Interview with 'The Seeker' who showed the world how to connect Covid-19 with Wuhan, China
All we know about him is that he is a one-time teacher of science at the high-school level from the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. But this science enthusiast was the pioneering force in bringing together an eclectic group of researchers, including academics, who came to be known as DRASTIC, to trawl the remotest corners of the internet - including endless hours of using Google Translate to decipher obscure Chinese scientific papers - to shatter the propaganda that coronavirus could have nothing to do with China and laboratory experiments in the country's Wuhan region. The Seeker spoke exclusively to Global Order's Hindol Sengupta.
This is the image that the West Bengal, India-based 'The Seeker' uses as his display photograph on Twitter, the platform he used to shatter all the propaganda about Covid-19 and show the world its connections with Wuhan, China.
1. How certain are you and your allied researchers that Covid-19 originated from Wuhan, China?
Well, umm, our group isn’t a monolith. Everyone has their own interpretation, but as far as I'm concerned, the chain of evidence seems to be increasingly pointing that way - that a lab escape is considerably more likely - although I am wary of being too hasty to draw conclusions.
2. How large is the team of researchers who worked on the project? I know that it began with you and maybe one or two others but then grew - to how many, and across how many countries?
Yeah, I was one of the early members. At that point, there were less than half a dozen members. It has since grown to about two dozen members coming from diverse fields, and spanning across the globe.
3. Did you find your research ignored for a long time? Seems like you did, including getting blocked on Reddit. Tell us more.
Yes, initially we struggled a lot to get the word outside of our small Twitter network. It turned out to be very difficult to get the institutional media and the scientific community to take notice of the facts. Most were unwilling to consider it or just didn’t appear to care.
4. Why do you think the mainstream scientific community, and mainstream media, ignored the leads you discovered and the information that you dug out? What do you think caused this bias? Is it bias, or incompetence/laziness?
I think a lot of factors went into it. For over a year, the mainstream scientific community, and mainstream media have been acting like a cartel, shooting the messengers instead of just reporting the facts and let the audience decide. Anyone who dared to support the lab leak theory was accused of racism, Sinophobia, or were framed as a conspiracy theorist. Most just avoided the debate, or didn’t appear to care. I think the political and ideological dimension took precedence over an objective fact-based narrative.
5. At which point did you realise that you were on the right track, and finally it was being taken seriously?
I think it was late last year, when [U.S. President Donald] Trump was on his way out. Media suddenly started to change its trajectory, and the scientific community became more open to expressing their doubts.
6. Some people have suggested that while your investigation very strongly hints at the direction in which one should look for the origin of the Covid-19 virus but it is not conclusive? Would you agree? And if yes, is the investigation continuing?
Yes, I would agree. While I personally lean more strongly towards the possibility of a lab leak, but a slam dunk proof is still wanting. At the very least, it calls into question that it couldn't have been a lab leak, and makes it worthy of additional investigation.
7. Was it difficult to analyse scientific documents? Do you have a background in science?
Yes, I do have a background in science. Infact I was a stellar student of science, and I taught science to high/senior-school students for about two years.
8. Have you been interested in digging into scientific matters in your spare time for some time now, or was investigating the origins of Covid-19 an aberration?
Yeah, my journey was an aberration. I didn’t set out to investigate the origins of covid-19, but I was pulled into this after reading a bunch of articles/papers in April last year. At first it was a simple curiosity, but my curiosity exploded after I found the theses describing the 2012 Mojiang SARS-like pneumonia cases and its link to the closest relative of SARS-CoV-2.
9. What happens next? Does this change the way you see your work and career? Will you be doing more such investigations?
I live life one day at a time. For now I take joy that I’ve uncovered some very crucial aspects of the mystery on the origins of the pandemic, and I hope the theory will be investigated and someday known why so many millions of people died. The world deserves an explanation.
10. What does this investigation mean for the way knowledge is sought, controlled and disseminated in our world? The older structures of knowledge are obviously being challenged, but they are still resilient. What do you think will happen in the future?
I think social media has already changed the way knowledge is sought, controlled and disseminated in our world. The institutional media is no longer the bastion of facts, and citizen journalism is now a big part of that reality. I think DRASTIC is a manifestation of this.
11. As a fellow Bengali, I cannot resist asking this, the idea of a lone researcher/seeker/detective from West Bengal devoted to seeking out the truth, an act from which the researcher would not gain anything has been explored extensively in literature, film and television. Do you see some of that tradition reflected in your work?
Of course, Bengali literature and cinema has been an influential part of my life. I’m reminded of a quote from Feluda (the famous Bengali sleuth created by author-filmmaker Satyajit Ray) which goes like: “Let there be something that can raise questions and surprise people”.