It doesn’t always work to debunk a myth just by presenting facts. Sometimes your careful presentation could actually entrench the wrong information. If your presentation is overly long or complicated, people may only remember the simple myth. And when you’re talking to people who are committed to the myth, your explanation may drive them further into it.
Wait — I’m doing this all wrong. I’m starting with the myth. Let me try again.
Step 1: Present the core fact.
John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky (of UWA) have released The Debunking Handbook. All science communicators need to read it, if they want to avoid reinforcing the very myths they want to debunk.
Step 2: Give the reader an explicit warning to cue them that misinformation is coming.
One incorrect perception people sometimes have is that people change their views when facts are laid before them. This is a myth.
Step 3: Now that you’ve ripped the misinformation out of the reader’s head, fill the gap with simple, correct information.
Cook and Lewandowsky suggest a few simple ways to communicate scientific ideas clearly, and avoid psychological “backfire effects”.
That’s better. Boy, this science communication can be tricky.
h/t Lara from the “exmormon-atheists” group