Misinformation is all around us. But just how vulnerable are we to its messages? Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media tracks public opinion about today’s factually unsupported narratives, looking at how aware we are of such narratives, the extent to which they are believed, and what makes us vulnerable to believing them. In their eighth survey wave conducted in late July 2021, researchers tracked two narratives: “The CDC is hiding negative effects of COVID vaccines” and “COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility among women”. They found that significant groups of respondents believed the narratives are true. In fact, 42% thought it was either definitely or likely true that the CDC is hiding negative effects from COVID vaccines, and about 21% think vaccines may cause infertility. Among respondents who were not and did not intend to be vaccinated, the numbers were substantially higher with 86 % believing that the CDC is hiding COVID’s negative effects, and 51% believing that the vaccines are causing infertility among women. In comparison, among those already vaccinated or intending to get vaccinated, 30.2% believed the CDC is hiding negative effects and 12% believed the infertility statement. The researchers also asked survey respondents to identify what they consider to be the “most important problem” facing the country. While vaccinated respondents put COVID and the pandemic at the top of the list, followed by the economy and racism, those unvaccinated put the economy at the top of the list, followed by government, security, and immigration. Overall, the researchers say the survey results indicate that vaccine resistance is tied up with demographic, political and media use patterns, suggesting the issue is as much ideological as it is concerned with vaccine effects. Political resentments, they note, complicate communication about vaccination.
In other news, carbon -- the foundation of life on Earth -- is continually cycled between the land, ocean and atmosphere, but climate change, fueled by human actions such as the burning of fossil fuels, has disrupted that crucial cycle. In new research funded by NASA, IU earth scientist Natasha MacBean will explore the negative impacts of climate change in dryland regions. Dryland ecosystems cover about 40 percent of Earth's surface and support about 38 percent of the world's population, and they are particularly sensitive to moisture availability. It’s likely that semi-arid regions will experience dramatic shifts in vegetation cover and productivity, with potential threats to food, water and global livestock production, MacBean says. To better understand carbon cycling and its interaction with the Earth's climate in dryland areas, MacBean and her research team will use tools such as satellite remote sensing, field experiments and modeling to develop advanced predictive tools. By studying vegetation, carbon and water cycling processes in more detail, MacBean says, we can better predict and hopefully mitigate future negative impacts on dryland regions.