Social media has been rife with reports of the arrest of Dr. Charles Lieber of Harvard University by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). These posts claim that Lieber was arrested for manufacturing the novel coronavirus in collusion with China.
These claims are highly misleading; while Dr. Lieber - a nanoscientist and biochemist - was indeed arrested by the US DOJ for allegedly making a false statement about his involvement with the Chinese government, and for alleged non-disclosure of Chinese funding, the entire fiasco has nothing to do with the novel coronavirus.
BOOM received the following message on its helpline, along with a video, which seems to be a news report by ABC-affiliated virtual channel WCVB on Lieber's arrest:
BOOM also found the video being shared on YouTube and Facebook, with captions claiming the Lieber was arrested for manufacturing the novel coronavirus. The YouTube video has been viewed more than 2.8 lakh times, at the time of writing this article.
BOOM looked for news reports by WCVB, and found that the video being shared is an authentic news report by the channel. However, upon watching the entire video, we found that although it does talk about Dr. Lieber's arrest for hiding his involvement with China, there was not a single mention of coronavirus in the entire report.
The title and caption of the video also made no mention of the virus or a bioweapon.
BOOM accessed the press statement by the US DOJ, which said that Lieber was charged "with one count of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement". The arrest of two Chinese nationals - Yanqing Ye and Zaosong Zheng - for various counts, including visa fraud, conspiracy and for attempting to smuggle 21 vials of biological research to China, were also mentioned.
"Unbeknownst to Harvard University beginning in 2011, Lieber became a "Strategic Scientist" at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China and was a contractual participant in China's Thousand Talents Plan from in or about 2012 to 2017," the statement said. It also mentioned that Lieber was paid $50,000 per month by WUT, along with a fund of $1.5 million to set up a research lab at Wuhan.
While this may seem like the perfect conspiracy theory behind the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is causing the ongoing pandemic, the entire press statement makes no mention of the virus and the pandemic.
The viral posts carried an authentic news report and added misleading captions to make it appear like Lieber was directly involved with the creation of the novel coronavirus.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain told The Harvard Crimson, the university's daily student newspaper, that Harvard was launching an internal investigation into Lieber's case.
Not A Bioweapon
Recent studies on SARS-CoV-2 provides us enough evidence to debunk the claim that the virus was human-made. Peer-reviewed articles (Zhou et. al (2020); Andersen et. al (2020)) state two possible theories for the origins of the virus:
- The virus went through natural selection in an animal (currently the progenitor host is theorised to be a bat or a pangolin), before going through zoonotic transfer (transfer of pathogens between animals and humans), and jumping into a human host.
- The virus jumped into a human host from an animal, while going through re-assortment of its genetic make-up that could lead it to acquiring the properties to start a pandemic.
There is absolutely no evidence, despite thorough study of the virus, that it could have been artificially made by humans
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