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Fighting the COVID Infodemic

Countering the COVID-19 infodemic requires not only facts, but also the coordinated and strategic advocacy for which those fighting HIV are renowned. Now more than ever, scientists need to counter lies and myths, and defend the integrity and independence of their enterprise.

PARIS/KUALA LUMPUR – The emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has not only led to the global COVID-19 pandemic, but also fueled an accompanying onslaught of misinformation. Some have promoted drugs such as hydroxychloroquine as cures for the disease, despite insufficient scientific evidence of their effectiveness; others have announced a COVID-19 vaccine before its safety and efficacy have been rigorously tested. Meanwhile, far-fetched pandemic conspiracy theories circulate widely on social media.

The World Health Organization defines an “infodemic” as “an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” Today, the huge volume of misinformation regarding COVID-19 threatens to undermine evidence-based responses to the pandemic – and scientists must not stand idly by.

For example, the International AIDS Society (IAS) recently convened the first virtual International AIDS Conference and the first global abstract-driven conference on COVID-19. But the vital research presented at those meetings already risks being lost amid the deluge of content peddled by science deniers and conspiracy theorists who openly challenge established research methods. Less prominent, but equally pervasive and harmful, are the much subtler factual misrepresentations, propaganda, and hyperbole regarding COVID-19. The world therefore needs scientists to help separate facts from semi-facts.