Monthly Messenger: Could Inoculation be the Cure to Climate Denial?

Climate change science is a complicated topic, and misinformation is widespread and commonly used to dispute scientific facts. This makes message framing even more important.

Many Americans are familiar with the fact that “97% of scientists agree on climate change.” It turns out, sharing this fact is one successful way to combat false information.

Last year, U.K. psychologist Sander van der Linden researched which types of messages were least vulnerable to misinformation and could be used to reduce its spread. The study found that providing a consensus statement, such as the “97%” fact above, helped to “inoculate” people and neutralize the misinformation they had heard.

“Consensus messages don’t ask people to change their beliefs — they ask them to change their opinion about what other people believe, so they’re not a direct threat to their identity,”  – Sander van der Linden

A separate study conducted by John Cook – author of the “Debunking Handbook,” which addresses how to debunk myths – resulted in similar findings. Cook’s study found that highlighting scientific consensus could increase people’s perceived consensus on a topic. This reduces the impact of misinformation. Many people believe that the most appropriate way to address false information is to not discuss the myth, rather to only highlight the facts. However, Cook’s research found it is best to address misinformation head on.

“You can’t talk around it; otherwise it persists. What’s important is to lead with the facts — the facts are the headline — then introduce the myth, and then explain why it’s wrong.” – John Cook