News and Tribune

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October 25, 2013

NASH: Trust but verify

— There is a saying that pops on social media every now and then that says “The problem with quotes on the Internet, is it is hard to verify their authenticity.”

The quote is then attributed to Abraham Lincoln. I am fairly confident he never said those words, but I am convinced that some of the information that you can dig up using search engines is enough to make your head spin. You can find any facts to back up your theory if you dig hard enough.

Much of the misinformation has been targeted at President Obama. Over the last few weeks, some very reputable news organizations reported that Obama had proclaimed that November 2013 would be “Muslim Appreciation Month — a time to celebrate the Muslim community in the United States.”     

Fox News reported a couple of weeks ago that Obama was planning to use his own money to keep a Muslim museum open during the government shutdown. The reporters wondered why are commander in chief would do that, especially with everything going on with our country. We were in the middle of the partial government shutdown and the country was headed for possible fiscal disaster.

Both of these stories had been created by a satirical website that was clearly being absurd. Their stories which were made up were then used as evidence and facts, without any other checking. Many people were easily convinced that these stories were true and each time that they were repeated they became more and more believable.

Fox News did apologize for their reporting error citing the erroneous information.

Another story that was big a few weeks ago was the plan for House Republicans to schedule impeachment hearings. The story, complete with pictures of mad Republicans standing in front of the American flag, got a lot of traction. This was posted on several news websites and I saw it a couple of times on some of my Facebook “friends” pages; some were excited at the prospect. This turned out to be another phony website story that was created as a joke.

Another problem with the Internet is the erroneous reporting of people’s deaths or accidents. This is nothing new, but it has just gotten worse with the rapid expansion of the Internet. Morgan Freeman has been reported dead more times than I can count. A few months ago, Jackie Chan was reported killed while doing one of his stunts in a movie. Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo have both been reported in recent weeks to have been in car accidents and have broken both of their legs.

When I was a kid, there were stories of the death of Jerry Mathers of “Leave it to Beaver” fame, who was supposedly killed in Vietnam. The there was the boy who played Mikey in the Life cereal commercials who was rumored to have died from eating PopRocks and drinking Coke, which was another pre-Internet hoax.

One of the biggest death hoaxes of all time was for Sir Paul McCartney, who was shown on the cover of “Abbey Road” shoeless. I still haven’t figured out how a shoeless Paul leads anyone to believe that the Beatle was deceased, but many people made the leap.

One of the biggest celebrity death hoaxes from this year was Neil Armstrong. His death was reported a few weeks back and quickly went around the world on Twitter. This celebrity death hoax had an unusual twist in that he had died a year earlier.

For years, there has been a lot of misinformation out there about the safety of vaccines. One of the main opponents in recent years has been former Playboy playmate Jenny McCarthy, who blames vaccines for causing autism. For years, she has spread this information that has been traced back to a phony study by Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who manipulated data with fraudulent research.

Since McCarthy has campaigned for fewer vaccines for children, there have been a rise in the cases of measles and whooping cough. She has done a disservice to parents who need to use their judgment and the advice of medical professionals. Taking a celebrity’s advice on medical issues isn’t too prudent.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., told a story during the 2012 Republican presidential primary season about a woman who claimed that her daughter received the HPV vaccine and suffered from mental retardation because of it. The medical community was quick to jump on her statement and said that it was inaccurate.

Earlier this week, a column was printed in the News and Tribune concerning the flu vaccine and whether or not the Center for Disease Control numbers were accurate. The writer, whose credentials were not stated, had several facts retrieved from the Internet that may have been less than reliable.

Most insurance companies spend their time trying to get around covering things, yet they almost always cover the cost of the flu shot.

I do work for a company that profits from administering flu shots, but I get very little of that money. I ask that you talk to a medical professional before making your decision on whether or not to get vaccinated.

— Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

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