Debunking

Digital boosting toolbox at the Long Night of the Sciences 2022 at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Berlin)

Inoculation (a.k.a. prebunking)

Unlike other tools in this toolbox, debunking requires specific knowledge of the topic being addressed and professional training. It is usually done by professional fact-checkers, science communicators, and other trusted sources. It can also be used in collective, transparent environments like Wikipedia. Learning about debunking can help people recognize the tactics science denialists use and learn successful persuasion techniques.

Debunking: Where it came from

Written by a team of 22 prominent scholars, The Debunking Handbook 2020 provides engaged citizens, policymakers, journalists, and others with the current consensus on the science of debunking.

The Debunking Handbook 2020 summarises the current state of the science of misinformation and its debunking. It was written by a team of 22 prominent scholars of misinformation and its debunking, and it represents the current consensus on the science of debunking for engaged citizens, policymakers, journalists, and other practitioners.

Learn about debunking by watching this short video from the creators of the Debunking Handbook 2020.

How does debunking work?

There are two types of debunking strategies (examples are taken from Schmid & Betsch, 2019):

  • Fact-based correction (a.k.a. topic rebuttal) provides the facts about a topic that has been falsely addressed. For example, when a science denier argues that vaccines are not safe, the science advocate can provide evidence of the excellent safety record.
  • Logic-based correction (a.k.a. technique rebuttal) reveals the rhetorical techniques typically used to deny science. For example, when a denier argues that vaccines should be 100% safe, the advocate can uncover the technique of impossible expectations—because no medical product can ever guarantee 100% safety.

Technique and topic rebuttals can also be used as inoculations.

Debunking is more likely to be successful if it includes 4 components:

The four steps of successful debunking (taken from the [Debunking Handbook 2020](https://sks.to/db2020))
The four steps of successful debunking (taken from the Debunking Handbook 2020)

For example, here’s a great way to debunk the claim that the current climate change is part of a natural cycle, from the Debunking Handbook 2020:

Example of the four steps of successful debunking of the claim that the current climate change is part of a natural cycle (taken from the [Debunking Handbook 2020](https://sks.to/db2020))
Example of the four steps of successful debunking of the claim that the current climate change is part of a natural cycle (taken from the Debunking Handbook 2020)
  • Ecker, U. K., Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Schmid, P., Fazio, L. K., Brashier, N., Kenedeou, P, Vraga, E. K., & Amazeen, M. A. (2022). The psychological drivers of misinformation belief and its resistance to correction. Nature Reviews Psychology, 1(1), 13–29. https://doi.org/10.1038/s44159-021-00006-y

  • Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Ecker, U. K. H., Albarracín, D., Amazeen, M. A., Kendeou, P., Lombardi, D., Newman, E. J., Pennycook, G., Porter, E. Rand, D. G., Rapp, D. N., Reifler, J., Roozenbeek, J., Schmid, P., Seifert, C. M., Sinatra, G. M., Swire-Thompson, B., van der Linden, S., Vraga, E. K., Wood, T. J., Zaragoza, M. S. (2020). The debunking handbook 2020. Available at https://sks.to/db2020. DOI:10.17910/b7.1182

  • Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Schmid, P., Holford, D. L., Finn, A., Leask, J., Thomson, A., Lombardi, D., Al-Rawi, A. K., Amazeen, M. A., Anderson, E. C., Armaos, K. D., Betsch, C., Bruns, H. H. B., Ecker, U. K. H., Gavaruzzi, T., Hahn, U., Herzog, S. M., Juanchich, M., Kendeou, P., Newman, E. J., Pennycook, G., Rapp, D. N.,Sah, S., Sinatra, G. M., Tapper, K., Vraga, E. K (2021). The COVID-19 vaccine communication handbook: A practical guide for improving vaccine communication and fighting misinformation. https://sks.to/c19vax

  • Schmid, P., & Betsch, C. (2019). Effective strategies for rebutting science denialism in public discussions. Nature Human Behaviour, 3(9), 931–939. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0632-4