The spirit of fact-checking is getting to the bottom of things. The fact-checkers work hard to bring the most accurate information and knowledge to the readers, but as disinformation could involve a wide range of issues, the reporters, falling far short of omniscience, could only turn to experts in the respective fields.
These experts are like superheroes in a fact-checking game, helping the fact-checkers beat the bosses to clear game levels. Our reporters exchanged myriads of emails and calls with the experts to make sure the accuracy of some information, in which the professionals enthusiastically contributed their expertise and efforts, to the extent of undertaking experiments and shooting videos.
To show our gratitude to them and the readers, the Taiwan FactCheck Center has set up a page, “Fake News Debunking Heroes’ Reflections,” where they shared their thoughts on fact-checking and the unexpected reward they got in the process. The experts are scholars, scientists, and experts in the fields including disease control, legal and electoral affairs, military, medical health, transportation, and disaster prevention.
The Six Disease Prevention Experts and Their Reflections on Fake News Debunking
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, numerous kinds of rumors and fake news concerning the disease have swarmed social media, reflecting the panic and the anxiety the public held facing the unknown virus. In this section we have collected some words from the six scholars and doctors, respectively specialized in epidemiology, infectiology, virology, and public health, that have helped our reporters stave off the disinformation storm during the pandemic.
Image; Elderly residents rest after receiving their first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine shot at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Top image)
Chiu Nan-chang , President of Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of Taiwan
Dr. Chiu Nan-Chang (邱南昌), besides contributing his effort to child COVID-19 cases and prevention, has been helping fact-checkers dispel disease-related rumors, assisting the latter in perusing the latest research papers and explaining the most recent and accurate disease prevention information in the most accessible way.
“During the pandemic, I’ve constantly encountered questions from friends about some random information from the Internet about the disease, and some of them were just outrageous. I believe that responding to and working with the TFC is more effective [in quelling the rumors] than answering each individual’s questions. So I find it worthwhile even though some of the questions required some time searching for evidence.
Sensational rumors can easily get people hooked, while truth and facts sometimes are hard to get accepted. Fortunately, we have a platform like the TFC to make voices heard. I hope that the messages we conveyed to the public during the past few years have corrected some misleading misconceptions.”
Image: Chiu Nan-chang, President of Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of Taiwan (Courtesy of Chiu Nan-chang)
Ho Mei-shang, Adjunct Research Fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences
Dr. Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉) has been standing on the frontline of rumor debunking during the pandemic and helping the reporters explain the latest disease information in plain words to allow for quick understanding by the general readers.
“Facing a brand-new virus during this pandemic, there is a lot that needs to be explained to the general public, and the experts have the responsibility to assist in debunking the rumors, making use of the knowledge they have in their brains and help people cope with a doubtful and dangerous period.”
Image: Ho Mei-shang, Adjunct Research Fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences (Courtesy of Ho Mei-shang)
Chi Chia-yu, Associate Investigator and Attending Physician at National Institute of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, National Health Research Institutes
Dr. Chi Chia-yu (齊嘉鈺) is the go-to person for the TFC fact-checkers when it comes to rumors about infection and vaccines.
Dr. Chi was a front-line physician when the SARS broke out in 2003. The COVID-19 pandemic has revived the memory, only that she is not a front-line medical worker anymore this time.
“So I asked myself what I can do to help. And when the TFC reporters first called in late 2020, I was happy to take on the mission of debunking disease-related rumors.” said Dr. Chi.
In fact, after the SARS outbreak, the hospitals have been practicing infection-control measures, and the labs and clinical medicine researchers have also been honing the techniques and upgrading the knowledge to brace ourselves for the next pandemic, said Dr. Chi.
However, in the past 17 years a major change has made things more complicated, she said, and it is how messages get spread on social media.
“I know my teachers and peers, entangled in the front-line battle fighting the disease, have no spare time to deal with the misinformation that the public is receiving. So I’m willing to spend extra time reading related news and science journals outside of work to assist the TFC fact-checkers, with whom I sometimes share the sense of helplessness in the face of myriads of rumors and wondering whether debunking really helps.
But I found that the TFC fact-checkers have been upholding the utmost rigorous standard in verifying each of the spreading messages, regardless of how ridiculous they sound and how many people the clarification could in the end reach.”
Tony Chen, Professor at National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health
Dr. Tony Chen (陳秀熙) and his NTU Public Health team have been presenting online videos every week updating the scientific information about COVID-19 and disease control measures since 2020, providing a source of the most updated COVID-19 info and public health knowledge.
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many rumors have emerged due to a general lack of understanding of the disease. This was unprecedented for the public health circle. I did not consider the rumors absurd when I was asked to clarify them, as this is what a scientist should do, which is to elucidate what cannot be easily comprehended and to enhance the public understanding concerning their health.”
Image: Tony Chen, Professor at National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health (Courtesy of Tony Chen)
Shih Shin-ru, Director of Chang Gung University Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections
Dr. Shih Shin-ru (施信如) has worked in the field of virology for decades. She has helped the TFC reporters navigate through a jungle of rumors about the characteristics of the virus and how the variants have developed.
“Facing an emerging virus during the pandemic, many things were done by groping in the dark, and this is also why we all have to be more cautious and talk based on evidence and facts.
The Taiwan today is not the Taiwan three years ago; the virus today is not the virus three years ago either. We cannot afford to be careless, but there is no need to panic either.
I have always been a researcher, but in this pandemic, I sensed that political wrangling was being played out, which was totally unnecessary. I thank the TFC for trying to clarify the issues with an impartial stance, and hope that everyone can stay healthy and brave the pandemic.”
Image: Shih Shin-ru, Director of Chang Gung University Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections (Courtesy of Shih Shin-ru)
Chi Chun-huei, Director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University
As various “cross-country comparisons” showed up on Taiwan’s social media platforms, Dr. Chi Chun-huei (紀駿輝) has helped disentangle the readers from the web of half-true, half-wrong rumors with his familiarity with the global data and different countries’ disease-control policies. Dr. Chi, always well-prepared by spending hours and hours sorting the disease-related data before answering media questions, has so far been interviewed more than 400 times by reporters from different countries.
“Facing disinformation and misinformation, the greatest challenge is that true statistical data are used to mislead the public. This is exactly what Darrel Huff was saying in his book ‘How to Lie with Statistics’ published in as early as 1954. Statistical numbers are true and correct, but some can be chosen intentionally or unintentionally in a narrative or for representing a policy effect, to mislead how the public view certain social phenomena or policies.
Many clarifications or explanations I have made for the TFC and other international media outlets during the pandemic were of this kind. With the statistical numbers easily accessible on the Internet these days, the TFC has a great and important task ahead of them.”
Image: Chi Chun-huei, Director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University (Courtesy of Chi Chun-huei)