In 2022, a study by 17 authors led by Canadian scientist Michael Worobey came up with a clear answer as to where the coronavirus first emerged.

It suggested that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the Chinese city of Wuhan was the only possible place of origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a careful analysis of the statistical evidence given in this scientific publication has now revealed that the statistical part of the Worobey study is flawed.


Source: / China News Service

Overlooking the main entrance of Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

Dietrich Stoyan from TU Bergakademie Freiberg and his Chinese colleague Sung Nok Chiu from Hong Kong Baptist University analysed the work of Worobey et al with regard to the statistical method used. Their judgement is clear: The statistics do not prove that the market in Wuhan was the early epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the experts in spatial statistics, the main statistical test used is unsuitable to prove the hypothesis, and there are other flaws in the statistical reasoning presented by the Worobey-study.

Geostatistical data

Stoyan and Chiu used the same geostatistical data as Worobey et al. These are the residential addresses of the first 155 coronavirus cases. These addresses were entered as points on a map.

In the Science article, this dot pattern is compared with dot patterns generated by simulation and significant differences are found. However, since these artificial dot patterns are incorrectly chosen, the test used must always reject the hypothesis that a location other than the market is the epicentre of the pandemic. In other words: Worobey et al have excluded locations other than the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market from the outset.

However, other locations in the vicinity of the market could also be possible candidates: a large railway station and a huge shopping complex with hotels and restaurants. “The statistics in Worobey’s study have not proven where the epicentre of the global coronavirus pandemic was located. Research on this question is still in its infancy,” Stoyan explains.

Dietrich Stoyan; Sung Nok Chiu (2024). ’Statistics did not prove that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was the early epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.’ Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A: Statistics in Society, qnad139,