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Monday, January 12, 2015


At RealClearScience, Ross Pomeroy writes that it hard to debunk myths just by presenting accurate information:
"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 deficit model'," [Stephan] Lewandowsky wrote in The Debunking Handbook. "But that model is wrong: people don’t process information as simply as a hard drive downloading data."
Another aspect that gives the antivaccine movement the edge, even more so than other anti-science denialist groups, is the power of the story. They routinely present such compelling testimonials of children regressing after a vaccine. It doesn’t matter that epidemiology has shown repeatedly that correlation does not equal causation; the story is what matters because we are storytelling animals.
Back to Pomeroy:
So to help dispel a myth, use these three steps. First, emphasize the core facts of the topic without even mentioning the misinformation. Take the 10% brain myth, for example. Simply say, "humans make complete use of our brains, this is clearly demonstrated with brain scan technology." Second, state the myth, but first preface it with an explicit warning. "There is a lot of pervasive misinformation about the brain. For example, 65% of the public falsely believes that we only use 10% of our brainpower." Third, present an alternative explanation for why the myth is wrong. Neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein can help here: "Brain cells that are not used have a tendency to degenerate. Hence if 90% of the brain were inactive, autopsy of adult brains would reveal large-scale degeneration." Yet we don't see this.