A CNN review of Yan’s research found it was also built on what appears to be the same theories, similar passages and identical charts presented by an anonymous blogger whose writings were posted on a website linked to Bannon months earlier. Additionally, a source told CNN the three co-authors of Yan’s paper used pseudonyms instead of their real names, a practice frowned upon in scientific and academic work.
“You’d think that our media would want to get to the bottom of this pandemic,” Carlson said on his October 6 show, “but instead they ignored her claims.”
Both of Yan’s controversial papers link to Bannon.
This month, while praising Yan’s work on Bannon’s podcast, Bannon and Guo went as far as to suggest that China deliberately infected President Trump with the coronavirus.
That podcast — called “War Room: Pandemic” — was recorded the day after Trump was hospitalized for Covid-19.
Bannon credited Guo for saying from the beginning that the virus not only purposefully emerged from the labs, but that “a target is Donald J. Trump.”
Bannon asked Guo: “Do you believe that a super-spreader or somebody, was actually sent and somehow has been focused on the White House or focused on President –”
“100 percent,” Guo said.
Carlson included a disclaimer in a later interview with Yan on October 6, saying, “we are not endorsing your findings.” But a Fox News spokesperson declined to address CNN’s question of why Carlson hasn’t disclosed Bannon’s involvement with Yan’s paper when discussing her research on several shows.
Bannon did not respond to CNN’s request for comment; Yan declined a request to be interviewed and did not answer repeated requests for responses to specific questions.
Flawed citations, copied passages, mysterious co-authors
It was precisely the megaphone provided by Carlson and Bannon online and on TV that prompted the researchers at Johns Hopkins to issue a rebuttal, according to two of the Johns Hopkins authors, who spoke with CNN.
“It was clear on social media that the paper was getting more and more attention,” said Nancy D. Connell, a microbial geneticist and a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins. “We talked carefully and thought for a long time whether to do it.”
“On the one hand we don’t want to give credence to just so much garbage,” added Gigi Kwik Gronvall, an immunologist who is also a senior scholar at the institution. “On the other hand, because it’s getting taken seriously, it’s important to point out that this is not science … It’s infuriating, because everybody has better things to do.”
The Johns Hopkins response to Yan’s paper takes issue with the science, launching into a point-by-point rebuttal. It also includes a section pointing out “weaknesses or flaws” in the paper’s citations.
What’s more, Yan’s three co-authors in both papers — Shu Kang, Jie Guan and Shanchang Hu — are pseudonyms, a source told CNN. It’s a practice that is highly unusual in such research and generally discouraged due to the resulting lack of accountability and transparency, experts told CNN. The source didn’t know why the use of pseudonyms wasn’t disclosed in the papers.
“They are all Chinese but based here in the US,” the source said. “They did not want their real names out there for fear of their families back in China.”
Dr. Daniel Lucey, an infectious-disease epidemics expert at Georgetown University, said he can’t think of another case of authors using pseudonyms in a scientific paper.
“If you used a fake name, then it would start calling into question, under normal circumstances — if they weren’t honest about their name, then what else are they not honest about?” he said.
But Lucey said the authors’ concerns in this case might have merit.
“I would also think that the four coauthors would be worried about themselves in terms of ever going back to the mainland or Hong Kong,” he said. “It’s a real thing.”
As part of its review, CNN spoke with a half-dozen experts from multiple institutions, and all of them found Yan’s methodology to be flawed. They described her report as “junk science,” “leaps of logic” and “window dressing.”
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, said she believes Yan’s report set out to deceive for the purpose of spreading “political propaganda.”
“This paper is very deceptive to somebody without a scientific background, because it’s written in very technical language, using a lot of jargon that makes it sound as though it is a legitimate scientific paper,” she told CNN. “But anybody with an actual background in virology or molecular biology who reads this paper will realize that much of it is actually nonsense.”
Anna Mapp, an associate dean and research professor at the University of Michigan, agreed. “I was really disturbed to see such a shoddy piece of work that I would not accept if turned in to me by one of my own students receiving such attention and being treated as a valid scientific paper,” she told CNN. (It was Mapp’s graduate student, Amanda Peiffer — who’s working toward a PhD in chemical biology — who first alerted CNN to issues with the citations at the end of Yan’s paper.)
Lucey of Georgetown told CNN that he met with Yan in person to discuss her paper on September 6 — eight days before it was published.
His criticism was more muted than that of the other scientists who spoke with CNN; Lucey said he found some of what Yan had to say noteworthy. Ultimately, though, he said he disagrees with Yan’s conclusion and told her he couldn’t vouch for her science because he’s not a molecular virologist.
Lucey said at one point, after much back and forth, he asked Yan a big-picture question: Why would China release a government-engineered virus in Wuhan? Lucey said Yan couldn’t provide an answer that he considered plausible.
Lucey said he believes the virus originated in nature. But he disagrees with the much-publicized theory that it jumped from an animal to a human at a seafood market in December.
“Based on what I know about how epidemics have started, I think that it was at least several months earlier,” he said. “It could have been out there for more than a year (before December). It’s possible.”
Neither of Yan’s papers are peer-reviewed, which by itself is not a disqualifier. Researchers often publish early drafts of their work on what are known as scientific preprint servers to quickly share findings that could benefit the public — a practice that has accelerated in the urgent age of the coronavirus.
Yan says she’s in hiding
“Dr. Yan’s history and training is excellent,” Rasmussen said. “I’d really like to hear from her why she decided to do this, because effectively, it has ruined her credibility as a virologist and it would be a career ending mistake to make.”
“The reason I came to the US is because I deliver the message of the truth of COVID,” Yan, saying she feared for her life, told the network from an undisclosed location in the US.
The Chinese government, WHO and the University of Hong Kong have vehemently denied her July accusation of a coverup.
It’s unclear where Yan is staying in the US — and the extent to which she knows Bannon and Guo.
Although Bannon and Guo’s Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation are listed under the titles of Yan’s reports, neither paper mentions Bannon or Guo, or elaborates on the role the organizations have played in their creation.
Guo responded to CNN’s questions about the link with a statement that said Yan’s publications were researched and written independently.
“I have repeatedly stated since as early as January of this year that the COVID-19 pandemic was created by the Chinese Communist Party with the worst of intentions. I stand by these statements,” Guo said. “I proudly support Dr. Yan in her efforts to stand up against the CCP mafia and tell the world the truth about COVID-19. Dr. Yan is a hero for her whistleblowing against the CCP and should be commended for her work and personal sacrifice.”
Bannon has played up the nonprofits’ early and persistent promotion of the lab-origin story.
“I want to thank Miles Guo because it was Miles Guo and the whistleblower movement, Miles Guo and the Rule of Law Society, the Rule of Law Foundation, that back in early January really got us to start to focus on this,” Bannon said on his podcast on October 3.
The two also discussed Yan in that episode, with Guo suggesting she could help prove that the virus was made in a lab. But they made no mention of their connection to her report.
Yan herself has appeared several times on Bannon’s podcast. In August, she said the communist regime does “evil things” and discussed its history of persecuting its own people.
The Rule of Law Foundation and Rule of Law Society responded to questions from CNN with two identical statements, signed by their respective board chairs, Hao Haidong and Wang DingGang.
Each statement expresses support for Dr. Yan “and any other Chinese asylee who seeks to tell the world the truth about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) corruption, atrocious human rights record, and its role in the spread of COVID-19.
“Dr. Yan has independently researched COVID-19 and we respect her findings and desire to speak the truth about COVID-19 to the public,” the statement says.
“Our support of Dr. Yan has never included influencing, altering, or editing her scientific research and findings.”
The statement said her reference to the organizations in the report “was solely done as an appreciation of our support in helping her flee Hong Kong and avoid arrest for her COVID-19 whistleblowing.”
Rasmussen of Columbia University says the possibility of an accidental lab release or even of an engineered virus can’t be ruled out, but said either scenario is extremely unlikely — and Yan’s reports provide no credible evidence.
The “extraordinary claim,” she said, shouldn’t be made without “extraordinary evidence.”
“As much as I hate to think of the idea of competent scientists using their work for political propaganda, to me, that’s what this seems to be,” she said. “And certainly the affiliation with Steve Bannon and Miles Guo and the Society for the Rule of Law does nothing to dispel that suspicion.”
CNN’s Yahya Abou-Ghazala and Benjamin Naughton contributed to this report.