The Atlantic Daily: Why the Lab-Leak Theory Matters

It’s not in the way you think.

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The lab-leak theory, once dismissed as conspiracism, is entering the mainstream. More scientists and journalists are now willing to admit that it’s plausible. Even President Joe Biden is calling for a fuller investigation.

But the evidence in support of this hypothesis, which posits that the outbreak can be traced back to a Wuhan lab known to keep bat-borne coronavirus samples, hasn’t really changed.

My colleague Daniel Engber argues that we do need to start taking it more seriously—though that doesn’t mean spinning up an investigation. Read Dan’s argument, briefly summarized below.

The origin of the coronavirus doesn’t really matter.

“What information, really, would we get from a ‘proper investigation’?” Dan asks. Whatever we might discover, laboratory accidents will still be a possible source of catastrophic disease outbreaks.

We should just act like the theory is true.

“Let’s stipulate that pandemics can result from natural spillovers or from laboratory accidents—and then let’s move along to implications,” he argues. What, for example, are the risks of scientific research that uses virus samples?

Further reading: David Frum argues that Donald Trump supporters have the whole lab-leak theory backwards.


One question, answered: What’s the point of a post-vaccination coronavirus test?

The CDC still recommends that symptomatic people get tested for COVID-19, even if they’re fully vaccinated. Why? Testing for breakthrough cases can help researchers, including those who are trying to understand the variants, Katherine J. Wu explains in her latest. But taking a test if you’re not symptomatic could also do more harm than good.

What to read if … you’re wondering what to do with your pandemic puppy when your office reopens:

Whom are you actually worried about? “These dogs will have to adjust to post-pandemic life,” our staff writer Sarah Zhang reports. “But so will humans.”

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity:

“The nostalgia will be monetized.” Before you put on HBO Max’s new Friends reunion special, out today, I recommend reading this essay by the inimitable Megan Garber. (Some light spoilers ahead.)

A break from the news:

Don’t approach life like a picky eater. Trying new things can make you a happier person.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.