The Haunting Fake News

As I was thinking of how to start this topic, I came across an article written by Cheyenne MacDonald for the London Daily Mail (based on a study published in the journal Geology) that was forwarded to me about 6 months ago (I have a file on things of interest) on The Five Great Extinction Events:

Five times, a vast majority of the world’s life has been snuffed out in what have been called mass extinctions.

End-Ordovician mass extinction. The first of the traditional big five extinction events, around 540 million years ago, was probably the second most severe. Virtually all life was in the sea at the time and around 85% of these species vanished.

Late Devonian mass extinction. About 375-359 million years ago, major environmental changes caused a drawn-out extinction event that wiped out major fish groups and stopped new coral reefs forming for 100 million years.

End-Permian mass extinction (the Great Dying). The largest extinction event and the one that affected the Earth’s ecology most profoundly took place 252 million years ago. As much as 97% of species that leave a fossil record disappeared forever.

End-Triassic mass extinction. Dinosaurs first appeared in the Early Triassic, but large amphibians and mammal-like reptiles were the dominant land animals. The rapid mass extinction that occurred 201 million years ago changed that.

End-Cretaceous mass extinction. An asteroid slammed down on Earth 66 million years ago, and is often blamed for ending the reign of the dinosaurs.

“With that, the marine algae productivity was stalled.” According to the researchers, the oceans didn’t begin cooling until 6-7 million years after the extinction, at which point the nutrients returned. ‘The boundaries that kept the nutrients from reaching the surface were weakened and the ocean waters were mixed,” J.L. Knies says. “This caused the upwelling of nutrients, resuscitating the oceans, and leading to an explosion of life. The ecosystem voids created by the worst mass extinction in Earth’s history were finally filled.”

Not only does the study aim to answer questions about this ancient extinction, but also sheds light on the potential long-term effects on the oceans as global temperatures continue to rise, the researchers say.

Is this TRUE OR NOT? Of course it’s true, unless the Daily Mail was hoodwinked into publishing fake news, which is completely possible. However, the five extinctions in our geological history have been well established and are taught in school. I mentioned this not only due to its being of marine nature, but because extinction events have been good material for publicizing fake news, reminiscent of how H. G. Wells stunned New York (and the U.S.) on 30-October-1938 but with somehow longer duration of expectation and eventual erosion of belief.

Fake news on extinction events are at times not news per se but speculations or fiction written or scripted in film as have a few profitable productions showed, such as “2012” and “End of Days.” Many associated with space physics involve future close earth encounters with meteors, comets and even planets. We’ve known for centuries that such cosmic events do happen in addition to volcanic activity encompassing thousands and millions of years’ cycles, mainly because of geological activities as smaller events associated with the larger continental drift.

A couple of years ago, I read about a Spanish organization that had prophesied an extinction event based on biblical predictions – centered on the arrival of a wayward planet called Nibiru. I sent for the free book they offered and still have it. In the past few months, a series of YouTube videos do indeed predict more specifically the fortuitous coming close of a large Planet X as two suns in the sky on 23-September-2017, just about the day after Maritime Forum 126 is to take place. If we are still here by then, try to Google “Nibiru” or Planet X.

A 2,500BC stele of Naram-Sin of Susa, Iran origin showing 2 suns. Photo: Louvre, Paris; Two Suns in the Sky. Photo: Yuval Ovadya, 2017.

Fortunately, judging from the hits on YouTube videos, it appears that not too many people believe them, and thus they added another dimension – that of an alleged Ronald Reagan Executive Order putting a muffle on NASA to impart information on it. Naysayers of course know that many amateur astronomers and astrophysics students and professors would certainly be aware, if such is to occur shortly. Contacted for comment, a retired USN nuclear physicist SSBN submariner classmate of mine from North Carolina trained in nuclear warfare said to me that he just hopes his golf course would still be there as his plan for 24-September-2017 was a day on his favorite course.

Indeed lots of fake news abound and confuse us. It is a means of political warfare, for sowing international and domestic political intrigue, and for creating a means to scam others or to commit serious crimes. Often, it just creates confusion for no reason except that someone believed a post that conveys news that seemed right and thus he becomes party to propagating fake news. The term for this propensity is the “scoop news syndrome” that we sometimes feel when you learn something that you think others would be pleased to know, and you saw it first. And it could be serious.

Advertisements, a legal means of selling commercial goods, are a form of fake news as they often lie or exaggerate claims of quality, potency and other traits that help sell. Often, ingenious means of degrading popular consumer goods, such as Coke (no doubt encouraged by competitors), come in the form of “scientific” studies to show what harm they can do (indeed soda does lots of harm, but primarily because of the large sugar content they have). The Harvard Medical School has been often used for such, especially on cancer and other ailments.

Some fake news sites are there for satirical coverage of real issues, and they are used to entertain and sometimes to egg government into action. The website ThoughtCo discusses this well.

What about a ban on fake news? In a pastoral letter last June 2017, the CBCP warned about fake news and listed at least 29 websites generating the same in the Philippines.

The organization Lausanne.org has a good article on the fake news phenomenon (see www.lausanne.org), including how lots of fake news favoring Donald Trump was generated by a fake news factory operated by teenagers in Macedonia in the last US election (there were some favoring Hillary Clinton as well, but allegedly not as much).

Graham Ruddick of The Guardian wrote on 18-August-2017 that “Kremlin supporters are suspected to be behind a collection of fraudulent articles published this year that were mocked up to appear as if they were from Al-Jazeera, the Atlantic, Belgian newspaper Le Soir, and the Guardian.” The Wikipedia list of Philippine fake news generators is quite appalling, and maybe this is the reason that, per CNN Philippines, a Philippine journalist group has launched an effort to counter the proliferation of fake news.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law RA 10951 on 01-September-2017. It penalizes any person “who by the same means or by words, utterances or speeches shall encourage disobedience to the law or to the constituted authorities or praise, justify and extol any act punished by law.” The IRR is still yet to be written but I wonder if it will really curtail such? I hope so, because for some reason we as a nation are among the top in the world in the generation of fake news.

Prohibition of fake news is not new. Germany had banned it and other countries followed suit, or were even ahead, including here. PD 90 dated 06-January-1973 that prohibited “rumor mongering and spreading false information,” and specifically: “… any person who shall offer, publish, distribute, circulate and spread rumors, false news and information and gossip, or cause the publication, distribution, circulation or spreading of the same, which cause or tend to cause panic, divisive effects among the people, discredit of or distrust for the duly constituted authorities, undermine the stability of the Government and the objectives of the New Society, endanger the public order, or cause damage to the interest or credit of the State shall, upon conviction, be punished by ‘prision correccional.’ In case the offender is a government official or employee, the accessory penalty of absolute perpetual disqualification from holding any public office shall be imposed.”

The IFLA.org has issued a guide on how to spot fake news, but for most of us, there are already reliable websites that we can readily refer to and these are Snopes (some say this site has a liberal bias), FactCheck.org, TruthorFiction, ThoughtCo, or urbanlegendsonline.com (this even has a video series) and often, just Google some key words of the alleged news and add the word “hoax” or check out any of these websites earlier mentioned.
What this really means for us is the next time we get news or information on a pending disaster, war, terrorist attack, or whatever interesting item that we have the urge to share, we need to assess carefully before we act, and verify before we push the SEND button.

Happy truth hunting!

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