Scientist who made controversial claims about the origin of COVID-19 did not work at Wuhan lab

Scientist who made controversial claims about the origin of COVID-19 did not work at Wuhan lab

What was claimed

The verdict

A Herald Sun headline states that a scientist who worked at a Wuhan lab says COVID-19 was a man-made virus.

False. The scientist, Dr Andrew Huff, has never worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

By Renee Davidson

A popular Australian tabloid newspaper, the Herald Sun, has lent credibility to a scientist’s controversial claims about the origins of COVID-19 by wrongly claiming the scientist had worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. 

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, often referred to as the “Wuhan lab”, is located in Wuhan City, eastern China, where the first COVID-19 case was identified in December 2019. The institute has been at the centre of contested claims that coronavirus escaped from its lab. 

The headline of the article published by the Herald Sun on Facebook on December 4, 2022, reads: “Scientist who worked at Wuhan lab says Covid was man-made virus”. 

The claim is reiterated in the precede of the article which states: “A controversial scientist who worked at the Wuhan lab has branded Covid-19 one of the “greatest cover-ups in history”. 

The story, originally published online in the UK’s tabloid newspaper, The Sun, on December 3, 2022, refers to a book written by scientist Dr Andrew Huff.

Dr Huff’s book, The Truth About Wuhan published on December 5, 2022, repeats the unproven lab-leak theory that a man-made coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

Social media users have shared the Herald Sun story across various platforms to support conspiracy theories. They have also created memes featuring its claim that Dr Huff worked at the Wuhan lab, garnering thousands of likes and shares. 

But Dr Huff himself has declared that he has never worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

In a televised interview aired by Fox News on December 7, 2022, the Fox News presenter introduces Dr Huff as “a scientist who actually worked inside the Wuhan lab”. Dr Huff replies: “There’s one thing I’d like to clear up here real quickly, I never stepped foot in China, I never actually worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

Between 2014 and 2016, Dr Huff worked for the US-based scientific research group, EcoHealth Alliance. He was hired as a senior research scientist, before a change of title to associate vice president in 2015, EcoHealth Alliance told RMIT FactLab in an email.  

In 2014, EcoHealth Alliance was awarded a grant by the US government's National Institutes for Health to study the risk of future coronaviruses developing from bats. On his website, Dr Huff describes himself as an “EcoHealth Alliance insider” who knows the “real how and why COVID emerged”. 

Following the publication of Dr Huff’s book, EcoHealth Alliance issued a statement on December 5 rejecting reports that he had worked at the Wuhan lab. 

“Mr Huff was employed by the EcoHealth Alliance from 2014 to 2016,” the EcoHealth statement said. “However, reports that he worked at or with the Wuhan Institute of Virology during that time are untrue. He was assigned to a completely different project working on computer-based algorithms to assess emerging disease threats."

The statement continues: “Mr Huff makes a number of other speculations and allegations about the nature of the collaboration between EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Given that he never worked at or with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, his assertions along these lines cannot be trusted.”

There has been speculation about the origin of COVID-19 for the past three years, but no definitive evidence has emerged to prove that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab. 

This is the second time that RMIT FactLab has found false or misleading information in an article published by News Corp. 

In October, The Australian published an article in which an eminent academic made a number of claims suggesting the COVID-19 vaccine had serious side effects and reduced immunity in children. RMIT FactLab found the claims to be false and lacking context because he misrepresented research and used unreliable sources.


The verdict

False. The Herald Sun headline claiming that scientist Dr Andrew Huff worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China is wrong. Dr Huff, himself, declared that he has never been to China and has never worked at the Wuhan lab.

12 December 2022


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