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The bogus Steve Bannon-backed study claiming China created the coronavirus, explained

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A controversial new study getting attention in US conservative media claims the coronavirus was created in a Chinese lab — but the group behind the report is intimately linked to a prominent Trump ally and known China hawk: Steve Bannon.

And all I spoke to said the study is deeply flawed.

The article popped up on September 14 on Zenodo, a website for scientists and academics to upload their work before it has gone through any formal peer-review process. Right-wing media outlets like the New York Post quickly seized on the paper’s conclusion that the virus that causes Covid-19 was potentially man-made at a Chinese facility. The study’s lead author, the 36-year-old Yan Li-Meng, has already appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to say the Chinese government “intentionally” released the virus into the world.

That’s an explosive allegation that if true would crack the unsolved mystery of the coronavirus’s origins. But despite the boldness of the paper’s claims, there’s considerable evidence that Chinese researchers didn’t bioengineer SARS-CoV-2 and that the government didn’t deploy it as a bioweapon.

(Reminder: SARS-CoV-2 is the name for the coronavirus itself; Covid-19 is the name for the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.)

It’s important to note that most experts I spoke to said it remains possible the coronavirus accidentally leaked out of a lab. There is a major virology lab located in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus was first identified. At that facility, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, researchers study samples of bat coronaviruses (and other viruses) collected from the wild and reportedly conduct risky “gain-of-function” research on them, manipulating them in experiments to test their pandemic threat.

But it appears Yan and her three co-authors haven’t changed many minds in the scientific community with their reasoning for why this coronavirus appears to be bioengineered.

“It’s deeply speculative, and the scenarios proposed are not very believable,” said Alina Chan, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and MIT’s Broad Institute. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, told me the study “is totally bogus.”

Other experts were similarly dumbfounded by the paper, especially since Yan has a prolific and solid publication record on infectious diseases. “You know better than to put your name behind this utter garbage, much less write it yourself,” Jasnah Kholin, Yan’s former colleague at the University of Hong Kong (who uses an alias online), tweeted on Tuesday. Twitter suspended Yan’s account on Wednesday for her lead role in writing the fact-challenged paper.

Why, though, is Yan’s study so bad, especially with her once-sterling credentials? The reason may have a lot to do with Bannon’s years-long effort to discredit China no matter the cost — and Yan’s willingness to help.

“This all plays into Bannon’s larger argument about China and the threat it poses to everybody on the planet,” said Michael Swaine, an expert on Chinese security issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington. “It just serves his interests.”

What the Bannon-backed, Yan-led coronavirus study actually says

Before getting to why Bannon and Yan work together, it’s worth quickly going through the main claim and three strands of supporting evidence Yan and her team offered in their study, titled “Unusual Features of the SARS-CoV-2 Genome Suggesting Sophisticated Laboratory Modification Rather Than Natural Evolution and Delineation of Its Probable Synthetic Route.”

Their headline assertion is that the mainstream view of SARS-CoV-2 as a naturally occurring virus “lacks substantial support,” and that the virus “shows biological characteristics that are inconsistent with a naturally occurring, zoonotic virus.” They stress “the need for an independent investigation into the relevant research laboratories,” but don’t identify one in particular, including the facility in Wuhan.

Screenshot of Yan team’s study.
Zenodo.

For many experts, the notion that the disease might be man-made by Chinese researchers isn’t a wild one.

“Given the moral antipathy and the secrecy surrounding any biological weapons program, and given the difficulty of differentiating a naturally occurring outbreak and a deliberately caused one, it is not entirely invalid or illegitimate to suspect the virus was man-made,” said Yanzhong Huang, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. “I don’t challenge Dr. Yan’s credentials in making such bold arguments.”

And Chan, the Broad Institute fellow who dismisses Yan’s paper, noted that similar coronaviruses have been found in labs as early as 2013.

The question of whether Chinese scientists created this specific coronavirus in a lab, then, is worth trying to prove. Successfully doing so is an entirely different matter — and the three pieces of evidence the Yan-led researchers offer are “easily disproven,” said Columbia’s Rasmussen.

Screenshot of the paper’s three main arguments for why the coronavirus is man-made.
Zenodo

First, the authors say the virus’s genes look “suspiciously similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratories” elsewhere in China. That seems bad, but Rasmussen notes that it makes sense this disease would have similar-looking genes to other coronaviruses because it is a coronavirus. “They are similar because they are related,” she said.

Second, Yan’s team says part of the spike protein the current coronavirus uses to infect cells looks like the 2003 SARS spike protein “in a suspicious manner.” In other words, they’re implying the virus isn’t natural — someone changed it. But that’s not the case, Rasmussen says: Those “are found in other coronaviruses. They arose naturally and coincidentally.”

Third, the paper states the SARS-CoV-2 virus has a “unique” furin cleavage site — a section of the spike protein — asserting that such a feature isn’t found in the natural world. But Rasmussen said many coronaviruses have these sites, including the 2012 MERS coronavirus first found in the Middle East. “This proves exactly nothing,” she told me.

Altogether, there’s just little Yan’s team offered to convince their peers they found what they say they found. There’s always fierce debate in academic and scientific literature, of course, but the easily refuted assertions make it hard to take much of what they wrote seriously.

Plus, as Huang told me, “that the paper was not peer-reviewed and was backed by a political nonprofit raises further questions on the credibility of the paper.”

This is where we find Bannon.

Yan and Bannon have a mutually beneficial relationship

Yan’s study was published by the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation, two New York City-based groups Bannon helped create alongside Guo Wengui, a Chinese dissident and billionaire who has long sought political asylum in the US after facing bribery, fraud, and money-laundering charges back home. It was on Guo’s yacht that US Postal Service officers arrested Bannon last month for defrauding donors to another, unrelated nonprofit.

The main goal both organizations share is to expose malfeasance by the Chinese Communist Party-led government, a target Bannon has worked tirelessly to embarrass and overthrow. Their mission dovetails nicely with the work of G News, a Bannon- and Guo-supported website that has already published articles asserting — without clear evidence — that China’s military created the coronavirus.

Bannon — the former executive chairman of Breitbart News who led Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and worked as Trump’s White House chief strategist — has for years blamed China for harming America’s economy via unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property. In Guo, Bannon clearly found an ally with whom to combat the Chinese regime.

“Guo has been the toughest Chinese opponent the CCP has ever encountered,” Bannon told the Washington Post on Sunday, using an acronym for the Chinese Communist Party. “He has been the world’s leading fighter exposing the lies, the infiltration, and the malevolence of the CCP.”

Yan is also not a fan of the Chinese government. She fled Hong Kong for the United States in April out of fear of political persecution.

She told Fox News in July that she had evidence the Chinese government knew the disease transferred between humans back in December, aiming to blow the whistle on the regime, but that her then-superiors at the University of Hong Kong’s public health laboratory — a World Health Organization research center — had told her to keep quiet. The university denies any of that happened.

While in the US, Yan linked up with the Bannon- and Guo-backed nonprofits, though it remains unclear exactly when or why (she didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment).

The general suspicion, including among those who don’t like her recent paper, is that she found a group of people who share her view that the Chinese government purposefully put the world in danger. Yan wanted a place to offer that analysis and keep safe from the regime, and staying in Hong Kong — amid a Beijing-backed crackdown on dissent — wasn’t an option.

Kholin, Yan’s former colleague at the university who bashed her paper, told me Yan “is not safe here.”

Coming to the US and joining Bannon and Guo’s projects offered her a prominent platform to say her piece. “I could not stay silent,” Yan told the UK’s Daily Mail in August. “I could see China was covering up the truth and I had to do something since I was a professional who could explain it.”

Bannon and Guo likely didn’t bring Yan in solely out of the goodness of their hearts. Having a Chinese virologist with sterling credentials make the case that the Chinese Communist Party created and unleashed the coronavirus on the world is far more powerful than having Bannon or Guo say it.

Since associating herself with Bannon and Guo, she’s made a steady stream of appearances on their various media outlets, including Bannon’s podcast in August, to discuss her views on the Chinese government and the coronavirus. Her analysis at the time, though, was more political than scientific.

“If this is something come from nature, the government has no responsibility for that. Why do they recruit such big force to stop people from understanding what happened?” she said. “If this is an accident come from some lab in China … why don’t they try to stop it?”

“They don’t need to hide this kind of truth if this has a nature origins,” she concluded, later calling the Communist Party’s actions “evil.”

[embedded content]

She’s gone on to serve as Bannon’s key witness of sorts on the China coronavirus issue. Over time, though, she’s also adopted positions that fit popular narratives among conservatives.

Namely, she’s promoted hydroxychloroquine as effective against Covid-19 — echoing Trump and other prominent conservatives — despite ample scientific evidence against that claim. G News, the Bannon and Guo-backed website, publicized her comments on the drug. Whether she truly believes the medication is helpful or is just boosting conservative talking points to stay in Bannon and Guo’s good graces is unclear.

Kholin thinks it’s the latter. “I think it’s being in an atmosphere that fosters conspiracy theories while feeling pressured to justify her existence,” she told me, “and honestly that fear is fully justified.”

Either way, Yan’s views have clearly reached a prominent audience and certainly will continue to do so. On a September 15 segment on Fox Business, host Lou Dobbs and the Hudson Institute’s Michael Pillsbury — an informal adviser to Trump on China — spent time praising Yan’s work.

Trump retweeted Dobbs’s tweet of the clip.


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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