One of the biggest challenges I face in covering the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is sorting through the flow of apocalypse click-bait to determine the real news and the actual toll the disease is taking on China and the world.

I thought I might share three of the most recent examples so that you can be better aware of what the hysteria-oriented swirl of information and avoid getting sucked into its vortex.

One of my favorite tools that I use to discount these inanities is the “reality fact check.” For example, when I saw images of fire-engines spraying out detergent, I asked by biosafety-expert-colleague for her opinion.

She and I both concluded that it was a propaganda display to show the masses that the Chinese Communist Party was in control of the situation. As a disinfection effort, it was likely useless. As a promotional effort, it was a complete failure.

Another useful tool is to “ask the expert.” I used this technique to answer a question posed by one of my favorite actors, James Woods, who recently returned to Twitter.

Not many Americans are fluent in Chinese. My step-daughter is fluent in Mandarin, as she has a degree in the Chinese language and a Master’s Degree in Oriental Studies. I asked her about the dialog and what the video was showing.

It seems the video is a compilation of many other clips. This is beginning portion is not from Wuhan, and was filmed months ago in Sichuan. The Chinese authorities were taking in an escaped convict. In the second part of the video, the background sound is from fireworks, not gunshots. The video was likely taken on or around the New Year.

Portions of the video could be victims in Hubei, the province that includes the city of Wuhan. However, the total video has been slapped together to make the viewer think the Chinese are killing people not cooperating with quarantine orders.

Finally, and perhaps the best tool to have when sorting through social media is extreme caution. I am very wary of images that are not from a recognized authority on a subject matter and detached from a robust explanation of what the displayed graphics mean.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was highly skeptical that this image was showing sulfur dioxide levels from burning corpses:

It turns out that the image was not a satellite reading of actual levels. The bright spot is projected sulfur dioxide levels from a model; that model was taking into account the burning of sulfur-rich fossil fuels.

The data on windy.com is not based on satellite images, as claimed by the Sun tabloid newspaper in its headline.

Instead, they are based upon forecasts based on NASA’s GEOS-5 model, which, according to the US agency itself, often give significantly higher results than observations.

The models are not updated to take into account episodes like the coronavirus. They’re based on “emissions inventories”, for example, the probability of pollution levels based on known sources of emissions.

They take into account the usual sources of emissions of an area: factories, power and heating plants, and cross-references them with meteorological variables.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a publication showing sulfur dioxide levels in the Wuhan area have been falling from 2005 to 2016.

A new study by researchers from the University of Maryland and NASA indicates that China has greatly reduced its emissions of sulfur dioxide, while India’s emissions have risen dramatically. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is an air pollutant that leads to acid rain, haze, and many health-related problems. It is primarily produced today through the burning of coal to generate electricity.

I hope my evaluation of these examples of apocalypse click-bait has been helpful. It would be beneficial if the Chinese would be honest about the outbreak’s extent and impact. However, as that isn’t going to happen, be wary of deep fake videos, Chinese propaganda, and manipulating graphics.

The U.S. currently is monitoring over 400 people who may have been affected. Of those cases, only 15 have the virus, while over 347 have tested negative. American medical professionals will continue to monitor the infected patients, and we will have some reliable data on the transmissibility and diseases course ourselves.

 

 
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