For quite some time here at DeSmogBlog, I’ve been writing about the growing science of irrationality—in other words, our ever-better scientific understanding of why people reject clearly correct information. I believe we can’t possibly get to a better place, in debates over issues like global warming, until we understand why getting facts across turns out to be so difficult.
A large amount of psychological science has now been published on this matter—but boiling it all down into a practical, usable guide for someone who wants to communicate in a scientifically-informed way? Not so much.
Not until now.
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. It is packed not only with wonderful graphics, but also with a clear explanation of why many attempts to defeat misinformation fail, and what steps must be taken to do a better job.
The core issue, of course, is one that I’ve written much about—too many scientists assume that that facts win out on their own, but that isn’t actually true. If you base your communication strategy on this misconception, you will fail very badly.
Instead, Cook and Lewandowky explain that there are a variety of “backfires” that can be triggered by uninformed communication styles. Stating a myth before debunking can actually reinforce it. Debunking a myth with an overload of information can also backfire. And attacking a worldview can backfire most of all.
So what do you do? You should read their guide, but basically it boils down to several principles:
On top of these key points, there are a variety of more practical bits of advice like:
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.
Perhaps the best aspect of all: They follow their own principles. They are short, sweet, use brilliant graphics and….well, if you don’t believe in this approach to science communication already, they’ll change your mind.
If anything can, anyway.