Covid-19 conspiracy theories erode belief in safety measures


A new study suggests that simply reading about a Covid-19 conspiracy theory can make people more likely to ignore scientific evidence and less likely to believe that preventive actions, such as wearing a face covering, are necessary.
About 3 centuries ago, the author Jonathan Swift wrote: “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” According to the new study, falsehood flies as fast as ever in our own, supposedly scientific times.
The study found that it was easy to sway people’s opinions by asking them to read an article claiming that Covid-19 originated in a bio weapons laboratory in China.
The researchers recruited 1,071 volunteers through the online crowd sourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk. Overall, 33% of the respondents identified as Republicans, 27% as Independents, and 40% as Democrats. The sample was 45% female and 55% male.
The scientists randomly assigned each participant to one of four experimental conditions.
The first group, who acted as the control group, did not read an article before responding to the survey.
Each of the other three groups read a different article that the authors had headlined and formatted to look like a news story.
The first described scientific evidence that the virus originated in bats, while the second described a conspiracy theory about the origin of the virus. The third article gave equal weight to both perspectives.
In our ‘Hope behind the headlines’ series, we continue to round up the most encouraging results in Covid-19 research. But, as the pandemic continues to unfold with many countries embracing a second lockdown, a critical approach to these hopeful results is more necessary than ever.
In a live social media chat, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced a few days ago that the first doses of a safe coronavirus vaccine are set to become available in late December this year or early January 2021. This is, of course, if everything continues to go smoothly.
Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was referring to two candidate vaccines currently underway: one in development by Moderna Therapeutics in collaboration with NIAID, and the other in development by Pfizer in partnership with BioNTech.


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