Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain
the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in
Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles
Shortly after the World Health Organization visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology on 3 February, a reporter from an international newspaper asked me whether China’s censorship would present an ‘insurmountable’ barrier to reaching an impartial conclusion on COVID-19’s origins. At the same time, my phone displayed headlines from a nationalist Chinese newspaper proclaiming that the mainstream media’s ‘smearing’ of the investigation was rooted in denial of the ‘truth’. They came from a portal managed by China’s scientific societies.