People who trust science are more likely to be duped into believing and disseminating pseudoscience, finds a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Pseudoscience is false information that references science broadly or scientific terms, research or phenomena. Across four experiments, researchers asked U.S. adults to read news articles written for the study that intentionally made false claims about two topics: a fictional virus created as a bioweapon or the health effects of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The experiments reveal that study participants who indicated they had higher levels of trust in science were most likely to believe the fake account if it contained scientific references. Those individuals also were more likely to agree that stories spotlighting pseudoscience should be shared with others.
On the other hand, people who demonstrated a stronger understanding of scientific methods were less likely to believe what they read and say it should be shared, regardless of whether the information was attributed to science.
The researchers note their findings conflict with ongoing campaigns to promote trust in science as a way to fight misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, mask-wearing and COVID-19 vaccines. Trust in science alone is insufficient, says the lead author of the paper, Thomas C. O’Brien, a social psychologist who studies conflict resolution and trust in institutions, most recently at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.