Viral: The Origin of COVID-19: Matt Ridley (Transcript)

Transcript of JBP Podcast titled ‘Viral: The Origin of COVID-19’. In this discussion Dr Jordan B Peterson and Matt Ridley go in depth to explore the Covid 19 outbreak, scrutinizing the lack of criticism, the inherent red flags widely accepted as benign, the possible motive for a multi-government cover up, and ultimately the demise of the scientific enlightenment as it bends to a more fearsome pandemic: totalitarianism.


DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Hello, everyone. I’m happy today to be speaking with Dr. Matt Ridley, one of the world’s most well-known and lucidly-minded rationalists. I’ve spoken with Matt before on my podcast, and we’re going to talk today about, among other things, about the origin of the COVID virus. So that should be entertaining.

Matt Ridley is a British writer, journalist, and public speaker. He has a BA and DPhil degree from Oxford University. Matt also worked for The Economist for nine years as science editor. He worked as a Washington correspondent and American editor as well, before becoming a self-employed writer and businessman. Matt writes a weekly column in The Times of London and also writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal.

As Viscount Ridley, he was elected to the House of Lords in February 2013 and served on the Science and Technology Select Committee from 2014 to 2017. He won the Hayek Prize in 2011, the Julian Simon Award in 2012, and the Free Enterprise Award from the Institute of Economic Affairs in 2014. He’s a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He is honorary president of the International Center for Life in Newcastle. Matt also holds honorary doctorates from Buckingham University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and University Francisco, Merrick, in Guatemala. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into 31 languages, and have won several awards.

His books include The Red Queen, The Origins of Virtue, Genome, Nature Via Nurture, Francis Crick, The Rational Optimist, The Evolution of Everything, How Innovation Works, and the revised and expanded version of his latest book, Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19.

We’re going to talk about a variety of issues, including not least the politicization of science and perhaps the politicization of everything. But I think maybe we’ll start by walking through your book on the origin of COVID-19.

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And so the first thing I’m curious about, I suppose, is why did you decide to investigate the origin of COVID-19? Why didn’t you just accept the idea that it emerged in the exotic meat market in Wuhan and like a good boy, let’s say, and leave it at that?

MATT RIDLEY: It’s a good question. And the answer is, to start with, I did accept the conventional version. But I’m a zoologist by background, and I was interested in how these diseases jump. And I thought it was highly likely this one had jumped like SARS did from a bat through the food chain. But I wanted to know where and when and how.

And I knew that the scientists in Wuhan had an idea about a similar virus. So I got the Wall Street Journal to commission an article from me called The Bats Behind the Pandemic. What was it about horseshoe bats that was harboring such viruses? How were people coming into contact with them? What did we know? What was the story in this case?

It was a very interesting story in the case of SARS in 2003 to do with food markets near Hong Kong. What was going to be the story in this case? And in investigating it, I came upon anomalies like the fact that this virus was not particularly closely related to the bat one they had, like they couldn’t tell me where they found the bat one. The paper that I read didn’t give the location. And the name of the virus, the bat virus, was one that didn’t appear in the scientific literature. And yet they said they’d found it previously.

So I was rather puzzled by all this. And I called up a number of virologists. And they said, well, yes, there’s some anomalies here we don’t understand. But it’s nothing to do with a lab leak. You can rule that out. Now, I believed that for about two and a half months. And then I came across the work of Alina Chan, who eventually became my co-author on this book. And she was saying, actually, we can’t rule out a lab leak. There’s quite a lot of things about this story that make it really quite plausible that what’s happened here is an escape from a lab. Because we’re dealing with a virus that turns up in the city, which has the lab that does work on SARS-like coronaviruses more than any other lab in the world.

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And that geographical coincidence has to be taken seriously, particularly when we find that the virus from the bat that they identified as being closely related to SARS-CoV-2 had been found effectively in their own freezer. And that’s a starting point for a query.

So by the middle of May 2020, the Chinese were announcing they didn’t think it started in that market. Alina Chan was saying there’s lots of evidence to suggest this thing is well adapted to human beings. And the geographical coincidence all got me interested in this being an open question, not a closed one, and one that needed further investigation. And the deeper I dug, the more emerged.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Okay, so let me summarize that. So the first smoking pistol, in some sense, as you point out, is the coincidence of the location of this lab, which studies exactly this kind of virus and the outbreak itself. And that’s a problem, right? So that means that it’s reasonable to look at that and think that, well, it could have escaped from the lab there. That’s the first conclusion. And that it has to be demonstrated in some sense that it didn’t. And then, so that’s a problem.

And I can’t see how that’s anything but an incontrovertible problem. The mere fact that that lab is there and that it does research on those types of viruses and that that’s where the outbreak was doesn’t prove that it originated in the lab, but it certainly makes that a plausible hypothesis.

But then you add this additional twist, which is, I think, more complicated for people to understand. And you detail this out. You provide some detail for this in the book, that this virus is somewhat remarkably well adapted to human beings. Now, there are literally trillions and trillions of different forms of viruses. And so, obviously, most of them aren’t particularly well adapted to human beings because otherwise we would have trillions of viruses producing pandemics all the time.

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So it’s generally the case that viruses are not well adapted to transmission in human beings. And that’s true for the overwhelming majority of viruses. And so the fact of this human adaptation or adaptation to human transmission is something of signal importance. And so maybe you could walk me and everyone else listening through why a typical virus isn’t adapted to human transmission and what it means that one is and how that develops.

MATT RIDLEY: Yes. The normal pattern when a virus first emerges into the human species is for it to be very difficult for the virus to spread human to human. It can infect someone. It can even possibly kill someone. But they’re not very good at passing it on to people. The virus is not really very good at transmitting between members of this new host.

Now, if enough time goes by with enough infections happening, then eventually it will get good at it. And that’s what was starting to happen with SARS in 2003. It first infected people in the fall of 2002. By the spring of 2003, you were starting to see chains of transmission from person to person.

And the reason for this is that the virus has to evolve. It has to change its genetic code in such a way that it can better fit the receptors on the cells of humans as opposed to the receptors on the cells of bats or, in the case of SARS, the intermediate host, which was a palm civet.

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