“Debunking” deniers: Practical tips

December 2, 2011 | 3:12 pm | , Research Associate

Source: U.S. Government

Have you heard about The Debunking Handbook? It’s a must-read for anyone interested in dispelling the misinformation put out by climate change deniers.

The Handbook’s tips are taken not from the latest climate science, as you might expect, but from psychological research. As its authors, John Cook (creator of the Skeptical Science website) and Stephan Lewandowsky (a professor of psychology at the University of Western Australia) explain, debunking a myth requires more than just “packing more information into people’s heads.” Our brains don’t work like hard drives — they’re much more complex.

Rooted in this science of how people think, the Handbook lays out the following advice for effective debunking:

  1. Focus on the truth, not the myth. You want to increase your audience’s familiarity with the right facts, not the misinformation. Don’t give the myth more attention than it deserves, or your efforts might “backfire.” It even helps, before you mention a myth, to add an explicit disclaimer: “The information to follow is FALSE!”
  2. Less can be more. Although it might be tempting to list every piece of evidence that disproves a denier’s argument, research shows this is “overkill.” It’s best to keep your argument simple. People are most likely to believe information that’s easy to understand.
  3. Be clever and present information in a way that is least threatening to your audience’s worldviews. If we’re not careful, our debunking efforts could further polarize the climate change “debate”. Check out this past blog post or listen to this podcast for more info.
  4. Finally, expose the strategy behind the myth you’re attempting to debunk. Does the myth stem from teachings of a faux-expert? Is the myth a piece of information that’s “cherry-picked” and used out of context? What motives may have been behind the spreading of the misinformation?

As we all continue to work to share the reality of climate change in our communities, let’s remember these tips. Today, they could help us “win the conversation” against climate change deniers, and tomorrow, the fight for a clean energy future.