The Conversation: How to spot #coronavirus fake news – an expert guide #COVID19


Samantha Vanderslott, University of Oxford

The proliferation of fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been labelled a dangerous “infodemic”. Fake news spreads faster and more easily today through the internet, social media and instant messaging. These messages may contain useless, incorrect or even harmful information and advice, which can hamper the public health response and add to social disorder and division.

Confusingly some fake news also contains a mixture of correct information, which makes it difficult to spot what is true and accurate. Fake news may also be shared by trusted friends and family, including those who are doctors and nurses. They might not have read the full story before sharing or just glanced over it. Before you decide to share, make sure to read stories properly and follow some checks to determine the accuracy.

If the story appears to claim a much higher level of certainty in its advice and arguments than other stories, this is questionable. People will be seeking certainty in a time of high uncertainty, anxiety and panic. So it is only natural to more readily accept information that resolves, reassures and provides easy solutions – unfortunately, often in a false way.

Similarly, if a story is more surprising or upsetting than other stories it is worth double-checking, as fake news will try to grab your attention by being more exaggerated than real stories.

What to look out for

  • Source.
    Question the source. References have been made to “Taiwanese experts” or “Japanese doctors” or “Stanford University” during the outbreak. Check on official websites if stories are repeated there. If a source is “a friend of a friend”, this is a rumour unless you also know the person directly.

  • Logo:
    Check whether any organisation’s logo used in the message looks the same as on the official website.

  • Bad English:
    Credible journalists and organisations are less likely to make repeated spelling and grammar mistakes. Also, anything written entirely in capital letters or containing a lot of exclamation marks should raise your suspicions.

  • Pretend social media accounts:
    Some fake accounts mimic the real thing. For example, the unofficial Twitter handle @BBCNewsTonight, which was made to look like the legitimate @BBCNews account, shared a fake story about the actor Daniel Radcliffe testing positive for coronavirus. Media platforms try to remove or flag fake accounts and stories as well as verify real ones. Look out for what their policies are to try to do this.

  • Over-encouragement to share:
    Be wary if the message presses you to share – this is how viral messaging works.

  • Use fact-checking websites:
    Websites such as APFactCheck and Full Fact highlight common fake news stories. You can also use a search engine to look up the title of the article to see if it has been identified as fake news by the mainstream media.

Who to trust

The best sources to go to for health information about COVID-19 are your government health websites and the World Health Organization website. Primary sources are generally better than news articles.

Even government messaging and the mainstream media can get things wrong, but they are more trustworthy than unverified sources on social media and viral messaging. For instance, The Conversation is a more trusted source because all content is written by academics who are experts in their fields.

Read more:
How to spot bogus science stories and read the news like a scientist

Charlatans have been promoting false preventions and cures for people to spend their money on. For example, the New York attorney general has had to send cease and desist notices for claims that toothpaste, dietary supplements and creams will prevent and cure COVID-19.

The effects can also be more serious than losing some cash. Iran has reported at least 44 people died from alcohol poisoning after drinking bootleg alcohol in a misguided attempt to cure COVID-19.

Unfortunately, the most basic and correct advice given so far does not offer a miracle or special insight. Wash your hands often (use hand sanitisers if you cannot), avoid touching your face, and sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow or a tissue (and throw it away in a bag-lined bin). Avoid crowds and public places, keep a sensible distance from people, and do not travel unless absolutely necessary. Now many governments are introducing measures including travel bans and quarantines that need to be followed to protect the health of everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

We can all get caught out. Think twice about the messages currently circulating and help guide your family and friends to decide what to trust.The Conversation

Samantha Vanderslott, Postdoctoral Researcher in Social Sciences, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

R.I.P. Kenny Rogers — “Won’t you believe in my song?”

Kenny Rogers September 27, 2006. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

From CNN (Christina Maxouris and Alta Spells):

“Kenny Rogers left an indelible mark on the history of American music. His songs have endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world,” a statement posted by Hagan says.

Rogers was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013, for what organization officials called a “distinctive, husky voice.”

He had 24 No. 1 hits and through his career more than 50 million albums sold in the US alone.

He was a six-time Country Music Awards winner and three-time Grammy Award winner, Hagan said.

“Country Music has lost the great Kenny Rogers, who has forever left a mark on Country Music’s history,” the Country Music Association said in a statement. “His family and friends are in our thoughts during this difficult time.”

Some of his hits included “Lady,” “Lucille,” “We’ve Got Tonight” and “Through the Years.”


In 1985, he participated in the original recording of “We Are the World” along with more than three dozen artists. A year later, according to his website, he co-chaired “Hands Across America,” a campaign which sought to raise awareness about the homeless and hungry in the US.

Poem: O, Colorado! — Greg Hobbs

North face of Pike’s Peak as seen in profile from Conifer mountain. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs
O, Colorado!

Sing your way into Spring.
We need you now, more than ever

Your summits towering before us
Pike’s Peak glimmering

“O, Beautiful!”

The waking fruited plain
Working waters soon to be delivered
Network of the most precious blood

The Sangres

Keep your hands off your face
Keep them in a prayerful position
Keep your sister brothers close unto your souls

Picasso Line Drawings

Trying on each other’s
Sacred mask.

Pikes Peak from the north. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Southwest #Colorado #Snowpack Got A Needed Boost From That Recent Storm — Colorado Public Radio #runoff

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 20, 2020 via the NRCS.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

… thanks to the March 19 snowstorm, the San Juan and Gunnison basins are now approaching average.

“Now the southern half of the state is close enough to average, we’re definitely going to feel more comfortable instead of the growing concern we’ve been seeing,” assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger said.

The northern and central mountains didn’t see much of a boost in snowpack last week, but Bolinger adds “they’re keeping up with average or just above average.”

February and March are key months for building Colorado snowpack, which fills the state’s water reservoirs.

The one caveat to all good snowpack news is that predicted runoff is expected to be lower than normal, according to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center. This is because low precipitation in the fall created thirsty soils, which could grab moisture from spring runoff before it makes its way to reservoirs.

“Even though snowpack is looking good, the precipitation accumulation since October has been lower,” Bolinger said. “Once that melting starts, say we have a normal season, we would have to get soil moisture back to a normal level, so that might mean there’s less for reservoirs.”

Agriculture deemed critical industry during COVID-19 virus pandemic — the Fence Post

Aerial view of the San Luis Valley’s irrigated agriculture. Photo by Rio de la Vista.

From the Fence Post (Rachel Gabel):

Homeland Security on March 19 announced that agriculture is among 16 industries the department deems a critical infrastructure industry that should continue operations. While this may not have come as any surprise to the thousands calving cows, many of them in blizzard conditions Thursday, it provides some guidance.

The roles recognized by the department as critical include those raising animals for food, animal production operations, slaughter and packing plants and associated regulatory and government workforce, veterinary health, farm truck delivery and transportation, those involved in field crops, and a host of others in supporting industries.

The Livestock Marketing Association said it is actively working with federal, state, and local officials to ensure the continuity of business while taking into account the public health consequences of the COVID-19 virus situation. The group said in a press release that markets are essential to producers as well as to maintaining the infrastructure and food supply for consumers…

In order to mitigate disease spread, the LMA suggests utilizing social media and websites to communicate changes to producers. In the case of needing to reduce crowd size, request that consignors drop off livestock and not remain on the premises for the sale and offer flexibility to sellers needing to pick up checks by offering to bring checks to their vehicle.

Some markets, including Centennial Livestock Auction, are encouraging buyers to sign up for online bidding accounts prior to sales and have moved to online sales. Many production sales already offer online bidding and are continuing to do so.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association asked Governor Jared Polis on Tuesday to allow markets and bull sales to continue despite limits on gatherings, though no answer had been received at press time.

In a letter to Gov. Polis, the CCA said the sale of livestock is a critical element of the food supply system and at least 14 markets sell livestock in the state as frequently as weekly. Additionally, bull sale season is in full swing in the state, constituting for many, an annual paycheck. Interruption of these sales would have lasting impacts throughout the food chain and are time sensitive.

Sterling Livestock Commission manager Jason Santomaso said Friday morning they are moving forward with the regular and production sales so vital to producers this time of year though online bidding remains an option.

In Brush, Colo., Chuck Miller, owner of Auctioneers Miller and Associates, said regular sales would continue as they are outdoors and are necessary as buyers and consignors alike, many of whom are farmers and ranchers, make the time sensitive, necessary decisions that will affect future crops. AMA has offered online sales for a number of years, as well, and will continue to do so. However, Thursday evening, Gov. Polis announced an updated executive order shuttering additional non-essential businesses. Miller said after conferring with legal counsel, the usual Wednesday and Saturday sale will be an online-only Wednesday and Thursday sale.

Abnormally warm spring expected over entire U.S., according to @NOAA and others — The Washington Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The Washington Post (Jason Samenow):

After an unusually mild winter across the nation, forecasters are now calling for a substantially warmer-than-normal spring.

The National Weather Service, AccuWeather and the Weather Company, in rare lockstep agreement, are all predicting above-average temperatures into June…

Hues of orange, signaling various degrees of anomalous warmth, cover the maps…

The Weather Service and AccuWeather both forecast the strongest warm signal in the eastern United States and along the West Coast, with a weaker signal in the middle of the nation…

While factors such as the strength of the polar vortex and ocean and atmosphere cycles, such as El Niño, play a large role in a given season’s weather, the long-term increase in average temperatures due to human-caused climate change are increasing the likelihood of abnormal warmth.

What winter? Earth just had its second-warmest December-February on record — USA Today #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

The months of December, January and February – which meteorologists define as winter here in the Northern Hemisphere – were the second-warmest on record, federal scientists announced Friday.

Only the El Niño-fueled winter of 2015-16 was warmer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. El Niño, a natural warming of sea water in the tropical Pacific Ocean, acts to boost global temperatures.

Global temperature records for the Earth go back to 1880.

Some of the most extreme warmth was in Russia, which smashed its record for warmest winter. Temperatures there were as much as a whopping 12 degrees above average, according to the country’s weather service.

Map credit: NOAA

All the weird warmth messed with the region’s flora and fauna, as Gizmodo noted. Flowers started to bloom early in the winter, and some bears even awoke from hibernation at the Bolsherechensky Zoo, the Washington Post said.

In Europe, France had its warmest winter on record, while both Austria and the Netherlands had their second-warmest winter. Austria has a long history of keeping weather data: temperature records there go back to 1767, when Mozart was 11 years old.

From NOAA:

Alaska’s coldest February and winter in 21 years; Sixth warmest winter on record for contiguous U.S.

During February, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 36.2°F, 2.4°F above the 20th century average. This ranked among the warmest one-third of the 126-year period of record. Despite being on record pace for warmest winter on record in January, the winter (December–February) average contiguous U.S. temperature was 36.0°F, 3.8°F above average, ranking sixth warmest winter on record.

The February precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 2.40 inches, 0.27 inch above average and ranked among the wettest one-third of the historical period of record. The winter precipitation total was 7.71 inches, 0.92 inch above average, and ranked among the wettest one-third of the 125-year period of record. For the 12-month period March 2019–February 2020, the precipitation total was 34.12 inches, 4.16 inches above average and the sixth wettest March–February period on record.

This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia and the public to support informed decision-making.


Much-above-average temperatures were observed across parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as well as portions of California and Florida. New Jersey and Rhode Island ranked third warmest, while Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut ranked fifth warmest.

  • Below-average temperatures were observed across portions of the central Rockies to western Texas during February. No state ranked below average for the month.
  • The Alaska February temperature was 1.5°F, 3.3°F below the long-term average. This ranked among the coldest one-third of the 96-year period of record for the state and was the coldest February since 1999.
    • The North Slope had its coldest February in 31 years.
    • It was the coldest February since 1984 in Utqiaġvik (Barrow).
    • Utqiaġvik had seven days in February with low temperatures as cold or colder than −40°F — the most in any February since 1984 and in any calendar month since January 1989.
    • Cold temperatures across the region were a catalyst for rapid ice growth across the Bering Sea in February, where sea ice extent expanded to 100% of average for the month. This was the first February since 2013 where the Bering Sea ice extent was not below average.


  • Much-above-average to record wet conditions were present across much of the Southeast during February, as flooding rainfall on multiple days caused landslides and severe damage to roads and other infrastructure. In Jackson, Mississippi, the Pearl River crested at its highest level since 1983, inundating many homes. Several other rivers across Alabama and Mississippi were near-to or above flood stage. Georgia ranked second wettest, while Alabama and North Carolina ranked third wettest for the month.
  • After a dry January across southwestern California, February brought little to no relief, with many locations reporting less than 5% of average rainfall. California ranked driest on record for February with 0.20 inch of precipitation, besting the previous record of 0.31 inch set back in 1964.
    • Stations across the San Francisco Bay area and interior parts of northern California tied or set records for driest February on record. San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Oakland and many other stations received no precipitation during the month, setting local records for the driest February.
  • Air temperatures during the winter were warm enough across the Great Lakes to keep surface water temperatures above freezing across a large portion of the basin. As a result, enhanced lake-effect snow events occur much later in the season than on average, which lead to higher seasonal snowfall totals. This was indeed the case during February 27–29, as heavy lake effect snowfall impacted portions of the Tug Hill Plateau region of upstate New York. Cold and blustery winds blew across the length of Lake Ontario, over the relatively warm waters, lifting moisture and dumping several feet of snow along the downwind communities. Carthage, New York, received 48 inches of snowfall from this event while Croghan and Redfield observed 42.5 inches and 31.2 inches, respectively. Other communities south of Buffalo received between one and two feet of snow from this event and lesser amounts across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan According to the March 3 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 11.5% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up slightly from 11% at the end of January. With the extremely dry conditions during January and February across California, moderate drought blossomed across 34% of the state over the last three weeks and expanded across Oregon and into Nevada. In Texas, the drought footprint contracted, yet intensified as extreme drought expanded across parts of south Texas. Drought conditions improved across Hawaii. as well as the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

Winter Temperature

  • The Arctic Oscillation (AO) was strongly positive for most of the winter, particularly in January and February. Twice in February, it set all-time records for its highest values.
    • The positive phase of the AO is associated with enhanced troughing of the upper-air jet stream in the Arctic and enhanced ridging of the jet stream in the midlatitudes. This strengthens the jet stream and traps the colder temperatures in the Arctic, leaving warmer conditions to the south, including across the contiguous U.S.
  • During January, February and the latter half of December, the jet stream was stronger than normal and upper-air troughs were strongest near Alaska, Greenland and central Russia, leading to persistently cold anomalies in those regions. The ridges were strongest over Europe, East Asia and the northeastern Pacific, allowing warmer anomalies to persist.
    • As a result of this positive AO, winter temperatures were above average across most of the contiguous U.S. and much-above-average across the eastern U.S. West Virginia and Rhode Island each had their fourth warmest December–February on record. Twenty-two additional states had a top 10 warmest winter.
    • The Alaska December–February temperature was 0.7°F, 2.9°F below the long-term average, ranking among the coldest one-third of the 95-year record and the coldest winter in 21 years. Much-below-average temperatures were concentrated in parts of the Central Interior region with below-average temperatures across much of mainland Alaska. Above-average temperatures were present across portions of the Panhandle.
    • For the first time in 21 years, Fairbanks remained below freezing during all of climatological winter (December–February).


  • Much-above-average to record precipitation was observed from the Southeast into the Great Lakes. Alabama and Georgia ranked wettest on record for winter precipitation, while South Carolina ranked second wettest. Parts of the West and northern Rockies received below-average precipitation for the season.
  • Much of the Rockies, northern Plains, western Great Lakes and northern New England received average to above-average snowfall during winter. The Sierra Nevada Mountains, the southern Great Lakes and from the Ohio Valley to the Mid-Atlantic region and into the Northeast saw below-average to near-record low snowfall totals for the season. This was due in part to the northward deviation of the polar jet stream, which brought colder air to the West and warmer air across much of the eastern U.S. As a result, very few cold winter storms traversed the south-central portions of the Lower 48 and up the East Coast during the winter season.
  • Climatologically speaking, winter is the wet season in California and across much of the West. If March and April do not produce adequate precipitation to make up for the dry conditions experienced during winter, there will be increased concerns regarding sufficient water resources to get through the dry season (summer) and also for the increased potential for wildfires this coming fall.
  • While much of interior and northern Alaska was drier than average during the winter, portions of the Alaskan Panhandle were wetter than average. Petersburg, Alaska, received 40 inches of precipitation — the wettest winter since 2006–2007.