For those who wish to combat COVID-related misinformation - such as the belief that vaccines contain microchips, or that the coronavirus vaccine causes infertility - it oftentimes feels like an uphill battle.
Oftentimes, the issue emerges surrounding unproven treatments for coronavirus.
In the peer-reviewed study, the researchers explain that despite no evidence backing such treatment, clinics have begun to pop up and offer stem cell therapies that "promise to prevent COVID-19 by strengthening the immune system or improving overall health," according to the University at Buffalo.
"Scientists, regulators and policymakers must guard against the proliferation of poorly designed, underpowered and duplicative studies that are launched with undue haste because of the pandemic, but are unlikely to provide convincing, clinically meaningful safety and efficacy data, says co-author Leigh Turner, PhD, professor of health, society and behavior at the University of California, Irvine.
The researchers claim that through social media, it is far easier to distribute falsities and promote incomplete or under-investigated studies. Due to general panic surrounding the pandemic, these studies are often used to "exploit" patients' fears by clinics claiming to provide legitimate treatment.
Stem cell therapies, according to the study, have led in the past to patients suffering blindness and even death. The treatments are also extremely expensive, leaving vulnerable patients financially harmed.
The patients, after being told that the treatment they have taken is sufficient to prevent coronavirus, may choose not to get vaccinated, or perhaps to stop wearing masks or not to comply with social distancing guidelines, putting themselves only further at risk.
"The search for cell-based COVID-19 treatments has ... been fraught with hyperbolic claims; flouting of crucial regulatory, scientific, and ethical norms; and distorted communication of research findings," the study says. "Rushed development and premature commercialization of cell- and gene-based therapeutics for COVID-19 and other respiratory virus infections and hyped communication of related clinical and research findings will inevitably harm the field of regenerative medicine, increase risks to patients, and erode the public's trust. Evidence-based approaches to developing safe and efficacious cell-based interventions and other medical products remain crucial even amid the challenges and intense pressures of the pandemic."
So coronavirus misinformation is massively harmful. How, then, do we combat such claims?
But perhaps more faith in the scientific process could lead to reduced belief in their claims.
The research, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research, finds that exposure of as little as one minute on how the evaluation of evidence is taken into account as part of scientific research may significantly improve one's belief in the scientific method.
"There was also some evidence that the increase in trust also reduced beliefs in COVID-19 misinformation, through what is called a mediation effect," according to Indiana University.
Over 1,000 adults, composing a "nationally representative US sample by age, sex and race," were assigned at random to view either an "intervention infographic" about the scientific process or a "control infographic."
The researchers attempted to evaluate whether exposure to essential aspects of science - for example, why new evidence in research may cause scientists to change their argument - may prevent the spread of misinformation.
"Our approach, if replicable, would potentially avoid those concerns by focusing more generally on trust and the scientific enterprise," said Jon Agley, associate professor at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, the lead author of the study. "The implication is that messaging to reduce the influence of misinformation may not need to address individual pieces of misinformation but could instead provide more general resistance to the influence of misinformation by speaking to misperceptions of science and scientists that might otherwise reduce trust."
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