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SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project

SciCheck and Our Commitment to Transparency


FactCheck.org launched a feature in 2015 called SciCheck to increase public knowledge and understanding of science and scientific research. Since then, we have posted more than 250 SciCheck articles and videos on subjects such as climate change, Zika, childhood vaccinations, and, most recently, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and COVID-19.

SciCheck was seeded with funding from the Stanton Foundation, which was founded by the late CBS President Frank Stanton. (The foundation is no longer a funder of FactCheck.org.)

In mid-December, we started SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project — which, as we state on our COVID-19 Misconceptions page, is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation was founded by the late Robert Wood Johnson II, who was president of Johnson & Johnson from 1932 to 1963.

Our regular readers know that we have received funding from both foundations, because, among other things, we post quarterly financial statements on our website and email those reports to our subscribers.  

Our policy is to publicly disclose the identity of anyone who makes a donation of $1,000 or more. In 2015, Inside Philanthropy praised our disclosure policy for “exemplifying nonprofit transparency.”

“FactCheck.org is totally transparent about its funding sources — going so far as to list a detailed breakdown of financial support by every quarter, the same standard expected of political campaigns and party committees,” it wrote. “So, quite apart from its stated mission, FactCheck.org is making a contribution by exemplifying nonprofit transparency.”

Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, knows this too, because on Twitter he included a screen grab of our most recent financial disclosure report to accuse us of bias. His tweet also cited the fact that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation still holds stock in Johnson & Johnson, the maker of one of three vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. The foundation reported that, as of Dec. 31, 2019, it had nearly $12 billion in total assets, including $1.9 billion in Johnson & Johnson stock.

“Bless your heart if you think factcheck.org is an unbiased source of vaccine information,” Massie wrote on Twitter, without providing any evidence of this alleged bias.  

Contrary to Massie’s suggestion, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — as is the case with all of our funders — has no control over our editorial content. Period. Full stop.

As with our funding, we are also transparent about our editorial process for selecting, researching, editing and, if necessary, correcting our articles.

For political fact-checking, we use various tools — Nexis, CQ Transcripts, Rev.com, C-SPAN — to monitor the remarks of major U.S. political figures, such as the president and congressional leaders. For viral social media claims, we rely on signals from our readers and Facebook, which provides us with content on its platforms that has been flagged by its users as potentially false.

In researching claims, we rely on primary sources of information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and National Academy of Sciences. For SciCheck articles, for example, that might mean reviewing the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports and its data on COVID-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations, as well as the FDA’s briefing document for each vaccine.

SciCheck articles also typically include reviewing the latest scientific research and interviewing the top researchers and academic experts in the relevant field of study.

Regular readers know, for example, that when we write about COVID-19 we cite such experts as epidemiologists Marc Lipsitch and Dr. Michael Mina at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Susan Weiss, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.   

Since our founding in 2003, FactCheck.org’s mission has been to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding of public policy issues. We accept funding from organizations that recognize the importance of that mission and our editorial independence.