Jay Van Bavel, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, was among many professors of psychology and neurological science to debunk a concept called “mass formation psychosis”.
“To my knowledge, there’s no evidence whatsoever for this concept,” he told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Dr Robert Malone, a virologist and immunologist who claims to have created the mRNA technology behind Covid vaccines (other scientists say hundreds contributed significant research into the technology), recently argued that people were “hypnotised” into believing mainstream ideas around Covid.
He told The Joe Rogan Experience podcast that “mass formation psychosis” had resulted in a “third of the population basically being hypnotised” into believing what US government figures said on Covid.
“Just like hypnosis, they literally become hypnotised and can be led anywhere,” said Dr Malone, who compared people’s behaviour during the pandemic to Nazi Germany.
Academics including Mr Van Bavel argued that there was no such concept and that despite Dr Malone’s allegations, the safety and effectiveness of Covid vaccines was not in doubt.
Stephen Reicher, a social psychology professor at the University of St Andrews, also told The AP that there was “no academic credibility” in the idea that people had been “hypnotised” into trusting government figures.
While many conspiracy theorists and anti-Covid campaigners shared the idea on social media in the days after Dr Malone’s interview with Joe Rogan on 31 December, the video was taken down from YouTube on Monday.
It was thought to have been removed for “violating” YouTube’s Community Guidelines, which do not allow “content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts” government health advice.
Dr Malone’s Twitter account has also been removed following the claims about “mass formation psychosis”.
The social media platform was set up by former Donald Trump aide Jason Miller last year, and Mr Rogan said he was doing so because Twitter banned Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene for Covid misinformation.
In April, the podcast hosted was condemned by the White House for claiming that young and healthy people don’t “need to worry” about taking up a Covid vaccine.
“I’m not sure that taking scientific and medical advice from Joe Rogan is perhaps the most productive way for people to get their information,” said communications director Kate Bedingfield at the time.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.
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