Was it a bioweapon from a virology institute? Had it been known before and already patented? Could homeopathic remedies help? All of these ideas about the headline-making novel coronavirus disease—now officially called COVID-19—are blatantly false. As with any recent outbreak, from Zika to Ebola, untruths and conspiracy theories spread as quickly as the pathogen itself.
An emerging line of research exploring what might be called misinformation studies is trying to understand how and why fake beliefs arise during public health crises. Media coverage of the new coronavirus is still unfolding and has not yet been rigorously analyzed. But a study of two earlier epidemics that arrived just as new reports about COVID-19 continued to mount reveals the difficulty in reversing false rumors about a health crisis.