Qanon. The Deep State. 5G microchip injections.
We live in a golden age of conspiracy theories. These circular reasoning belief systems once relegated to the fringes have entered the mainstream, fueled by social media, validated by politicians and celebrities and calcified by repetition and confirmation bias.
Food is no stranger to conspiracy theories. Whether it’s worries about GMOs being used to hurt our health, that KFC breeds mutant chickens or that there was once a great fondue cheese cartel (or wait, that one’s true), these food conspiracy theories are just as pernicious and persistent as those that plague politics.
And here’s the problem: we’re only getting started. As we move forward into the world where more and more of our calories are from impressive and hard to fathom technology, it’s safe to say we say we’ll likely see many more food-based conspiracy theories.
All of which is why found this conversation Red to Green’s Marina Schmidt had with Dr. Daniel Jolley, a professor from the UK who researches conspiracy theories and their impact, so fascinating. Schmidt and Jolley go deep on how future food, particularly cultured meat, is an area that is ripe for conspiracy theories. And, as discussed by Schmidt and Jack Bobo in the previous episode, this means that the companies behind this new food need to think seriously about preparing for a polarized world where they need to work hard to counter false beliefs about their product.
You can listen to the full conversation here, download it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, or read the transcript of the conversation below.
Yes, finally, conspiracy theories. What an interesting topic, while we do focus on the term conspiracies, the basic principles we talk about also apply to the questions. How do we convince skeptics? How do we engage in communication? How should we deal with issues like fake news that will arise? Once cultured meat gets the attention of mainstream media more and more. There hasn’t been much researched on, on conspiracy theories until recently. And professor Daniel jolly from whom you will hear today is one of the people leading this field.
He’s a senior lecturer in the department of psychology at North Umbria university in the UK, his research focuses on the consequences of conspiracy theories and has been featured on BBC in the New York times, the guardian financial times, Huffington post, et cetera, et cetera. In 2020 to date, his media engagement has had an estimated reach of 1 billion people.
I haven’t seen the topic of cultured meat, conspiracies discussed anywhere else in such detail. So I’m excited for you to listen in. Let’s jump right in.
Daniel, it’s really lovely to have you on red to green.
Dr. Daniel Jolley
Absolute pleasure. Thanks for the invite.
You know, oftentimes people, when I talk to them about conspiracy theories in the field, some say, well, why would you care about what’s some weird people talk about in their niches, but then at the same time, it seems that conspiracy theories have become way more widespread. What would you respond to that?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
I think that it’s a good stereotype and a good mix of separation. And indeed that was the perception may 10, 15 years ago, where it was suggested that only a small number of people believed in conspiracies and they were on the fringes of society. They had no impact in essence, but actually polls have demonstrated that they are widespread.
In the UK, 60% of people believe at least one conspiracy. Similar findings have been found in America. So this is a significant body of people who are subscribing to the viewpoints, where they believe in that there’s peripheral groups that they’re doing something sinister.
And typically they’re believe something sinister to do with a large event or large issue. So it could be to do with climate change, could to do with vaccines and COVID to do with COVID 19. So that one group is conspiring against the other.
So in essence, what you find is that when people are drawn to these viewpoints, they can actually change how they act in the world. Because of course, if you believe that climate change is a hoax and it’s not happening. Why would you reduce your carbon footprint? If you believe that vaccines are dangerous because doctors or nurses cover up the dangers to make a profit, why would you vaccinate?
And particularly it’s very prominent right now with, of course the COVID-19 vaccine. Again, if you think it’s all a hoax or you think that so many, the sentence too is going on, you are less likely to want to vaccinate yourself. But of course, the basis is not in truth. These things are not true. COVID-19 is happening.
Climate change is happening. Vaccines are safe. They will help us be COVID 19. These are things that are based in facts. If people for different reasons, going down the line of, ‘well they’re dangerous X, Y, and Z’… that could impact the smooth running of society. It could impact how me and you engage.
And of course, cultured meat is a new field. It is something that even me personally, I’m still learning about, but it has all of the key ingredients of conspiracy beliefs to flourish. And we can obviously get into that during this podcast, but it certainly, to me, looking from the outset, potential flourishing ground for these narratives to really develop.
Yeah, definitely. And that’s exactly why I wanted to talk to you because that aligns with my beliefs about the field. I think it’s quite exciting that right now we are witnessing the emergence of a completely new product category. When I talked to some people from the field about it, I sometimes get the response ‘any press is good press.’
Do you think that’s true?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
Hmm. So we know with conspiracy theories that once people are exposed to them, they can be very resistant to correction. And also they can be very influential, straight away. They can impact us without us realizing. I mean by that is research has shown that when you’re exposed to this, these narratives, it makes you think differently about that event, whilst it wouldn’t impact your behaviors immediately, of course, because you need to digest information, it takes a bit of a time for you to actually impact your behavior.
For example, you vaccinate, or whether you use that product, t it would initially make you more skeptical towards that product. It will change your opinion towards it. Arguably, a one-time exposure on a Twitter feed is probably going to have a minimal impact. It will probably fade away.
But of course, prolonged exposure where you find yourselves, maybe in a Twitter algorithm or on the YouTube trending page where there’s different recommended videos, you may find yourself in essence, in a bit of a rabbit hole. Where you you’re then be recommended similar videos. That, of course, will then reaffirm that, that prior belief and suddenly your belief may indeed then become much more resistant to change.
And as we see with social media, interesting research recently highlighted that Amazon books also play along along with algorithms. Whereby if you were searching about cultured meat or the myths around that, I suspect there will be recommended books or articles that may be a bit more conspiratorial.
The caveat is it’s just not one post. It’s stuff over a period of time. It’s not just that you read one thing and suddenly you’re a changed person. That, of course, isn’t true. It’s that prolonged exposure that I think is more problematic.
Yes. And also how it fits into all of the previous information that has been propagated. I mean, partially that’s actually an interesting point that was raised in our episode four with Jack Bobo. You’re saying that, by attacking the animal agriculture industry for being sinister, for having toxic ingredients in their meats or for not following regulation, eit undermines the trust in the food system. Ironically, which may over the long term hurt the cultured meat industry or the alternative protein space overall. So how would you see the cultured meat conspiracies fitting in with macro trends before that? For example, the overall distrust in the quality of food, et cetera?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
it’s a good question. in essence, it’s all going back to that distrust of biomedical therapies, which of course is slightly different here, but of course it’s science-based and it’s science driven. I mean, know that people who believe in conspiracies favor the alternatives, they favor herbals, they favor organic foods herbal supplements.They pull back from vaccines.
In general, if you believe people that are involved in plots and schemes in general, in the world, you are likely to believe in multiple types of conspiracies. So typically someone who believes that the climate change isn’t happening are also susceptible to believe that vaccines are dangerous, that the Americans didn’t go to the moon, that potentially cultured meat.
Is actually some kind of conspiracy to kind of change the world population. Or it’s dangerous, or that it’s made to make profits.
So with the modified food. A poll a few years ago found that actually 12% of people believed in the conspiracy that (GMOs) are being used to shrink the world population. Only 19% have actually heard of that conspiracy previously.
If you think of other kind of medical conspiracies, but for example, that governments are hiding the cure for cancer as a way to keep making profits. 63% of the sample had heard of that conspiracy, where 37% of those people believed in it. So just from that example of the modified food, this area is not as widely heard of. People aren’t aware of these things occurring. And of course this isn’t even asking about culture of meat. So I suspect if we can kind of predict the future a couple of years where cultured meat is more in our mainstream.
So I’m thinking when it’s mentioned on the news more regularly, when it’s something that we can see and actually pick up in supermarkets, I think there’ll be much more of uptake with people being skeptical of that food because they believe in an essence of conspiracy beliefs.
Yeah. In a previous interview, I think it was episode two of the season with Isha Datar, we mentioned this uptake curve. So you have the early adopters and then you have at getting into the mainstream and you have the laggards, et cetera. And it’s this bell shaped curve, somewhat of increasing adoption. And I’m wondering how you would see this, considering that once things reach the mainstream, there tends to be an uptake in negative press and criticism and fake news potentially. So how do you see this bell curve actually being shaped?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
Well, when I think about this area, I can see similarities with technology advancements. So thinking of 5G. 5G is a very topical thing to be talking about, and there are a whole range of misinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories.
With COVID-19. there was an uptake in people believing that COVID was caused by 5G. And then that then led to people trying to set a light to these 5G towers because they thought if they could stop the 5G towers, then that would stop COVID.
So for me, I’m seeing kind of similarities here with potentially the emergence of that technology. And I think potentially people listening now could learn from the communication strategies of people in the phone industry, from the governments trying to tackle misinformation with 5G that is still ongoing.
I think from my perspective, it was a very kind of similar journey with this that they (wireless carriers) thought, ‘Oh, it’ll be fine. We’ll just put X and information to say what 5G is, what 4G is, what 3G is, and that will be fine. People will just be happy with that.
But of course it’s been demonstrated that that is just not true. That when people have these suspicions of the government of people in power, that they’re hesitant to engage in these new technologies.
Thinking back to, 1900’s where Spanish flu came, people thought it was due to the telephone. That it was a telephone that was causing this flu. So these kind of links with trying to understand the issues because events are always kind of comes from some kind of advancement, something that the government is potentially trying to roll out.
So I think with this. Potentially, it could be a very similar tactic being used in that people may think it will be taken on automatically when that actually might not be true. So for me, it’s thinking about what can we learn from the 5g roll out now? I’ve seen so many great campaigns, for example, in Australia, where I think it was Vodafone were having in essence misinformation campaigns to try and highlight 5G doesn’t cause COVID in essence. So potentially trying to prebunk people’s misperceptions about this meat and, in essence, trying to highlight the positives. If there are any criticisms, to try and tackle that to try and be up front with that, to try and highlight. how this meat has, of course, has been developed, because of course that would be a question.
People wouldn’t go about people wonder is it safe? So I think by being able to work through and see good practice from other things that I’ve unfortunately had a very similar journey, I think will be really positive.
Hm. Interesting. I feel that in our industry information is seen as the great balm to nervous minds. So when in doubt, just throw information on it or educate people. Once people understand the technology, once they understand the facts, then they obviously will like it. And once they try it.
In another interview of the season, we touched upon how GMOs actually got a bad one reputation by the companies over-communicating. The big safety measures they’re using. Publishing these long form papers, describing the technology and risk assessments and digital data. And that was again on the spectrum of over-communicating making people wonder, well, if you need to publish all that stuff, it seems to be quite dangerous.
So it’s, so counter-intuitive, it’s fascinating how irrational this is. So where do we strike the balance between we need to be upfront with what we’re talking about, but also then if we talk too much ourselves about the potential dangers and risks, and also arguments against cultured meat, then we are drawing attention to these things?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
Hmm. I think what you raised there is this, the science communication and how it really needs to be targeted to the particular audience where the average person is unlikely to sit through and read a 20 page risk assessment, because not only is that quite dry material for any, most of every everyone, it’s not going to be motivated to read that instead, it needs to be a much more accessible.
Fun, arguably humorous way to get them engaged in the content. So the example I mentioned earlier with 5g and Vodafone. These adverts are shorter, they’re engaging. They were fun to watch, but they were also informative they’re in essence, using humor as a way to educate.
So people were therefore engaged to learn about this topic. Of course, if people wanted to learn more about the Pacifics that can exist as well. In essence, potentially the campaign is to have multiple passage to it where you’ve got the more public facing, engaging content that in essence can.
Demystify some of the, fake news based around that particular area. And also then more the scientific where they can go through the risk assessments or indeed whatever it is.
The majority of people would not engage in conspiratorial thinking about this particular issue. It would just be a small arguably minority who are more susceptible to engage in this type of thinking. So it’s trying to work out how detrimental could that be? the NHS in the UK.
Put a campaign about vaccines AIDS, but in the comments on their Facebook or on their Twitter feed are then conspiratorial. So you’ve then got, you’ve even got the concern of, well, do we, as the organization or the charity or whatever it is, respond to those comments or do we ignore those comments?
Problem with responding is you’re then given. Light to these issues and you’re debating, that particular point. If you ignore other people are then reading the comments and they’re seeing that those are being ignored. So does that mean that it’s true or false? So I think potentially how the campaigns that Harvest had the strategy comes deals with those types of situations is something that we need to kind of understand and.
I know from some people that I spoke to, they, when they have those comments, they try and respond privately to those people and to try and offer Cantu arguments and try and discuss with them that by that particular issue to do the vaccine or whatever it is.
But of course that’s problematic in its own, right as well. And then in essence has been aware of that coming and thinking of ways to try and catch argumented.
So, yeah. Do you go ahead and you pre booked some of these myths and then potentially people who are then commenting, you know, with conspiratory narratives, you then can link to videos linked to infographics that explain what has happened or indeed under the root.
In one of the other interviews of you, I remember you were talking about the issue that conspiracy theories. An overall negative controversial press has a POL it’s attention driving, and to be able to contract that we need to possibly create storylines and narratives that are even more engaging, even more interesting.
And. I mean we do focus on conspiracy theories, but when we talk about that, I always also think about just overall our media landscape and how journalism has become so attention driven, like quick attention driven, as we know, bad news sells more than good news. for example, from talking to people in the field, I’ve heard that even if they would talk to journalists and send them.
Nice pictures and tell them how to talk about it. So not call it Frankenstein meat, not call it lab ground, but call it cultured or cultivated meat. The end result would be the magazine, especially the mainstream outlets, publishing the stuff that gets people more anxious and angry. So do you have any best practices of how to deal with that?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
That’s a good point because of course we know in general that anxiety and anger can breed conspiratorial thinking, because in essence, when you have those feelings, you’re trying to make sense of that particular issue with that particular topic or that event. And by believing that conspiracy, Oh, it’s the government always doctors or whatever it is, can at least.
Try and make me feel less anxious, could try and make you feel less threatened. So potentially an article that presents this area in that particular way, may indeed drive the conspiratorial narratives. So I think as you say back to the point, is it, the communication strategy potentially is really important as a way to ensure that the language that is being used, is it going to breed conspiratory beliefs?
Because of course, people may already be coming into this area. A bit intrigued, but also it’s skeptical of how will this work? How is it being designed? Is it safe? Which of course are legitimate questions to ask. They are questions. I’m sure we will all ask. It comes conspiratorial.
Of course, when you have those questions, but then you think, wow, it’s, it’s some kind of government conspiracy. They’re trying to make money wherever they say, well, it’s all part of the conspiracy. And then they, in essence, you discredit any evidence and you stick to your prior beliefs. So potentially people ask questions with different motives in a way.
And of course fake news is different to conspiratorial beliefs because, so it could just be fake. And not conspiratorial. It could suggest, you know, that this, this meat has to be made by doing weird to it.
I think an example, but do sit with there isn’t someone covering something up, which of course will be really a payment to someone and potentially someone who’s feeling anxious. They also pick up this as well. So I think it’s been trying to be clear with what this is. And has to be developed and in essence, dry and pre bunk, some of the, of the deceptions.
So it could be potentially just, they get out loud, like have a good focus group with people to talk about their concerns or their questions and potentially to see, well, okay. How widespread are these questions? Could we try and preempt some of these questions? We’ve some potentially engaging PR or indeed conversations.
Hmm. A lot of that is inherently logical. I’ve heard you stayed in a different interview. Conspiracy theories are inherently logical. Also when people believe in fake news, there’s also this pattern of, I don’t believe any mainstream media. So I believe this single block on the internet that has all the answers.
Dr. Daniel Jolley
The tricky thing is that the reason for these beliefs is so entirely irrational. So how do you address that? Can you fix that even with logic?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
So people who are already skeptical of biomedical therapies in general, Maybe would be skeptical of these type of new technology in essence, because there were believe that the scientists have doing something shady behind the scenes.
And in essence, it is all down to that high status power person or group rather who kind of supports this viewpoint. So, so we trusted research found that a biomedical therapy that will supported by a low power source or seemed to be quite favorable. But as soon as that same therapy was supported by a high power source, favorability dropped the floor.
So in essence, it was the power source, who was the one influence in that belief. In essence, whether . high power source was, seemed to be conspiratorial or dots. So potentially if a Revit of stakeholders are talking about cultured meat, not just the government, but for more low power sources. So I think your charity secret people who haven’t necessarily got a vested interest in this area.
They indeed, maybe more trustworthy, but I think for that bit of research that could demonstrate that actually, is it really biomedical? That is the issue or is it the power source who’s supported that particular approach is that the issue potentially, and by having a much more larger stakeholders involved in the communication, we be able to get a more diverse range of people involved in that area.
But I’ve always found that research really interested in how that same product could be viewed very differently, depending on who supports it.
That’s quite interesting. You spark the idea in me that maybe especially in the cultured meat space, there’s an opportunity to tell founders stories because it does come not from the corporations, which makes it different from the GMO case. But it does come from a lot of individuals that come together aligned around.
Values like animal ethics, environmental concerns. a belief in innovation and improving the world. Right? there’s an opportunity to build trust, not by arguing through hard facts, but by arguing. for stories. over the millennia. we have been passing on information through powerful stories . regarding the connection between conspiracy and and science. In episode four Jack Bobo argued that companies should not use science in there. Product argumentation because science is inherently polarizing and it will drive away a certain part of the population instinctively.
And then I also talked to Rafa, who is the CEO often alternative dairy company called formo who argued that in their communication, they focus on science on the one hand. It is because they are addressing early doctors. but. In a broader scheme. He believes people don’t trust science, that’s something he wants to change.
So he wants to communicate. science is awesome. Look at what science can enable. What do you think about these two viewpoints?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
I think it’s really interesting. I suppose it makes me think about COVID-19 of course. And the head of vaccine has been talked about in science communication, whereby there’s been at least in the UK, a lot of push trying to understand. The how the vaccine have been developed and at the start lots of questions about, well, how has it been developed so quickly and understand which of course were not conspiratorial.
It was just legitimate questions, which then scientists were then going games. And for example, using their own Twitter feeds to explain in essence how that vaccine was developed and then got the NHS staff talking about the success of the vaccine and how they’re seeing the impact in the hospitals. So I think potentially that science communication where it’s directed and trying to make it accessible, I think is really good.
Of course, when you’ve then got it much more complex. So we mentioned earlier about releasing folder where you’ve got. Tired is a page as any arguably of different risk assessments that we’re not missing, that you can digest potentially it’s both. If it gives someone that sort of information, they may push back on it because they just don’t understand it.
And then they may indeed think, well, what do we need or this? if someone was to send a journal article to me from, you know, a cell background where it’s the.
This is the science of how this meat is formed. I wouldn’t understand it. I wouldn’t want to understand it, but instead, and much more interactive seminar interactive, video, something on YouTube, even just using the platform Tik Tok to communicate in a very, more accessible, fun way will be really dynamic to, of course, that kind of reminds me as well is when we’re thinking about communication, you thinking about the adults, but we’ve also got young people.
These arguably the young people are the ones who are going to be using this type of technology. They’re going to be using this type of meat, which means that maybe each targeting communication towards your groups. So by trying to demystify, and even from the early stage, he’s targeting teenagers could be a really interesting marketing strategy whereby.
We know from research that I’ve done recently, that age 14 seems to be a peak time for young people to believe in conspiracy theories. Because at 14 it’s, when people are relying less on their family, that they can walk to their friends are really, that’s where they can get a social media account age 12, 13, it’s where people are relying less on their emotional regulation and much more relying just on the emotions. So in essence, they’re not thinking about how they’re feeling that was kind of acting, which means that the anxiety, the threat, the uncertainty, trying to look to see what others are doing, can make them more susceptible, to believe in conspiracies.
And I think it’s good to communicate science. It’s just making sure you communicate science in a very accessible way, such as podcasts like this.
Yeah. the topic is so vast and I think we’ve touched not just on conspiracy theories. We also talked about fake news. I think another topic that will be important is crisis communication. There will be a point in time at which something will go wrong. And some company will have a mishap and then the media will be all over it, covering it in depth.
And I think an important part of the discussion is that consumer adoption and consumer acceptance is not a linear progression. So people start eating things and they stop eating things that can change their mind once they try it, it doesn’t mean that they are one over. And they’re going to continue only eating cell cultured meat.
The thing, another thing that’s really nerves me as I, as I’m thinking about these topics is with no GMO and no gluten and no soy. it’s such a phrasing question because suddenly soy becomes something that is inherently bad or gluten becomes something that’s inherently bad because why would you otherwise buy products where there’s a label of no soy, no gluten.
Right. and it’s all these small, psychological influences that will accumulate into. How much impact this field is going to have over the longterm. if we want to have a big impact, we want to have the majority of people switch to alternatives in a way from conventional agriculture products.
So lots, lots of things to talk about. what other case studies or examples would you recommend to listeners to look into, to learn about how to address conspiracy theories, fake news or crisis community?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
So there’s actually quite a bit of literature that has come out of COVID-19 because eight speed, a flourishing van for conspiracy narratives, because in essence, it has all the key ingredients for why conspiracy theories, flourish, anxiety, that 4s join uncertainty big event, which means that they’ve been on a lot of interests.
But I think what we are learning is that it’s a challenge. And that, of course, people who have these beliefs, they really hold onto them. They, they come. That’s social identity, which means that people are motivated to defend their beliefs and they would engage in dialogue to defend them.
So potentially it’s thinking about ways that we have a much more productive conversation with someone. And it’s not a case of going in and saying, you’re writing home, you’re writing over wrong. That’s the only way you’re wrong. And I’m right. It is going in and trying to have a conversation is trying to understand why did that person have those particular polices start with, why do they believe?
For example, if, if they do, if they really cultured meat is some kind of conspiracy to make profit, why do they think that, Oh, then and dry and kind of. Tease apart, some of their psychology, is it all based in anxiety that they’ve all read about what they eat potentially? Are they just trying to offer some kind of reassurances to themselves about the world, the world that they live in?
And of course, it’s also promoting people to think more critically about the information they digest, where for me on personal level, I try and think about the emotional reaction that I have to things. So, as I mentioned previously, if I, when I read something and I feel really angry or really happy by reading it, it’s worth thinking, do I have this reaction?
Because it’s true because I just like what it says. it’s biomedical, it’s biomedical therapy. Ish. It’s obviously at the same thing, of course, but it’s very much in the same pot in my view. And of course, people who believe in conspiracy theories push back on that.
And so I suspect there will be a similar pushback on this competence.
Yeah, interesting side note, the GMOs for example, are more accepted in a biomedical setting than they are in a food setting. So people tend to be even more queasy about anything that is in their food and that they consume on a regular basis. to get to some of the ending questions, if you would have 50 million in what businesses, what you invested in or in what initiatives.
Dr. Daniel Jolley
So I suppose, because I’m really interested, biased in fake news can split theories with information. I think it’s trying to develop different strategies to help people think more critically. So of course, it’s that balance of wanting to make sure people can ask questions. And to question everything, but to be able to have the skill sets, to think through what they are being exposed to.
Having children’s schools think through evidence and be able to give them the skill sets. There could be really useful, in essence, do studies to work out what is the best way to intervene. Regarding food, sustainability or agriculture. What is an unusual opinion that you hold that many people would disagree with? I felt like I’ve learned a lot by engaging in this podcast. I didn’t really know much of a cultured meat really it’s kind of bypass me a little bit, and that’s why I talked about at the start that I think. These are the kind of the key ingredients for a conspiracy theory to blue in the future when it comes more mainstream, when people are more aware of this area, because let’s say even me, who’s tensely a bit more aware because of my research area wasn’t really tapped into it.
That’s probably why I’ve not really got anything controversial to say, because I don’t really know about it. Maybe that’s controversial. It’s on, right? The fact that I’m a guest here and I’m learning, you know, through the process.
Daniel how can listeners connect with you?
Dr. Daniel Jolley
So they can find me on Twitter @DrDanielJolley, or they can just search in Google and you’ll find my website or videos or anything else that I’ve suggested.
It was really, really interesting to talk to you. Very insightful and very happy. We got to discuss this topic.
Dr. Daniel Jolley
Pleasure. Thank you.