Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Fighting misinformation – The Debunking Handbook

This isn’t going to be much of a diary. I came across this ‘handbook’ today. I thought some others might find it useful.


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 “backire 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.


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. Reducing the influence  of  misinformation  is  a  difficult  and complex challenge.

A common misconception about myths is the notion  that  removing its  inluence  is as simple as packing more information into people’s heads. This approach assumes that public misperceptions are due to a lack of knowledge and that the solution is more information – in science communication, it’s known as  the “information  deicit  model”.  But that model is wrong: people don’t process information as simply as a hard drive downloading data.

The last thing you want to do when debunking misinformation is blunder in and make matters worse.  So  this  handbook  has  a  speciic  focus – providing practical tips to effectively debunk misinformation  and  avoid  the  various  backire effects. To achieve this, an understanding of the relevant cognitive processes is necessary. We explain some of the interesting psychological research in this area and inish with an example of an effective rebuttal of a common myth.

The handbook comes as a pdf. You can get it here –…


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