News reports of the murder of a Chinese researcher studying COVID-19 at the University of Pittsburgh in early May have prompted a conspiracy theory claiming he was about to reveal important findings, possibly about the origin of the coronavirus.
On social media, the death of 37-year-old scientist Bing Liu was widely discussed in the Chinese language. On Weibo, for example, news about Liu has been viewed 160 million times with 12,000 comments in total.
Local police’s investigation determined the gunman, Hao Gu, took his own life after killing Liu, as a result of “a lengthy dispute regarding an intimate partner.”
However, despite numerous media reports including ones in Chinese (also here) explaining there is no evidence to indicate the murder-suicide has anything to do with Liu’s coronavirus research, this claim was still being discussed as of May 25, as seen on Chinese websites (also here).
Such posts often misleadingly quote the public statement made by the University of Pittsburgh that reads, “Bing was on the verge of making very significant findings” about COVID-19, without citing the classification that his research was about “understanding the cellular mechanisms that underlie SARS-CoV-2 infection and the cellular basis of the following complications,” and not the origin of the coronavirus.