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Tags John Cook , skeptical resources , Stephan Lewandowsky

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Old 16th November 2011, 09:29 PM   #1
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The Debunking Handbook

I saw this today and wanted to bring it to everybody's attetnion, it looks like it will be an excellent resource. Published by John Cook (Skeptical Science) and Steve Lewandowsky (Cognitive Science Laboratories - UNWA), the handbook "boils down the psychological research on misinformation into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation", and will be available free to download at the end of the 6-part blog series at SkS.

Quote:
Part 1 - Introduction
Debunking myths is problematic. Unless great care is taken, any effort to debunk misinformation can inadvertently reinforce the very myths one seeks to correct. To avoid these “backfire effects”, an effective debunking requires three major elements. First, the refutation must focus on core facts rather than the myth to avoid the misinformation becoming more familiar. Second, any mention of a myth should be preceded by explicit warnings to notify the reader that the upcoming information is false. Finally, the refutation should include an alternative explanation that accounts for important qualities in the original misinformation.

Debunking the first myth about debunking
It’s self-evident that democratic societies should base their decisions on accurate information. On many issues, however, misinformation can become entrenched in parts of the community, particularly when vested interests are involved.1,2 Reducing the influence of misinformation is a difficult and complex challenge.

Continued
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Old 16th November 2011, 09:31 PM   #2
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Nice intro, great stuff!
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Old 17th November 2011, 05:41 PM   #3
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Nice! Bookmarked!
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Old 17th November 2011, 07:05 PM   #4
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Part 2: The Familiarity Backfire Effect

Quote:
To debunk a myth, you often have to mention it - otherwise, how will people know what you’re talking about? However, this makes people more familiar with the myth and hence more likely to accept it as true. Does this mean debunking a myth might actually reinforce it in people’s minds?

To test for this backfire effect, people were shown a flyer that debunked common myths about flu vaccines.1 Afterwards, they were asked to separate the myths from the facts. When asked immediately after reading the flyer, people successfully identified the myths. However, when queried 30 minutes after reading the flyer, some people actually scored worse after reading the flyer. The debunking reinforced the myths.

Hence the backfire effect is real. The driving force is the fact that familiarity increases the chances of accepting information as true. Immediately after reading the flyer, people remembered the details that debunked the myth and successfully identified the myths. As time passed, however, the memory of the details faded and all people remembered was the myth without the “tag” that identified it as false. This effect is particularly strong in older adults because their memories are more vulnerable to forgetting of details.

Cont.
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Old 18th November 2011, 03:21 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by bit_pattern View Post
Wow. That really is something very important to take on board.

Thanks, bit pattern!
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Old 18th November 2011, 04:28 PM   #6
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Looks like a handy guide for teachers trying to overcome old ingrained prejudices.
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Old 23rd November 2011, 07:20 PM   #7
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Parts 3 & 4

Quote:
Part 3: The Overkill Backfire Effect

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.

The solution is to keep your content lean, mean and easy to read. Making your content easy to process means using every tool available. Use simple language, short sentences, subheadings and paragraphs. Avoid dramatic language and derogatory comments that alienate people. Stick to the facts.

CONT.

Quote:
Part 4: The Worldview Backfire Effect

The third and arguably most potent backfire effect occurs with topics that tie in with people’s worldviews and sense of cultural identity. Several cognitive processes can cause people to unconsciously process information in a biased way. For those who are strongly fixed in their views, being confronted with counter-arguments can cause their views to be strengthened.

One cognitive process that contributes to this effect is Confirmation Bias, where people selectively seek out information that bolsters their view. In one experiment, people were offered information on hot-button issues like gun control or affirmative action. Each parcel of information was labelled by its source, clearly indicating whether the information would be pro or con (e.g., the National Rifle Association vs. Citizens Against Handguns). Although instructed to be even-handed, people opted for sources that matched their pre-existing views. The study found that even when people are presented with a balanced set of facts, they reinforce their pre-existing views by gravitating towards information they already agree with. The polarisation was greatest among those with strongly held views.1

What happens when you remove that element of choice and present someone with arguments that run counter to their worldview? In this case, the cognitive process that comes to the fore is Disconfirmation Bias, the flipside of Confirmation Bias. This is where people spend significantly more time and thought actively arguing against opposing arguments.2

CONT.
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Last edited by bit_pattern; 23rd November 2011 at 07:22 PM.
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Old 24th November 2011, 09:31 PM   #8
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Part 5.

Quote:
Part 5: Filling the gap with an alternative explanation

Assuming you successfully negotiate the various backfire effects, what is the most effective way to debunk a myth? The challenge is that once misinformation gets into a person’s mind, it’s very difficult to remove. This is the case even when people remember and accept a correction.

This was demonstrated in an experiment in which people read a fictitious account of a warehouse fire.1,2,3 Mention was made of paint and gas cans along with explosions. Later in the story, it was clarified that paint and cans were not present at the fire. Even when people remembered and accepted this correction, they still cited the paint or cans when asked questions about the fire. When asked, “Why do you think there was so much smoke?”, people routinely invoked the oil paint despite having just acknowledged it as not being present.

When people hear misinformation, they build a mental model, with the myth providing an explanation. When the myth is debunked, a gap is left in their mental model. To deal with this dilemma, people prefer an incorrect model over an incomplete model. In the absence of a better explanation, they opt for the wrong explanation.4
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Old 25th November 2011, 06:10 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by bit_pattern View Post
I saw this today and wanted to bring it to everybody's attetnion, it looks like it will be an excellent resource. Published by John Cook (Skeptical Science) and Steve Lewandowsky (Cognitive Science Laboratories - UNWA), the handbook "boils down the psychological research on misinformation into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation", and will be available free to download at the end of the 6-part blog series at SkS.
Specifically how can we "download at the end of the 6 part blog at SkS"? What's SkS?.

Last edited by Jeff Corey; 25th November 2011 at 06:12 AM.
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Old 25th November 2011, 07:45 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Jeff Corey View Post
Specifically how can we "download at the end of the 6 part blog at SkS"? What's SkS?.
SkS is Skeptical Science, the site that each of the links above or in my sig will take you to when you click on them
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Old 27th November 2011, 07:22 PM   #11
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Thumbs up

Now available for download

Quote:
The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download

Posted on 27 November 2011 by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky

The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there's no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation



The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples' minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:
  • The Familiarity Backfire Effect
  • The Overkill Backfire Effect
  • The Worldview Backfire Effect

The Authors:
John Cook is the Climate Change Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. He created and runs Skeptical Science and co-authored the book Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand with environmental scientist Haydn Washington. In 2011, Skeptical Science won the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for the Advancement of Climate Change Knowledge.

Professor Lewandowsky is an Australian Professorial Fellow and a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia. He received a Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award from the Australian Research Council in 2011. His research examines people's memory, decision making, and knowledge structures, with a particular emphasis on how people update information in memory. He has published over 120 scholarly articles, chapters, and books, including numerous papers on how people respond to misinformation. (See www.cogsciwa.com for a complete list of scientific publications.) Professor Lewandowsky is an award-winning teacher and was Associate Editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition from 2006-2008. His research has been funded continuously since 1990 by public agencies in 5 countries, but he has no commercial interests of any kind. He has also contributed numerous opinion pieces to the global media on issues related to climate change "skepticism" and the coverage of science in the media. A complete list of his public essays can be found athttp://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/inthemedia.htm, which is a blog run by academics from W.A.'s three major universities.
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Old 27th November 2011, 07:30 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by bit_pattern View Post
Now available for download

That's an excellent and very informative document. Thanks.

I take it that it's free to distribute?

Or would you prefer links to your website?
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Old 27th November 2011, 10:22 PM   #13
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Nice!
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Old 27th November 2011, 10:59 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by John Jackson View Post
That's an excellent and very informative document. Thanks.

I take it that it's free to distribute?

Or would you prefer links to your website?
Not my website but, yes, free to distribute under the terms of the Creative Commons licence

http://www.skepticalscience.com/creativecommons.shtml

But I would always recommend promoting Skeptical Science as far and wide as possible, it is an excellent resource.
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Old 23rd January 2012, 05:45 PM   #15
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Just an update to oneof the chapters:

Quote:
Debunking Handbook: update and feedback

Posted on 23 January 2012 by John Cook
When we published the Debunking Handbook, I have to admit, we completely underestimated the impact it would make. A few days after the launch, it suddenly went viral with over 150,000 downloads in a single day. This week, it just ticked over 400,000 downloads. We always planned that the Handbook would be useful not just for climate myths but for communicators having to deal with any type of misinformation. Nevertheless, it was surprising to see the Handbook featued on websites as diverse as Richard Dawkins and Silobreaker. A website devoted to debunking MLM myths saw it as "useful when debating with brainwashed members of MLM organizations". A Muslim forum speculated that it "Should be useful when engaging people who believe lies about Islam". Currently, several educators are looking to integrate it into their curriculum.

Here are some excerpts from reviews of the Debunking Handbook:
"I simply cannot believe that John Cook of Skeptical Science and psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky managed, in just 8 pages, to create something as magnificent as their new Debunking Handbook... As someone who teaches science communication, I’m going to recommend Cook’s and Lewandowsky’s handbook to as many folks as I can find."
Chris Mooney, Desmogblog

"...a must-read summary of the scientific literature on how to extract pernicious myths from people’s minds and restore fact-based knowledge."
Brad Johnson, Think Progress

"I have to say that Cook and Lewandowsky have done a great job of clearly and succinctly outlining the challenge(s) and providing actionable paths forward to deal with them... In short, consider the Debunking Handbook a must read and a must keep reference."
A Siegel, Daily Kos
There were a few criticisms also. A science communicator from the University of Western Australia (a colleague of Stephan Lewandowsky) pointed out that in our case study debunking on Page 6, we weren't practising what we preach by using a graphic that emphasised the myth rather than the core facts. Fair point. So we've updated our example debunking and also made a minor tweak to the text on The Overkill Backfire Effect. Click here to download the updated Debunking Handbook.
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Old 24th January 2012, 10:01 AM   #16
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I wonder, will I be able to put this on my Kindle? And I will be promoting this for sure!
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Old 25th January 2012, 01:48 AM   #17
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Apparently not

Quote:
ceilingcat at 07:20 AM on 30 November, 2011
Thanks for making this available.

Unfortunately, PDF documents do not display well on the Amazon kindle, and the conversion process from PDF to Kindle format is frequently less than satisfactory.

Please also consider publishing The Debunking Handbook in EPUB format, which can be read by most ebook readers, and very easily converted to the MOBI format for the Kindle

http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org...-download.html
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Old 25th January 2012, 05:06 AM   #18
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I tried the index, but find nothing on "pointing and laughing."

Does anyone have a page number reference?
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Old 26th January 2012, 02:56 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by NoZed Avenger View Post
I tried the index, but find nothing on "pointing and laughing."

Does anyone have a page number reference?
You won't because that is completely counterproductive and doesn't change anyone's mind about anything, which is the entire point of the Handbook. Maybe you should try reading past the index
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Old 26th January 2012, 05:19 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by bit_pattern View Post
You won't because that is completely counterproductive and doesn't change anyone's mind about anything, which is the entire point of the Handbook. Maybe you should try reading past the index
Wow.
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Old 26th January 2012, 08:37 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by LarianLeQuella View Post
I wonder, will I be able to put this on my Kindle? And I will be promoting this for sure!
It opens OK on my tablet, though it could do with more friendly formatting.
I'll play around with EPUB conversion tonight.
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Old 27th January 2012, 11:47 PM   #22
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Bookmarked. I will be reading this in full shortly.

I had not ever considered the idea of these backfire effects. I wish there were more content to it, but I may adjust my debunking tactics in response to this.
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Old 28th January 2012, 12:26 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by Cubeless View Post
Bookmarked. I will be reading this in full shortly.

I had not ever considered the idea of these backfire effects. I wish there were more content to it, but I may adjust my debunking tactics in response to this.
Yeah, same, looking back I can see how counterproductive my arguments with deniers have been.
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Old 18th September 2012, 02:04 PM   #24
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I was looking up a paper on the dangers of debunking myths (PDF here: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/norbert.s...e-straight.pdf) and I came across a new paper "Misinformation and its correction". The abstract is here: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/norbert.s...its_correction and there's a link to the full text as a PDF. I thought they might both be of interest.

The original paper I was looking up includes these quotes:

Quote:
Presumably, erroneous beliefs can be dispelled by confronting them with contradictory evidence. Yet attempts to do so often increase later acceptance of the erroneous beliefs...
Quote:
Any attempt to explicitly discredit false information necessarily involves a repetition of the false information, which may contribute to its later familiarity and acceptance.
I did a quick search to see if anyone else had posted about Lewandowsky or Schwarz on the forum and I'm glad I did because I hadn't actually heard about the Debunking Handbook before I found this thread just now.
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Old 19th September 2012, 03:28 PM   #25
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excellent resource Bit Pattern, thanks
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Old 19th September 2012, 07:32 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by bobwtfomg View Post
excellent resource Bit Pattern, thanks
Happy to oblige. The more people who see it the better
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Old 19th September 2012, 08:02 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by bit_pattern View Post
Part 2: The Familiarity Backfire Effect
Quote:
To debunk a myth, you often have to mention it - otherwise, how will people know what you’re talking about? However, this makes people more familiar with the myth and hence more likely to accept it as true. Does this mean debunking a myth might actually reinforce it in people’s minds?

To test for this backfire effect, people were shown a flyer that debunked common myths about flu vaccines.1 Afterwards, they were asked to separate the myths from the facts. When asked immediately after reading the flyer, people successfully identified the myths. However, when queried 30 minutes after reading the flyer, some people actually scored worse after reading the flyer. The debunking reinforced the myths.

Hence the backfire effect is real. The driving force is the fact that familiarity increases the chances of accepting information as true. Immediately after reading the flyer, people remembered the details that debunked the myth and successfully identified the myths. As time passed, however, the memory of the details faded and all people remembered was the myth without the “tag” that identified it as false. This effect is particularly strong in older adults because their memories are more vulnerable to forgetting of details.

Cont.
This is quite interesting and gives the impression of being in complete opposition to what Derek Muller of Veritasium says on the matter (at least when it comes to educational videos --which is what he did his PhD thesis on). It is a general criticism on his part of science videos in general.

It is possible for these two approaches to be equally justified (I am not weighing in with an opinion about it --I'm just pointing out that the two need not contradict each other). If this is so, it would most likely be due to the difference between normal reasoning and motivated reasoning. Someone's misconception regarding the distances and proportions of planets of the solar system is not going to be due to motivated reasoning. Someone's misconception regarding vaccinations or global warming is likely to be due to motivated reasoning.

So maybe the context matters very much with regard to which approach is likely to work best.
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Old 20th September 2012, 01:14 AM   #28
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Thanks!
That went up on my FB page.
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Old 1st January 2013, 07:30 PM   #29
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Just a bump for anyone who might have missed it
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Old 3rd January 2013, 03:11 AM   #30
Orphia Nay
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Another bump for the good value.
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