Did a bioweapons expert say that coronavirus is a biological warfare weapon? Yes, he did, but here is some context: The video making the rounds featuring Dr. Francis Boyle, who drafted the legislation for the Biological Weapons Convention, offers no supporting evidence to back up that suggestion.
The remarks in a video interview (archived here) have been cited in several stories reporting on the bioweapon angle. One site that embedded the video was Technocracy News & Trends, which published an article on February 4, 2020, under the title "BioWeapons Expert Says Coronavirus Is Biological Warfare Weapon." It opened:
In an explosive interview Dr. Francis Boyle, who drafted the Biological Weapons Act has given a detailed statement admitting that the 2019 Wuhan Coronavirus is an offensive Biological Warfare Weapon and that the World Health Organization (WHO) already knows about it.
Users on social media saw this:
BioWeapons Expert Says Coronavirus Is Biological Warfare Weapon https://t.co/rSTJ988akP-- Henny Stoops (@mediumhenny) February 15, 2020
Fears over the spread of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, have unleashed a vast number of conspiracy theories, as well as disinformation campaigns. As of February 19, 2020, at least 2,004 people have died from the coronavirus, according to The New York Times.
We have debunked several fake stories being shared, including a similar false claim that the coronavirus was a lab-made depopulation weapon.
On January 29, 2020, Foreign Policy debunked the suggestions that the novel coronavirus was made in a laboratory:
David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said this coronavirus is definitely novel. And new viruses, especially those that move fast, can cause panic. Panic leads to people "casting about for conspiracy theories," he said. But diseases that quickly mutate and infect humans are simply part of nature. "Welcome to emerging infectious diseases," he told Foreign Policy.
And this bioweapon speculation isn't exactly new. In 2003, during the SARS outbreak, the Jamestown Foundation think tank published an analysis suggesting "there are compelling reasons, however unsettling, to at least ask whether there might be any linkage between SARS and China's biological warfare efforts." That claim ultimately proved baseless.
We noted in our article on a similar story that The Washington Post had interviewed experts who also said the rumor was untrue:
"Based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus," said Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University.
Tim Trevan, a biological safety expert based in Maryland, said most countries had largely abandoned their bioweapons research after years of work proved fruitless.
"The vast majority of new, nasty diseases ... come from nature," he said.
Because of Dr. Boyle's educational pedigree - he holds three degrees from Harvard University - his views carry weight. However, it should be noted he was offering his opinions in the video featured in this latest article. He shared no specific evidence to back up his claims.
In fact, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has refuted Boyle's allegations that Chinese scientists stole the coronavirus from a lab in Winnipeg. Eric Morrissette, chief of media relations for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, told CBC News:
This is misinformation and there is no factual basis for claims being made on social media.
According to BuzzFeed, YouTube has been cracking down on viral videos that contain hoaxes on the coronavirus outbreak, but in some cases, they are spreading too fast to easily contain.
Dr. Boyle noted in his interview he was weighing the competing theories about the origins of the coronavirus. He believed it came from a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory in Wuhan. He also said he wasn't ruling out some sort of sabotage. Later, he opined that people can't trust anything the World Health Organization says because it is "bought and paid for by Big Pharma."
His comments offer plenty of grist for the mill for conspiracy theorists, but the video did not cite specific evidence to back up the claims.