PolitiFact has removed a Sept. 2020 fact check it had labeled “Pants on Fire” — or untrue — of a Hong Kong virologist claiming that the virus that causes COVID-19 is man-made and was released purposely by the Chinese government into the population.
The fact check currently exists in archived form with an editor’s note dated May 17, 2021, explaining the reason for removal.
“When this fact-check was first published in September 2020, PolitiFact’s sources included researchers who asserted the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not have been manipulated,” the editor’s note reads. “That assertion is now more widely disputed. For that reason, we are removing this fact-check from our database pending a more thorough review. Currently, we consider the claim to be unsupported by evidence and in dispute.”
In the original fact check, Li-Meng Yan, a virologist and former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong, is quoted from an appearance on Fox News saying, “I can present solid scientific evidence to our audience that this virus, COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 virus, actually is not from nature. It is a man-made virus created in the lab.”
She then asserts that she has evidence that the Chinese government released the virus on purpose, but none of her evidence is presented on the air.
The story was posted to social media sites, but was flagged as false by Facebook and Instagram, which partners with PolitiFact.
The Daily Caller, which first reported on the retraction, noted that PolitiFact’s original fact check linked to a statement from the journal Nature Medicine from March 2020 in which five virologists said the virus that causes COVID-19 showed no signs of being purposefully manipulated in a laboratory.
But, the Caller noted, “Longtime New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade wrote in May that despite the Nature Medicine statement being ‘full of absurdly large holes’ and ‘grounded in nothing but two inconclusive speculations,’ it successfully ‘convinced the world’s press that SARS2 could not have escaped from a lab.'”
PolitiFact retracted the fact check only after it published a story on Monday about the origins of COVID-19 that admitted that some virologists, including Rutgers University professor Richard Ebright, say there is scientific evidence to support both a natural origin or a lab accident origin for COVID-19.
The story also noted that some scientists say the Wuhan Institute of Virology was conducting “gain-of-function” experiments on bat-based coronaviruses to create viruses not found in nature. Some of this work was funded by National Institutes of Health, but the story says there is no evidence such work led to the creation of SARS-CoV-2.
PolitiFact offered no further comment to the Daily Caller.
A similar editor’s note was added to PolitiFact’s fact check on Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry making similar claims that the COVID-19 virus was created in the Wuhan lab, but Perry’s fact check, which the website rated “false,” remained on the site Monday.
The Daily Caller said the editor’s note was added to Perry’s page only after the Caller contacted PolitiFact to ask why his page remained since Yan’s had been removed.
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