Dealing with Misinformation about COVID-19

From Wikipedia: This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML

Disease is one of those stresses on our systems that prompts and promotes the spread of misinformation. All of us are hungry for information about how to respond to this disease, but with that desire comes a certain level of credulousness that lets in misinformation.

Check out the latest podcast from the Center for Inquiry to learn how to spot and avoid misinformation about COVID-19 from Benjamin Radford, who “… is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and a Research Fellow with the non-profit educational organization the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He has written thousands of articles on a wide variety of topics, including urban legends, the paranormal, critical thinking, and media literacy.” [1]

While the interview is from earlier in the outbreak (when world-wide deaths were just 2000, whereas they are now over 10,000), the information is nonetheless timely and useful. [2]

Updates

References

[1] “Recognizing Misinformation and Staying Safe from Coronavirus”. Center for Inquiry. Podcast: “Point of Inquiry”. March 11, 2020.

[2] “Coronavirus Myths, Misinformation, and Conspiracies“. Benjamin Radford. Center for Inquiry. February 11, 2020.

[3] “Misinformation Around the Coronavirus“. All Things Considered. 14 March 2020. NPR.

Memes vs. Facts: What the President Said

The reality distortion field is strong with this meme. This circulated hours after the President gave a speech about executive power and how it might be applied to the issue of gun safety laws. What did the President actually say, and does it comport with memes like this?
The reality distortion field is strong with this meme. This circulated hours after the President gave a speech about executive power and how it might be applied to the issue of gun safety laws. What did the President actually say, and does it comport with memes like this?

On January 5 (yesterday), the President spoke to the nation about possible executive actions to address gun sales and safety. Memes began circulating immediately (see right), likely dusted off and reshared from previous second amendment “debates” but recycled for this moment. Do they accurately reflect the content and intent of the speech? Or, are these just ad hominem attacks and red herrings meant to distract the public or reinforce the echo chamber around certain rhetorical claims? The short answer is that they are the latter. But what did the President actually say, and how does this compare to the memes? If memes are an application of the first amendment being used to address issues of the second amendment, let’s see how the two have played together.

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Bad Science Writing: College Paper Edition

A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.
A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.

Writers are born young. Good writers learn their craft through practice, trial, and error. Failure is the best teacher. Given my view of writing, there is much my own University’s weekly campus paper, the SMU Campus Weekly, can learn from this recent article that claims to assess the “Paleo diet.” [ARTICLE] I got so upset about this article and its complete lack of scientific assessment, I actually wrote a letter to the Editor of the paper. This is not the first credulous diet review article in our campus newspaper, but it is the last straw for me – a professor who teaches a class in the scientific method and how to construct a good assessment of a claim. This article represents the worst kind of science writing. Check out the article. Then read my letter below. I marked typos that I wish I’d caught before sending the letter with “[sic].”

UPDATE: I updated this after receiving a response from the Editor. I summarize her response, print my own email reply to her, and then document an assessment of the claimed “experts” used in the article.

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Science and its Opposite: Social Media Story About Walnuts Labeled as Drugs by the FDA

A web article makes the claim that the FDA labeled Diamond Foods' walnuts as "drugs". But is that what really happened? Photo from Ref. 5.
A web article makes the claim that the FDA labeled Diamond Foods’ walnuts as “drugs”. But is that what really happened? Photo from Ref. 5.

A social media story crossed my feeds today, and in the spirit of spending a small fraction of my online time addressing issues of science and its opposite, pseudoscience, I thought I’d dissect the claims in the story and look at the evidence behind its claims. Someone on Facebook shared an Oct. 14, 2014 story from “GetHolisiticHealth.com” entitled “FDA Says Walnuts Are Illegal Drugs” [1]. Normally, stories like this are the “corpses floating face-down in the river” of the internet – best to avoid them. But I decided to check it out and see if there was anything to be assessed from this story, so I flipped the corpse over to have a look. Here is what I learned.

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