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Published on March 22nd, 2020 | by Winter Wilson


How To Debunk A Myth (Effectively)

March 22nd, 2020 by  

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.

You can subscribe and listen to CleanTech Talk on: AnchorApple Podcasts/iTunesBreakerGoogle PodcastsOvercastPocketPodbeanRadio PublicSoundCloudSpotifyStitcher, or via the embedded SoundCloud player above.

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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About the Author

Winter Wilson is a Cutler Scholar and undergraduate student double majoring in Environmental Studies and Journalism at Ohio University's Honors Tutorial College, with a minor in French. Her academic interests include environmental communication, technology and social innovation, especially as they relate to international climate change mitigation and adaptation. Though Winter attends school in her hometown of Athens, Ohio, she takes advantage of her breaks to explore the world beyond. She spent her most recent break undertaking self-driven research on climate change and environmental justice in Southeast Asia. This year, she will be completing her dual thesis and supplementary documentary series on climate change communication. Winter is excited to contribute to and work with the team at CleanTechnica as a Summer Editorial Intern.

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