The Hindu Article Erroneously Links Filovirus Study To Coronavirus

The study was published in October 2019, months before the outbreak of 2019nCov.

Connect the dots!! #coronavirus did not start from seafood market! (So likely a biowarfare lab). US and Chinese defense (Wuhan Institute) did reasearch on bats in Nagaland - possibly to develop antidotes !! @the_hindu @HMOIndia @PMOIndia #BiologicalWarfare

The above quote came from a tweet, posted in the early morning of February 3, by a user named Subir Dhar. He was quote tweeting an article by The Hindu titled, "Coronavirus : Wuhan institute's study on bats and bat hunters in Nagaland to be probed." Upon reading a little further there was a text box with the subheading "Steeped in secrecy".

Screenshot of The Hindu article. Click here to view the archived version

This was enough to start a conspiracy theory on social media regarding a secret study by Wuhan Institute of Virology and some other foreign universities on bats and bat hunters in Nagaland, which maybe linked to the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019nCov.

Woah, Slow Down Friend!

While the headline raised many eyebrows, the article in itself had a completely different story to tell.

A study was conducted by National Centre for Biological Sciences at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research at Bangalore, in collaboration with researchers the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School and Wuhan Institute of Virology, to study the transmission of filoviruses like ebola from bats to humans with a tribe in Nagaland.

The funding came indirectly from the United States Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), through Duke-NUS who also collaborated on carrying out the study.

According to The Hindu article, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had ordered a probe to investigate whether the required permission was granted for conducting a study on Indian individuals with the involvement of foreign funding and foreign researchers.

Surprisingly, in the entire story there was no mention of any link between the study and the coronavirus, as claimed by the headline.

On the involvement of the Wuhan Institute, the NSCB said in a press statement that they were not directly involved with the study but supplied critical reagents (substances that aid in causing chemical reactions) to Duke-NUS for conducting research.

However, it seems that Duke-NUS researchers were indeed involved in conducting the study and the funds did come from abroad. Did NCBS get the required permission as mandated by the ICMR?

BOOM reached out to an NCBS spokesperson, but they declined to comment on this matter. They also said that they've not received any report from ICMR either and have no knowledge of the probe.

Back To The Headline

Mukund Thattai, a biologist and head of academics at NCBS soon took to Twitter to counter the claims made by The Hindu.

According to Thattai, The Hindu failed to request a statement from the researchers before publishing the article - which he claimed contained "many false statements".

"No biological samples or infectious agents were transferred into or out of India, and this study has NO connection with Coronaviruses," said NCBS' press statement, speaking on the mention of "coronavirus" in the article's headline - which had since then been changed.

The new headline reads, "Study on bats and bat hunters in Nagaland to be probed." We compared it with the headline on the print edition of the article and found that it did not include the misleading keywords either.

The Hindu, Bengaluru edition, February 3, 2020

Journalist Priyanka Pulla wrote a Twitter thread, detailing the crux of the report and the gaffe made by The Hindu.

"There were several errors in the story, that essentially turned it into a fear-mongering piece - completely unnecessary during an ongoing, worrying global outbreak," said Pulla.

BOOM reached out to A.S. Panneerselvan, the reader's editor at The Hindu, who acknowledged the error in the headline on the web edition.

"With reference to your mail on the study of NCBS on filovirus, the headline for The Hindu's web edition's report was different from the print edition. When the error was pointed out, a correction was carried out in the web edition with the following disclaimer: An earlier version of the headline for this article had mentioned coronavirus which is not directly linked to the story and also focused on Wuhan Institute, which is only one of the participants in the story. The headline has been suitably revised," he told BOOM.

Updated On: 2020-02-07T14:39:34+05:30
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