News Release

How conspiracy theorists exploited Covid-19 science

Conspiracists have used the provisional nature of science to paint scientists as malign actors

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA – 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:

“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.”

Read the full commentary “How conspiracists exploited COVID-19 science” in Nature Human Behaviour.


The Annenberg Public Policy Center was established in 1993 to educate the public and policy makers about communication’s role in advancing public understanding of political, science, and health issues at the local, state, and federal levels.

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