How exactly does one break a deeply embedded myth? We often believe that bombarding people with facts and figures is the best way to combat misinformation. But busting myths is not just about providing more data — it’s about presenting the data in a way that people will actually process it.
John Cook, founder of the popular climate website Skeptical Science, likes to think about the way people think.
As a climate communications fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Cook devotes his time to understanding how the booby traps and backfire effects within the human mind allow us to embrace myths, even when presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In this podcast, we’ll have a lengthy discussion with Cook about how to counter the backfire effects within the brain. He’ll discuss his recent “Debunking Handbook,” which he co-authored with the cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowski, and apply his research to the manufactured “debate” over climate change:
“Because there is such an organized disinformation campaign, we need to be as scientific and evidence based as we can in our response. Which means take advantage of all this psychological research and that will help us form the most effective responses we can in trying to reduce the influence of disinformation.”
“For a long time, scientists have been operating under the information deficit model, saying that if we could just get more information to people, then that will solve the climate problem…but there’s more to it than that. We need to understand how people think, how they process information, so when we do try to reduce the effect of disinformation — and we have to do that — then we can do it more effectively.”
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And if you want to read about the concepts we discuss in this show, check out the below posts on the various backfire effects:
- The Debunking Handbook Part 1: The First Myth About Debunking
- The Debunking Handbook, Part 2: The Familiarity Backfire Effect
- The Debunking Handbook Part 3: The Overkill Backfire Effect
- The Debunking Handbook Part 4: The Worldview Backfire Effect
- The Debunking Handbook Part 5: Filling the Gap With an Alternative Explanation