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Viral ideas (guest)

In the past people had some crazy ideas about pandemics. They thought they were caused by God, by minorities, by bad smells, by our enemies. Unfortunately, things aren't much better today. A new study shows that a large percentage of people have some very wrong ideas about the coronavirus. Watch this video about the crazy ideas people get in a pandemic.


You don't understand all the video? Don't worry! It is not necessary to understand everything. Just make an effort to listen and identify words that you recognize.

Did you hear Conrad mention what proportion of people in the US believe the coronavirus was made in a lab? Below, we'll read an article about it, but first, here is how we talk about proportions.

One in four children in the class like orange juice.

If a classroom has 20 children, and five of them like orange juice, we can say "One in four children in the class like orange juice."

Canada's total population is 33 million. There are 6.8 million immigrants in Canada. (Source: CBC). We can say:

  • 25 percent of Canada's population are immigrants
  • One fourth of Canadians are immigrants.
  • One in four Canadians is an immigrant.

Notice that percent and fifth are followed by of, but not the expression one in five.


Most Swedes prefer camping and hiking vacations. Most Canadians like to spend their vacations on the beach in Mexico or Cuba. (source: Bloomberg News) We can say:

  • Swedes are more likely to go to a mountain on vacation than Canadians.
  • Canadians are less likely to sleep in a tent on their vacation than Swedes.
  • It is more common to find a Canadian in a beachside bar than a Swede.
  • It is less common for Swedes to go to a beach than Canadians.

Notice that the subject of more likely is one of the groups we are comparing, for example Swedes. With more common, the subject is the generalized it.

Nearly 75% of Canadians drink a cup of coffee every day.

Seventy-two percent of Canadians drank a cup of coffee a day. (Source: Coffee Association of Canada) We can say:

  • Almost three quarters of all Canadians drink a cup of coffee a day.
  • Nearly seventy-five percent of Canadians drink a cup of coffee every day.
  • About 3 in 4 Canadians drink a cup of coffee every day.
  • Around seventy percent of Canadians drink a cup of coffee every day.
  • Just over seventy percent of Canadians drink a cup of coffee every day.

You can visualize the approximations like this

The things people believe

Long before the coronavirus pandemic, people used the word “viral” to describe information that spreads exponentially from person to person, usually online. Today we are seeing viral information about a virus. Unfortunately, a lot of it is wrong. Almost half of adult Americans said they have come across news and information about the coronavirus that seemed “completely made up.” Twelve percent say they have seen only some false information, 35% said they have seen a lot of it.

About three in ten Americans believe COVID-19 was created in a lab.

But more worryingly, many believe it. The Pew Research Center in the US recently surveyed 8,914 people about their beliefs regarding the virus. Although scientists are practically unanimous that the virus came about naturally, nearly three in 10 of the people surveyed by the Pew Center said they thought the virus was created in a laboratory. About a quarter of the interviewees thought it was created intentionally while 6% thought it was probably created by accident. Another 25% of respondents said they weren’t sure where the virus came from.

Why do people believe something that is so clearly wrong? Education seems to be one explanation. People with a university education were less likely to believe the virus was created in a lab than those without a university education, for example. But age, ethnicity and even political affiliation are also factors affecting peoples' beliefs. More younger people than old were wrong about the origin of the virus. About thirty percent of people aged 18 to 29 said the virus came from a lab, while just less than 21% of adults 65 and older said the same thing. The belief was also more common among blacks and Hispanics than whites. Four in ten Hispanics and a third of blacks said they believed this, while only 26% of whites said they did. Meanwhile, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to think the coronavirus came from a lab (37% vs 21%). The more conservative, the more likely people were to be wrong about the origins of the virus.

Source: Pew Research Center

A. Using proportions

Write the correct word or words in the blanks, using vocabulary from the lessons on Proportion, Probability and Approximations. If you write a number, please use words, not digits. (eg. forty-six, not 46)

  • 1.   About one in adults aged 18 to 29 think the coronavirus comes from a lab.
  • 2.   One of people who responded to the Pew survey don't know where the virus comes from.
  • 3.   of Hispanics think the coranavirus was created in a lab.
  • 4.   According to the survey, 30% percent of Americans think the coranavirus was made by scientists in a lab.
  • 5.   Older people are to believe the coronavirus was created in a lab than younger people.
  • 6.   It is common for Hispanics to believe the virus comes from a lab than blacks.
  • 7.   of Americans say they have seen "a lot" of news about the coronavirus that appears to be false.

B. Match the definition

Here are the highlighted words from the reading. Drag them next to their corresponding definition.

  • spread
  • surveyed
  • among
  • sure
  • made up
  • come across
  • a lot
  • came from
  • intentionally
  • seems
to expand through an area or population
discover, encounter, find accidentally
has the appearance of being, looks like
a fabricated story or piece of information
much, many
interviewed a large number of people
on purpose, by design or planning
convinced of an idea
originated or created in
within a group of population

C. Use the vocabulary

Now write the correct vocabulary words in the spaces. Use only the words from the reading. No words are used twice.

  • 1.   Social media has brought many benefits, but it also enables dangerous rumours to quickly and uncontrollably.
  • 2.   It is believed that the coronavirus Wuhan province in China.
  • 3.   While of countries have enforced lockdowns to fight the virus, life has continued almost as normal in a few countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands.
  • 4.   The story about 5G wireless causing coronavirus is entirely , and should not be believed.
  • 5.   Alexander Fleming is known as the discoverer of pencillin, but he was never looking for it.
  • 6.   Fleming penicillin when an experiment he was conducting was left out in the open and developed a mould which killed bacteria.
  • 7.   In Spain and Italy, the worst of the epidemic to be over, but officials are still cautious about lifting the lockdown.
  • 8.   Scientists are not how the coronavirus spread from animals to humans.
  • 9.   Most of the coronavirus deaths have been older people and those with other illnesses.
  • 10.   The institute residents in three towns, and found 25% of the population was not willing to use face masks.

D. Describe your world

Find three proportions and describe them using fractions (one fifth, one quarter), percentages (twelve percent) or ratios (1 in 10, 3 in 4). If you don't want to give exact numbers, use approximations.

  Habilite el microfono para grabar tu voz.
  • 1.   Proportion of men to women in the world.
  • 2.   Proportion of the Mexican population that lives in Mexico City
  • 3.   Something else you are interested in