Posts Tagged ‘Stephan Lewandowsky’

The One-in-Five Rule

November 21, 2016

The One-in-Five Rule is chapter four of “Head In The Cloud” is an important book by William Poundstone.  Survey makers are aware of this rule, and so should you.  About 20% of the public believes just about any nutty idea a survey taker dares to ask about.  A 2010 “Huffington Post article sample survey reported that under informed 20%ers
* believe that witches are real
* believe the sun revolves around the earth
* believe in alien abductions
* believe Barack Obama is a Muslim, and
* believe the lottery is a good investment

Poundstone has a heading in this chapter titled “The Paranoid Style in American Cognition,” although HM is more inclined to believe that this paranoid style is a human problem rather than one specific to America.  However, the examples provided are regarding Americans.

In 2014 psychologists Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles E. Gignac, and Klaus Oberauer reported a survey asking for True or False responses to the following experiences:

* The Apollo moon landings never happened and were staged in a Hollywood film studio.
* The US government allowed the 9/11 attacks to take place so the it would have an excuse to achieve foreign and domestic goals (e.g., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and attacks on American civil liberties) that had been determined prior to the attacks.
* The alleged link between secondhand tobacco smoke and ill health is based on bogus science and is an attempt by a corrupt cartel of medical researchers to replace rational science with dogma.
*US agencies intentionally created the AIDS virus and administered it to black and gay men in the 1970s.

These respondents were also asked whether they agree or disagreed with the following statements:

* The potential for vaccinations to maim and harm children outweigh their health benefits.
* Humans are too insignificant to have an appreciable impact on global temperature.
* I believe that genetically engineered food have already damaged the environment.

Poundstone concludes the chapter with the following paragraph”
“Those who believed in flat-out conspiracy theories were also more likely to agee with the above statements ()the first two are wrong, and the third is unproven).  Unlike the typical  conspiracy theory, these beliefs affect everyday behavior, both in the voting booth and outside it.  Should I vaccinate my kids?  Are hybrid cars worth the extra cost? Which tomato do I buy?  The One-in-Five American casts a long shadow.”

How to Debunk Misinformation

August 17, 2016

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.