Rockefeller Foundation, Nonprofits Spending Millions on Behavioral Psychology Research to ‘Nudge’ More People to Get COVID Vaccines

by
Michael Nevradakis, Ph.D., Childrens Health Defense:

The Rockefeller Foundation, the National Science Foundation and other nonprofits are pouring millions of dollars into a research initiative “to increase uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and other recommended public health measures by countering mis- and disinformation.”

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The Rockefeller Foundation, the National Science Foundation (an “independent” agency of the U.S. government) and other nonprofits are pouring millions of dollars into a research initiative “to increase uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and other recommended public health measures by countering mis- and disinformation.”

In conjunction with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the Rockefeller Foundation last month announced $7.2 million in funding for the Mercury Project,  initially launched in November 2021, under the slogan, “Together, we can build a healthier information environment.”

The funds will support 12 teams of researchers in 17 countries who will conduct studies on “ambitious, applied social and behavioral science to combat the growing global threat posed by low COVID-19 vaccination rates and public health mis- and disinformation,” the Rockefeller Foundation said.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the SSRC claim the aim of the Mercury Project, whose name is derived from the ancient Roman god of messages and communication, is to bolster public health and safety.

However, some critics described the project as one based on “propaganda” aimed at “nudging” the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

Creating ‘behavioral change’ by targeting schoolchildren and specific socio-economic groups

Behavioral change lies at the heart of the Mercury Project, which will issue three-year research grants to estimate “the causal impacts of mis- and disinformation on online and offline outcomes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” including “differential impacts across socio-demographic groups.”

The research will include “interventions that target the producers or the consumers of mis- and disinformation, or that increase confidence in reliable information.”

Some of the “interventions” proffered by the Rockefeller Foundation include “literacy training for secondary school students” to “help students identify COVID-19 vaccine misinformation,” “equipping trusted messengers with communication strategies to increase COVID-19 vaccination demand” and “using social networks to share tailored, community-developed messaging to increase COVID-19 vaccination demand.”

This information will, according to the Rockefeller Foundation, “provide evidence about what works — and doesn’t — in specific places and for specific groups to increase COVID-19 vaccination take-up.”

But according to ZeroHedge, the research groups funded by the Mercury Project “are operating with the intent to tailor vaccination narratives to fit different ethnic and political backgrounds, looking for the key to the gates of each cultural kingdom and convincing them to take the jab.”

The project uses “ambiguous language and mission statements” to at least partially conceal the project’s main purpose of “using behavioral psychology and mass psychology elements to understand the global resistance to the recent COVID compliance efforts,” ZeroHedge reported.

‘Fabricating effective COVID propaganda’ a ‘money train’ for behavioral researchers and psychologists

In November 2021, the Mercury Project received an initial $7.5 million in seed funding from entities including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to apply “the principles of large-scale, team-based science to the problem of vaccination demand” over a three-year period.

As of August 2022, these entities have funded the Mercury Project to the tune of $10.25 million.

In June, the project received $20 million from the National Science Foundation to study “interventions to increase COVID-19 vaccination demand and other positive health behaviors.”

The SSRC’s latest call for proposals, under the aegis of the Mercury Project, received nearly 200 submissions.

The accepted proposals come from researchers in countries including the U.S., Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, England, France, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, India, Malawi, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Spain, Rwanda and Tanzania.

U.S.-based researchers represent institutions including Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, MIT, New York University, Rutgers, St. Augustine University, Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of Southern California, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt and Yale.

The titles of some of the projects most recently funded by the Mercury Project include:

  • “A tough call: Impacts of mobile technology on Covid-19 (mis)information and protective behavior decision-making.”
  • “Boosting boosters at scale: A megastudy to increase vaccination at scale.”
  • “Building a better toolkit (for fighting misinformation): Large collaborative project to compare misinformation interventions.”
  • “Harnessing influencers to counter misinformation: Scalable solutions in the Global South.”
  • “Targeting health misinformation networks: Network-transforming interventions for reducing the spread of health misinformation online.”

Arguing in favor of the importance of the project’s research, Anna Harvey, president of the SSRC, stated:

“With COVID-19 prevalent and rapidly evolving everywhere, there is a pressing need to identify interventions with the potential to increase vaccination take-up.

“Vaccines are only effective if they become vaccinations; vaccines are a scientific marvel but their potential is unfulfilled if they are left on the shelf.”

Describing the Mercury Project’s grantees, Dr. Bruce Gellin, the Rockefeller Foundation’s chief of global public health strategy, said:

“This initial cohort’s ideas exemplify the creativity and vision behind the Mercury Project. They go far beyond quick fixes, with the goal of identifying robust, cost-effective, and meaningful solutions that can be widely adopted and scaled.

“We hope that more, better, and science-based knowledge about what we need to do will lead to increased uptake of reliable information — and serve as a powerful counter to the effects of misinformation and disinformation on vaccine demand.”

Heather Lanthorn, the Mercury Project’s program director, highlighted the importance of leveraging communication toward achieving public health objectives:

“The viral, vaccine, and information environments are all rapidly evolving–but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to make progress towards more effective and equitable responses.

“By funding projects on the ground around the world, this work will help us understand what works where, and why, and identify new ways to harness the power of connection and communication to advance public health goals.”

ZeroHedge, however, countered that behind all the rhetoric, the focus of the Mercury Project, is “propaganda, propaganda and propaganda,” and “the very basis of the existence of the Mercury Project presupposes that individuals cannot be trusted to make up their own minds about the information they are exposed to.”

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