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Can Snopes be Trusted on Health Issues?

in Overall Health by

Health Impact News Editor

The past few weeks we have had quite a few people comment on various Facebook pages that certain stories we wrote were “proven false” by Snopes.com, forcing us to take a closer look at just who Snopes.com is, and what exactly they are supposedly finding “false” regarding our articles.

Who is Snopes.com?

David and Barbara Mikkelson are the husband-and-wife duo behind the myth-busting Web site Snopes.com.
David and Barbara Mikkelson are the husband-and-wife duo behind the myth-busting Web site Snopes.com.

Photo by Guy Raz/NPR

Snopes.com is a website run by a husband and wife team named Barbara and David Mikkelson who live in California. They are one of the more popular and often quoted “urban legends” websites on the Internet. You can read what they say about themselves here. There is nothing written on their “About Us” page listing their credentials as self-appointed Internet Sheriffs, or how they go about researching the topics they purport to disprove. It would seem that anyone with the same amount of time and use of a search engine like Google.com could pretty much do the same things they do, and in fact there are very many competing “urban legend” websites that do publish very similar articles as the Mikkelsons write.

Can We Trust Snopes.com on Health Issues?

Since Health Impact News is all about publishing alternative health news that the mainstream media usually will not publish, this is the area where we are most often being confronted with articles originating from Mr. and Mrs. Mikkelson. So let’s take a look at two of our most recent topics we have covered where readers claimed that Barbara and David have proven us “false.”

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

On August 21, 2014 Health Impact News published an article on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Do You Know What You Are Supporting? We were one of the first sources to publish publicly available information directly from the ALS Association’s website documenting just where the ALS Association spends their funds. The article soon went viral, and within 1 week had over 800,000 views.

So it wasn’t too long after this that Facebook users started commenting that Snopes.com had proven our article as “FALSE.” I thought to myself, how can it be “false,” when all the data we shared was directly from the ALS Association’s website and publicly posted tax returns?? So I looked up their article on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and began to learn how they operate.

A search on their site found an article that was listed with the title: Where Do ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Donations Go?.  However, when I clicked on the link, that title did not appear in the article (it appears the Mikkelson’s frequently change their articles as they find new information.) The claim listed as “false” in the article was this one: “Most of the $100 million raised from ALS ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ donations won’t go to ALS-related research and services. ”

This is not a claim our article makes (note how they added the word “services” to “research”), and they did not reference our article at all, but rather “Collected via e-mail.”

I noticed they use this vague reference to “Collected via email” for sources to many of their “urban legends” they “prove false,” rather than linking to an actual documented source where one can check the claims for themselves, such as our article. As the Mikkelsons then proceeded to “prove false” this claim they created, it gives the appearance that all such similar claims must be false also.

This is a typical way of debate using a fallacy called “setting up a straw man to knock down.” It is obviously much easier to refute something is actually false when you define the claim, and completely ignore the premises and issues that are the real issues. It appears that this is exactly what the Mikkelsons did in this article about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

The second important thing to consider when reading about supposed proofs of false claims is who is being quoted as the source of information. In our article on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, every single fact we presented regarding ALS funding, spending, and salaries by the ALS Association was backed up by data directly on the primary source, the ALS Association’s website, with direct links to the pages where the facts were contained. The Mikkelsons, on the other hand, mainly used a secondary source, a service called the “Charity Navigator,” who gave high marks to the ALS Association.

So in the end, nothing at all that the Mikkelsons wrote about their own opinions on the ALS Association and the Ice Bucket Challenge proved anything false in our article, but they sure fooled a lot of people into thinking so.

CDC Whistleblower Story

Disagreeing over how a charity spends its donated resources is one thing, but when it comes to the issue of CDC fraud and children being damaged by vaccines, the stakes become much higher.

So when people on Facebook began stating that Snopes.com had proven as FALSE that there was a senior vaccine scientist at the CDC who had become a whistleblower on the issue of hiding data linking vaccines to autism, we decided it was time to take a serious look at just what the Mikkelsons were actually saying, and who their sources were.

First, here are the published facts concerning this issue, and our sources are the published recorded phone calls between Dr. William Thompson and Dr. Brian Hooker, as well as Dr. Thompson’s own personal statement issued by his attorney, one of the most well-known whistleblower attorneys in the United States:

1. Dr. Thompson regrets that he participated with the CDC in withholding data linking vaccines to autism, and believes that proper protocols were not followed.

2. Dr. Thompson is participating in a full Congressional investigation into why this data was withheld from the public.

Even Dr. Thompson’s co-author in the study published in 2004, Dr. Frank DeStefano, the CDC Director of Immunization Safety, has stately publicly in an interview with investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson that the CDC did indeed exclude certain data showing a link between vaccines and autism, as they did not consider it significant.

So if these facts are public knowledge and easily verifiable, why are people claiming that Snopes.com has proven them FALSE?

Once again, we need to look carefully at just what it is that the Mikkelsons are supposedly proving “false,” and look at who their sources are. A search on their website uncovers an article with the title: Fraud at the CDC Uncovered?

Here is the claim they supposedly prove is FALSE: “The CDC has intentionally suppressed proof of vaccine-related cases of autism in African-American boys from reaching the public.”

Their source for the claim, once again, is “Collected via email,” which prevents us from seeing just what specific claim they are supposedly proving “false,” and the context it was written.

Once again, the Mikkelsons very cleverly set up a straw man to knock down, relying primarily upon secondary sources for most of what they write. In this case, they spend considerable text regarding the publication of CNN iReports on this issue, which are reports NOT published by CNN.com, but rather readers of CNN.com. So they are more like comments on a blog post, rather than real news stories from a news reporter.

The Mikkelsons use many other common fallacies of logic often deployed in debate, particularly “debates” on the Internet where the other side of the argument is not heard. These include ad hominem attacks (personal attacks) against people’s character, as opposed to refuting facts. This is, sadly, a common technique used in the mainstream media, where Dr. Andrew Wakefield is used as the scapegoat and attacked for anything deemed “anti-vaccine.” It is sad to see the Mikkelsons resort to this low-level sort of attacks, when clearly Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a British physician, has nothing to do with research and fraud at the U.S. CDC, which is the real issue here.

Where the Mikkelsons do attempt to deal with the issues and the primary sources (Dr. Thompson’s statement from his attorneys, and Dr. Brian Hooker’s published study reanalyzing the omitted CDC data), they correctly point out that the journal Translational Neurodegeneration has now raised concerns about Dr. Hooker’s study (it was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication prior to Dr. Thompson going public as a whistleblower), but they fail to mention that the study is still available to the public at the National Institute of Health’s website in the public domain.

Using personal attacks and name calling, they offer no explanation as to why Dr. Hooker’s analysis of the formerly hidden CDC data is not correct, but simply list as their source for the “the flaws and misinformation” a blog post by Dr. Gorski of Wayne State University, who is a popular Internet apologist for the vaccine industry. About 99% of what Dr. Gorski writes is inflammatory personal attacks against anyone who dares to oppose the holiness of vaccines. I notice that the Mikkelsons did not even link to his specific blog post from which they extracted a quote, but here is a sample of the kind of language Dr. Gorski uses in his attacks:

If there’s anything that ignites the fevered brains (such as they are) of antivaccine activists, it’s a good seeming conspiracy. Indeed, as we’ve seen before, if they can’t find a legitimate one, they’ll either exaggerate one or make one up out of whole cloth. This week, an “alleged” conspiracy has been brewing. It’s really the damnedest thing in that it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on. Whatever is going on, though, I would recommend extreme skepticism because two people are involved whose word you would be very foolish to trust on any scientific matter relating to vaccines: Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker. A partial transcript can be found at—where else?—that wretched hive of antivaccine scum and quackery, Age of Autism. (Source.)

Yes, this is who the Mikkelsons cite as their primary source to refute Dr. Hooker’s reanalysis of the data the CDC withheld from the public for more than 10 years.

Dr. Gorski is reportedly an assistant professor of surgery for Wayne State University, which has reportedly received tens of millions of dollars from vaccine manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis, according to the Sanofi page of Wikinvest.com. Dr. Gorski’s lab is reportedly also conducting a clinical trial of new uses for Sanofi’s drug Riluzole, which is being targeted for the treatment of autism. The medical school itself is reportedly the subject of a 2012 federal whistleblower suit filed by former professor Christian Kreipke, alleging the university misused $169 million in U.S. grant money. Gorski himself has denied receiving any finances from the vaccine industry, but he has also admitted that his area of medical specialty does not include neurology or autism. His bias against anything negative associated with vaccines or anything in alternative or complimentary medicine being useful is public knowledge. He has no credentials in these areas, so it is somewhat surprising that the Mikkelsons would use someone like this as a source.

The Mikkelson’s Sources for Health Information

Since “ScienceBlogs” sounds like such an “official” and scientific sounding source of information, it could be the Mikkelsons simply did not research it well enough to understand who Dr. Gorski is, and that he certainly is not a credible source of unbiased information, so I decided to see how they presented other health information, and who they claimed as their source.

Another example of where relevant data has been withheld from the public regarding dangerous vaccines, which we have covered frequently here at Health Impact News, is the HPV vaccine. A search found this article on Snopes.com: Urgent Warning About Gardasil

Once again, we have the same two problems with stories the Mikkelsons cover on issues related to the pharmaceutical industry. First, they set up straw man arguments to knock down, and second, they use sources they trust but which many other people may not trust, as their primary sources.

Here is the claim they supposedly proved “FALSE” in regards to Gardasil, the HPV vaccine that has injured and killed so many young girls: “The Gardasil HPV vaccine has been proved to have caused the deaths of 32 women.”

It is very easy to prove this claim as “false” simply because U.S. law prevents anyone from suing a U.S. manufacturer for damages due to vaccines, in this case Merck. So it cannot be “proven” in a court of  law. If the claim was “The Gardasil HPV vaccine has been linked to the deaths of 32 women,” it is certainly true, as the adverse events for this particular vaccine are recorded in the government database for adverse vaccine events. What the Mikkelsons fail to report in this article is that the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is paying out damages due to the Gardasil vaccine, and in other countries there are in fact lawsuits from victims currently being litigated for injuries and deaths due to the HPV vaccine.

So once again, the Mikkelsons spend considerable text writing about the benefits and supposed safety of a vaccine while omitting contrary evidence that would disprove their claim.

And what is their primary source for their information regarding the HPV vaccine? The CDC.

Obviously, the Mikkelsons are biased in favor of information that the CDC puts out, and do not bother to report on anything that might conflict with the official CDC positions. So why would we trust them to report the truth regarding a CDC whistleblower?

There is nothing wrong with this style of journalism if you are open and up front regarding your bias. We do the same here at Health Impact News, and are very open about it, as we don’t feel like we need to republish what the mainstream media already covers on the other side of most of the issues we write about. We provide the alternative side that is often censored and suppressed in the mainstream media, and we are very open and honest about that. But when you present yourself as an unbiased source of information, which is what Snopes.com claims to be, then you are participating in deception.

In defense of the Mikkelsons, I will say that in my research of them I found no evidence that they are “bought” by any group or organization, and I did not find any evidence backing up attacks against them regarding political bias. I think they are probably very sincere people. Like the majority of Americans today, it seems they just trust the government agencies that are supposed to be looking out for the public’s health and well-being, and quite possibly have not yet spent the time investigating some of the revolving door practices that are so prevalent between the government and the pharmaceutical companies, large processed food industries, chemical companies, and others. There are very clear and well-documented instances, for example, of CDC leaders leaving government for high-paying jobs in the vaccine industry, working as executives in the very companies they were formerly regulating. The conflict of interest is very easy to research and verify, and I hope one day they will turn their attention to these matters.

One of the most damaging pieces of news to come out against the credibility of the CDC in recent years is the criminal activity of one of their top vaccine researchers, Dr. Poul Thorsen. Dr. Thorsen was charged with 13 counts of wire fraud and nine counts of money laundering, and a federal grand jury alleges that Thorsen stole over $1 million from autism research funding between February 2004 and June 2008. Thorsen is said to have used the proceeds to buy a home in Atlanta, two cars and a Harley Davidson. He is said to have stolen the money while serving as the ‘principal investigator’ for a program that studied the relationship between autism and exposure to vaccines. He is still on the run from the law.

So I was curious to see if the Mikkelsons had anything to prove these charges against Dr. Thorsen as FALSE and an urban myth, and decided to search their site for articles on him.

Poul-Thorsen-snopes

Thought so. When one is using the CDC as one of your sources of “truth,” it’s hard to publish evidence to the contrary.

So, do YOU trust the Mikkelsons and their website Snopes.com on health issues? Are they an unbiased source of information regarding news related to the pharmaceutical industry, Big Food corporations, or the government agencies that regulate them?

Original source of the article: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/can-snopes-be-trusted-on-health-issues/