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Beware of Fact-Checkers!

Recently I received a comment regarding my post,  “You Decide.”.  The comment referenced a well-known fact-checking site, snopes, as a source of accurate information.  This evaluation demonstrates how easily “fact checking” can be twisted to say something that is both true and false at the same time.

Snopes answers three questions in its fact-check; one is explicit and two are implied by the answer:

  1. Is the object in the photo a real baby or a model? (Explicit)
  2. Does the object in the photo accurately reflect a baby at 12 weeks gestation? (Implied)
  3. Does the object in the photo closely resemble a full-term baby? (Implied)

Snopes provides a clear, accurate, factual answer to question 1, but continues to deceptively present opinions as facts to provide false answers to questions 2 and 3.  This “fact-check” demonstrates the limitations and problems associated with reliance on fact-checkers.  It is a good example of how subtle innuendo and careful word selection are often used by “fact-checkers” to mislead and inject opinions that create false impressions of truth.

FACT-CHECKERS ARE GREAT FOR VERIFYING DISCRETE FACTS such as Question #1, BUT NOT SO WHEN MAKING OR VALIDATING PERSONAL VALUE JUDGMENTS OR OPINIONS such as Questions #2 and #3.  A detailed analysis of the snopes fact-check follows.

The original post You Decide challenges the reader to consider the issue of abortion by depicting the image of a model of an unborn baby at 12 weeks gestation.  At issue are the accuracy and message of the image.  Those issues are addressed in post “Baby, Baby.

The specific comment I received questioned the accuracy of the image and pointed to a snopes “fact-check” to support that claim.  A review of snopes’ “fact-check”, however, clearly illustrates how easily subtle wording can be used to twist the truth into falsehood.

In the snopes link provided, snopes was responding to the following simple question,
“Is the image a photo of a 12 week gestational fetus?” (Question #1)

Snopes correctly answered that the image was a photo of a resin doll depicting a 12 week gestational fetus.   In my post I also had clearly stated it was a “life-sized model” and not a real baby.  Snopes got it right, and all would have been fine if snopes had stopped there.

FACT CHECKING COMPLETE.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
…but FACT-CHECKER’S OPINIONATED COMMENTARY CONTINUES…

 

Then snopes continued to imply without verification or supporting materials that the model itself was “inaccurate.”  There is a significant difference between saying that an object is a realistic model depicting something (and not the real thing) and saying that it incorrectly depicts the real thing.

This is the exact wording snopes used:

“The image displayed above, purportedly showing a 12-week gestational fetus resting in the palm of an adult’s hand, has been widely circulated via social media as a demonstration of how closely a 12-week-old fetus resembles a full-term child (even though the former may legally be terminated through elective abortion).”
(bold added)

The main questions in that statement concern:

  1. The accuracy of the 12-week gestational fetus
  2. The close resemblance of the 12-week fetus to a full term child.

These questions have nothing to do with the initial question.  Nevertheless Snopes continues to opine answers to both question 2 and 3, as follows:

Question 2)  The use of the word “purportedly” indicates that a false statement follows.  In other words, “Showing a 12 week gestational fetus” is a false statement.  In a subsequent paragraph snopes makes clear that the phrase specifically means “incorrectly portrays a 12 week gestational fetus.”  In my post “Baby, Baby” I demonstrate that statement to be false.

Question 3)  Snopes never addressed the resemblance issue directly (the core of the message, but irrelevant to answering questions #1).  Instead snopes dismissed the issue by proxy – and grossly misled the reader in the process.

But first snopes inadvertently telegraphed its bias and preconceived answer through a parenthetical – and totally unrelated – phrase about the legality of abortion.  The implication of this parenthetical statement

(even though the former may legally be terminated through elective abortion)”

is to affirm that because abortion is “legal”, the accuracy of the main assertion, “a 12-week gestational fetus closely resembles a full-term child” is irrelevant and/or invalid and can be ignored.  Never mind that abortion at 12 weeks is NOT legal everywhere, although snopes provides no such qualifications in its statement. (Intentional misdirection?)

Continuing on, snopes stated,

“These dolls have been criticized as inaccurate depictions that misleadingly ‘humanize’ a 12-week fetus beyond its actual appearance, with critics pointing out that at the 12-week stage of development a fetus is smaller, exhibits much less well-defined features, and has translucent skin.”
(bold added)

Finally we see the justification for snopes’ response to Question 2 (“inaccurate depictions”): Unspecified criticism of the dolls (“have been criticized”).  Everybody and just about everything is criticized by somebody nowadays.  But who is criticizing?  And is the criticism valid?  Those are crucial questions one – especially a fact-checker – must answer first.  Nevertheless, there is absolutely no attempt to do so and “fact-check that!”
Clearly this is judgment through innuendo, not fact-checking!

Snopes then continues to provide another unsupported, one-sided critical-only opinion that ignores even the possible existence of a supportive opinion. (“critics pointing out”)  Who are the critics?  We still don’t know.

A fact-checker’s job is to check the facts.  Here is a perfect opportunity for snopes to do its job of checking specific facts.

  • Are the cited criticisms that a real baby is “smaller, … less well-defined features, … translucent skin” than the model valid criticisms? If there are differences, are the differences significant, or just incidental?

No such effort is made.  Instead the criticisms are merely presented as proven fact.  This is not fact-checking; it’s trial and conviction without evidence through innuendo…

  • In truth, the dolls may be criticized as inaccurate, but that doesn’t make them inaccurate. Snopes makes zero attempt to verify or justify the validity of such criticism but simply presents it to be factually true.
  • In fact, the model is a realistic depiction of a baby at 12 weeks gestation, as I assert in my post “Baby, Baby.”  Now that the fact-checker has opened that matter, he is obligated to follow it wherever it may lead.  And that is the crux of the problem right there, as we shall see later.

An unbiased fact-checker would have researched the facts and both the critical and supportive evidence before issuing a verdict.  A truth-seeking fact-checker would have included the results of some minimal research similar to what I have done in my post.  But snopes did none of those things.  Clearly snopes is neither reliable to be an unbiased “fact-checker”, nor can it be trusted as a reliable source of accurate (true) information.

Note also the fact that snopes’ “inaccurate depictions” statement is significant.  Why?  Because the statement automatically eliminates the need to verify whether or not a 12 week old baby in utero is strikingly similar to a full-term child:

If the image were realistic and reasonably accurate, it would represent an inconvenient truth that snopes might be obliged to examine, namely the assertion that a 12 week old baby is a human being.  That truth could force snopes to the conclusion that abortion is the taking of a human life, which is murder, an inconvenient truth contrary to snopes’ current position made clear in the previously discussed parenthetical statement about the legality of abortion.

So much for fact-checking.

As if that weren’t enough, snopes actually presented as truth several incorrect, unsupported factual statements regarding the state of fetal development at 12 weeks

(“is smaller, exhibits much less well-defined features, and has translucent skin”).

See my post “Baby, Baby” for details.  This presents a real problem because the unwary reader will use the false information as true and mislead people.

Next, snopes made a totally illogical, absurd, and false assertion when it stated that the image

misleadingly ‘humanizes’ a 12-week fetus”.

How can a model of a baby human being “misleadingly ‘humanize’“ anything?  One can “humanize” a dog or a cat by adding human features, but a baby is ALREADY HUMAN and can’t be humanized any more than it already is!  If a human baby isn’t a human, then snopes must tell us what species it is, and when and how it becomes human!  But snopes doesn’t, because they can’t, because their fact-checking product is inconsistent with even the basic principles of biology.

This glaring error demonstrates snopes’ failure to be a trustworthy fact-checker who will provide reliable, true answers even when faced with an inconvenient truth.  Such a fact-checker is unworthy of the title.

 All is not as it looks.  Beware of false “fact-checkers” like snopes.  They are notorious for errors, sly wording, and misstatements.

We have seen how words can be used to mislead, but surely not images!  Even images can be twisted, as we see when we examine the images embedded in the “fact-check”:

The leading image on the snopes page, a baby’s hand in front of an adult hand, is prominently displayed but has nothing to do with the image in question nor is it addressed anywhere within the text.  Why is it there at all?  To mislead and entice?  Why not make the image in question the leading image instead?

https://www.snopes.com/tachyon/images/photos/medical/graphics/real12fetus.jpgAnother image is provided later within the “fact-check”as an “accurate” depiction of a normal baby in a mother’s hand.  But it is actually a photo of a miscarried infant, not a healthy infant!  There are serious problems with snopes’ attempt to use this image as the standard by which we should judge other images of healthy, well developed 12 week babies:

  • That miscarried infant was miscarried because something serious went wrong during his development; therefore if is NOT appropriate for use to depict normalcy.  Would anyone believe that the photo of a brand new (but wrecked) car truthfully represented all the unblemished cars that come out of a factory?
  • There is no mention of the level of maturity at the time of miscarriage or the source of the image. Although an image may be labeled 12 week, it could actually be a 10 week old baby, which is significantly less developed than a 12 week old baby, it could be an underdeveloped 12 week baby, or …  Who knows?  See post TIMING
  • The image is inconsistent with other images of healthy 12 week babies readily available on the web.

The image on the left is an actual high  tech ultrasound.  The image on the right is from a link provided by snopes.  Do they look at all like the “accurate depiction” shown above?

https://s3.amazonaws.com/dsg.files.app.content.prod/gereports/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/27130942/12-weeks-1024x768.jpgbaby with fingers opening and closing

I would expect an honest fact-checker to clearly identify the fake from the real, the live from the dead, and the sources of its information – but snopes did none of these things.

Remarkably, snopes did link to a site which displayed an artist’s rendition of a baby at 12 weeks with features much more like the image snopes had just judged inaccurate, than the one snopes presents as the “accurate” one.  Furthermore, the linked site clearly highlights some of snopes’ factual errors in describing the features of a 12 week baby.  But the reader has to dig to get there…

 

 

Conclusion

Nevertheless, even miscarried babies are obviously human, as demonstrated by the following web page and the images it contains:  Photographs of miscarried babies show the humanity of the unborn. (This link, by the way, includes “Another picture of Philip”, a picture that is almost identical to the image snopes used to depict normalcy.).

It’s hard to miss the irony of the situation:  snopes worked so very hard to avoid any possibility of concluding that a baby at 12 weeks gestation is a real human being, but in the end relied on an image virtually identical to one in a post which directly makes that very claim!

In summary, snopes got the small facts right:

  1. The picture was a picture of a model, and not the real thing.

But in the process it missed the real truth, which is much more important:

  1. The accuracy of the model to a 12-week gestation fetus
  2. The close resemblance of the 12-week baby to a full term child.

I would rather snopes had gotten the latter two right and the former wrong.

All is not as it looks
(1251)

 

REFERENCES AND LINKS

  1. Post, Snopes fact check: Is This a Photograph of a 12-Week Fetus?
    https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/12-week-photo/
  2. Snopes Image 1: Baby’s hand in front of mother’s hand
    https://www.snopes.com/tachyon/2017/08/premature_baby_fb.jpg?resize=865,452&quality=65
  3. Snopes Image 2: Model of baby at 12 weeks gestation in adult hand (similar to image used in my blog)
    https://www.snopes.com/tachyon/images/photos/medical/graphics/fetus.jpg
  4. Snopes Image 3: Miscarried baby at 12 weeks gestation (very similar to Phillip or Noah)
    https://www.snopes.com/tachyon/images/photos/medical/graphics/real12fetus.jpg
  5. Baby Phillip – Possible source of miscarried baby for snopes Image 3 (but not exact same image)
    https://clinicquotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/baby-phillip-04.jpg
  6. Snopes reference to BabyCenter image of baby at 12 weeks of gestation clearly shows humanity (artist’s conception or high-tech ultrasound?)
    http://www.babycenter.com/fetal-development-images-12-weeks
  7. Snopes reference to BabyCenter text
    “Your baby’s fingers will soon begin to open and close, his toes will curl, his eye muscles will clench, and his mouth will make sucking movements.”
    “peach-fuzz hair begins to grow on tender skin”
    https://www.babycenter.com/ims/2018/06/pregnancy-week-12-eyelids_square.png.pagespeed.ce.qzBvnZUcdM.png
  8. 12 weeks pregnant high-tech ultrasound image
    https://media.front.xoedge.com/images/46e77229-3825-4487-ae4a-9efb9064e76e~rs_660.h
  9. High tech ultrasound image, age unknown
    https://s3.amazonaws.com/dsg.files.app.content.prod/gereports/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/27130942/12-weeks-1024×768.jpg
Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. May 5, 2020 at 4:30 pm

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