Episode 311

Did SARS-CoV-2 Escape from a Lab?

A Conversation with Matt Ridley and Alina Chan

February 20, 2023

Sam Harris speaks with Matt Ridley and Alina Chan about the origins of the COVID pandemic. They discuss the evidence of a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, media and academic censorship of this topic, the history of collaboration between western scientists and Chinese labs, the risks of "gain-of-function" research, the evidence for the zoonotic origins of SARS-CoV-2, the initial complacency and denialism of the Chinese, the biosafety levels at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, molecular evidence of a lab leak, the practical constraints on synthesizing viruses, lack of international cooperation, conspiracy theories promulgated by the CCP, EcoHealth Alliance, different kinds of "gain-of-function" research, virus hunting, the history of lab leaks, risk and reward in the search for knowledge, Anthony Fauci, and other topics.

Matt Ridley is a writer whose books have been translated into 31 languages and won several awards. His books include The Red Queen, Genome, The Rational Optimist, and The Evolution of Everything. His new book Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19, co-authored with Alina Chan, was published in 2021.

Matt sat in the House of Lords between 2013 and 2021 and served on the science and technology select committee and the artificial intelligence select committee. He was founding chairman of the International Centre for Life in Newcastle. He created the Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal in 2010, and was a columnist for the Times 2013-2018. He is 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.

Website: mattridley.co.uk

Twitter: @mattwridley


Alina Chan, Ph.D., is a scientific advisor and viral vector engineer at the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard. She is a recent Broad Ignite fellow and Human Frontier Science Program fellow with a background in medical genetics, synthetic biology, and genetic engineering. During the pandemic, Dr. Chan investigated problems relevant to finding the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and co-authored Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19 with Matt Ridley. In 2022, she joined the Pathogens Project Taskforce organized by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to generate new thinking on responsible high-risk pathogen research.

Website: harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/alina-chan

Twitter: @Ayjchan


Learning how to train your mind is the single greatest investment you can make in life. That’s why Sam Harris created the Waking Up app. From rational mindfulness practice to lessons on some of life’s most important topics, join Sam as he demystifies the practice of meditation and explores the theory behind it.