Finding Accurate Coronavirus Information

Conflicting reports, inaccurate data, partisan media, misinformation campaigns, and more–where do we turn to be informed on the SARS-CoV-2 crisis? Even respected organizations have shaken the public’s confidence.

It’s true that things are constantly changing. Finding information in a time of uncertainty means waiting for the dust to settle. But the dust isn’t settling in some areas, and questions still exist. Many facts should be clear from prior research. Yet 6+ months after COVID-19 was discovered, basics escape us. We don’t even know if six feet is enough for social distancing

To be fair, virology is a new science. The first detailed images of viruses came with the invention of electron microscopes in 1931. But considering microbiology’s importance to the survival of humanity, one would think we’d know more. Instead, a lot of things are mysteries.

Here’s what we know (and don’t know) on masks, ventilators, hydroxychloroquine, and more.

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USA-China Trade Deals, Technology, and Decoupling

On December 13th, 2019, President Trump and China’s Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen confirmed an incoming “phase one” trade deal. Full details weren’t immediately available. The timing of the announcement—after months of negotiations—is interesting. A few days prior, the Financial Times reported “Beijing has ordered all government offices and public institutions to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years, in a potential blow to the likes of HP, Dell and Microsoft.” Recent articles didn’t mention if this was addressed in today’s deal. If it wasn’t, that’s not a surprise.

It also wouldn’t be shocking if either party backed out of the newest trade agreement, since they’ve done that before. Robert Lighthizer even said it’s “wise to be skeptical of whether China would deliver on certain agreements.” If the deal goes through, that might be a big win for Trump. Especially since it comes on the heels of his new USMCA agreement. From PBS: “On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Democrats had reached a compromise with the Trump administration…. Mexico ratified the deal back in June, but the revised agreement will now head back to the country’s legislature for votes. Canada is expected to ratify the deal in parallel with the U.S., but that process may extend into the new year due to American politics.”

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Solving Anthropogenic Climate Change

Climate change is an “unsolvable” issue because of the variables, but let’s take a look. The human element (anthropogenic) is something we can change.

The first obstacle is the politicization of the debate and how and facts don’t always change people’s minds. That’s part of why climate change is still a debate. It’s a spectrum of debaters with extremists on both sides, often shouting uninformed or illogical arguments. Not that my opinion is that of an expert—this blog post is me thinking out loud and consolidating recent reading. I like to work out ideas as I go. This is a complex topic with too many aspects to take into consideration at once.

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Which Media Sources Are Neutral?


This is a bit of a follow-up to my analysis on who owns the media.

I also came across this infographic. While it’s decent, I felt it wasn’t 100 percent accurate. It’s worth mentioning that news sources have nebulous affiliations with partisan bias. Opinion pieces further muddy the waters, as any source can publish articles by liberal or conservative sources. For example, The Washington Post is often considered left-leaning as a whole, but occasionally uses pieces from conservative journalists.

A media organization’s rating (neutral, liberal, conservative, etc.) does not mean everything from that outlet will conform to the rating. Ratings are overall estimations. Sometimes a news site will surprise you. For instance, I’ve seen utter trash published by The New York Times and quality journalistic content published on Breitbart. Most people still agree that the Times is more reputable than Breitbart.

Note that indications of partisan bias don’t necessarily correlate with low quality. Sometimes a highly partisan article can have excellent/useful information. Just keep an eye out.

As always: use your own judgment on a case-by-case basis. Does an article appear to promote only one viewpoint? Does it make claims which require citations? Has it been refuted by Snopes? Is it a satire site like The Onion? Sometimes it’s helpful to check who the writer is.

And never, ever get your news from only one source.

I may create an infographic of my own. But in the meantime, here’s a list format on partisan bias. If you disagree with anything, let me know!

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Does the CIA Believe Russia Influenced U.S. Elections?

tl;dr It’s unclear. Even if they do, it’s not the opinion of every U.S. intelligence agency.

The Washington Post, not necessarily a bastion of quality journalism these days, recently posted an article with an extraordinary claim as a headline: “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House“!

If you read through the article, that’s not quite what happened. The headline is (unsurprisingly) sensationalized.

CIA agents supposedly held a secret meeting with some members of Congress about a secret report on alleged Russian interference with the U.S. election. Agents were said to have potentially “identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others.” Those individuals are not employed by the Russian government and may not have direct ties to the Kremlin. The CIA further claimed “it was now ‘quite clear’ that electing Trump was Russia’s goal,” according to the report. It’s important to note that the Washington Post’s article is not based on statements from the CIA. It’s based on statements from someone (likely a member of Congress) who attended the “secret meeting” or read a Senate-written summary about it. Therefore, this is all second-hand unverified information.

The New York Times ran a similar story, seemingly using another source (of course, also anonymous). The source said “We now have high confidence that [Russia] hacked the DNC and the RNC, and conspicuously released no documents [from the RNC hack].” This seems to be the basis of the “Russia helped Trump” claim. Meanwhile, there is no proof that the RNC was hacked. The RNC denied that their systems were breached, saying the FBI had personally reviewed RNC cybersecurity.

Many of the Wikileaks documents from government officials came from whistleblowers, FOIA requests, and unsophisticated phishing scams. It can also be argued that the contents of those documents and emails were more damaging than the leaks themselves. If so, certain officials would rather point fingers at a nuclear power (without proof) than accept personal responsibility for their own words and actions. Of course, cybersecurity is a serious issue and the source of alleged hacks should be discovered. That investigation is ongoing. But finger-pointing isn’t helping at all.

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, was quoted in the Guardian as saying the CIA claims were “bullshit.” Murray said he knew who gave information to Wikileaks, claiming that it was an ‘insider’ – who wasn’t Russian and wasn’t a hacker. He also said “America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. [The CIA] plainly [has] no knowledge whatsoever.” He believes that if the CIA really found out who performed the hackings, that person (or persons) would already be in an American prison.

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Who’s in Charge of South Korea? “Choi-Gate” Scandal Rocks the Country

An internet conspiracy theory said that South Korean President Park Geun-hye is under the control of a secret society (called the Eight Goddesses or the Fairy Eight). The alleged society was described as a council of eight Korean billionaires who ran the South Korean government from behind the scenes, using President Park as a mouthpiece.

And now, it’s come to light that there’s a potential truth to this.

October 2016’s “Choi-gate” scandal involves President Park and her close associate Choi Soon-sil. Park Geun-hye has been accused of repeatedly leaking official government documents to her long-time friend, who often advised the President on what to do and say. Sensitive government documents were found on a computer owned by Soon-sil, who is not a government employee and doesn’t hold public office. Choi’s influence on Park has been present for decades, leading some to wonder who really has the power of President. Some sources say Choi organized secret meetings to run state affairs, handing out state documents to an unspecified number of people. After weeks of speculation and denial, the President made a public apology where she admitted having a connection to Choi Soon-sil.

It’s also alleged that Choi Soon-sil abused her friendship with the president for personal and financial gain. Some people accused Choi of “strong-arming” companies into giving massive donations to two non-profit organizations – which she has links to. The donations may have been misused. A university official resigned after allegations that Choi Soon-sil pressured them into giving special treatment to her daughter Chung Yoo-ra.

Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s most read national newspaper, responded to the recent scandals by saying “The current government faces de-facto collapse… Park Geun-hye and her party face the worst political crisis ever.”

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Who owns the media?

Who owns the media

I’ve been wondering about possible conflicts of interest within the news media. Over the past year or two, instances of collusion and other suspicious behaviors have caught my eye. So I decided to dig into who owns what. In some cases, the ownership of a company might reflect bias in the news put forth by that company.

In 1983, 90% of US media was controlled by fifty companies; today, 90% is controlled by just seven companies. (Wikipedia)

US distrust in the media remains high, and we may have good reasons for that. 60% of Americans “have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” (Gallup 2012) (Gallup 2015) Confidence in newspapers has continued to drop, now with only 20%  of Americans “who are confident in newspapers as a U.S. institution.”

“Americans’ orientation to news is changing, with a growing emphasis on identifying more closely with a favorite media organization.” (Gallup 2016) People are turning more to social media and specific sources to get news. This could lead to widespread echo chambers, where other opinions are not considered or even tolerated. Getting your news from a variety of sources can be very important.

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The Billionaires For and Against Gawker Media

Shoes of Businessmen

Within the past week or so, it’s been revealed that billionaires are involved with the lawsuit between Gawker and Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea). Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, has been helping fund Hogan’s fight against Gawker.

Background details

In 2013 Gawker published a clip of a 2006 sex tape between Hogan and the wife of Todd “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem, one of Hogan’s close friends. Clem secretly filmed an approved encounter between the two. The act of filming was an alleged violation of Florida law. Gawker says it received a DVD-R of the footage from an “anonymous source” who “wanted no payment.” An unidentified source told one media outlet that a disgruntled ex-employee of Todd Clem sent in the DVD.

After the Gawker article went live, they refused to take it down, despite a request from Hogan’s lawyer. He sued. In March 2016 a Florida jury awarded him $140 million for invasion of privacy. Currently, Gawker is appealing the lawsuit for their own reasons.

In May 2016 it was revealed that Peter Thiel is helping to fund Hogan’s legal defense. Thiel was outed as a gay man by Gawker in 2007; the article author later claimed it was “homophobic” for Thiel to stay in the closet. Thiel was understandably upset and Gawker continued to fire insults at him for it. And now, in 2016, he’s getting revenge on the media company through the Hulk Hogan lawsuit.

There are conflicting opinions. Is this good or bad?

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