It looks like David Baltimore regrets his “smoking gun” comment about the furin site in that article.
Here’s the problem: Baltimore regrets using the phrase “smoking gun” to describe his conclusion, and doesn’t agree that it validates the lab-leak theory.
Baltimore told me by email that he made the statement to Wade, also by email, and granted him permission to use it in print. But he added that he “should have softened the phrase ‘smoking gun’ because I don’t believe that it proves the origin of the furin cleavage site but it does sound that way. I believe that the question of whether the sequence was put in naturally or by molecular manipulation is very hard to determine but I wouldn’t rule out either origin.”
Experienced virologists heavily favor the natural-spillover theory. That’s because the phenomenon has been common throughout history, accounting for the spread of most viruses and indeed for most pandemics. The direct animal source hasn’t been identified; it’s not unusual for investigations of that nature to take years. SARS2 has been known to scientists for only about 18 months.
No one denies that a lab leak is possible. But the theory presupposes a complex series of events coming together perfectly in a Chinese lab — secrecy and coordination, perhaps abetted by extreme sloppiness, or even deliberate malevolence.
Balancing the commonplace nature of animal-human spillover against the complex assumptions required by the lab-leak theory, virologists say, tips the scales in favor of the former.