See what didn’t happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but totally untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legal, even though they are widely shared on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:


Disclaimer: Members of the US Congress recently voted to exempt the IRS from auditing their personal finances.

Facts: Congress has yet to vote on any such measure, according to spokespeople for the IRS, the Speaker of the House and the House Ways and Means Committee. Unsupported claims that U.S. lawmakers voted to exempt themselves from IRS audits circulated online this week after tweets from an account that made numerous false claims were interpreted as true.

“Breakthrough,” read the Aug. 17 tweet, which amassed more than 13,000 shares. “In order to preserve democracy, Congress voted to exempt itself and its members from an upcoming IRS audit.”

Hours later, the same account suggested it was a joke, writing that “a surprising number of American adults” couldn’t spell or recognize the word “sarcasm.” Nonetheless, the tweet was not deleted or tagged, and the false claim has been circulated in its true form on Twitter and Instagram.

A review of legislation recently passed by Congress found no bills that meet this requirement. The Reducing Inflation Act, which became law last week and sparked a backlash over misinformation from the IRS, does not include any such provisions.

Terry Lemons, IRS communications and liaison chief, confirmed to The Associated Press that the claim is false and that “all tax filers are treated equally under the tax law.”

Henry Connery, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the claim was “nonsense.”

Dylan Peachey, a spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee, also confirmed the claim was false.


Statement: Fentanyl is leading cause of death among U.S. adults

Fact: Experts say fentanyl overdose deaths, while high, are not the leading cause of death for all adults in the United States. Heart disease and cancer kill more people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Social media users, including some Republican elected officials, claim that synthetic opioids are the number one killer of American adults

“Fentanyl is the leading cause of death among adults in the United States,” Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, wrote on Twitter. “Until POTUS secures our southern border, this crisis will only get worse.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) also shared the congresswoman’s tweet.

That’s not the case, according to experts and the CDC.

“It’s definitely not the leading cause of death for all adults,” said Kenneth Leonard, director of the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Research Institute on Addiction.

“I wouldn’t minimize fentanyl as a problem, but it’s certainly hard to say it’s a leading cause of death,” said Lewis Nelson, professor of pharmacology, physiology and neuroscience at Rutgers New Jersey School of Medicine. UCSF The difference lies in heart disease and cancer, said Dan Cicarone, a professor of family and community medicine.

About 71,000 people will die from overdoses on synthetic opioids such as fentanyl in 2021, up from nearly 58,000 in 2020, according to the CDC. By comparison, the CDC estimates that in 2020, nearly 700,000 people will die from heart disease, about 600,000 from cancer, and about 350,000 from covid-19.

A spokesman for McCarthy did not respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment.

Andrea Coker, a spokeswoman for Van Duyne, wrote in an email that while heart disease may be the number one killer of older Americans, “the CDC has identified fentanyl as the leading cause of death in Americans aged 18-45.”

As part of its response, Coker provided a link to an analysis by Ohio-based nonprofit Families Against Fentanyl that identified fentanyl as the number one 18-45-year-old in 2019 and 2020 killer. The team analyzed synthetic opioid deaths by comparing publicly available CDC data over the past few years with other causes of death, according to spokeswoman Moira Muntz.

Jeff Lancashire, a spokesman for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, said the CDC has not confirmed that fentanyl is the number one killer in this age group. The agency uses death certificates to determine the leading cause of death in the U.S. In its dataset, fentanyl deaths are listed as part of a larger category of synthetic opioid deaths. According to the CDC, synthetic opioids (including drugs like fentanyl and tramadol) are different from natural opioids like morphine and semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone. Lancashire said that while fentanyl accounted for the majority of synthetic opioid deaths, the CDC lacked breakthrough data on deaths caused by fentanyl.

Drug overdose deaths were spread across four different cause-of-death categories, although most of them were in the “accidental” category. The rest are classified as suicide, homicide or pending. Accidents are the leading cause of death among people aged 18 to 45, with accidental synthetic opioid overdoses accounting for less than half of those deaths, according to preliminary figures for 2021, Lancashire wrote.

“It does not appear that fentanyl itself is the leading cause of death among 18-45 year olds, and it is definitely not the leading cause of death for all adults,” he wrote. “However, we do not break down the leading causes to the point where we can Rank fentanyl.”


Statement: Florida bans “To Kill a Mockingbird” in schools, along with a few other popular titles on the Banned Book List.

Fact: Florida isn’t forcing schools to stop teaching Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” despite the misleading post that garnered thousands of shares on social media. The false claims erupted after various social media users shared a list of titles they said showed books banned in Florida, including “To Kill a Mockingbird” and other famous titles such as ” A Wrinkle in Time”, “The Giver” and “People among the mice”.

The Florida Republican governor’s press secretary Brian Griffin confirmed in several tweets that the claim was false.

“There is no killing of a robin in Florida,” Griffin tweeted. “In fact, the state of Florida recommends this book in 8th grade.”

The tweet is tied to Florida’s Great Student Thinking Benchmark, or Best Standard, which includes the book as an example text for eighth-grade students.

The governor’s deputy press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, told The Associated Press in an email that there is no banned book list at the state level and that the “banned book list” circulating online is fake.

“The state has guidelines on content, and local school districts are responsible for enforcing those guidelines,” Redfern said.

According to the Florida Free Reading Project, the Palm Beach County School District temporarily removed To Kill a Mockingbird from classrooms earlier this year so it could be reviewed, but later returned it. The group, which tracks book removals across Florida school districts, said its research did not find any other recent book bans in Florida schools, although it relied on documents from the state’s school districts, which have not been found in recent months. Not all responded.

“We can’t say for sure that the title is still available in every region, but definitely not banned statewide,” said Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Free Reading Project.

Tasslyn Magnusson, an independent researcher who tracks attempts to ban books across the country, also said she was unaware of any recent “To Kill a Mockingbird” ban in the Florida school district. She said the widely circulated “banned book list” also did not match her own data.

The Palm Beach County School District did not respond to an emailed request for comment.


Statement: Pfizer documents show that 44% of pregnancies reported during its covid-19 vaccine trial ended in miscarriage.

FACTS: The claim is based on a flawed calculation that, among other problems, counted twice the same number of reported miscarriages — which were also unproven to be caused by the vaccine.

In recent days, thousands of social media users have spread the false claim that newly released documents show that nearly half of the pregnancies in Pfizer’s vaccine trials resulted in miscarriages.

“Holocaust: Nearly half of pregnant women in Pfizer trial miscarried,” one widely circulated headline claimed. The statement first appeared on the blog of Naomi Wolf, an author who has gained attention in recent years for spreading covid-19 misinformation. The blog post falsely claimed that FDA filings showed “chilling data showing that 44% of pregnant women participating in Pfizer’s mRNA COVID vaccine trial had miscarriages.”

When asked for comment, Daily Clout noted in a statement to The Associated Press that it had issued corrections. The post has been updated to say in a footnote that the 44% figure is “incorrect”. As of Friday, the post was inaccessible.

The original blog post cited a more than 3,600-page Pfizer information document, dated March 2021, and submitted to the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. The blog post pointed to 22 references in the document to spontaneous abortion, or abortion without external intervention before the 20th week of pregnancy. The blog also noted that a table in the same document showed that trial participants had 50 pregnancies after receiving their first dose. Using these numbers, the blog incorrectly concluded that nearly half of the pregnancies in the trial resulted in miscarriages.

But Jeffrey Morris, chair of the biostatistics department at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Associated Press in an email that the post’s methodology contained “many errors.” Morris said the blog’s 22 mentions of miscarriages actually count roughly half of the same events as two. This is evident by comparing the unique ID numbers of clinical trial participants for each report.

For example, a miscarriage reported by a participant in October 2020 was recorded in the Adverse Event List and the Serious Adverse Event List that followed, even though they referred to the same instance. Such reported adverse events were also not confirmed to be caused by the vaccine, but only after the participants were vaccinated.

Beyond that, Morris noted that of the unique miscarriages in the document, only three subjects appeared in a table listing 50 pregnancies that occurred after the participants received their first dose. This means that the table does not list all participants who became pregnant during the clinical trial and therefore cannot be used to calculate miscarriage rates like the website can.

Miscarriages are not uncommon: it is estimated that about 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies result in a miscarriage.

The Associated Press has previously dismissed similar claims of misrepresenting Pfizer’s data claiming the vaccine is dangerous for pregnancy. In fact, a 2021 study in JAMA found that exposure to the covid-19 vaccine did not increase the chance of spontaneous miscarriage. A study published the same year in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the risk of spontaneous miscarriage following the mRNA covid-19 vaccine was consistent with the expected risk of spontaneous miscarriage.

A Pfizer spokesman declined to comment on specific claims. The FDA did not respond to a request for comment.

Bay Area Transit Police Officer Eric Hofstein displays the fentanyl he confiscated while patrolling the BART platform at the Civic Center Station in San Francisco on November 20, 2020. Stories circulating online falsely claim fentanyl is the leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. (File photo/AP/San Francisco Chronicle/Jessica Christian)
photo A person reads “To Kill a Mockingbird” at a lunch counter in Fresno, California on March 6, 2006. Stories circulating online falsely claim that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is banned in Florida, as a false listing suggests. (File photo/AP/Gary Kazanjian)

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