Taxpayer-Funded Research Investigated How ‘Populist’ Politicians Spread ‘Misinformation’ During COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID Protest
by Robert Schmad


The federal government funded a multilateral research project investigating how “populist” politicians allegedly sowed disinformation and eroded public trust during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) paid out a grant to support research investigating “how populist politicians distorted COVID-19 pandemic health communication to encourage polarized attitudes and distrust among citizens,” which made the public “more vulnerable to misinformation generally,” according to federal spending records. The project, titled “Pandemic Communication in Times of Populism,” received just over $160,000 from the NSF and is focused on how leaders in the United States, Brazil, Serbia and Poland approached the pandemic, stressing the importance of elevating public health experts over “populist” politicians, according to a presentation produced by the researchers.

“Each proposal submitted to NSF is reviewed by science and engineering experts well-versed in their particular discipline or field of expertise,” a spokesperson for the agency told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.”

The governments of the United Kingdom and Poland, as well as the Sao Paulo Research Foundation and the Trans-Atlantic Platform, are also funding the research project, according to its website.

Populist leaders in the United States and Brazil “redefine[d] the health crisis as a conflict between the elites and the people,” according to a presentation associated with the research project. These leaders interfered with experts and “spread misinformation” from the beginning of the pandemic, according to the researchers.

“In our view, based on the data we have, it’s obvious that governments should allow the experts to have the main say in how society should respond to public health crisis,” Vaclav Stetka, a principal investigator of the project, said in a video reflecting on the project’s findings. A previous research paper Stetka worked on claimed that the “banning of Donald Trump on Facebook and Twitter … slowed the spread of election misinformation.”

Researchers included images of former President Donald Trump on their website and in the presentation.

Another pillar of the research project concerned “how best to counter these populist narratives,” according to the NSF grant description. Researchers recommend that public health officials prepare strategies to “counteract resistance to preventative measures,” develop an approach to combating online “misinformation” and work with social media platforms to boost “trustworthy expert health advice,” according to the presentation.

Researchers will release a report containing their final recommendations near the end of May, which will address how to deal with mistakes made by experts and the media, a spokesperson for the project told the DCNF.

Health experts initially dismissed the idea that the COVID-19 virus originated in a Chinese lab, however the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation found in early 2023 that it could have originated from such a facility.

Studies have also suggested that mask mandates, which were pushed by public health officials, had no clear impact on stemming the spread of the virus. Pandemic-era lockdowns also harmed the economy and severely hampered the education of students whom officials kept out of schools, studies show.

The project also investigated how populist leaders negatively influenced the media during the pandemic.

“The presence of populist leaders obstructs the capacity of media organisations [sic] to engage in effective health crisis communication,” the project’s website reads. “It fosters anti-elite sentiments, contributes to divisive media coverage, and thereby encourages polarized attitudes and distrust among citizens, making them more vulnerable to misinformation spreading through socio-digital networks.”

The media was quick to dismiss claims that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese lab.

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Robert Schmad is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “COVID-19 Protest” by Sarah Stierch. CC BY 2.0.





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