Named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2023
A ‘remarkable book.’ – The New York Times
This fearless, deeply reported book about laboratory accidents asks the haunting question some elite scientists don’t want the public to entertain: Did the COVID-19 pandemic start with a lab leak in Wuhan, China?
This is an obvious question. Yet there’s been an extraordinary effort by government officials in China, as well as leading scientific experts in the United States and around the world, to shut down any investigation or discussion of the lab leak theory. In private, however, some of the world’s elite scientists have seen a lab accident as a very real and horrifying possibility. They know what the public doesn’t. Lab accidents happen with shocking frequency. Even at the world’s best-run labs.
That’s among the revelations from Alison Young, the award-winning investigative reporter who has spent nearly 15 years uncovering shocking safety breaches at prestigious U.S. laboratories for USA Today and other respected news outlets.
In Pandora’s Gamble, Young goes deep into the troubling history -- and enormous risks -- of leaks and accidents at scientific labs. She takes readers on a riveting journey around the world to some of the worst lab mishaps in history, including the largely unknown stories of the lab workers at the U.S. Army’s Camp Detrick who suffered devastating infections at alarming rates during World War II. And her groundbreaking reporting exposes for the first time disturbing new details about recent accidents at prestigious laboratories – and the alarming gaps in government oversight that put all of us at risk.
Sourced through meticulous reporting and exclusive interviews with key players including Dr. Anthony Fauci, former CDC Director Tom Frieden and others, Young’s examination reveals that the only thing rare about lab accidents is the public rarely finds out about them. Because when accidents happen, powerful people and institutions often work hard to keep the information secret.
Alison Young is a veteran journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for national and regional news organizations, including USA Today, the Detroit Free Press and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While in Atlanta, Young covered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her work has revealed safety lapses at biological research labs, food manufacturers and nursing homes; hazards in municipal water systems and near forgotten lead factories; and the role of substandard hospital care in maternal deaths.
Young’s investigative reporting on science and health issues has received dozens of journalism awards, including three National Press Club Awards, three Scripps Howard Awards, three Gerald Loeb Awards, the Hillman Prize, a Sigma Delta Chi Award, and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award. Her work has also been honored by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Young is a past president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, an international journalism training organization. In 2019, she joined the faculty of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where she helps train the next generation of journalists in the school’s Washington, D.C. program.
"She renders scientific issues in lucid, accessible prose that vividly conveys the insidious nature of potentially lethal microbes...A hard-hitting and timely report on a pervasive threat."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Before the rest of us were paying attention, Alison Young was covering the dangers of safety lapses at the world’s top laboratories. She opens her meticulously reported, deeply alarming book by exploring the 'horrifying possibility' that Covid-19 was the result of just such a breach in China. Essential reading for policymakers – and the public."—Susan Page, Washington Bureau chief, USA TODAY, and author of Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power
"Pandora’s Gamble is a triumph of tenacity. Alison Young honed in on America’s poorly monitored labs before other reporters and used Freedom of Information to pry loose the government’s secrets. No other reporter has shown the discipline and patience to document this outrage."—Marilyn W. Thompson, author of The Killer Strain: Anthrax and a Government Exposed
"Rigorously reported and surgically presented, Pandora’s Gamble cuts through the partisan noise that obscured the answer to the greatest question of the century. Employing all the tools of true investigative reporting, Young presents the terrifying history of lab leaks and the people and institutions determined to keep them secret. Her decades of digging into the cultural, scientific, and political machinations few of us understood before 2020 now serves to remind us that ideological credulity and willful ignorance are not the domain of any one political party, but a bug of humanity itself. As COVID taught us time and again, human error poses a threat as great any nature may have lying in wait."—J. David McSwane, author of Pandemic Inc.: Chasing the Capitalists and Thieves Who Got Rich While We Got Sick
"In her new book, Pandora’s Gamble, Young lays out the shocking extent of lax laboratory standards and procedures, and lack of accountability and transparency, in the United States and around the world….Young’s book raises a much-needed alarm about the dangers of ignoring the need to do things right. The stakes are too high."—Zeynep Tufekci, The New York Times