October 16, 2020

Covidiots: Theories of Wackadoodle Conspiracists

Covidiots protesting against lockdown in Harrisburg, PA / Photo by Paul Weaver, Flickr, Creative Commons

Misinformation about COVID-19 is a major threat to public health.

By Bill Hounslow
Rosa Rubicondior

Researchers from Cambridge University, UK have analysed data obtained five different countries and have shown how readily misinformation and fake news about the coronavirus can gain traction. The countries are USA, UK, Mexico, Ireland and Spain.

Using this data, they were able to identify a number of ‘key predictors’ for susceptibility to fake pandemic news. They also found a clear link between susceptibility to fake news about coronavirus and hesitancy about receiving any future vaccine against it.

Respondents were asked a series of questions to determine their gender, age, ethnicity, political persuasion and numeracy, their trust in politicians’ and in the World Health Organization’s handling of the crisis, both on a scale of 1 to 7 with 1 being ‘not at all’ to 7 being ‘very much’. Then they were asked to rank a series of statement about coronavirus on a relability scale of 1 to 7 with 1 being ‘very unreliable’ to 7 being ‘very reliable’. Their attitude towards any future vaccine was tested by asking them whether they would accept the vaccine and whether they would recommend it to a vulnerable friend or relative (yes/no).

The following table shows the statements about the coronavirus that respondents were asked to rank for reliability:

The researchers published their analysis in Royal Society Open Science today (14 October 20202):


Misinformation about COVID-19 is a major threat to public health. Using five national samples from the UK (n= 1050 and n= 1150), Ireland (n = 700), the USA (n = 700), Spain (n= 700) and Mexico (n= 700), we examine predictors of belief in the most common statements about the virus that contain misinformation. We also investigate the prevalence of belief in COVID-19 misinformation across different countries and the role of belief in such misinformation in predicting relevant health behaviours. We find that while public belief in misinformation about COVID-19 is not particularly common, a substantial proportion views this type of misinformation as highly reliable in each country surveyed. In addition, a small group of participants find common factual information about the virus highly unreliable. We also find that increased susceptibility to misinformation negatively affects people’s self-reported compliance with public health guidance about COVID-19, as well as people’s willingness to get vaccinated against the virus and to recommend the vaccine to vulnerable friends and family. Across all countries surveyed, we find that higher trust in scientists and having higher numeracy skills were associated with lower susceptibility to coronavirus-related misinformation. Taken together, these results demonstrate a clear link between susceptibility to misinformation and both vaccine hesitancy and a reduced likelihood to comply with health guidance measures, and suggest that interventions which aim to improve critical thinking and trust in science may be a promising avenue for future research.

Roozenbeek, Jon; Schneider, Claudia R.; Dryhurst, Sarah; Kerr, John; Freeman, Alexandra L. J.; Recchia, Gabriel; van der Bles, Anne Marthe; van der Linden, Sander
Susceptibility to misinformation about COVID-19 around the world
Royal Society Open Science
2020; 7(10), 201199. DOI/: 10.1098/rsos.201199

Originally published by Rosa Rubicondior, 10.15.2020, under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.