Who guards the guardians?

Anybody and their dog can become a major social media platforms’ fact-checker. Just try hard enough to sing their paymaster’s song. What wouldn’t you do to join the club?

The problem is that most social media try to pretend their fact-checkers are not only independent but also anonymous.

It doesn’t take too much work to track them down.

Like in the case of an intrepid group that resides on the 4th floor, Golden Lane, Latin Hall, Dublin 8.

Yes, in Ireland.

They call themselves The Journal, to convey the message that they are, indeed, part of what used to be a noble profession.

One of their claims to fame: an attempt to dismiss a social media post that announces that a young American scientist, Morgan Vague, was beaten to a Time Magazine Person of the Year award by Sweden’s Greta Thunberg.

Disputed claim

Morgan Vague discovered a bacteria that can break down plastic. So much has been proven and the Dublin-based fact-checkers concede this point.

This, indeed, is a momentous discovery that should change the politicking about all kinds of stuff, starting with shopping bags and going all the way through packaging of whatever goods you need saved from the outside world to your ubiquitous water bottles.

The social media post that the energetic group of truth-seekers from Dublin challenged went on to say that Morgan Vague was nominated for the Time Magazine award, and lost out to the mentally and emotionally challenged teen from Sweden.

The pedantic group from Dublin jumped on the word nominated.

Not so, they announced (and social media dutifully marked such entries with their statement). Morgan Vague has never been nominated for the award, they said. Time publishes the nominees’ names a few weeks in advance, and they didn’t find Ms. Vague’s name among them.

Somebody, obviously, forgot to mention to the enthusiastic lads from Dublin that the candidate list that is published in advance (in order to whet the readership’s appetites and drum up custom) is always based on a list submitted earlier. Whoever on Time’s staff who gets the job to do it, goes through the preliminary list and narrows it down. And that list, obviously, remains secret.

Whence the fighting Irish got the information that Ms. Vague’s name had not been on the original list, they don’t say.

In fact, they don’t attribute to anybody a single word of what they are saying. That includes their own statement that, since Ms. Vague made her discovery in 2018, she wouldn’t have been eligible for the 2019 award, the one won by Miss Thunberg, anyhow.

That’s their assumption, something not worthy of anyone checking facts for money: assumptions are a very different animal.

Was Ms. Vague worthy of the award?

She did isolate and then bred three strains of bacteria that could consume and degrade polyethylene terephthalate a.k.a. polyester or, in 21st century’s shorthand, PET.

PET takes tonnes of time to break down naturally. Discarding it causes huge problems that wouldn’t be solved for centuries, millennia, even. But: there do exist strains of bacteria that produce an enzyme known as lipase that helps them break down and digest the obnoxious plastic.

Scientists had known about Pseudomonas putida and Bacillus cereus long before Ms. Vague entered the stage. These were two of the sub-strains of the bacteria involved. Ms. Vague found and identified another strain, and that’s the one that does the job. So momentous has been her discovery, this sub-strain was named after her:  Pseudomonas morganensis.

Time has been covering its behind very carefully. It’s been saying that its award goes to a person, people, a group, an idea or an object they consider to have “most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

That might explain the presence of Adolf Hitler on the list of winners, and other such dignitaries.

Perhaps it would have been intelligent of Ms. Vague to decline the honour, had she been approached.

Who are these guys?

They claim to be an independently-owned and managed media organisation, adding that they had begun small in 2010 with The Journal and a sports site.

The next few sentences sound like a marketing gimmick: they claim to have established themselves as a market leader in online news in Ireland.

And they are mighty proud of what they call their FactCheck.

The mighty Irish’s FactCheck has signed up with the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. Established in 2016 to sift truth from claims in the Irish political arena in the run-up to General Election of that year, they have since expanded to check for misinformation and disinformation across all spheres. In early 2020, they launched their Covid-19 Debunking Project. They also contribute to the global CoronaVirusFacts Alliance.

Judging by the stream of misinformation and disinformation coming from these sources, this source of what they suggest is solid information, in and of itself, disqualifies the Irish fact-checking group from any claim of serious inquiry.

Including their claims about Ms. Morgan Vague.

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