Dan O'Heirity

It’s Important to Know How Supposed Facts Might Be Checked

There is a story today in “The Conversation” that looks at key trends in coronavirus misinformation and the key trends in fact checking coronavirus news. Basically, The Conversation took a look at Google’s fact checking tool to track fact-check posts from January to July – with the first checks appearing as early as January 22. The researchers found that the the volume of fact-checks on coronavirus misinformation increased steadily in the early stages of the virus’s spread (January and February) and then increased sharply in March and April as the virus started to spread globally. The researchers then looked at the data in a more nuanced way by breaking the fact checks down by four languages. The same pattern remained with fact checks increasingly steadily early on and then increasing significantly in March and April. Thus the pattern of fact checking has been similar across the globe.

The Conversation report then moves on to take a look at the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project which, in collaboration with Microsoft Research, began cataloguing COVID-19 misinformation. Their approach was to identify news stories that have been fact checked and confirmed as containing “misinformation”. The results are contained in a spreadsheet. Some examples of the misinformation narratives or themes that they found ranged across: the origins of the virus; government or political responses to fighting the virus’s outbreak; and false information about cures for the virus. For example, there is misinformation attributing the outbreak of the virus to someone in China drinking bat soup. Whilst The Conversation article is interesting I’d recommend reading The Guardian article that lists the various forms of misinformation that has been spread since the outbreak. Trump’s advice to drink bleach to combat Covid-19 is an excellent example of disinformation.

I actually had no idea that Google has a fact checking tool that is freely available online. Nor had I heard of the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project which catalogues Covid-19 misinformation. Matters with respect to the Google site seem pretty straightforward but the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project is a little confusing. Here’s why. As reported by The Conversation, the main fact-checking website used by this group for misinformation coming out of China is owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Chinese fact checking website is essentially a site that the CCP uses to try to control the Internet. The public can report false information and the platform itself uses artificial intelligence to report “false” content. So, as far as I can see, the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project is cataloguing stories that the CCP is flagging as containing disinformation. I can make no sense of this fact.

I also learned that there is an “International Fact Checking Network” which basically acts as a home for fact checkers worldwide. The International Fact Checking Network monitors trends and formats in fact-checking worldwide and provides fact checkers with resources ranging across advice for individual fact checkers through to educational courses such as “Leadership in Tough Times”. The Network also provides a set of principles or a code of conduct to which fact checkers should adhere. The common core of these principles has to do with being honest, open, fair and transparent. However, the most exciting aspect of the site is that you can do your own database fact checking search for Covid-19. I used some parameters to check for Covid-19 misinformation in the United States. Here’s a result from, ” Vitamin C can “stop” the new coronavirus”.

It is Not Only Australians Who Have Shown Themselves to Be Completely and Utterly Stupid Under Covid-19

Predictably panic buying in Victoria commenced almost as soon as the Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the state would enter a stage four lockdown. Now it is the turn of New Zealand. There were four new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand – the first new cases in 102 days – and the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that Auckland would go into a stage 3 lockdown for three days. The details of the lockdown along with other measures taken by Jacinda Ardent have been detailed in a resurgence plan. Meanwhile, the most disturbing news with respect to peoples’ stupidity comes from the report that police had to be called to one supermarket after shoppers forced their way past security guards and pushed doors open so that they could stream into the supermarket. In other cases there were huge queues outside supermarkets with one queue apparently stretching for almost a kilometre. Three day lockdown people.

There are many worrisome aspects to panic buying. The first is the rather obvious fact that people are, once again proving themselves to be stupid on multiple levels. First, they could have been buying extra groceries weekly for months now if they were really that concerned about having stocks of food and other essential items. Secondly, there is not going to be a food shortage in New Zealand. The only reason shelves will be empty is that idiots will strip them bare through their panic buying. This will lead to supply chain problems. The deeper worry has to do with how quickly the thin veneer of culture falls away when people feel that they have to fight to get what they want. Imagine what would happen if supermarket supplies actually did run out. Chaos and violence would undoubtedly ensue.

Covid-19 Has Cost the Australian Economy $360 Billion Dollars Which Means $1 Billion for Each of the 361 Deaths

I made the point a while back that the Victorian building industry was losing $250 million dollars per day due to the Covid-19 shutdown. We are seeing, at the most, around 10 deaths a day and so each death is costing the Victorian economy $25 million. Today, Sky News went somewhat further than me by pointing out that Covid-19 has cost us so far, $360 billion, plus, for 361 deaths. That means $1 billion per life. They further add that in a country of 25 million people, 51 are critical with 43 of these critical cases in Victoria and 8 further cases in the rest of Australia. The article finishes by questioning whether Covid-19 is really a pandemic. I can only say that I am fundamentally in agreement with Sky News. However, their point would be even more telling were we able to get the full statistics for the sectors of the population most severely effected by Covid-19.

Figures that I’ve reported from daily news stories point very strongly to the fact that the majority of severe cases along with the majority of deaths are happening amongst those aged 70 or above. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care. It does mean that the management of Covid-19 was potentially a very simple affair. Protect the elderly. However, Victoria continues to go Covid-19 crazy with talk of further lockdown restrictions in regional areas of the state. I will say as I have said many times that only 1% of all Covid-19 cases worldwide are in a serious or critical condition and only a small fraction of those people will die. Meanwhile the Australian economy continues to fall apart. This is surely the very definition of insanity. Well, actually it’s not. Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over whilst expecting different results.

First Published August 12th, 2020

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