Nature was one of the world's most cited scientific journals by the Science Edition of the 2019 Journal Citation Reports (with an ascribed impact factor of 42.778), making it one of the world's most-read and most prestigious academic journals.
The nature article:
When agents from the FBI and CIA flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, last month to talk to virologist Robert Garry about the origins of COVID-19, he was relieved by the depth of their scientific background. “These folks were really knowledgeable, had PhDs in molecular biology, they had read all of the papers in detail,” he says.
The visit was part of the 90-day US intelligence-community investigation into where the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 came from, ordered by US President Joe Biden on 26 May. Like many researchers, Garry, at Tulane University, didn’t know what tack the confidential investigation would take, and felt that a scientific approach was essential. The agents spoke to him about studies, including his own, on coronavirus evolution.
Biden received the investigation’s classified report this week, on 24 August, and an unclassified version was made public today. The topline result is that the investigation was inconclusive. Intelligence agencies were divided on whether the pandemic most likely began because of a laboratory accident, or because of human contact with an infected animal. The only strong conclusion is that the coronavirus was not developed as a biological weapon; most agencies thought, with low confidence, that it was unlikely to have been genetically engineered. In a press statement, the intelligence community writes that it aims to issue more details on its investigation in the near future.
After the WHO report: what’s next in the search for COVID’s origins
Garry says the report exceeds his expectations. “It’s huge to mainly rule out that this is a product of engineering,” he says. He and other researchers aren’t surprised that the intelligence community hasn’t solved the mystery of COVID-19’s beginnings, because outbreak origin investigations are often complicated. The government’s senior intelligence officer, Avril Haines, warned of this outcome on 30 June, in an interview with Yahoo News. At the time, she said arguments could be made in favour of the two competing hypotheses. COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China, where a leading institute studies coronaviruses, making a lab escape possible; and most emerging infectious diseases begin with a spillover from nature, lending weight to that scenario. She said the intelligence community would be working with experts, including scientists at national labs, collecting data and evaluating existing information, and trying to think about them in new ways. “I think the best thing I can do is to present the facts as we know them,” she said.
Many researchers welcome what seems to be a dispassionate investigation, after more than a year of politicization around how COVID-19 began. “I am glad to see us having a more nuanced discussion about this now,” says Stephen Morrison, director of global health policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. However, researchers also hope that the intelligence community will reveal more about its process, and are keen to hear about further investigations, either spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) or independent of the agency. “This is an immensely complicated problem,” says David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University in California. “No one expected this to be figured out by summer.”