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COVID death data, update on a CCP-aligned information operation, Omicron might be mild
Hoaxlines newsletter 12.23.21
Table of Contents
Corruption and autocracy
In some counties, just half of the spike in deaths during the pandemic is attributed to COVID-19. Researchers say that points to a massive undercount.
Historically societies often underestimate deaths related to a pandemic during the pandemic. In retrospect, this can be seen in the data.
We have used the same method for estimating the impact of a pandemic since 1918. It works. Thankfully, over 100 years ago, Wade Frost, a Johns Hopkins professor, physician, field biologist, and laboratory analyst, figured out a way to accurately estimate a pandemic’s impact. The CDC still uses Frost’s method.
We underestimated deaths from the 1918 pandemic, missing 57% of deaths. Read more about death counts, excess deaths, and how one can tell whether deaths are over or undercounted: No-Nonsense American’s Guide to Pandemic Numbers
Other consequences of pandemics are challenging to gauge, like the effect of in utero exposure, but these are real costs too. Decades after the 1918 pandemic, even with the high mortality rate selecting for healthier people surviving, those who did survive were shorter during childhood and adolescence, had less education, and had a higher chance of having various health issues, including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and diabetes.
We know that states with COVID case surges also reported higher rates of deaths from other causes that might be explained by COVID infection but were not recorded as one for various reasons.
As for whether vaccines work, I leave this graphic:
An international study of 29,040 hospitalized adult COVID-19 patients finds that metabolic syndrome was tied to significantly greater odds of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and death.
The drug is highly effective: Earlier this year, Pfizer shared study results that showed a 30-pill regimen reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 88% in unvaccinated patients, and newer data suggest it is effective against the Omicron variant.
Last week, the White House confirmed that the federal government had ordered enough Paxlovid to treat 10 million Americans.
FDA authorizes a second antiviral to treat COVID-19, a Merck pill that can be taken at home: Updates
200 of the 205,476 COVID-19 related studies have been retracted
As many as 200 academic papers on COVID-19 have been retracted (out of 205,476 and counting) since the start of the pandemic due to reasons ranging from calculation errors to missing evidence to fraud.
The flaws were especially egregious in many early studies declaring the effectiveness of therapeutics like ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine—papers that were eventually deemed problematic.
Retractions don’t fix the damage done by the faulty studies: even small-scale papers can have a “strong influence on broader conclusions about COVID-19,” and confusion around retractions adds to “inflaming our all-consuming culture war.”
The problem speaks to the need for more guardrails around—or even a total overhaul of—the peer-review process, some researchers say.
The South African study appeared yesterday in a non-peer-reviewed study posted on medRxiv.
In a related development, researchers from Imperial College London, who looked at cases and hospitalization data from England, found that those with confirmed Omicron infections were 15% to 20% less likely to be hospitalized than those with Delta.
Meanwhile, in a preprint study, a separate group from Scotland said early data from the country suggest a two-thirds reduction in COVID-19 hospitalization with Omicron compared with Delta.
Following the recommendation of its vaccine advisory group, Israel's government yesterday said those 60 and older and health workers can receive a fourth vaccine dose due to the fast pace of Omicron spread and waning antibodies after booster doses. Israel was one of the first countries to adopt booster doses. The fourth dose would be given four months after the third dose.
Hackers linked to China, Iran, North Korea, and Turkey have attempted to exploit a critical flaw in Apache Log4j, an open-source logging software that tracks user activity and is present in hundreds of millions of devices across the world.
ASD Research Assistant Joseph Bodnar told the Dispatch, “The Log4j flaw could give state-backed hackers, and ransomware crews access to everything from consumer electronics to industrial control systems. And the worst is likely ahead of us. Sophisticated hackers could exploit the weakness, gain a foothold, go dark, and take action at a time of their choosing. Thankfully, the government and the private sector are working hard to limit the national security and economic fallout.”
COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy has long been recognized as a problem in high- and middle-income nations. But in some of the world’s poorest countries, lack of access to vaccines has been a much bigger hurdle. Now researchers say that as doses trickle in, resistance to getting vaccinated is also emerging as a major issue in those nations.
According to a senior Homeland Security official, ongoing efforts by foreign intelligence services and global terrorist organizations to seed the United States with disinformation appear to be working, raising new fears of a terrorist attack in the coming weeks.
While largely consistent with the department’s most recent anti-terrorism bulletin issued in November, the warning comes as the country prepares for the Christmas holiday and New Year celebrations, along with the first anniversary of the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
“The threat is more volatile,” John Cohen, the senior-most official at DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, told a virtual forum Wednesday.
2021: a grim year for journalists and free speech in an increasingly turbulent and authoritarian world
The 2021 press freedom index released recently by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) makes for grim reading.
The report reveals that 488 journalists were detained in 2021 – an increase of 20% compared to the previous year – while a total of 46 were killed and 65 held hostage. Of those detained, 60 were women (33% higher than 2020). As you might expect, it tends to be autocratic regimes with dismal records for freedom of speech and human rights, which crop up once again as the worst offenders.
CDC Did NOT Admit Vaccinated Parents Are Killing Unvaccinated Kids -- Spike Proteins Don't Shed And Infect Others
No, that's not true: The claim is made by a non-scientist citing a paper that mixes vaccination information from Europe and Israel with CDC material from a database of vaccinated patients' unverified adverse events reports. The CDC has explicitly warned against using the database to draw conclusions or make numeric comparisons.
Vaccine injury is everywhere (if you count everything that happens after vaccination as a vaccine injury)
A substack article written by an economics Ph.D., filled with misleading claims and misrepresentation of VAERS, continues to generate vaccine disinformation. Kremlin pillar of disinformation Global Research, republished the article December 23.
Examining websites republishing the original article, we found one website had dropped the link. We looked at websites linked to the website that dropped the link and found a group of websites linked by Google Analytics ID (UA-61763271). The website that cited the substack article linked to the following websites:
Looking at backlinks to the overall substack website, Hoaxlines found multiple larger websites known to publish misleading or false information Zero Hedge, Natural News, The Blaze, and The Gateway Pundit, demonstrating the role that prominent “alternative” media plays in spreading false claims.
Fact checks that address claims made by the substack article:
Santa was detained but not for his mask status.
'He Should Be Locked Up In Jail For Murder' – Did Kamala Harris Send This Tweet About Kyle Rittenhouse?
No, she did not. It’s a fake.
Yes, she does, which calls into question her public stance.
Data and statistics for state-affiliated outlets and media figures for December 17 to 23, 2021.
Key themes in the network’s messaging:
The report found that at least two Spamouflage pages ran political advertisements on Facebook, which Miburo states is new for this threat.
The New York Times covered the research writing:
More than 2,000 accounts continued to spread Chinese propaganda in the last year, according to a new report from the disinformation research group Miburo. The accounts point to a “well-resourced, high-skill actor that keeps reappearing,” said Nick Monaco, the director of China research at Miburo. He added that the timing and messaging of the posts in the network aligned perfectly with public messaging put out by the Chinese government in the last year.
Miburo said it was difficult to determine whether the influence campaign was organized by the ruling Communist Party or if some accounts are by nationalist citizens. But “knowing who pressed the enter key is less important” than the implication of a well-known actor spreading Chinese propaganda “at a high volume on international social media networks,” Mr. Monaco said in a blog post about the campaign.
Commentary on evolving messaging:
This (well-resourced and resilient) CCP-aligned actor is expanding its messaging, in particular with two new issues: denial of forced labor and human rights abuses in Xinjiang and a new focus on U.S.-Taiwan relations.
Recommended read: Five Ways to Spot a Spamouflage Disinformation Campaign
China leverages its South African media space investment to push Beijing-approved narratives and conspiracies.
Chinese diplomats and state media last week focused on three main subjects, per the Alliance for Securing Democracy:
Chinese diplomats marked the anniversary of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, during which the Japanese army killed as many as 30,000 Chinese citizens, with promises to “never forget” and to “cherish peace.”
Data and statistics for state-affiliated outlets and media figures for December 17 to 23, 2021
The United States has special operators in close proximity to Russian forces on three continents. In many cases, the Russian forces on the ground are either actively countering or preparing to counter irregular threats in the event of a Russian military operation. A fixation on Russian irregular warfare and political warfare threats has obscured Russia’s other significant capability: counter-irregular warfare … If the United States intends to seriously compete with and challenge Russia abroad, then it is time to understand the emerging capabilities of Russian counter-irregular forces.
Belarusian Telegram channel pushed inaccurate claims, leading to anti-Western coverage by Russian and Belarusian outlets. Facebook reported removing coordinated inauthentic behavior networks operated by the Belarusian KGB earlier this month.
Russia denies the presence, and the images from the contractor’s case have been removed from the website. An archived version remains. This seems to confirm the presence of Russian troops.
Data and statistics for state-affiliated outlets and media figures for December 17 to 23, 2021.
Hoaxlines has published a tweet dataset for use by other researchers. For specifics on the 3 million record dataset, click the link.
TikTok and negligent reporting created mass panic about an unfounded national school shooting day hoax
A hoax warning users on TikTok that December 17 would be a nationwide school shooting day went viral, enabled by the platform’s inconsistent moderation practices and news outlets’ sensationalized reporting.
New reporting based on whistleblower interviews and internal documents reveals Facebook knew the dangers its groups feature poses in organizing users around harmful ideologies, including “Stop the Steal” and anti-vaccine misinformation, but the platform refuses to fix the problem.
Media Matters’ latest analysis has identified over 1,000 active Facebook groups dedicated to promoting COVID-19 or election misinformation, with over 2.2 million combined members.
Researchers noted polarization trends in 2016 were remarkably synchronized across groups...the intense increase in polarization in 2016 was disproportionately driven by new and newly political users.
We found that the top three vaccine-related tweets for the past month included a tweet that was blatantly false, one that was misleading, and another that seemed to promote conspiracy thinking.
Eight substances have been added to the Report on Carcinogens, bringing the total list to 256 substances that are known, or reasonably anticipated, to cause cancer in humans. This is the 15th Report on Carcinogens, which is a cumulative report, mandated by Congress and prepared by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The release of this report coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the National Cancer Act of 1971, which initiated the nation’s war on cancer.
Chronic H. Pylori infection
Bromochloroacetic acid (BCA)
Bromodichloroacetic acid (BDCA)
Chlorodibromoacetic acid (CDBA)
Dibromoacetic acid (DBA)
Dichloroacetic acid (DCA)
Tribromoacetic acid (TBA)
Depending on where you live, any of these eight additional carcinogens can be found in the water supply. H. Pylori is a bacterial infection that can cause stomach ulcers. The carcinogenic effect could be a byproduct of the continually sustained damage to the lining of the stomach, which promotes the proliferation of new cells and thus, more chances for replication errors.
Approximately 250 million U.S. residents use community water systems and are potentially exposed to No. 3-8 in disinfected water.