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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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How to debunk misinformation

Posted on 10 September 2020 by John Cook

An effective rebuttal requires three elements. Fact. Myth. Fallacy. This video to explain how to tie these together into a cohesive debunking.

First, you need to provide an explanation that neatly replaces the myth in people’s mental model. Your fact needs to be plausible and it needs to fit all the causal links left by the myth. You also need to make your facts sticky – communicate your fact in a way that grabs people’s attention and sticks in the memory. The golden rule of debunking is fight sticky myths with stickier facts. 

Second, you do need to mention the myth when debunking, in order for people to tag it in their mental model as false. But warn them before mentioning the myth. This puts people cognitively on guard so they’re less likely to be influenced by the misinformation. 

Third, explain the fallacy or rhetorical technique the misinformation uses to mislead. Help people resolve the conflict between fact and myth by explaining how the myth distorts the facts.

This is part of a virtual grad class “Understanding and Responding to Climate Misinformation” that I’m teaching at George Mason University with Natalie Burls & Tim DelSole. Our class teaches climate & communication students the climate & comm research needed to debunk climate misinformation.

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