New research has found that misinformation on climate change can psychologically cancel out the influence of accurate statements.

However, if legitimate facts are delivered with an "inoculation" - a warning dose of misinformation - some of the positive influence is preserved.

In medicine, vaccinating against a virus involves exposing a body to a weakened version of the threat, enough to build a tolerance.

Social psychologists believe that a similar logic can be applied to help "inoculate" the public against misinformation, including the damaging influence of "fake news" websites propagating myths about climate change.


A new study compared reactions to a well-known climate change fact with those to a popular misinformation campaign.

When presented consecutively, the false material completely cancelled out the accurate statement in people's minds - opinions ended up back where they started.

Researchers then added a small dose of misinformation to delivery of the climate change fact, by briefly introducing people to distortion tactics used by certain groups.

This "inoculation" helped shift and hold opinions closer to the truth, despite the follow-up exposure to "fake news".

The study, published in the journal Global Challenges, on US attitudes found the inoculation technique shifted the climate change opinions of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike.

Could your positive support be harmful?

The researchers carried out the study using cortisol - a hormone that helps regulate stress in the body. Photo / 123RF
The researchers carried out the study using cortisol - a hormone that helps regulate stress in the body. Photo / 123RF

Offering your spouse what you believe to be positive support could actually have negative physiological effects on them, according to new US research.

A team of researchers from Binghamton University recruited 65 married couples and had them engage in two interactions in which each spouse selected a discussion topic about a "stressor" external to their marriage, such as poor physical fitness or the desire to get a new job.

Before and after the interactions, spouses separately completed questions about their expectations and appraisals of their partner's responsiveness during the discussion.

The researchers took saliva samples from each spouse and measured for cortisol - a hormone that helps regulate stress in the body - at the beginning of the study and after each discussion.

The most consistent finding was that observable behaviours, when support was given and received during discussions of wives' stressors, were associated with wives' perceptions of their husbands' responsiveness and wives' changes in cortisol.

"What we found, interestingly enough, was that cortisol was really only affected in wives but not in husbands, and only in wives' discussions," said lead researcher Hayley Fivecoat.

"For one, we did find that when husbands showed more positive behaviours while they were giving support, wives' cortisol actually went down.

"Interestingly, we found that when wives showed more negative behaviour while their partner was giving them support, their cortisol also went down."

This was unexpected.

"We found that when wives showed more positive behaviour while they were receiving support, their cortisol actually went up - they showed signs of more physiological arousal."

The art of the deal

When it comes to sex, wasps seem to live by Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal.

A UK team from the University of Sussex looked at how the economic rule of "supply and demand" applies to populations of paper wasps - in which "helper wasps" raise the offspring of dominant breeders in small social groups in return for belonging in the nest.

During the study, which was carried out in southern Spain over a period of three months, the team marked and genotyped 1500 wasps and recorded social behaviour within 43 separate nests along a cactus hedge.

By increasing the number of nest spots and nesting partners available around the hedge, the scientists discovered the helper wasps provide less help to their own "bosses" - the dominant breeders - when alternative nesting options are available.

The dominant wasps then compete to give the helper wasps the "best deal", by allowing them to work less hard, to ensure they stay in their particular nest.

The scientists state this shows for the first time that supply and demand theory can be used to understand helping behaviour in social insects.

Harry Potter's 10-legged legacy

Author JK Rowling may have just had the strangest tribute yet paid to her Harry Potter books - an odd crab named Harryplax severus.

The name reflects that of its original collector, the late US researcher Harry Conley, that of Rowling's famous boy wizard, and another main character from the series, Professor Severus Snape.

Having dug as deep as 30m into the coral reef rubble on the Pacific island of Guam, Conley collected many specimens which stayed in his personal collection until the early 2000s, before the specimens were eventually handed to Dr Peter Ng of the National University of Singapore, which later led to many discoveries and publications.

In the latest, Dr Jose Christopher Mendoza, a self-confessed "Potterhead", was keen to name the new crab after his favourite fictional characters and Ng, who knew Conley personally was amused and happy to agree.

The name severus was inspired by the fact that Snape, despite being a central character in the series, kept his background and agenda mysterious until the very end, when he revealed a key secret.

In showing his real identity, Mendoza said the character was "just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected".

The new species is a tiny crab measuring less than a centimetre in both length and width and can be found deep in coral rubble or under subtidal rocks, perhaps also in cavities.

To survive in the dark depths, the species had evolved with reduced eyes, well developed antennae, and long, slender legs.