Deconstructing climate misinformation- New Research by George Mason University 4C
Last year, 4C researcher John Cook published a study exploring inoculation as a strategy to counter misinformation. He found that misinformation can be neutralized by explaining the techniques or fallacies used to mislead people. But how do we put that into practice? Now (Feb 2018) he has published a new paper in Environmental Research Letters, using critical thinking methods to deconstruct misinformation and identify its fallacies.
Working with critical thinking philosophers from the University of Queensland, he has developed a six-step process that helps people detect and analyse poor reasoning. This includes detailing argument structures, determining the truth of premises, and checking for logical validity, hidden premises, or ambiguous language.
Typically, scientific information is used to refute denialist arguments. Critical thinking complements this approach by finding the flaws in misinforming arguments. John's hope is that this work will act as a building block for developing educational and social media resources which teach and encourage critical thinking.
We strongly encourage you to watch a short video about this paper by John and his collaborators:
Deconstructing climate misinformation to identify reasoning errors
Misinformation can have significant societal consequences. For example, misinformation about climate change has confused the public and stalled support for mitigation policies. When people lack the expertise and skill to evaluate the science behind a claim, they typically rely on heuristics such as substituting judgment about something complex (i.e. climate science) with judgment about something simple (i.e. the character of people who speak about climate science) and are therefore vulnerable to misleading information. Inoculation theory offers one approach to effectively neutralize the influence of misinformation. Typically, inoculations convey resistance by providing people with information that counters misinformation. In contrast, we propose inoculating against misinformation by explaining the fallacious reasoning within misleading denialist claims. We offer a strategy based on critical thinking methods to analyse and detect poor reasoning within denialist claims. This strategy includes detailing argument structure, determining the truth of the premises, and checking for validity, hidden premises, or ambiguous language. Focusing on argument structure also facilitates the identification of reasoning fallacies by locating them in the reasoning process. Because this reason-based form of inoculation is based on general critical thinking methods, it offers the distinct advantage of being accessible to those who lack expertise in climate science. We applied this approach to 42 common denialist claims and find that they all demonstrate fallacious reasoning and fail to refute the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic global warming. This comprehensive deconstruction and refutation of the most common denialist claims about climate change is designed to act as a resource for communicators and educators who teach climate science and/or critical thinking.
The published paper is open-access and freely available at: