Is it a scam? – Quick checks for suspect claims

Recently I was sent a link inviting a comment on an extraordinary claim about vaccines. It was a timely reminder that I still haven’t written up a quick primer for what to look for when FaceBook serves up something that sounds a bit suspect.

Let’s start with the link.

Right off the bat we should be raising an eyebrow even looking at the address. Firstly, the source site, YourNewsWire. Never heard of it? No problem. Check the Net for the source and see what is said generally about it. Skip any links that point to the site itself. In this case it didn’t show an immediate red flag but considering the age of the site (just a few months) it hasn’t had time to build a footprint. That’s cool but well worth checking first.

Now off to the website.

The front page gives you some teasers to extraordinary claims but what is important to note on this one is their header.

News.Truth. Unfiltered. The key word here is unfiltered. This website does not fact check the content and accepts contributions from citizen journalists, read Bloggers. This is the Conspiracy Theorists wet dream. An official looking site that lets you push any idea or scam without having to stump up evidence.

Having a quick scan of items showed topics like, smoking isn’t bad for your health (this one seems to be blaming those cursed Germans for this Conspiracy. Incredibly they didn’t use the term Nazis.) Items like this give you a clue as to how generous the rules are regarding what they will accept for publication.

Now the headline claim.

The generic term vaccine is used instead of a particular vaccine. That tells us the author is targeting all vaccines rather than the more credible approach of singling out one in particular and producing data to back up the claim.

How about hoax is over? 3 months after this shocking discovery has been revealed we still see no sign of doctors losing their jobs because the Government wants to save money on the Health budget. Guess it must be another conspiracy. Clearly it’s easier to fool all of science than a blogger with no relevant science training.

The content.

The item itself is incredibly short with simply a grab bag of just about every shallow claim and not a scrap of data in sight. Its a feature of these sites that the headline claim is eye catching but the content extremely thin or non-existent. They are trading on the very real concept that folk are basically unmotivated and wont read past the headline. If they do, then pop in a few popular myths just to catch the not so lazy amongst us, and you can safely ignore the rest. There’s not that many of them.

As to the overall concept, this group ignores the data of infection rates pre and post immunisation. And they don’t factor in competition between big companies or the egos in research. Trying to suppress information worldwide, involving all manner of inept Governments, while researchers are busting a gut to be regarded as the best in their field, and big companies competing for the maximum government dollars, makes herding cats look like child’s play. That’s what peer review is all about. Publishing something to show what a clever clogs you are, and other experts checking your work to see if you really know what you are doing. Somehow that seems safer than someone with no expertise in the field claiming it’s a con job.

Luckily History repeats so we can see examples of how Conspiracy’s really image operate. The tobacco industry managed to influence a lot of pollies when the data started pointing out its dangerous to your health. The subsequent collapse of the protectionism shows just how hard it is to keep a conspiracy going. Even with mega bucks to spend on influence, the data will eventually bring you undone.

Beyond doing your own quick check, there are also some terrific resources out there that help assist in tracking down what is fair dinkum.

Australian designed Rbutr which currently only runs in Chrome but tells you if someone has rebutted the page you are viewing. Still in it’s infancy but growing and has the potential to become widespread.

What’s the harm,  which gives you a good summary of the scams out there and how dangerous they can be.


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