2011-09-28 10:39:11Draft of the 'Debunking Handbook' (required reading for all SkS authors)
John Cook


I've coauthored The Debunking Handbook with Steve Lewandowsky. It's a summary of all the research into misinformation, explains all the cognitive processes we debunkers need to be aware of and boils all the research down to just a few practical tips for writing your myth debunkings. It's just at the draft stage for now - please have a read and post any feedback before I start prettying it up in InDesign.

Download the Debunking Handbook

2011-09-28 11:05:17
Alex C


John, your discussion on overfamiliarity in there reminded me - I should have brought this up earlier, but a friend of mine observed that the main section headings underneath our main page when you Google "skeptical science" include general pages, but the ones directed to the important info RE rebuttals start as "It's the Sun" and "Antarctica is gaining ice."  So, the myths lead the rebuttals.

2011-09-28 11:39:51Google reinforces the myths!
John Cook


Alex, thanks for pointing that out. That's a weird one as the pages google links to are properly optimised, I've made sure the myths aren't headlined or used in the webpage title. And yet it extracts the myth somehow. Very weird. 

2011-10-01 02:11:12


Just had a read and this will be a very helpful reference for all kinds of interactions where rebuttals of myths are needed.

One question: who will be made aware of this? Meaning, what will happen if the folks whose myths we try to debunk get their hands on it and then switch everything around by 180 degrees and use the information to make their message even stronger?

2011-10-01 04:34:10
Paul D


Thanks John.

Looks interesting will read it over the next few days.

2011-10-01 18:33:02
Paul D


I haven't finished reading it but have read most of it.

It's very good and I like the diagrams. One thing that is obvious is that it points out weaknesses in SkS. IMO it supports many of the things I have been saying. Keep it simple, don't bother to much with the ideologists and graphics are good, amongst other things.

It needs refining, it gets a bit repetitive in the explanations.

2011-10-04 19:48:52
Paul D


John is this handbook going to be made available on the SkS site??

2011-10-05 22:15:59Who we'll release this
John Cook

Was probably going to divvy the handbook into separate blog posts and post on SkS and/or Shaping Tomorrow's World.

Misinformers might use the handbook for evil purposes but nothing we can do about that. The positives of getting this into the hands of communicators to debunk misinfo more effectively outweighs any dangers. Note that it's written for generic myths, not just climate, so will also be useful for health myths, other fields of science, etc.

Yes, the handbook does reveal considerable weaknesses in the writing of our rebuttals. That was one motive for writing this - create a template we use to improve our rebuttals and of course, future blog posts. It's long been my vision of the SkS team being a crack team of ninja debunkers.

2011-10-06 01:29:43
Anne-Marie Blackburn
Anne-Marie Blackburn

A good read. I don't find it repetitive but then again, my brain's gone quite mushy recently so repetition is a good thing.

It's given me a better idea of how to tackle my intermediate polar bear rebuttal and focus on the salient points. I know what I write can be quite wordy so I'll make a concerted effort to follow the guidelines. And include graphs. Thumbs up from me.

Reminds me of the effort of a scientist recently - can't remember who - who, instead of trying to debunk each point of a gish gallop, opted to explain the science. I remember it being very effective.

2011-10-06 14:32:23
Dana Nuccitelli

I hate that familiarity backfire effect.  It's hard to debunk a myth without repeating it!

2011-10-06 22:12:29Not repeating a myth
John Cook

It often is inevitable but just knowing to find your core fact, headline it, start your post with it and concluding with it is a very good principle which minimizes the backfire.

I also came upon new research this week revealing a cousin to the familiarity backfire effect - the negation backfire effect. Eg - "don't think of an elephant" or " I am not a crook". Same principle and the way to avoid it is the same.

2011-10-07 22:21:05
Paul D


On the issue of 'repeatition' I guess it is the fact that the whole document is summarised at the beginning and reading the detailed explanations afterwards was a bit annoying because the language was similar as the summary. Probably a cut and paste issue with using a computer?!??!
Probably OK for a research doc, but not sure a communication doc. Maybe needs to flow more naturally??

Just a thought.

But it must be completed, I want to send it to some contacts here.