The Debunking Handbook is a guide to debunking myths, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, unfortunately there is no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of misinformation. This Handbook boils down the research into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.
This is part three in a five-part series cross-posted from Skeptical Science.
One principle that science communicators often fail to follow is making their content easy to process. That means easy to read, easy to understand and succinct. Information that is easy to process is more likely to be accepted as true.1 Merely enhancing the colour contrast of a printed font so it is easier to read, for example, can increase people’s acceptance of the truth of a statement.2
Common wisdom is that the more counter-arguments you provide, the more successful you’ll be in debunking a myth. It turns out that the opposite can be true. When it comes to refuting misinformation, less can be more. Debunks that offered three arguments, for example, are more successful in reducing the influence of misinformation, compared to debunks that offered twelve arguments which ended up reinforcing the myth.1
The Overkill Backfire Effect occurs because processing many arguments takes more effort than just considering a few. A simple myth is more cognitively attractive than an over-complicated correction.