As COVID-19 spread around the globe this year, conspiracy theories did too. One wacky and pernicious standout claimed the new virus had been deliberately manufactured as a plot by a foreign power, or by billionaires trying to take over the world (or maybe even by aliens!). In mid-March, when the lockdowns were beginning, a survey by the Atlantic found that nearly a third of Americans believed that the virus has been created and spread for some nefarious purpose. If only there was also a vaccine that could fix the rampant spread of fake news.
The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Research shows that exposing people to weakened doses of misinformation can teach them to identify it, similar to how a vaccine coaches immune systems how to deal with a virus. And instead of getting a shot, you get to play a game.
Cranky Uncle, an app released on Tuesday, uses this approach to teach people the ins and outs of anti-science propaganda — you know, the kind of myths that convince people climate change is a Chinese hoax. The game’s namesake Cranky Uncle is a cartoon figure that represents conspiracy-spouting uncles everywhere. He mentors you to become a science denier, just like him. He teaches you all about his favorite logical fallacies and the techniques he uses to dismiss scientific evidence, like impossible expectations (“Until we find all missing links, we can’t be confident in the theory of evolution”) and fake experts (“Relax! I have a bachelor in computer science!” says a cartoon doctor as he takes a saw to a very worried-looking Cranky Uncle).