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Debunking Handbook

Debunking Handbook

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Published by dumbasssss
How to debunk myth
How to debunk myth

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: dumbasssss on Feb 27, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Written by:John Cook, Global Change Institute, University of QueenslandStephan Lewandowsky, School of Psychology, University of Western AustraliaFirst published in November 2011.Version 2 published on 23 January 2012.For more information, visit http://sks.to/debunkCite as:Cook, J., Lewandowsky, S. (2011), The Debunking Handbook. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland. November 5. ISBN 978-0-646-56812-6. [http://sks.to/debunk]
Debunking the rst myth about debunking
It’s self-evident that democratic societies shouldbase their decisions on accurate information. Onmany issues, however, misinformation can becomeentrenched in parts of the community, particularlywhen vested interests are involved.
the inuence of misinformation is a difcult and
complex challenge. A common misconception about myths is the
notion that removing its inuence is as simple as
packing more information into people’s heads. Thisapproach assumes that public misperceptions aredue to a lack of knowledge and that the solutionis more information - in sciencecommunication, it’s known as the
“information decit model”. But
that model is wrong: people don’tprocess information as simply as ahard drive downloading data.Refuting misinformation involvesdealing with complex cognitiveprocesses. To successfully impartknowledge, communicators needto understand how people processinformation, how they modifytheir existing knowledge and howworldviews affect their ability tothink rationally. It’s not just whatpeople think that matters, but how they think.First, let’s be clear about what we mean by the
label “misinformation” - we use it to refer to any
information that people have acquired that turnsout to be incorrect, irrespective of why and how
that information was acquired in the rst place.
We are concerned with the cognitive processesthat govern how people process corrections to
information they have already acquired - if you nd
out that something you believe is wrong, how doyou update your knowledge and memory?Once people receive misinformation, it’s
quite difcult to remove its inuence. This was
demonstrated in a 1994 experiment where people
were exposed to misinformation about a ctitiouswarehouse re, then given a correction clarifying
the parts of the story that were incorrect.
Despiteremembering and accepting the correction, peoplestill showed a lingering effect, referring to themisinformation when answering questions aboutthe story.
Is it possible to completely eliminate the inuence
of misinformation? The evidence indicates that nomatter how vigorously and repeatedlywe correct the misinformation, for example by repeating the correction
over and over again, the inuence
remains detectable.
The old sayinggot it right - mud sticks.There is also an added complication.
Not only is misinformation difcult
to remove, debunking a myth canactually strengthen it in people’s
minds. Several different “backreeffects” have been observed, arising
from making myths more familiar,
 from providing too many arguments,
 or from providing evidence thatthreatens one’s worldview.
The last thing you want to do when debunkingmisinformation is blunder in and make matters
worse. So this handbook has a specic focus
- providing practical tips to effectively debunk
misinformation and avoid the various backre
effects. To achieve this, an understanding of therelevant cognitive processes is necessary. Weexplain some of the interesting psychological
research in this area and nish with an example of 
an effective rebuttal of a common myth.
It’s not just
peoplethink thatmatters, but
Debunking myths is problematic. Unless great care is taken, any effort to debunkmisinformation can inadvertently reinforce the very myths one seeks to correct. To
avoid these “backre effects”, an effective debunking requires three major elements.
First, the refutation must focus on core facts rather than the myth to avoid themisinformation becoming more familiar. Second, any mention of a myth should bepreceded by explicit warnings to notify the reader that the upcoming information isfalse. Finally, the refutation should include an alternative explanation that accountsfor important qualities in the original misinformation.1

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