Top 5 falsehoods about Ebola
This story originally appeared on the PunditFact website. Poynter is republishing with permission.
The spread of Ebola in West Africa, and now into Dallas, has stoked plenty of misinformation about the Ebola virus, its origins and the government’s response.
PolitiFact and PunditFact have been fact-checking claims about the Ebola outbreak since July. Here are our top five falsehoods.
In July, Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claiming that people are crossing the southern U.S. border carrying Ebola, citing "reports."
But none of the reports were credible, and the experts we talked to said Gingrey was wrong. (And since he said this in July, it’s safe to say we’d know by now if he was right.)
Gingrey’s claim rates Pants on Fire.
Several conspiracy websites raised questions about a "bioweapons lab" in Sierra Leone being the source of the virus. Questions like, "What's behind the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone? Could it possibly be a U.S. bioweapons project gone amuck?"
Some of the websites tie the "bioweapons lab" to billionaires George Soros and Bill and Melinda Gates.
But, like Gingrey’s claim, there is no proof of Soros and Gates funding a bioweapons lab in Kenema, one of the largest cities in Sierra Leone with a population of about 150,000. And there’s really no case that a bioweapons lab in Kenema is behind the outbreak.
There are, however, a group of Tulane University researchers who have worked in the area for about a decade to better understand Lassa fever.
"We were there working 10 years and then Ebola came here," said Dr. Robert Garry, a Tulane University professor who is leading the research. "We’re not here to turn Lassa and Ebola into a kind of superweapon. It can do that on its own.
"The conspiracy theories really just kind of, wow," Garry said. "Our teammates are dying, and you’re talking this trash about us."
This claim is Pants on Fire.
Bloggers are also behind a bogus claim that "President (Barack) Obama signed an executive order mandating the detention of Americans who show signs of ‘respiratory illness’."
The executive order in question is much more targeted than the article lets on, it isn’t aimed at Ebola, and while it allows health officials to quarantine someone with a highly contagious disease, it does not mandate it.
The executive order deals with respiratory diseases, but Ebola is not a respiratory disease.
Also, because public health matters are controlled by the states, the Department of Health and Human Services could only isolate people as they enter the country or attempt to travel from one state to another.
So this claim, too, is Pants on Fire.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., claimed recently that the isolated cases of Ebola in the United States directly contradict the assurances of President Barack Obama and his administration.
"We were told there would never be a case of Ebola in the United States," McCain said.
Best we can tell, we were never told that.
We searched the public comments both of Obama and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found no such matter-of-fact assurances. What officials and Obama have repeatedly said is that while there’s a chance an Ebola case could appear in the United States, the possibility of an outbreak is extremely low.
McCain’s claim rates False.
On the flipside of McCain is former Dallas star Morgan Brittany, who wrote a blog suggesting that that Ebola is part of a larger White House plan to control the nation.
Brittany’s column describes a Los Angeles dinner party where the conversation turned grim.
"One of the men brought up the fact that Washington has known for months if not years that we were at risk for some sort of global pandemic," Brittany wrote. "According to a government supplier of emergency products, the Disaster Assistance Response Team was told to be prepared to be activated in the month of October for an outbreak of Ebola."
Brittany’s story was based on tweets from a private California medical and safety services company, which now says the tweets were based on nothing.
"A couple of EMS guys were talking about conspiracy theories," said Ed Castillo, president of Golden State FIRE EMS, the organization behind the chatter. "There are no facts to support it. It can be written off as a couple of guys shooting the breeze."
Brittany’s claim rates Pants on Fire.