This is an excellent article from the Washington Post on a University of Michigan professor's research into the resilience of myths.
Dr. Norbert Schwarz has found that the harder you try to dispel a myth (eg. that the international consensus about climate change is somehow in doubt), the more you contribute to its impact, merely by the repetition.
Schwarz chose to work with the kind of “myth-buster” material favoured by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specifically, he found that within 30 minutes of reading a flyer on the myths surrounding flu vaccines, older people misremembered 28 per cent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 per cent of the myths as factual.Younger people did better at first, but with the passage of time, they too began to reprocess the freshly debunked myths as accurate statements of fact.
The Washington Post speculated that this tendency might explain the enduring belief in the United States that Saddam Hussein and Iraq are somehow associated with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, although no evidence of a connection has ever been produced.
Similarly, this phenomenon can explain the effectiveness of the campaign to deny climate change. No matter how many times we prove that the leading quibblers are people of little scientific expertise or that they are directly or indirectly in the employ of Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel companies, a certain portion of the population will still remember the “debate” but forget the factual fine points.
This also fits well with Susan Bales' research on framing, which demonstrates that the first person to “frame” an argument most often succeeds in capturing the public and that changing a frame is extraordinarily difficult.
Regrettably, there are no easy directions for overcoming these public education challenges. As The Post concludes, ” Myth-busters … have the odds against them.” But everyone involved in this debate should keep this insight in mind and be careful out they craft their own arguments. Stick to the facts and try, in all cases, to void repeating the mistruths that so often creep into the climate change conversation.