Friday, September 03, 2021

Lies, Damned Lies And Evaluating Sources

      A pernicious meme presently circulating claims that though the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has received full FDA approval (and its very own name, Comirnaty), people are still getting only the EUA version, "because only it is shielded from legal liability."

     This is, in a word, untrue.  The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act gives the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services the power to shield any "countermeasures to diseases..." from liability.  It was first used, according to their own website, back in 2016.  In the case of the novel coronavirus, that protection from liability is extremely broad: "any antiviral, any other drug, any biologic, any diagnostic, any other device, or any vaccine, used to treat, diagnose, cure, prevent, or mitigate COVID-19, or the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 or a virus mutating therefrom, or any device used in the administration of any such product, and all components and constituent materials of any such product."  That covers every vaccine and anything else doctors might try.*  Even the ones with FDA approval.

     One of the more reputable checking outfits dug into this and they have a complete article, beginning with the origin of the misinformation and replete with links back to original, authoritative sources.  Yes, I'm sure it's "tl;dr" for a lot of people, but if you want the facts, you're going to have to do a little reading.  An image or two with with some pithy lines over it in the "Impact" font is fine for a snicker but reality requires greater detail.

*  *  *

     A word about sources and news sites (and "news") sites: on a popular social media site, a fellow posted a link to a story at a highly partisan site and asked me what I thought about it.  The story was well askew from what I knew to be true; I judged it to be arrant bullshit from the headline and first paragraph and said so.

     He thought that was wrong of me.  "It can be easily disproved at the FDA website.  I thought you'd look it up and take it apart.  I used to think highly of you."

     You can imagine just how crushed I was at this news.

     These are busy times for pernicious rumor and inflammatory fantasy.  The present day is rife with quackery and political opportunism.  As a result, I don't trust any website or TV channel purporting to give me the news -- but I trust some far less than others.

     I have linked to the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart many times.  It usually gets comments, about how some network or newspaper is actually farther Left than the chart shows, or more reliable or whatever.  But I'm not nearly as interested in the absolute position of any entity on the chart as I am in their relative positions.  The vertical axis is reliability; the horizontal axis is political alignment.  From the first, the chart has formed a rough inverted V: the more partisan a source is, the less reliable it becomes.

     That's no more than human nature.  If you believe strongly in some political viewpoint, you're going to look for items that support it and pay less attention to things that refute it.  But at news and commentary websites, it can spin very far.  And it affects how I evaluate what I see online.

     If a relatively unbiased source tells me something, it's worth looking into to see if it's true.  That holds especially true if it is unexpected or unusual -- but even more so if it fits in too neatly with what I already think I know.

     If a biased source tells me something unexpected or unusual, it's almost certainly a waste of time to chase after.  If they tell me something that runs counter to my understanding of events I have been following, I will often dismiss it out of hand. (If an unusual thing is genuine, it will rapidly climb up the slope of truthworthy news sites: they are all ravenous for content.)  If "American Thinker" or "Occupy Democrats" claim water is wet or the sun rises in the east, it's worth checking -- because if they agree with an obvious, well-accepted idea enough to feature it, some source with less bias may have found evidence that it isn't so.

     This is not an especially comfortable or comforting way to approach news, analysis, commentary and opinion.  There are few things more pleasant than reading and nodding along to a well-written article that agrees with one's own pet notions and worldview.  Unfortunately, there are also few things less productive, or more likely to be the first step down a garden path of links into one's own algorithmically-tailored "reality."

     Check what you read.  Look for links to informative background.  Mind which sources you take seriously.  You don't need to shovel an entire pile of manure to know that it stinks -- but you do have to do a little digging from time to time.
* If you have been eating horse paste or sheep wormer or whatever and your doctor told you to do so, you're not going to be able to sue him or the County Co-Op where you bought it.  If you did so on your own accord, while it's not under the PREP umbrella, the fine print on the container still probably says something about "not for human use."


Glenn Kelley said...

Some one has a very high opinion of his own opinion.

Pigpen51 said...

One thing that I often see is that someone will say that they remember when Walter Cronkite used to just sit there and read the news, without putting any spin on it, without interjecting his own opinion on the news, just reading the straight out news, letting the people decide for themselves what it means.
I am old enough to remember that it was not just the news that he read, but the news stories that he chose to read, and those he chose to not cover, that affected the way that the nation leaned. By the way he covered the Vietnam war, for instance the way he covered the Tet offensive, a major win for the U.S. forces, he made it appear as if the Viet Cong and the NVA had actually won that major battle, turning the American civilian population more against the war, and eventually forcing the leadership to abandon Vietnam.
It is much the same today, that the media can steer the public, by the stories that they choose to cover or not cover, as much as how they cover them.
And it is always necessary to find primary sources as much as possible, in order to avoid opinions when trying to find the truth about any facts about a topic, be it Covid 19, or the withdrawl from Afghanistan. Sometimes it is impossible to do, and so you have to wait until more information comes to light, before you can make an informed decision about some topics.