A new term has emerged during the pandemic, “unlogic.” Unlogic is not ignorance or stupidity. It is reason distorted by suspicion and misinformation. It reflects a state of mind that is organized around convenient fictions rather than established facts. The statement that COVID-19 is no worse than a mild flu is an example of unlogic.
A 2021 meta-analysis disclosed bias from both sides of the political spectrum. In another study, researchers had participants from both ends of the spectrum rate the accuracy of newspaper headlines, some accurate and some fake. When they were burdened with other thoughts and were given a time limit, they were more likely to fall for fake news. When they had the time and mental space to deliberate, their discernment was more accurate. Fake news is more liable to be tweeted than accurate news so reflection is critically important.
The World Health Organization has used the term “infodemic” to refer to the avalanche of misinformation that exists regarding the risks, prevention, and treatment surrounding the pandemic. Incorrect beliefs often have been corrected by “refutation texts,” documents that identify erroneous beliefs and then present corrections based on a variety of sources. In doing so, refutation texts promote a specific set of cognitive processes thought to promote “knowledge revision.” Belief in conspiracy theories fills in missing gaps in one’s worldview. In addition, it provides a sense of agency to those who lack it.
The pandemic of 2020 has politicized scientific storytelling. For much of psychology, it is now impossible to report findings responsibly outside of their moral, emotional, and political context. No psychologist should pretend that the field exists outside of those contexts and their implicit or explicit power. The days of “value-free” reporting are over, if indeed they ever existed.