Question 4 of 14 in U.S.-China
Started Jun 14, 2021 11:00AM UTC   •   Closing Oct 01, 2021 05:59PM UTC

[Experimental] Did COVID-19 originate in a lab in Wuhan, China?


Note on this question. This question is part of a pair of experimental questions. This question will not be scored. Its purpose is to elicit forecasters' genuine beliefs. The sister question will be scored. Its purpose is to elicit forecasts about the crowd consensus for this question on October 1, 2021.

We recognize that the pair of questions can be gamed by providing disingenuous forecasts on this question to improve your score on the sister question. We kindly ask that forecasters not do that. 

Related questions. Related questions are on Metaculus and Hypermind.

Context. The leading hypotheses for the origin of COVID-19 are (i) animal-to-human transmission, and (ii) a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology ("lab-leak theory"). Two Chinese researchers stated in a paper in February 2020 that the virus likely originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. The lab-leak theory also had champions within conservative circles in the United States. The World Health Organization dismissed the lab-leak theory, however, and -- as reported by the New York Times -- the apparent politicization of the theory in the U.S. created a "fake bubble of consensus" among scientists and the media against the theory (quoting Matthew Yglesias).

The lab-leak theory is now receiving renewed attention. On May 14, 2021,18 scientists stated in a letter to the Journal of Science that the lab-leak theory is "viable." Other scientists have recently come out as less dismissive of the lab-leak theory. And on May 27, President Biden asked the U.S. intelligence community to investigate the lab-leak theory and report back to him in 90 days. (See also Washington Post timeline on how the lab-leak theory became credible.)

Resolution details. As noted above, this question will not resolve. Its purpose is to serve as a ground truth for its sister question. 

Why are we asking these questions? If we will never know the ground truth for a question, we cannot score it in the conventional manner. Many questions of this form are of great interest, however. A new method for scoring unresolvable questions -- called "reciprocal scoring" -- treats the crowd consensus as the ground truth and scores forecasters based on how close their forecasts are to the crowd consensus. See Karger, Monrad, Mellers, Tetlock, "Accelerating the Evaluation of Policy Options in Crises: The COVID-19 Pandemic" [Forthcoming]. For a similar method, see Hypermind's Drip Rewards.

For this pair of questions, we're treating the crowd consensus on October 1, 2021 as the ground truth. The sister question is effectively asking two questions: (i) what new information about the origins of COVID-19 do you expect to be available by October 1, 2021, and (ii) what impact do you expect it will have on the consensus view of the crowd.


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Name Probability
Yes 39%

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