Opinion piece in El Imparcial
Descubrir el origen de la pandemia es donde han puesto el ojo, dominar la Ciencia de Datos su principal activo, y la red social Twitter su plataforma de comunicación urbi et orbi. Son los chicos de DRASTIC, el pequeño grupo internacional que ha sacado a luz papeles cruciales para rastrear el verdadero foco del Covid-19. Ellos fueron los primeros en argüir que la teoría del laboratorio era plausible. Y su fontanería de datos es uno de los movimientos previos a la operación que la semana pasada forzó al equipo de la OMS en Wuhan a echar el freno a sus conclusiones provisionales.
#DRASTIC: another team on the hunt for the origin of Covid
Discovering the origin of the pandemic is where they have set their sights, mastering Data Science its main asset, and the social network Twitter its urbi et orbi communication platform. They are the guys from DRASTIC, the small international group that has brought to light crucial papers to trace the true focus of Covid-19. They were the first to argue that the laboratory theory was plausible. And its data plumbing is one of the pre-operation moves that last week forced the WHO team in Wuhan to put the brakes on its tentative conclusions.
I am referring to the Open Letter of the Paris Group for a new forensic investigation into the origin of this crisis. The call of 26 scientists, whose disclosure agreed between the Wall Street Journal and Le Monde served on March 4 as a knock on the international community and the joint WHO / China team in Wuhan. The message was direct, irrefutable and in less than a week it has dragged the entire world press out of the catacombs of the debate on the origin of the virus.
DRASTIC and the Paris Group are independent collectives. But it is not surprising that among the signatories of the aforementioned letter there are six regular collaborators of DRASTIC: the French engineer and mathematician Gilles Demaneuf, trained at the Ecole Central in Paris and an analyst at the Bank of New Zealand; his compatriot and also an engineer Rodolphe de Maistre, MBA, Master of Science (MSc) and former auditor of the French Institute of Higher National Defense Studies (IHEDN); Belgian physician and academic André Goffinet, MD and PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Leuven School of Medicine; Microbiologist (Scientist D) Monali C. Rahalkar, Agharkar Research Institute (Pune, India); and researcher Rossana Segreto, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Innsbruck (Austria).
For leaving aside the only Spaniard in this area, Francisco A. de Ribera or Francisco de Asís on Twitter: industrial engineer from the UPM, MBA, MSc, Data Scientist, PhD student in Economics from Comillas (ICADE) and one of the analysts who has made DRASTIC big headlines. Among others, having exposed that the RaTG13 coronavirus was already sequenced before the outbreak, contrary to what was announced at the beginning; help to find the exact location of the Mojiang mine, where in 2012 a series of infections very similar to those of CoV-2 were recorded; and highlight the importance of Ra7896, the second virus closest to Covid-19 at the time of its emergence; both coronaviruses, according to De Ribera, found in said mine and on which the Wuhan Institute of Virology has only published a small sequence.
Eagerness and profiles, these of DRASTIC, which certainly do not fit with those of a band of anti-systems hanging on conspiracy theories. Yes, this group is up front and they are feared by corporate spokespersons for the “official version” of the origin of the virus, who often block them on Twitter to avoid being confronted with their uncomfortable questions and overwhelming avalanches of data. But only the opaque machinery assembled by the WHO / China could find an open and independent approach such as that of the # DRASTIC * analysts, disruptive like a Covid-19 version of WallStreetBets, and with the estrous of those hackers of the years of the computer revolution.
A detective group, already praised in December of last year by the bioinformatician Moreno Colaiacovo, who after the Open Letter of the Paris Group to The Washington Post already cites as a reliable “network of researchers and scientists” for their knowledge of the ocean of records where key data are hidden to get to the bottom of this crisis. Well, it seems that in DRASTIC they know better than anyone all the laboratories in Wuhan, and it was they who warned that a few virus databases had been deleted.
The acronym D.R.A.S.T.I.C. It was conceived in the Anglo-Saxon way, rather than the meaning of its initials, by a versatile and anonymous tweeter, alias Billy Bostickson. The stamp means, according to him: Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19. “Billy is the only one who defines himself as an anarchist,” a member of the team tells me, “but we don’t debate our respective ideologies. On that each one is free to think as he prefers. What he commands in our investigations are facts and logic ”.
On the other hand, the page posted on the Sutori platform, D.R.A.S.T.I.C. 2020: ORIGINS, maintained by Dan Siroktin, a pioneer in articulating the possibility of a lab leak. In fact, the first peer-reviewed article incorporating laboratory theory was published by Dan together with his father, Dr. Karl Siroktin, an eminence in the field of Genetics (BioEssays, August 12, 2020). A paper, this one by Siroktin, is essential to understand the second and related concern that many members of DRASTIC share: the necessary review of Gain-of-Function (GoF) studies.
These are high-risk experiments, developed in biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratories. They consist of genetically modifying Potentially Pandemic Pathogens increasing their capacity for transmission, infection and lethality. This dangerous work model already has its accident history. Academic research at GoF has the noble and preventive purpose of creating a supervirus to develop a supervaccine on it. But its obvious “dual use” as a biological weapon and the eventual escape of one of its designer viruses, make these studies a veritable box of bombs; one that could be behind the origin of the current pandemic, and who knows if future ones if it is not bridged in time.
Maybe that’s why the DRASTIC people work a lot and get little rest. “You don’t sleep tonight,” one of them told me yesterday, turning into a gargantuan source of data that he hopes to metabolize together. And while I get lost in its matrix of figures and codes, I tell myself yes. That if there is something that can be found these people will find it. The day before yesterday, the English zoologist Matt Ridley, representative of the Conservative Party, took to the House of Lords a question to the British government about the data of the intriguing Ra7896 coronavirus brought to light by De Ribera; the confusion caused by the request of the “noble” speaker was an informer.
This pandemic has put us all in check. And it has caught offended, or perhaps obediently offended, too many authorized spokespersons for major scientific, political, and media institutions. The matter about the origin of Covid-19 was closed in false and nobody wanted to splash in the swamp. But a handful of researchers scattered around the world, hungry for the truth, have jumped on the bull’s-eye by reopening the controversy. Some started in earnest around April 2020; others, last Thursday the 4th, came out on the shoulders of the Paris Group through the front door. In DRASTIC they insist that the Paris Group is independent of them, although they admit that they share some members. Be that as it may, everyone here works piecework.
“It is too much, the amount of data that we are taking – they confess from the team – so much that not even from DRASTIC we can follow everything. On the classical academic side, perhaps the most successful are the peer-reviewed articles by Siroktin, Monali-Rahul, and Rossana-Yuri. Apart from that, the most relevant finding was to find two works, a TFM and a doctoral thesis, which describe the outbreak of pneumonia in the Mojiang miners in 2012 quite well ”.
In short, I can only take my hat off to these people. Top scientists and journals may continue to block them on their Twitter accounts. But it seems to me that these hounds will continue to share and devour data, unavailable to discouragement. They know no authority other than the facts, their debate, and free examination. In a woolly and cowed world, his example is the triumph of two thousand years of history. They have understood. They have integrated it: The truth will set us free. They say that next week the WHO / China team will publish its final conclusions on the origin of the pandemic. Will they be able to convince them? Will they be able to convince us all? The expectation has me in suspense. Evening falls, the networks are burning and the screens are fuming. There is much to do: Tonight does not sleep.