Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ebola panic sparked by BBC based on a non-scientific publication

                                  "Summer Blockbuster" by American Artist Sean O.Wabich; Ink on Paper 
                                   70x100 cm: 2014

40 years ago the BBC was credited as one of the most reliable media in the world. 

Unfortunately in the past few years we have been witnessing a higher level of public tolerance towards inaccuracy by the mainstream media. Maybe this is happening since former Prime Minister Tony Blair lied to the British people over the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I think that was a major shift in terms of government credibility and I am deeply convinced British PM David Cameron was absolutely right when he said "Tony Blair poisoned the well of public trust"

However Britain easily recovered its historical prestige when 11 months ago the British parliament rejected a possible UK military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to deter the use of chemical weapons.

There's an old saying in Tennessee, I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me... You can't get fooled again!'"

It seems the same saying is pretty well known in Britain too and the British usually put their sayings into practice. 

Although here it seems that the well of public trust in Britain is still under a major contamination threat because an important British institution like the BBC, in 2012 published the following article on the Ebola virus being "airborne".

This article published by BBC two years ago, is now being used as the main reference by many media outlets and private citizens to spread fear and panic over the current Ebola outbreak occurring in West Africa.

The article intro says: "Canadian scientists have shown that the deadliest form of the ebola virus could be transmitted by air between species".

The only problem with this claim is that the "Canadian Study" upon which the BBC alarming news was based comes from a non-scientific publication.

I repeat it once again because my English maybe contaminated by the Italian language, being myself Italian:


In fact the only publication that reported the Canadian Study was "Scientific Reports" a non-scientific publication hosted on the domain.

A top representative from the Scientific Community advised me that "Scientific Reports editorial policy is the acceptance of papers that ensure suitability to experimental science".

In practice he advised me not to rely on such a publication for any scientific purpose. Hence this study which is known since 2012 as "the Canadian Study" has never been included or re-published by any serious scientific publication.

In practice, the Canadian Study cannot be considered scientific and consequently no serious media should rely on what it claims, especially to alarm the world's population.

The Immunology Professor told me explicitly about the Canadian Study: "you are asking me to make a comment over a non-scientific publication, what are we talking about here? you already got your answer!"

I understand that the man on the street can be easily misguided by such a publication being hosted on the domain, but the BBC is not run by the man on the street, or at least that's what I thought before reading that story.

However, among the mainstream media you have to make a distinction, because yesterday, after we published our article that dismissed the Canadian Study being "scientific", CNN immediately changed its headline from "Ebola coming to U.S." to  "2 Americans infected with Ebola in Liberia coming to Atlanta hospital"  

To be perfectly honest that change was the result of a joint effort, as after I have published the article, a Ph.D Student in Virology, Stephen Goldstein told CNN Correspondant Jim Clancy that the CNN headline "Ebola coming to U.S." was too inflammatory.

Jim Clancy informed the CNN Senior Writer who changed the headline. Team work always works. This is a lesson we should always keep in mind: Each part must do its part, which is perfectly summarized by the motto: E Pluribus Unum.

Instead here it seems that the BBC motto is "Be the last to know" or at least the last to acknowledge not only what goes on but the fact that as long as that article is On-line, the BBC reputation is sinking down to the toilet. 

For no apparent reason the BBC seems to rely on sensationalism while what is really happening is they are self-destroying their own historical reputation by admitting they're not able to distinguish a scientific study from a non-scientific one.

The role of the media is to inform the public, hence as I have been taught while working at CNN: "Accuracy is key". 

E Pluribus Unum,

Gianluca D'Agostino


Gianluca D'Agostino worked for CNN in Washington DC and for Associated Press in Rome and Tirana. D'Agostino holds a Ph.d in Theory of Information and Communication and worked as Researcher at the Department of English at Stanford University.

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