A new guide has been launched to help science communicators have conversations with people who adhere to coronavirus conspiracy theories.
The guide, launched by Sense of science, was written in partnership with Professor Peter Knight, conspiracy theory expert, University of Manchester. The goal is to equip them with the necessary tools to prevent the spread of disinformation about the virus and its spread.
Among proponents of conspiracy theories – on the origins of the coronavirus, the reality of the pandemic, the purpose of lockdowns or vaccines – people’s opinions range from general unease with mainstream media accounts, to a deep conviction of a global conspiracy.
Like everyone else, people who cite conspiracy theories have a mix of sometimes conflicting views. Those who are faced with these claims may sense the risk that trying to give someone a more substantiated account will simply cause them to become defensive and become more attached to the plot itself.
While it is harmful to indulge in completely unfounded allegations, it is also wrong to dismiss those who try to think independently – it is important that conversations bring us closer to a shared picture of what is going on.
In conversations and workshops with people who believed in some of Covid’s conspiratorial theories, or engaged with those who believed them, they told the guide’s authors what worked – and what they were doing and did not react. They also critically reviewed and added tips from the guide for having constructive conversations.
“Although presented as knowing the world well, many covid conspiracy theories actually distract people from critical thinking,” said Tracey Brown OBE, director of Sense about Science. “We are now reaching a time when the world is reflecting on the impact of pandemic measures and more people should be involved, including those who have felt completely alienated from the whole experience.”
“Whether you are a researcher in this area or not, we hope the comments help you have good conversations.
The guide can be viewed at https://senseaboutscience.org/activities/talking-about-conspiracies/.
The guide was produced by Sense about Science and the “Infodemic: Combatting Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories” project, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UKRI’s COVID-19 funding. Visit the project website at https://infodemic.eu.