How Conspiracy Theorists Exploited COVID-19 Science

Summary: Researchers say those who create and spread conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are using the provisional nature of science to paint scientists as “malignant actors” and discredit findings.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, conspiracy theorists have exploited the conditional nature of science and questioned the trustworthiness and motives of federal agencies and officials to depict scientists and health authorities as malign actors.

In a commentary published today in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, science communication scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson analyzes the ways in which conspiracists do this and proposes steps health authorities, journalists, and scientists can take to minimize the likelihood that their work will be used to fuel new conspiracy theories.

Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and a professor of communication at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication, argues that:

This shows a woman in a facemask in a dark room, looking at a laptop
Conspiracists have used the provisional nature of science to paint scientists as malign actors. Image is in the public domain

“By exploiting the provisional nature of scientific knowledge, its inevitable updating and the realities of scientific funding structures, conspiracists eroded the trust of some susceptible individuals in the recommendations of public health authorities about lifesaving behaviours including mask wearing and vaccination. Their success in doing so made community immunity, and with it an end to the pandemic, more elusive.”

About this psychology research news

Author: Michael Rozansky
Source: University of Pennsylvania
Contact: Michael Rozansky – University of Pennsylvania
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
How conspiracists exploited COVID-19 science” by Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Nature Human Behavior


How conspiracists exploited COVID-19 science

During the COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theorists have exploited the provisional nature of scientific consensus and the realities of how science is conducted to paint scientists and public health leaders as malign actors.

Instead of envisioning an untidy world filled with randomness, unintended consequences, innocent action gone awry and new evidence, conspiracists envision one that is inhabited by powerful individuals who conceal malign activities and intent. The fluid nature of emergent science provides fuel for conspiracy theorists who offer certainty in place of the provisional, sometimes-updated statements of health experts. At the same time, conspiracy proponents question the trustworthiness and motives of those in the federal agencies, philanthropic institutions and pharmaceutical companies who fund basic research and develop, deliver and, in the case of some of the federal agencies, regulate public access to medical treatments, including vaccines.

Filtering the world through these lenses, during the pandemic conspiracists have drawn on and manipulated statements and actions by public health experts, such as Dr Anthony Fauci (director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), on topics that range from mask wearing and COVID-19 treatments to vaccine safety and the funding of coronavirus research. Understanding the susceptibilities that conspiracists exploit should help us to identify ways to better safeguard both the trustworthiness of health science and public trust in it.

Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.
  1. This seems to be a rather politically biased article to defend the indefensible. Politicians exploited the ‘pandemonium’over the last 2 years to acquire more power to restrict personal freedom.
    Raw data from pharmaceutical companies are completely missing. Natural product that actually do help fighting Covid for those exempt (and for which raw data actually do exist) are not being made public. Unfortunately, political statements pushed on us by the existing (mostly right wing) and biased press have largely contributed to continue to divide people and fuel profits over saving more lives by cooperating and working also with natural products that have proved to be successful. Additionally, racist views have been fuelled to divide further and isolate individuals who couldn’t or did not want to take the vaccination.
    Blood clots, semi paralysis, and adverse reactions did occur, and killed people. Yet, the resistance to publish Raw Data increased instead of decreasing and a thorough investigation of adverse effects of vaccinations has not been carried out. Finally, the vaccinated individuals running around without masks can Still be contagious and spread Covid nonetheless;meanwhile, people who have cancer, severe allergies and diabetes have been completely left behind without a strategy or an alternative form of green pass. Furthermore, vaccinated people still need to be shot regularly because the rna machinery productions cannot be altered forever. Leaving enormous scientific gaps in light of effectiveness and evidence, long term unknown effect. Not to mention that the economy has been fully prioritised over human lives. This is a rational analysis of facts. I personally have lived in full self isolation since March 2020. I have severe allergies, the UK government does not have a plan in place for people like me. They offer the epipen!! Risking an anaphylaxis is Not a joke. And whilst most people survive it, it can leave patients with kidney, liver, and even brain damage.
    Someone please tell me that our existence is a ‘conspiracy’, and I’ll gladly jump off the planet myself.

    1. Thanks, MTauro for your insightful post. You made some great points that should certainly be considered.

      Another point to be considered is that COVID research is extremely new, as the virus has only been circulating for 2 years. Much of the relevant data, we are finding out as we are going along. It’s true that some of the early theories/research is no longer applicable as new findings have either disproved or expanded on the findings.

Comments are closed.