Media Bias/Fact Check Blinded by Science Feedback? (Updated)

Recently we chanced on the Science Feedback evaluation at Media Bias/Fact Check, a website that uses subjective ratings to score the bias and accuracy of various websites (including Zebra Fact Check).

Apparently blinded by “Science,” Media Bias/Fact Check gave Science Feedback its highest rating for factual accuracy. Indeed, Media Bias/Fact Check proclaimed Science Feedback a “Pro-Science” source.

Yet in 2019 Zebra Fact Check published “How Science Feedback flunked Fact-Checking 101,” an expose of a flawed Science Feedback fact check along with the associated and likewise flawed International Fact-Checking Network investigation of same.

Media Bias/Fact Check’s brief review fairly gushes with praise for Science Feedback:

Analysis / Bias

In review, the Science Feedback website does not produce original content, but rather links to Climate and Health Feedback fact checks. They also provide links to articles in the press that mention Health or Climate Feedback. The website is free from editorial bias.

Failed Fact Checks

None. In fact they are a signatory of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN).

Overall, we rate Science Feedback a pro-science fact checker based on utilizing scientific evidence to refute claims. We also rate them Very-High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing and the use of expert Ph.D level scientists/doctors to fact check claims. (D. Van Zandt 4/19/2020)

Blinded by Science

“The website is free from editorial bias”

We wondered about the epistemological foundation for this claim. We asked the founder of Media Bias/Fact Check, Dave Van Zandt, about it.

“Science Feedback does not produce op-eds or offer news articles that are opinion-based,” Van Zandt said. “They simply publish fact checks related to climate change and health. This does not mean they are free from bias. We have rated them pro-science, which one could argue states they have a pro-science bias.”

Is a pro-science bias not an editorial bias?

It seems when Media Bias/Fact Check says a “website is free from editorial bias” it means the website does not publish content labeled as editorial.

But of course the use of biased language or the like in news or fact check stories counts as editorializing. That is, biased language allows the writer to include an element of opinion in the story.

The language Media Bias/Fact Check used would suggest to readers that writers at Science Feedback never editorialize.

Failed fact checks? None!

At first we thought this claim about Science Feedback, a fact checker, never having a failed fact check referred to the reliability of its own fact checks. Instead, Media Bias/Fact Check means it to say no IFCN-verified fact checker has found fault with Science Feedback. And that’s safe to say, albeit trivial, given that fact checkers do not fact check one another.

We grant that exceptions other than Zebra Fact Check may exist. But we’re not aware of any IFCN-verified fact checker that fact checks other IFCN-verified fact checkers.

Has this Media Source failed a fact check? LET US KNOW HERE.

After reading the review of Science Feedback, the blurb above about failing a fact check drew our attention.

We confess to misinterpreting it at first.

Given the claim that Science Feedback has never had a failed fact check, we thought the question had to do with whether one of Science Feedback’s fact checks had failed.

We filled out a form based on our flawed understanding of the question, pointing out that Science Feedback had botched a fact check.

Zebra Fact Check caught Science Feedback equivocating and misquoting in a 2019 fact check. Equivocation and misquotes can serve as vehicles for bias and opinion.

Because Zebra Fact Check does not count as a verified signatory to the IFCN’s Code of Principles, Media Bias/Fact Check has all the excuse it likely needs to ignore the facts we shared.

On the other hand, Van Zandt’s response to our email said he intends to take our critique of Science Feedback into account.

We’ll see what happens with that.

As things stand, Media Bias/Fact Check paints a picture of Science Feedback giving readers a distorted view of its reliability.

Update May 24, 2020: Give credit to Media Bias/Fact Check. Van Zandt updated its entry on Science Feedback not long after our email exchange, adding the following on May 12, 2020:

The website is free from editorial bias as it does not offer opinion pieces or publish news reporting. Further on September 27, 2019, The IFCN concluded an investigation into a Science Feedback/Health Feedback fact check and found that “Science Feedback’s conclusion appears sound and fair, based on the best evidence. Their fact-check is an accurate attempt to inform readers on the veracity of a claim and strictly adheres to their scientific fact-checking methodology.” However, the independent right-leaning Zebra Fact Check reports that Science Feedback “ignored context, altered a quotation and ultimately relied on an equivocal argument.”

We regret not visiting the site sooner to look for signs of change.

We’re not sure how avoiding the writing of editorials and news inoculates a publisher against editorializing in its content. We expect whatever literary genres remain after removing those two may still contain editorializing. Staff at MB/FC apparently continue to wrestle with how that works.

MB/FC offered a he said/she said account of Science Feedback’s challenged fact check of Lila Rose. It summarizes the review from the IFCN, then does the same of the Zebra Fact Check review. That account fails to note how ZFC directly challenged the review published by the IFCN. As a result, we think readers who fail to click on all the links and immerse themselves in the background will receive a very incomplete picture of that controversy.

Of note, MB/FC lowered Science Feedback’s “factual content” rating to “High.” Previously it was listed as “Very High.”

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