The New NASA Chief Says COVID-19 Might Have 'Come From a Lab'

He claims the possibility is 'nothing to snooze at and ignore.'
Brad Bergan
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, before his NASA position.US Navy / Wikimedia

Former Democratic Florida Senator and newly-appointed Administrator at NASA Bill Nelson made bizarre comments about China, the COVID-19 crisis, and national security during a virtual event, intimating that the coronavirus may have leaked from a lab, according to an initial series of tweets from The Verge reporter Joey Roulette.

It's tremendously important to take this allegation with a grain of salt, since, without evidence, assuming China is somehow to blame for the global pandemic is not a very scientific thing to do.

NASA Administrator Nelson alleges a 'lab leak of COVID-19' 

Former Sen. Nelson referenced unofficial reports alleging that the COVID-19 coronavirus could have come from a lab in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to Roulette's tweets, which describe Nelson suggesting that the United States should "watch the Chinese."

"They're starting to get very aggressive" in space, said Nelson, bafflingly, according to Roulette's tweets. "We have to be concerned... it's nothing to snooze at and ignore". Okay, stop. While it's not impossible for the coronavirus to have grown and leaked from an experimental lab in Wuhan, China's expansion into space has no bearing on the likelihood of accidentally triggering a global pandemic. Even if the country's space endeavors are described as "aggressive". But, as a growing collective of scientists is saying on the matter, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence.

However, we can suspend disbelief of a lab link to the COVID-19 crisis, while still accepting that there is no evidence conclusively pointing to a lab as the origin of the global pandemic. And, supposing the virus was leaked from a Wuhan lab, we may never have physical proof, since microorganisms are naturally short-lived. Additionally, it's hard to imagine any scientist, in China or anywhere, intentionally allowing such a radical virus to escape the sanitized confines of an experimental lab.

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China's space moves are not very adjacent to COVID-19

Most confusing about Nelson's suspicions is the context: NASA is a government agency created to advance human interests in space, not epidemiology. So it feels misguided at best for the new head of a space-oriented agency to opine publicly on such a hotly-contested topic with little or nothing to do with the exploration of space. Especially when, logged all the way on to a National Academies of Science event, Nelson was addressing the National Academies Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board about what obstacles NASA faces in the immediate future. In space.

On the subject of NASA's space exploration, however, China is very adjacent. Last week, the country landed its first-ever rover on the planet Mars — a symbolic leap forward in its aim to close the gap between itself and the United States' NASA. Nelson did mention China's role as a growing rival for the U.S. agency in space, which is great! But we just don't see a clear line between saying that China "is starting to get very aggressive" in space, and the origin of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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