In 2015, we published an investigation on how exposures to a
solvent common in paint strippers -- called methylene chloride --
were linked to at least 56
accidental exposure deaths in the U.S. since 1980.
The European Union pulled methylene chloride paint strippers from general
use in 2011, but despite decades of evidence about the dangers, the U.S. didn't
follow suit, or even require better warnings.
Nearly four years later, the EPA has finally
issued a rule restricting retail sales of these products. When
the rule was proposed in January 2017, it cited our reporting multiple times.
For a while, the proposed ban languished. Safety advocates and victims'
families pressed for action. Some retailers voluntarily stopped selling paint
strippers containing the solvent.
Jamie Smith Hopkins first started reporting on this in 2015, beginning with a
tip and using public records to compile a record of deaths stretching back
The latest development in the story comes during Sunshine
Week, an annual
nationwide celebration of access to public information, and is an
example of how public records help us keep those in power accountable.
All week on social media, we've been spotlighting examples of our investigative
work. Here's the roundup:
Ferriss dug into a database of government court settlements to find
Customs and Border Protection had been quietly settling lawsuits, a story
we partnered on with the
look last April at the truth behind border claims, according
to U.S. Border Patrol data.
response to a reader question: How many people who have been deported have kids
who are citizens?
Malone and Jeffrey Smith's story with the Daily Beast on how the government
lost track of plutonium -- and its silence on the matter.
Levine's look into the ongoing saga of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross'
failure to divest from stocks despite saying he did -- and her latest, a
look at why Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's financial disclosures
haven't been certified. (A fun twist: Last week, via FOIA, Levine got
emails showing how officials responded to a story she wrote on Ross'
financial conflicts two years ago).
Whyte and Joe Yerardi's dive with NPR on drugmakers' influence on how
states decide which medicines are put on
the Medicaid preferred drug list.
The point: Public records are vital to investigative reporting,
to journalism, and to our mission statement: exposing betrayals of
the public trust by powerful interests.
UPDATES AND IMPACTS
The former U.S. Senate candidate and member of Congress from Texas announced
his White House bid this week. During his Senate run, O'Rourke rejected money
from political action committees, but nevertheless shattered U.S.
Senate campaign fundraising records. 9 things to know about
TROUBLES: At Thursday's Senate Finance hearing on Capitol Hill,
Sen. Ron Wyden asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the issues raised
in Carrie Levine's scoop last week: Why hasn't the
White House's chief ethics watchdog certified Mnuchin’s annual financial
disclosure? Meanwhile, The New York Times, CNN, and other news
outlets credited her with breaking the story.
737 Max 8 pilots in U.S. complained about suspected safety flaw (Dallas
Ex-VW Chief Knew
of Diesel Scheme Years Earlier Than He Admitted, S.E.C. Says (New York Times)
Whether Fugitive Financier Supplied Donation to Trump Re-Election Effort
(Wall Street Journal)
The European Union pulled methylene chloride paint strippers from general use in 2011, but despite decades of evidence about the dangers, the U.S. didn't follow suit, or even require better warnings.
Nearly four years later, the EPA has finally issued a rule restricting retail sales of these products. When the rule was proposed in January 2017, it cited our reporting multiple times.
For a while, the proposed ban languished. Safety advocates and victims' families pressed for action. Some retailers voluntarily stopped selling paint strippers containing the solvent.
Jamie Smith Hopkins first started reporting on this in 2015, beginning with a tip and using public records to compile a record of deaths stretching back decades.
The latest development in the story comes during Sunshine Week, an annual nationwide celebration of access to public information, and is an example of how public records help us keep those in power accountable.
All week on social media, we've been spotlighting examples of our investigative work. Here's the roundup:
Two new health fact-checkers
Now, two new fact-checking projects aimed specifically at debunking false claims about health have emerged — and they’re relying on crowdsourced expertise.
Last April, three scientists built a prototype for what would become Metafact. The idea was to get verified scientists to answer readers’ questions about health claims. Then, the platform would display the degree to which those experts reached a consensus about the question.
- YouTube announced that it’s testing a new feature in India that displays fact checks alongside search results for sensitive topics, BuzzFeed News reported. The feature works by pulling relevant articles from the Schema.org ClaimReview markup, which is essentially a few lines of code that fact-checkers embed in their stories to get them picked up by Google. YouTube told Daniel that it plans to roll the feature out to new countries in 2019.
- The Verge reported that Facebook has a plan to remove groups and pages that spread anti-vaccine misinformation from its recommendations — which have been proven to shape users’ beliefs. Facebook will not remove such groups and pages outright, as it does with false accounts. The move comes after weeks of pressure from both the public and American lawmakers for the company to do something about antivaxxer content, which is popular worldwide.
- Also jumping on the anti-anti-vaccine bandwagon, Amazon this week announced that it had removed books promoting autism cures and antivaxxer propaganda. NBC News reported that the move came after a report from Wired that found the platform had hosted medically dubious books offering bogus cures for a variety of diseases.
- PEN America has released a report on how misinformation tactics are being normalized as campaign strategies as the United States gears up for another presidential election in 2020. PEN found that among the biggest threats are micro-targeting and fake accounts. The report also recommends that tech platforms voluntarily take up some combination of human and automated moderation to weed out bogus content.
- Experts see a shift in how Russian internet trolls are seeking to disrupt the 2020 elections. To get around protections put in place by social media companies to find fake content, they're using fake accounts to amplify existing content, Bloomberg reports. Also in Russia, the government has banned the sharing of "false information of public interest, shared under the guise of fake news," the BBC reported.
- Inspired by The Washington Post Fact Checker’s ongoing guide to all of President Donald Trump’s false or misleading statements, Aos Fatos has launched a running tally of similar falsities from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Meanwhile, on CNN, Victor Blackwell is using gumballs to visualize how many false claims Trump has made.
...the future of news
- If an artificial intelligence language model can be used to write stories, could it also be used to detect non-human written ones? Maybe, according to MIT’s Technology Review, though one rigorous test gave reason for doubt. Meanwhile, a joint initiative of MIT and Harvard gave $275,000 to projects that are using AI to combat misinformation.
- Remember last week when we said that Facebook’s pivot to privacy and encryption could spell bad news for those wishing to counter misinformation? Politico put those concerns into words, writing that encrypting everyone’s messages “will undermine efforts worldwide to tackle misinformation.”
Not long after the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, a video appeared on Facebook that purportedly showed passengers and crew members inside the plane’s cabin before its demise. It’s believable enough — people are wearing oxygen masks and babies are crying. But, thanks to Africa Check, we know it wasn’t a video of the Boeing 737 Max 8 moments before it crashed.
The Recorder (Law.com / paywall] via free access on Yahoo} “Are rules that guard against forged or tampered evidence enough to prevent deepfake videos from making their way into court cases? …If you follow technology, it’s likely you’re in a panic over deepfakes—altered videos that employ artificial intelligence and are nearly impossible to detect. Or else you’re over it already. For lawyers, a better course may lie somewhere in between. We asked Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, to explain (sans the alarmist rhetoric) why deepfakes should probably be on your radar….”