Pseudoscience warning: People who simply ‘trust science’ are likely to spread misinformation

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Credit: JWU
Credit: JWU

A new study finds that people who trust science are more likely to believe and disseminate false claims containing scientific references than people who do not trust science. 

For the study, researchers conducted four preregistered experiments with online participants. The researchers created two fictitious stories – one about a virus created as a bioweapon, mirroring claims about the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, and the other about an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about the effects of genetically modified organisms or GMOs on tumors.

What the researchers found was that among people who did not have trust in science, the presence of scientific content in a story did not have a significant effect. But people who did have higher levels of trust in science were more likely to believe the stories with scientific content and more likely to disseminate them.

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“Although trust in science has important societal benefits, it is not a panacea that will protect people against misinformation. Spreaders of misinformation commonly reference science. Science communication cannot simply urge people to trust anything that references science, and instead should encourage people to learn about scientific methods and ways to critically engage with issues that involve scientific content,” [said researcher Thomas O’Brien.]

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