Misinformation about COVID-19: evidence for differential latent profiles and a strong association with trust in science.
The global spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been mirrored by diffusion of misinformation and conspiracy theories about its origins (such as 5G cellular networks) and the motivations of preventive measures like vaccination, social distancing, and face masks (for example, as a political ploy). These beliefs have resulted in substantive, negative real-world outcomes but remain largely unstudied.This was a cross-sectional, online survey (n=660). Participants were asked about the believability of five selected COVID-19 narratives, their political orientation, their religious commitment, and their trust in science (a 21-item scale), along with sociodemographic items. Data were assessed descriptively, then latent profile analysis was used to identify subgroups with similar believability profiles. Bivariate (ANOVA) analyses were run, then multivariable, multivariate logistic regression was used to identify factors associated with membership in specific COVID-19 narrative believability profiles.For the full sample, believability of the narratives varied, from a low of 1.94 (SD=1.72) for the 5G narrative to a high of 5.56 (SD=1.64) for the zoonotic (scientific consensus) narrative. Four distinct belief profiles emerged, with the preponderance (70%) of the sample falling into Profile 1, which believed the scientifically accepted narrative (zoonotic origin) but not the misinformed or conspiratorial narratives. Other profiles did not disbelieve the zoonotic explanation, but rather believed additional misinformation to varying degrees. Controlling for sociodemographics, political orientation and religious commitment were marginally, and typically non-significantly, associated with COVID-19 belief profile membership. However, trust in science was a strong, significant predictor of profile membership, with lower trust being substantively associated with belonging to Profiles 2 through 4.Belief in misinformation or conspiratorial narratives may not be mutually exclusive from belief in the narrative reflecting scientific consensus; that is, profiles were distinguished not by belief in the zoonotic narrative, but rather by concomitant belief or disbelief in additional narratives. Additional, renewed dissemination of scientifically accepted narratives may not attenuate belief in misinformation. However, prophylaxis of COVID-19 misinformation might be achieved by taking concrete steps to improve trust in science and scientists, such as building understanding of the scientific process and supporting open science initiatives.