The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) announced on Sept. 11 that it would investigate whether Health Feedback, an arm of one of our verified signatories, Science Feedback, had violated the IFCN’s Code of Principles’ commitment to non-partisanship and fairness in an Aug. 9 fact check of a claim made in a video published on Facebook.

At the outset, the IFCN brought in an independent assessor, Sarphan Uzunoglu, to review the fact-check. Uzunoglu, who is an assistant professor of multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University and has an interdisciplinary background, has never taken “pro-choice” or “pro-life” advocacy positions.

Uzunoglu said he found the fact-check’s conclusions to be fair and accurate.

“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.”

Uzunoglu also assessed the process by which the claim was selected for review and did the same for the last 10 fact-checks that Science Feedback has published.

“Their decision to fact-check the claim fits with the mission of the organization to fact check claims about important topics, and shows no evidence of bias in the selection process,” he said.

In addition to this independent review, the IFCN asked Science Feedback to explain the editorial processes involved in its publication of the fact-check.

Based on the independent review of the fact-check and the responses from Science Feedback, IFCN Director Baybars Orsek, Associate Director Cristina Tardaguila, and the IFCN Advisory Board concluded as follows:

  1. The findings of Science Feedback’s fact-check were based on publicly available scientific evidence and as not the result of any bias. The claim that “abortion is never medically necessary” is false and inaccurate.
  2. The process used by Science Feedback to select the original claim to review was sound and not the result of any systemic bias, and a review of the 10 last fact-checks indicates no systemic bias in the selection of claims to check.
  3. The failure to declare to their readers that two individuals who assisted Science Feedback, not in writing the fact-check but in reviewing the evidence, had positions within advocacy organizations, and the failure to clarify their role to readers, fell short of the standards required of IFCN signatories. This has been communicated to Science Feedback.

The International Fact-Checking Network, a network of more than 75 non-partisan fact-checking organizations in more than 40 countries, is committed to upholding the highest standards in fact-checking.

On April 26, IFCN announced it is reviewing and auditing its Code of Principles, introduced in 2016. As part of this process, it has conducted a survey with independent assessors and verified signatories. An updated Code of Principles will be put to the signatories and then announced publicly before the end of this year. IFCN’s priority is to use this review process to address some of the issues raised during this investigation.

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  • Another thing:

    “The failure to declare to their readers that two individuals who assisted Science Feedback, not in writing the fact-check but in reviewing the evidence, had positions within advocacy organizations, and the failure to clarify their role to readers, fell short of the standards required of IFCN signatories. This has been communicated to Science Feedback.”

    What happens regarding the relationship between the fact check and the fact-checked content? Is that entirely up to the social media company?

    And another thing: The Science Feedback fact check defines abortion as “ending a pregnancy.” I’m not kidding. Under that definition, why doesn’t delivering a healthy baby count as an abortion? Did the pregnancy not end when a baby is born? Pro-life advocates draw a distinction between direct abortion, with the objective of killing the fetus, and death of the fetus associated with early delivery by means not intended to result in its death.

    If the fact check completely ignores that distinction in the pro-life argument, how can it count as unbiased? Do we have any evidence at all that Sarphan Uzunoglu considered this dimension of the question?

  • This byline-less(!) article’s description of the IFCN process for complaints differs from the description I received recently in an email from IFCN Director Baybars Orsek.

    Orsek told me, regarding a series of complaints about PolitiFact, that they were sent to the assessor, who would decide “whether the application needs to (be) resent to [sic] (the) board’s review.” Orsek also said “The previous public investigations (Alt News and Science Feedback) (have) been opened after the assessors acknowledged the need.”

    The description in this release suggests instead that the IFCN asked for the assessor’s more-or-less immediate evaluation of the complaint.

    “At the outset, the IFCN brought in an independent assessor …”

    At the outset of what? The line occurs after the paragraph stating the IFCN had announced it would investigate the complaint against Science Feedback.

    The article above relates the timeline ambiguously, but hints that the IFCN asked the for the assessor’s evaluation after announcing the receipt of the complaint. If that is the process then it is hard to see a principled reason behind the IFCN’s decision to remain mum about complaints it has received about PolitiFact.

    Ambiguity is the enemy of transparency. Ambiguity used to hide inconsistency is deception.

    More clarity, please, for the sake of improved transparency.