by Eve Lees
Avoid misinformation: Check it first
Also published in the White Rock Sun, September 2020.
Whether or not it’s about COVID-19, we are regularly inundated with misinformation (not always created with intent to mislead or harm) and disinformation (deliberately created with intent to mislead or harm).
Mis/disinformation circulates because many of us do not question it. We may believe what we see or hear for various reasons: our beliefs/opinions, our life experiences, and our trust in the source. So we tend to pass it along freely, before checking its credibility (see Fact-checking sources later in this article).
We also need to practise critical thinking. We've become too dependent on others doing our thinking for us. That's why "opinion" journalists like those on the cable news channels have become so popular. And that's understandable. We are busy. Asking questions takes time. Research takes time. So, if news or information makes sense to us (and is in line with our beliefs), we'll buy it. But we need to start thinking critically. Critical thinking is having a healthy skepticisim of any information – even if it seems to come from a credible source – and then carefully consider the available evidence. Face it, few of us do this. But we must do it, because the information could harm us . . .
During this pandemic, several "cures" are being promoted. Some are harmless, but many of them are potentially harmful. The plant oleander is one of the latest treatments marketed for COVID-19. It’s being endorsed by Donald Trump and his good friend, Mike Lindell the “My Pillow” creator. However, it’s wise to do your research to learn the pros and the cons before you make a decision, especially regarding your health. Here's an opinion from McGill University about this latest 'treatment' . . .
"There are many cases of animals and people having been poisoned by oleander, sometimes on purpose,” says Joe Schwarcz, at McGill Office for Science and Society. “In Sri Lanka, unfortunately, the plant has become a common means for suicide, prompting the government to take steps to eradicate it and prohibit its cultivation as an ornamental plant. At this point, it is totally irresponsible to recommend any oleander product as having efficacy against COVID-19.” Read the entire article on the McGill University website.
Misinformation spreads because we don't question it. Be a critical thinker: Start asking questions.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a social media campaign to "film your hospital parking lot." It was an effort to prove the pandemic is a hoax. Hospital parking lots were reported to be "empty" and so were hospital waiting rooms, ergo, this proves there's no pandemic. But all elective surgeries were cancelled at that time, so surgery patients wouldn't be parking in the parking lot. Neither would their visitors. And neither would any visitors for those who are quarantined, because, well, quarantined patients can't have visitors. Therefore the quarantined patients (and their non-existent visitors) wouldn't be waiting around in waiting rooms, or wandering the hospital corridors. Wouldn't this all contribute to fewer people in the hospital hallways and waiting rooms, not to mention, fewer cars in the hospital's parking lot?
By the way, here's more updated information about that "film your hospital" campaign.
And then there is the film Plandemic, an interview with virologist Dr. Judy Mikovits. The film effectively stimulates our emotions, while it attempts to convince us the pandemic is a hoax. It accuses several public figures as being instigators or, at the very least, profiting from the COVID-19 chaos. If you saw the film before it was removed from YouTube, you should follow up with further research into the claims the film is making. To seek the truth about any issue, it's always wise to consider there's usually two sides to every story. And it's only fair to give those being vilified the 'benefit of the doubt' (also a requirement for critical thinking). Think of it this way: What if someone falsely attacked your character on Twitter or Facebook? Do you think you could be successful clearing your name? It would be a daunting task as news spreads and distorts quickly on social media. So be open-minded regarding those being vilified. They could be innocent. You'd appreciate someone giving you the benefit of the doubt.
At the end of the film Plandemic, there is a clip of Dr. Anthony Fauci warning us a pandemic is inevitable in the coming years. The clip suggests "proof" that Fauci caused this pandemic: Yet experts have been warning us about viral pandemics for some time. Common sense tells us it was inevitable. Incidentally, using Fauci's quote in this way is a perfect example of how anything can be taken out of context to support an opinion.
Google "fact-check Plandemic" for other perspectives on this film. Try to remain nonjudgmental and unemotional (remember, emotions tend to cloud rational thinking): Keep an open mind as you do your research, even if the opinions you find don't agree with your own. If you do an internet surf for fact-checking that's been done on the film, you'll get plenty of hits – or here is a YouTube video (a transcript is also included) where a doctor breaks down and discusses the many claims made in the film: https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/86487
Simple 'tells' that
may show bias . . .
A biased news source may not be a credible one.
There are several ways to spot a biased source or comment on social media or the news media (television, radio, newspapers, etc.). Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind . . .
1) Be cautious if the information is an opinion with few, if any, facts being provided. Even worse, it may not be clearly stated that it is just an opinion. This can make us think it is a factual report. But a strong belief doesn’t mean it’s fact. A credible source should not be influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing the facts.
2) The source should not use “loaded” or emotional words in an attempt to make you agree with them (for example: “These horrifying, overwhelming statistics show . . .” instead of just, “Statistics show . . .”). News should ideally be reported in an unbiased way, providing you with just the facts to help you make a decision. Coercing you is not ethical. Being highly emotional is also a tactic used to persuade others, so be wary of those who are visibly emotional to the point of shouting (or crying). Insulting or belittling others is also a show of emotions. And in any case, disagreeing with another person’s opinion or belief is no reason to bully or insult them. Along with the fact that it is difficult to think rationally when we are emotional, a highly emotional source can have questionable credibility.
3) Be cautious if the source sells or promotes a product related to the information they provide. Often, it’s best not to trust the salesman. It’s possible the information is false or misleading to help sell their product. In addition, if the topic is controversial and highly debated, the least trustworthy sources will fail to mention possible harms or side effects of a product, diet or therapy. Most interventions (supplements, herbs, treatments, etc.) will have a trade-off, even if it’s just a minor side-effect. If it isn’t being revealed or discussed you are not being told the whole story. And always remember to trust your instincts: If it sounds too good to be true, well . . . it’s usually not true.
4) Be suspicious if the source is stubbornly adamant they are right and everyone else is wrong. A science or evidence-based source will admit they could be wrong. And you want your source to be pro-science or evidence-based (as opposed to belief-based conspiracy theories or pseudo-science). Because science is all about continually learning, researching and making changes if necessary – which means the source expects and welcomes change and is therefore prepared to admit when they are wrong. This indicates an unbiased mind and that is a strong assurance the information is credible.
5) Your source should be knowledgeable and credible on the topic. Google their biography and make sure their resume includes training and experience in that particular field. Don’t be impressed if all they’ve done is published a book or appeared on television – these are not assurances of knowledge and credibility. Ideally, the most credible sources are those with no vested interest in what they are reporting (no personal, financial or political gain). Emily Willingham, PhD, a science journalist and developmental biologist offers a public post on Facebook about how to be sure your "expert source" actually has expertise in a particular field or area: https://www.facebook.com/ejwillingham/posts/10222572120476240 For example, in her Facebook post, Willingham explains having a PhD in biology doesn't necessarily indicate an expert in all of biology. Biology is a huge field: No one human can know it all. But sadly, some with degrees may use their credentials unethically and inaccurately to promote their beliefs/opinions. Willingham also reminds us, "No one—no single person—is going to have a sudden insight or make some clever connection no one else has considered or uncover some vast deep conspiracy that has eluded the other 7.7 billion people on Earth.”
Fact-checking sources . . .
The best way to ensure your news (and news source) is credible is to fact-check it. Simply type into your search engine the name or the topic. Perhaps include “fact check” after it. You can also do a search within any of the independent, unbiased fact-checking services who follow the strict standards and guidelines of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). There are many of them, but here are a few to get you started: healthfeedback.org, Snopes.com, That’s Nonsense, FactCheck.org, Truth or Fiction, Lead Stories-Hoax Alert, Politifact, Rollcall.com, skepdic.com, and apnews.com (Associated Press). All these are free services. However, there are some fact-checking sources that may require a fee.
Google offers a free service called “Reverse Image Search” (labnol.org/reverse/) allowing you to verify photographs by finding where they first appeared on the web. For example, not long ago, four photographs of injured police officers circulated on social media, with the claim they were attacked by Democrats and Black Lives Matters protestors during riots in Portland and Seattle. Not so. A reverse search found the photos were actually published on the web several years ago, during various riots in Australia.
Another free, unbiased fact-checking source you should bookmark is “Media Bias Fact Check (MBFC).” This site offers fact checks on current topics, but it also offers a rating of publications, organizations, or websites of how factual their reports are and even which way a news source leans politically. Enjoy the site. Play around with it. In the menu at the top, you can click on ‘least biased’ or ‘left’ or ‘right’ sources – or even pro-science, conspiracy-pseudoscience, and questionable sources. If you want to know the rating of your favourite news source, just search for its name. Let’s hope your favourite news source provides facts and not opinions. We need to learn both sides of every issue in an unbiased way.
Be careful also with websites. Anyone with computer skills can create a professional-looking, impressive website that may fool you. For example, there are health, political or even “newspaper” websites that are actually just personal opinion sites. They are not official sites of an organization, political party, or a legitimate news service. Click on the website’s “about” menu to help you determine if they are legit (or check it on the Media Bias Fact Check (MFBC) site). And if there is no “about” page on the website, take that as a red flag. The site is probably not a good source.
Unfortunately, it’s come to the point where we can’t trust much of what we see and hear – particularly on social media. Take the time to double-check information before you believe it and forward it to others. Maintain an open mind: Put aside your beliefs and emotions as you do your research. It’s the only way we’ll weed out (and hopefully delete) the mis/disinformation.
Eve Lees, a former newspaper reporter and editor, has also been active in the health & fitness industry since 1979. Currently, she is a Freelance Health Writer for several publications and speaks to business and private groups on various health topics. www.artnews-healthnews.com