How to Debunk Misinformation

The immediately preceding healthy memory post described how difficult it is to correct misinformation, and promised that this post would provide some helpful information.  This post is taken from “The Debunking Handbook” by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.  The authors begin by debunking the information deficit model, which says that if only people had the correct information, they would know better.  Moreover, attempts to correct the misinformation can have a backfire effect.  For those who are strongly fixed in their views, encountering counter-arguments can even cause them to strengthen their views.

Cook and Lewandowsky argue that an effective debunking requires:
Core-facts—a refutation should emphasize the facts and not the myth.  Only key facts should be presented to avoid an Overkill Backfire Effect.
Explicit warnings—before any mention of a myth, text or visual cues should warn that a the upcoming information is false.
Alternative explanation—any gaps left by debunking need to be filled.  This can be achieved by providing an alternative causal explanation for why the myth is wrong or, optionally, why he misinformers promoted the myth in the first place.
Graphics—if possible, core facts should be displayed graphically.

The authors note that a simple myth is more cognitively attractive than an overcomplicated correction.  Unfortunately writing at a simple level runs the risk of sacrificing the complexities and nuances you wish to communicate.  At Skeptical Science, where the authors work, they publish rebuttals at several levels.  Basic versions are written using short, plan English text and simplified graphics.  More technical Intermediate and Advanced versions are also available with more technical language and detailed explanations.

You can download “The Debunking Handbook” as a pdf file from

This is the best information available of which HM knows.  Still  this debunking is a difficult task.  Once the ego feels threatened, a defensive mechanism is elicited that exerts large mental efforts in defending the misbelief or misinformation.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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