Hydroxychloroquine and the Political Polarization of Science

How a drug became an object lesson in political tribalism.

Why are we seeing the polarization over hydroxycholorquine, then, in spite of the serious consequences? The explanation may lie in the kind of information available to the public about COVID-19, which differs importantly from what we see in other cases of polarization about science. When it comes to the health effects of injecting disinfectants, there is no uncertainty about the massive risks. And for that reason, we don’t expect polarization to emerge, even if Trump suggests trying it. But even the best information about COVID-19 is in a state of constant flux. Scientists are publishing new articles every day, while old articles and claims are retracted or refuted. Norms of scientific publication, which usually dictate slower timeframes and more thorough peer review, have been relaxed by scientific communities desperately seeking solutions. And with readers clamoring for the latest virus news, journalists are on the hunt for new articles they can report on, sometimes pushing claims into prime time before they’ve been properly vetted.


After the publication of this article, there was a retraction of a high profile study that suggested hydrochloroquine would lead to increased mortality and was ineffective as a treatment for covid-19.

All of this happened in the hyperpolarized context of American politics, referred to in the article above, in which even scientific truth bent around President Trump’s words.


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