Environmental Science

Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence

May 5, 2017

John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich K. H. Ecker

Summary

Message inoculation against misinformation is effective in neutralizing the adverse effects of misinformation.

Abstract

Misinformation can undermine a well-functioning democracy. For example, public misconceptions about climate change can lead to lowered acceptance of the reality of climate change and lowered support for mitigation policies. This study experimentally explored the impact of misinformation about climate change and tested several pre-emptive interventions designed to reduce the influence of misinformation. We found that false-balance media coverage (giving contrarian views equal voice with climate scientists) lowered perceived consensus overall, although the effect was greater among free-market supporters. Likewise, misinformation that confuses people about the level of scientific agreement regarding anthropogenic global warming (AGW) had a polarizing effect, with free-market supporters reducing their acceptance of AGW and those with low free-market support increasing their acceptance of AGW. However, we found that inoculating messages that (1) explain the flawed argumentation technique used in the misinformation or that (2) highlight the scientific consensus on climate change were effective in neutralizing those adverse effects of misinformation. We recommend that climate communication messages should take into account ways in which scientific content can be distorted, and include pre-emptive inoculation messages.

Journal

PLoS ONE

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

10.1371/journal.pone.0175799

Cite This Paper

Cook J, Lewandowsky S, Ecker UKH (2017) Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0175799. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175799

Bibliography

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