Tag Archives: fake news

Don’t rely on sources – follow the evidence

CNN pushes this mantra but many believe they promote fake news

When scientists evaluate published research we are more interested in evidence than in conclusions. In fact, the same evidence may lead scientific readers to different conclusions. That’s not surprising as in the real world no research project is able to consider all the theoretically possible evidence. Readers may, in fact, have other evidence. Or they may detect faults in authors’ interpretations.

I think this is a good thing. Considering the evidence allows competent critiques to be made and encourages knowledge to advance.

However, it annoys me that when we move outside the scientific environment we have to deal with situations where evidence may rarely be considered. People indulge in debating conclusions often with no regard to evidence. In fact, debaters seem to rely more on the real or perceived authority of their sources to support or discredit an argument, than on the evidence.

That’s just lazy. Source authority proves nothing and I would like to think that my discussion partners are capable of coming to a more reasonable position when they are forced to actually consider the evidence.

Both sides are guilty

Unfortunately, both supporters and opponents of a scientific viewpoint or consensus fall into this trap. Take the “fluoridation debate.” It annoys me that some supporters of the scientific viewpoint will respond to an opponent by disparaging their sources. The fact that the opponent is citing the activist Fluoride Action Network, the “Fluoride” journal or one of the shonky pay-to-publish journals where anti-fluoride activists sometimes get published does not, in itself, discredit their argument. On the other hand, if the actual evidence involved in those reports were discussed it might just be possible for the faulty conclusions to be exposed.

On the other hand, how often have I heard opponents of community water fluoridation reject the authority of scientific journals or published research because the workers were paid by the government (we must all get a wage from somewhere) or the journal or conference received industry sponsorship? I am not at all impressed by the refusal to consider the real evidence implied by falling back on disparaging sources.

The other tactic of supporting a claim by pointing to the high authority of the source is also repugnant. Even researchers and journals we generally consider “reputable” can still publish flawed work and even rubbish.

One of the most common arguments used by anti-fluoride campaigners is that the highly respectable, authoritative journal “The Lancent” has “officially” declared fluoride to be a “neurotoxin.” This is wrong on so many counts. The Lancet publishes research papers. It is not in the business of making official declarations on toxic compounds. The paper referred to did not describe fluoride as a “neurotoxin” – that word is inappropriate for describing a chemical of inorganic origin. The work cited in that paper was from areas of endemic fluorosis mainly in China and is not relevant to community water fluoridation. And the paper itself was not justified in making the limited conclusions it did on such poor evidence. I have discussed the paper more fully in Repeating bad science on fluoride.

The odds are, of course, that those activists citing this paper in such a manner have not actually read the paper – a common problem with people who rely on the authority of their sources rather than evidence. In fact, they are probably not at all interested in the details in most cases.

My point is reliance on authority is not a valid supporting argument any more than disparaging a source is a valid opposing argument. We should always follow the evidence – and rely on that evidence for our arguments in such discussions.

The political arena

This problem is even worse in the political sphere where so often we actually do not have evidence to fall back on. In fact, this situation seems to have got a lot worse of late where, for one reason or another, facts and evidence seem to be the last thing in the minds of “reporters” – or at least those who are continually telling us what we should think.

Unfortunately, discussion of political issues often leads people to claim they are using what they think as “reliable sources” or disparaging an opponent’s argument by claiming they are using “unreliable sources.” In fact, people who should know better, seem to often support their claims against any criticism by claiming it came from a “reliable source” or “authoritative source.” And these people who should know better will often resort to “attacking the messenger.” Criticising or rejecting information because it was reported by what they consider an “unreliable source.” The facts or evidence seem to be forgotten.

This can get pretty silly. I once had to confront the argument of a discussion partner who rejected the video recording of a statement made by a spokesperson for the US Department of State because it was part of a piece of RT news coverage! Especially silly as the video recording was probably an official one made by staff of the Department of State.

How often do we see people promoting partisan claims about the political hysteria in the US or the war in Syria by using sources like the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN or Al-Jazeera? Sources they claim are “reliable?” In my article  I described how the New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs carried out “due diligence” on the White Helmets organisation they were planning to give money to by referring simply to a report from Al-Jazeera. No attempt to dig deeper, to evaluate the veracity of the Al-Jazeera reports or to follow-up other sources critical of the White Helmets. Yet Al-Jazeera has a reputation for supporting “rebels”/”terrorists” in Syria. It is shocking that a New Zealand ministry was not prepared to make a more sensible judgment.

On the other hand, how often do we see people disparaging information or claims about the current US political hysteria or the war in Syria which with they disagree because it was reported by Sputnik, RT or one of a host of other “alternative” news sources?

Both sides of a political argument now denigrate the sources used by the other side as promoting “fake news.” And, to an extent, each side is probably right as every news sources these days has its own point of view – its own bias.

Reader beware – use a range of sources

Unfortunately, many readers seem more interested in confirming their own biases than dealing with real facts or evidence. Understandably these people will select the news source that suits them. That’s OK if you simply want to follow the “party line.” But it is lazy because it avoids any intelligent or critical analysis.

It is incumbent on the rest of us who are more interested in real facts and in drawing more credible conclusions to make an effort to consult a range of news sources and to critically analyse the claims, opinions and information we get from them. I believe that in today’s world there is no such thing as an authoritative or reliable source when it comes to political information. All the media – the “established mainstream media” as well as the “alternative media” are equally capable of publishing and promoting fake news.

We need to be aware of this, be prepared to use a variety of sources to avoid the “party line” problem, and critically analyse what we read so we can separate facts from opinions and unsubstantiated claims.

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The “information war” and social media, or how to tell if you are a Kremlin troll

New NATO headquarters cost US$1.23 billion – yet they are worried about that you and I might be Kremlin Trolls because we comment on social media. Image credit: New NATO headquarters could run €1 billion

Well, what do you know? According to NATO, I must be a Kremlin Troll. I fit all four of the criteria they present in this film produced by  Stratcom  – the NATO Strategic Communication center of excellence of excellence.

1: Comments longer than 4 lines. I don’t think any of my comment have been less that 4 lines – verbosity plagues me, and always has.

2: Comments out of context. – I guess some people might say that about my comments. In fact, some people have questioned their relevance at times.

3: Comments openly aggressive and hostile. Must admit I mine are sometimes – but usually only after someone has called me a shill in the pay of Big Pharma or Big Fluoride. Or called me a Kremlin troll!

4: Comments have language errors. That certainly qualifies me. It might be that I am chronologically and/or optically challenged. Or maybe it is my erratic 1 finger typing, the lack of a backlit keyboard and laziness of spell checking. But I certainly qualify with that one.

So, that’s it. I am officially (according to NATO) a Kremlin troll. And it looks like NATO is now threatening to do background research on me (I am sure our SIS can help). Then they will label me. I guess the label is Kremlin troll. As if name-calling was a new phenomenon on social media.And then they will ignore me. If only – experience tells me that Big Brother organisations like this never ignore anyone.

But this is what the world has come to. An international military organisation, incredibly well-financed and armed, is worried about people like you and me who might be commenting on social media!

What the hell is that about? And why have they got their nickers in a twist about social media. It’s almost as if they feel they have lost the ability to control what people think and have set out on a programme of weeding out people who might not accept the official narrative.

Still, perhaps there is hope for me. there is another analysis which I prefer – described by Adam in his article 5 steps to becoming a Putin Agent. Of course, he is being satirical with his title (he says “‘Putin Agent’ sounds a bit better than ‘guy with informed opinions’”) but I do think his list describes me better than the NATO one.

Here is his list (and it is worth reading what he says abotu each point):

  1. Be A Free Global Thinker
  2. Question Authority, Question the ‘Experts’, Question EVERYTHING
  3. Respect Other Nations
  4. Don’t Be A Fanatic
  5. Have A Sense of Humour 

Mind you, I picked up this article on Facebook via RussiaFeed. Whoops, that has  one of NATO’s keywords in its title which identifies it as a “fake news source.” Yes NATO has got into judging news sources and attempting to prevent us reading the “bad” ones as well as judging our social media comments.

This really does underline that NATO has adopted a new weapon in armoury – the “information war.”

Problem is, in this war NATO considers that you and I are the enemy.

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Fake news and the new fact-free reporting paradigm

Is it just me, or were the standards of evidence demanded of politicians better in the “old days?”

Yes, I am showing my age – but we have all heard of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, haven’t we? The world almost went to war. I was a student a the time and we did seriously discuss if there was any point in continuing our exam preparation. I do no recall anyone asking to be excused exams because of the real stress – how things have changed.

Whatever one thought of the USSR or the USA, or of the stationing of missiles in Cuba (a parallel to the stationing of US missiles near Soviet borders) we all knew that missile sites were being established. We knew that because the politicians produced the evidence – photographs from spy planes.

hith-cuban-missile-crisis

Cuban missile crisis – 1962. President Kennedy produced evidence from spy planes of the building of missile facilities in Cuba. He didn’t ask us to take out word for it – to rely simply on assurances. Yet that is what politicians do today.

We weren’t asked to take anyone’s word for that. We weren’t denied the evidence on security grounds and simply ordered to take political assurances.

Yes, how things have changed. We are no longer presented with evidence. We are simply asked to accept the words of politicians, to accept assurances from politicians. People are now even claiming that these assurances are in themselves evidence!Welcome to the worst of the “post-truth” world.

Welcome to the worst of the “post-truth” world.

MH17

Think about it. The US secretary of State assured us that US intelligence agencies had satellite evidence “proving” that the Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down over east Ukraine by rebel militia (or was it by Russians?). But at no time was this evidence presented – all we got were assurances that it existed. This has got as far as the Joint Investigation Team handling possible criminal prosecutions resulting from this tragedy making similar assurances, based on behind the scenes assurances from the US. And still excusing themselves from presenting the actual evidence on “security grounds.”

This seems to political acceptable in the midst of today geopolitical information war – but I certainly hope no one thinks it would stand up in court (see But will it stand up in court?).

Syria

Recently we had the edifying spectacle of the Press spokesman for the US State Department claiming that Russia and Syria deliberately targets and bombs hospitals in east Aleppo – but refusing to provide the names or locations of the hospitals – on security grounds! The media was simply asked to accept political assurances, and to accept the assurances as somehow comprising “evidence.”

The main stream media did accept that – reporters who didn’t are considered a nuisance.

Now our media is telling us that there have been (or is that there will be) massacres of civilians in Aleppo because the “rebels”/”terrorists” have finally been defeated. Women and girls will be raped, men will “disappear,” civilians (women and children) are being shot by soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army. Yes, politicians at the UN may repeat these claims as “unverified reports” (to right they are unverified – they have come from the defeated jihadis themselves). So now our media headlines these reports as real claims being made by the UN.

For example, this headline “Syrian regime killed at least 82 Aleppo civilians in recent days: UN.” It’s from a Saudi news source but we get the same messages here. The only substance (or evidence) in this report is:

“The United Nations human rights office said it had received reports of “pro-regime forces killing at least 82 civilians including 11 women and 13 children in four different neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo.” The spokespeople usually described these reports as unverified

And yet these unverified “reports” get converted into facts for us so that we read

” Syrian pro-regime forces have carried out at least 82 execution-style killings of civilians in recent days, including women and children, the UN said Tuesday, citing credible reports from the ground.”

Or, even worse, ThinkProgress reports this in the words:

“Pro-Syrian government forces moved into east Aleppo and started wiping out the remains of the besieged city’s opposition Monday. The United Nations reported that the Syrian army and allied Iraqi militiamen entered homes and summarily executed 82 civilians, including women and children, in what it labelled a “complete meltdown of humanity.”

All this at a time Syrian and other news media in the region are presenting video evidence of the 100,000 civilians who have been evacuated. And these refugees are reporting how they were badly treated by the jihadis, shot if they attempted to escape, preventing access to food and medicines hoarded by the “rebels”/”terrorists and members of their families often beaten, imprisoned or killed.

Yet our media avoids such evidence, such videos, and gives us, instead, their own assurances that atrocities are occurring  or may be in the future based on “unverified reports” (from the defeated jihadis).

Or you get an incredible situation like this report showing an interview with a well-known jihadist supporter in east Aleppo while videos of citizens fleeing the jihadist-controlled areas, and being helped by Syrian Arab Army soldiers, runs in the background!

Moon of Alabama made these same points, in more detail, yesterday in the article MSM Create #Fakenews Storm as rebel Aleppo Vanishes. It is worth a read.

The US elections

Which brings me to the current fiasco which is the US presidential elections. Apparently, some people are unhappy about the result so they are promoting stories that the election was stolen. And what do you know – the country/person responsible is Russia/Putin.

We (or more correctly the US people) are being assured that there is “convincing” intelligence that the Russians are responsible for the leak of emails which put the democrats in a bad light. Apparently, some people actually believe this (especially if their electoral noses are still out of joint) and the Germans are now deciding to use the same excuse (see Russian hackers ‘threaten Germany 2017 election’, MPs warn).

But all this is just assurances. No physical evidence anywhere near comparable with president Kennedy’s photography of missile bases being prepared in Cuba. No. Just assurances – assurances that intelligence bodies have “convincing” information. (Although, some intelligence bodies find the information far from convincing.)

OK, that seems to be the new paradigm for our news media – accept assurances and don’t worry about the facts – don’t even bother asking for them. Worse, we seem to have a paradigm that treats such assurances as facts!

But it doesn’t stop there – it gets worse. At least as long as the long-suffering US voters are concerned. Those with their electoral noses out of joint are now pinning their hopes on the electoral college – which is the actual body which decides who is to be president. They are arguing that members of the electoral college should throw away their traditional reliance on the actual votes of the people and decide for themselves who should be president. Bugger the voters!

But, wait there is more. Those with the crooked electoral noses are now arguing that the electoral college should be given a special intelligence briefing before making up their minds. The Independent reports (see Electoral college members demand information on Russian relations before voting to make Donald Trump president):”

“Ten members of the electoral college have requested more information from intelligence officials on the relationship between President-elect Donald Trump and Russia. The electoral college addressed an open letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper prior to their 19 December vote that would finalise the election results.”

Apparently, that number has now swelled to more than 50 – see Over 50 Dem electors now demanding intelligence briefing.

I suppose the fact they are asking for a special secret briefing is a huge acknowledgment that the unverified reports from the media about Russian hacking are in themselves of no value. They really aren’t “convincing.”

But just think about it. The US people went to the polls and elected a president. (Yes, I know their electoral system stinks – but that is not the issue in the middle of an election. You use the existing rules). The voters had all the worthless assurances and political stories before they voted. The electoral college also had, has, the same stories, rumours and lies.

Just imagine the stink if the electoral outcome is overturned, that the electors choice is not chosen. All because of a “behind the scenes,” non-public “intelligence briefing.”

Just imagine if the electorate is going to be told that their vote actually counts for nothing – because “we have credible evidence” they were led astray. And the electorate is going to be asked to accept this story without any evidence – just assurances!

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Fake news, human suffering and the fight against terrorism

defeat

Some news sources are reporting the final defeat of ‘rebels”/Terrorists” in east Aleppo. Source: Qassioun News (see  Beleaguered opposition factions in Aleppo decided to get out of the city).

Our news media convinces me more and more each day that we really do live in a “post-truth” world, or at least in parallel universes where “truths” differ widely.

OK, perhaps the problem is this “new” phenomenon of “Fake News.” But that “fake news” is coming from the sources I am told I must trust. And what turns out to be the “unfake” news, or more realistic news, is coming from sources I am told I should not trust – that I should wear blinkers to avoid exposure to!

The liberation of east Aleppo

On the one hand, we have the (apparently) acknowledged fact that the “rebels”/”terrorists” in the major Syrian city of Aleppo are on the run. Neighbourhood after neighbourhood have been liberated in the last week. At the time I am writing this I am seeing reports on social media of the complete liberation of the eastern part of Aleppo which has been held by “rebels”/”terrorists” since 2012.

If we follow the “unapproved,” “non-official” news sources we see videos showing tens of thousands escaping from their hostage situation where they were used as human shields by terrorists. Welcoming and kissing the Syrian soldiers who liberated them – and receiving humanitarian aid – food, medicines, shelter, blankets, from the international Red Cross and Red Crescent, Syrian aid agencies (including Christian ones), the Russian Army and the Russian Emergencies Ministry. Already some liberated neighbourhoods have been demined and former residents are starting to return home.

So – in practice we are seeing a cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, delivery of humanitarian aid, provision of medicines and medical services, and the beginning of the restoration of homes. All achieved by forces “on the ground,” and by negotiation between the various military and political groups. Negotiations between the Russians and the Turks, and between the Syrians and the “rebel”/”terrorist” groups. The UN and its agencies seem to be nowhere in sight around Aleppo. To me that is shocking.

The alternative universe

But the “approved” “official” news sources are still reporting the battle for Aleppo as a great tragedy instead of a great victory. Whose side are they on?  They continue to talk about the suffering of the citizens, the need for a ceasefire and for the delivery of humanitarian aid. They keep finding a “last hospital,” or “last school” claimed to have been bombed by Russian or Syrian forces. They condemn those unsupported events while ignoring or hardly commenting on the missile attacks on schools and hospitals in west Aleppo. They concentrate on  now meaningless UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian aid.

All crocodile tears and political posturing. What use are such resolutions when the forces on the ground are actually achieving cessation of hostilities over and ever larger proportion of the city and that the liberated civilians are (finally) getting humanitarian aid which the “rebels”/”terrorists” in charge had prevented (or hoarded for themselves) in the past?

If those vocal politicians and aid agencies were genuine now is the time for them to get stuck in – on the ground. Aid convoys can get through to the liberated areas and the camps or buildings housing escapees. The people are no longer being held as  human shields. In most areas there are no longer “rebels”/”terrorists” preventing access to humanitarian and medical aid personal and equipment.

Now is not the time for political posturing, childish walkouts and vindictive resolutions of the sort that seem to be common in the UN Security Council. Surely these just expose these countries, or their leaders, as inhumane political hypocrites. Their interests are the ongoing geopolitical struggle and its resulting information war – not suffering innocents.

blinkers

We are encouraged to wear blinkers – refuse to use alternative news sources, restrict our reading to only “approved” or “official” news media which are blatantly disseminating fake news. Image credit: Wearable Wedding Invitations.

And it is these hypocrites who have been pontificating about “false news,” attempting to close down access to alternative news sources or imposing blinkers on the public.

Surely, and hopefully,  the liberation of Aleppo is just another nail in the coffins of these hypocrites.?

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