A ‘Shot’ of Climate Consensus May Inoculate Against False Balance, Researchers Say

The same kinds of inoculation techniques used to keep infectious disease in check may work just as well in neutralizing misleading media coverage of climate change, according to a team of researchers in a paper published in PLOS.

Climate change misinformation in the form of “fake experts” casts doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming, the researchers say, and that typically has a polarizing effect on people’s attitudes toward climate change, especially those who most strongly support free-market ideas. But the authors find that by preemptively explaining the potentially misleading effect of false-balance media coverage — which gives equal weight to the views of a small minority of scientists versus an overwhelming majority who affirm human-caused climate change — news consumers gain resistance to that coverage.  

“An inoculating message,” write the researchers, ”fully neutralized the polarizing effect of misinformation.” When told of misleading techniques, they add, “free-market supporters resist being misled as they see this as a violation of their right to be well-informed.”

Notes lead author John Cook, in an interview in The Guardian: “Explaining the techniques of denial can help people spot attempts to mislead them, hence neutralizing misinformation that uses those techniques.”

In a separate report about more productive ways to talk about climate change, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe told National Public Radio that it is best to avoid labels like “climate denier” and to instead use climate “dismissive.” She based her recommendation on the “Global Warming’s Six Americas“ work by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. 

Listen below for the full interview with Hayhoe.