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New Slideshow on Myth Debunking for Educators and Science Communicators

Posted on 4 February 2013 by Ullrich Ecker

Our recent review paper “Misinformation and its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing,” in the December 2012 issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest summarizes where misinformation comes from, how it affects cognition, and what strategies are available to reduce its impact. We now present an open-access slideshow, designed in Microsoft Powerpoint, summarizing both the basic research on misinformation and recommendations on how to deal with misinformation in practice.

The modern day information society brings with it an unprecedented level of access to information. Information is spread faster and more widely than ever before. The increasing use of social media and the internet to disseminate information means that information is also spread with much less “editorial” fact-checking—the modern media landscape places the onus on the consumer to check the facts and decide what best to believe. Therefore, individuals not only have greater exposure to misinformation, but the need to appropriately deal with misinformation has also risen.

Dealing with misinformation is hence a major challenge for contemporary society. It is an issue for policy-makers, as their efforts can be derailed by misinformation campaigns even when these campaigns come from sources of limited credibility.

It therefore also presents an issue for journalism and the media, which in recent decades has moved away from being a fact-checking entity to presenting “balanced” coverage of issues and opinions, even when there is no corresponding balance in evidence. The area of climate change research can serve as an example, where the (Australian) media keeps portraying a debate on the evidence for anthropogenic climate change despite the overwhelming scientific consensus.

This shows that misinformation effects are also an issue for scientists across domains because science communication needs to be optimized to be able to compete with information dissemination via mainstream and social media, which do not worry (much) about evidence.

Worse yet, sometimes science communication has to compete with strategic misinformation campaigns from vested interests. Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber—a world-leading climate scientist—stated in 2009 that “90% of research [on global change] will have to be done by the social scientists.” In this case, he argues that the work of physicists is largely done, and that it is now up to social scientists to overcome misinformation and assist in the implementation of necessary change in attitudes and behaviour.

The scientific community faces significant challenges in publicizing important research findings and recommendations based on scientific evidence. Surveys show that trust in science is diminishing, so it is becoming increasingly important for scientists to communicate effectively with the public.

A good understanding of misinformation effects is fundamental to tackling these issues. Our research offers theoretically-grounded answers to the questions of why and how misinformation affects people’s memory and reasoning, as well as “hands on” recommendations on how best to minimize the impact of misinformation.

There is already a brief “Debunking Handbook”(Cook & Lewandowsky, 2011) available that offers some recommendations on how best to counter misinformation. It has been downloaded more than 500,000 times and translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish . Googling "Debunking Handbook" yields over 15,000 results so the short booklet certainly has had a wide influence.

We now introduce a new tool for educators: the “Myth Debunking Slideshow” (Ecker, Cook & Lewandowsky, 2012). 

With 55 slides, it provides an intermediate level of detail in summarizing the literature and providing recommendations on how to deal with misinformation. The presentation is designed in popular Microsoft PowerPoint software, and is licensed under Creative Commons, meaning it is free to use, adapt and distribute under most conditions.

The entire presentation or individual slides can be used in classrooms or incorporated into other presentations. We hope it will serve as a guideline and information repository for educators and communicators of science.

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Comments 1 to 16:

  1. This is great. I wholeheartedly agree. More facts and intelligent points are not going to make the difference. We have enough information about climate change. That was the basis of my new book, HIGH TIDE ON MAIN STREET. I use a simple case about sea level rise, based on solid geologic history to get people's attention, to explain unambiguously that we have entered a new era, that will slowly but surely move the shoreline inward century after century. It is too late to stop, but what we do now will slow or speed up the devastating effects. My presentations over the last three months show high levels of effectiveness. I have been told I stumbled on the pathway to get past our primitive reptilean brain, which acts as the gatekeeper to our sophisticated human neocortex. The trick is to get their attention with something important -- like a moving shoreline -- that does not scare them to panic, but gives them a way out, delivered in a calm voice. It works.

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  2. For any party interested in this topic, I will call attention here to a "short course" on climate change that I have also created on my website,  It contains numerous power point slides along with narration.  It is the result of numerous presentations I have given to various university and lay public organizations in Montana and the Northwest.  It is presently in a first draft form to be continuously fine-tuned.  Please provide feedback, if you wish, to   Thanks 

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  3. Just a heads-up guys; SKS is being crucified over at WUWT (and other blogs) regarding Lewandowski and Cook's new paper(?). You may want to get out in front of this one before it goes off the rails!


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    Response: [JC] Actually Hank, what WUWT is doing is repeating all the same conspiracy theories we outline in our Recursive Fury paper. WUWT is proof of concept. I suggest reading our paper, then reread the WUWT post to gain a keener insight into the mindset over there.
  4. Hank...  They go off the rails regardless of what we or anyone else says.  Not quite sure they were ever on the rails in the first place.

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  5. Went over and read the comments.  Lots of complaining and ad hom (starting with Tony's opening sentence) but I don't see that anyone there has yet made a substantive statement.  It's more like the Keystone Cops all running around bumping into each other.

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  6. They are all welcome to take their concerns directly to the source:  Stephan has a post up on the paper on his blog, here:


    Being civilized people interested in getting the science right, I'm sure that will be their next step...


    ...any day now.  Aannnyyy day... (-whistles, aimlessly-)

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  7. It's really hard to avoid going off the rails when you have a one-track mind...

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  8. Hank,  I would like to weigh in at WUWT as you suggest, but Watts has a long list of professional scientists who are now blocked out of his SHOW and I am on it.  As my story reveals (see it at ericgrmsrud.wordpress,com, November archives), Mr. Watts has moved way beyond any pretense of discussing real science.  If he lets you in, please tell him that quickly before he kicks you our also.  Eric 

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  9. hank_ - I've read the new Lewandowsky, Cook, et al paper (pre-copy edited), I've looked over the comments at WUWT, and I have to say that the reaction to the new paper only supports the conclusions, that: 

    The overall pattern of the blogosphere's response to LOG12 illustrates the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science...

    (Emphasis added)

    They just keep digging the hole deeper and deeper. Rather astounding, actually, in terms of the lack of self-perception displayed in stacked conspiracy theorization, claims of persecution, and fact-free claims that their critics somehow Must Be Wrong. 

    The denialists are incredibly in need of a good mirror. But they would likely refuse to look at it, or claim that the image on it was painted by the Illuminati...

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  10. Considering the title of the latest paper, 

    Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation

    I would have to say that the current response in the denial blogosphere is simply recursive. I wonder how deep, how many iterations, they are going to go?

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  11. The most concise response to that, KR, is

    "All The Way"

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  12. WUWT, own-goaling all the way.

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  13. uknowispeaksense...   And what's fascinating is how completely unaware they are of it.

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  14. Eric... just wanted to let you know I've been by your site a couple of times today and intend to listen through the short course slowly but surely.

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  15. Please can you make the slideshow available.  

    I would like to share this with the eduCCate Global Sustainability & Climate Change Teachers (currently 329,000 in 43 countries) so that they can deliver this to their pupils in their schools.  

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  16. Melanie Harwood @15

    Can you please send us a message via the Contact Us form about the apparently broken link for the PPTX? We can then more easily check with the authors by forwarding your question via email Thanks!

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