'Miracle Cures' Represented Over a Quarter of COVID-19 Misinformation In Traditional Media from January Through May

So-called "miracle cures" for COVID-19 represented more than a quarter of the misinformation about the novel coronavirus pandemic coming from traditional media outlets during the period between January 1 and May 26, a new study has found.

The study, which has not been peer reviewed, was published online Thursday by researchers at Cornell University. It examined some 38 million traditional English-language media from around the world to find some 1.1 million mentions of COVID-19 misinformation. Of these, reports about "miracle cures" were represented nearly 300,000 times—more than a quarter (26.4 percent) of the total. Findings from the study were first reported by The New York Times.

"We've been following a lot of the conspiracy theories [that] have been circulating around COVID, so given their popularity, it was surprising to see that the 'miracles cures' topic ranked so high," lead author Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, told Newsweek in an email.

Anti-mask protest
An anti-mask protestor holds up a sign in front of the Ohio Statehouse during a right-wing protest "Stand For America Against Terrorists and Tyrants" on July 18 in Columbus, Ohio JEFF DEAN/AFP/Getty

A key finding of the study was that President Donald Trump was "by far the largest single component of the infodemic." The researchers found mentions of Trump connected to misinformation in more than 400,000 instances. This also overlapped significantly with misinformation about "miracle cures." The study explained that "possibly even the majority of the 'miracle cures' topic was also driven by the president's comments."

"I think it's indicative of the fact the president does get extensive media coverage. So when he says something, and he tended to weigh in frequently on this particular topic, it does get amplified," Evangea said.

"I think it's important to note that persons in powerful positions, be they celebrities or politicians, make statements, they are given attention simply because they're prominent, even if the information they're sharing is false," the researcher said. "We all need to make sure that we consider first the accuracy and evidence of statements rather than be swayed by the cult of personality."

The president has received significant criticism throughout the course of the pandemic for not only downplaying the dire reality of the outbreak—but also for pushing unproven treatments and at times making bizarre, unscientific claims. Polling suggests that a significant majority of Americans do not trust the president when it comes to information about the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A poll published this week by Axios/Ipsos found that just 27 percent of Americans said they trusted Trump for accurate information about COVID-19. Comparatively, 47 percent of respondents said that they trusted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to provide correct information regarding the pandemic. Only 19 percent said that they would take a vaccine for COVID-19 if Trump was the person vouching for its safety.