How To Debunk A Myth (Effectively)

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In the second half of this episode of our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc. and CleanTechnica contributor, sits down to continue talking with John Cook, cognitive scientist and founder of Skeptical Science, about climate change misinformation and communication. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summary of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion.

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Mike and John continue into the second half of their conversation by talking about a step by step critical thinking methodology John developed in order to identify fallacies in climate change misinformation. If you need to inoculate people, John discovered, one way to weaken the misinformation is to explain misleading techniques and expose flaws in parallel arguments.

Ultimately, John explains that the more familiar people are with information, the more likely they are to believe it is true. Therefore, if there is an overemphasis on the myths one is debunking rather than on the facts, over time details fade and people tend to remember the myths. Various tips around that risk and others are provided in the Debunking Handbook, making it a unique guidebook for people wanting to debunk myths the right way.

The handbook goes through the two elements critical to inoculating people against misinformation. First, there needs to be a warning that there is a danger of being misled. Second, there are counterarguments that explain the ways in which an individual might potentially be misled. This develops some skepticism within the individual in terms of interpreting and understanding information. John points out that there is a danger of making people skeptical to the point of cynicism, however, which is not the objective of the handbook.

After 10 years of psychological research, critical thinking and a handbook, John realized that his love of cartoon drawing could actually be a great way to counter misinformation through creative and fun parallel arguments. John’s new project, Cranky Uncle, began when John started thinking through questions regarding climate science denial. What do we do about misinformation? What impact does the misinformation have? And finally, how do we undo it or proactively preempt it from doing damage in the first place? John’s answer? Inoculation. Cranky Uncle was created in order to neutralize the misinformation by explaining how to identify and combat scientific denial in a fun way. You can purchase the book on Amazon. You can also read Mike’s article about it: “Cranky Uncle Vs. Climate Change: John Cook Is A Cognitive Scientist, Climate Communicator, & Cartoonist.

To hear more on these topics, as well as listen to Mike and John compare climate change skepticism and denial in the United States and Australia, listen to the show!

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