not good enough evidence right now to be confident either way. And you point out that in a very different but kind of similar case, it took 15 years, but we did eventually get a conclusive story of what happened. And maybe we’ll get that with COVID. Maybe not, but maybe.

A couple of other things that these scientists did that I remember from your book was they did autopsies on pets. So there were pets that were in the fallout zone that died and they were able to basically dig up those pets, do autopsies, and find that the kind of anthrax that killed those animals wasn’t the kind that you would have expected had it been the story that the Soviets were painting.

They did kind of a geographic analysis of where were these cases, and it didn’t really make any sense that it was a foodborne illness, because it basically ended up being that the people who got sick and died were in this oval, basically — that you’d expect to see if there was an airborne plume that settled on a certain area — and not the kind of thing that you would see if there were random households across a city buying contaminated food.

I basically found that really fascinating, and again, just pretty heartwarming, especially this case of these Russian pathologists who literally saved patients’ preserved organs in case it was ever going to be possible for them to share what they thought really happened.

Alison Young: One other theme that’s worth noting in this case is there also was this rallying of US and other international scientists to support the story of the Soviet scientists. And I think that’s worth noting, in the sense that that has been something that has been the subject of some level of criticism and debate in the current search for the origin of COVID-19: this idea that there have been a number of prominent scientists who have been very vocal that their colleagues in China are saying this was of natural origin, but have also not cooperated with international investigations, but that because they’re saying it, it should be taken as truth.

Luisa Rodriguez: Yeah, that makes sense.

@Akzzz123 ‘partly’ was under specified but I think this counts. It’s literally an episode on lab leaks and they do address COVID. For some reason they didn’t seem to want to get into the weeds of it, but it would be odd to say it’s not an episode that engages partly with the origins controversy.

bought Ṁ10 of YES

The latest episode, with Kevin Esvelt, comes uncomfortably close. From skimming the transcript they don’t seem to touch on the topic of Covid origins, but they could have.


bought Ṁ10 of YES

Hoping they do.

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