Climate Change: Countering Misinformation

Hand with marker writing the word Facts Myths

As you are no doubt aware, the official policy of the Trump administration is to embrace climate denial as fact, and to dismiss the scientific consensus as myth. Earlier this week I was posting about an example of their soviet style hearings that are designed to act as a show trial. What naturally falls out of such news is to mull over the question “How can we effectively combat such misinformation?”. One potential answer comes via the Center For Climate Change Communication, George Mason University. There, one of their many projects running under that umbrella is the 4D project.

What is the 4D project?

This project is being led by the Australian cognitive scientist John Cook. The approach being taken has 4 very distinct strands as follows …

  • Detection – automatically detecting online misinformation
  • Deconstruction – identifying the exact nature of the misinformation
  • Debunking – implementing proven refutation approaches
  • Deployment – inoculating and debunking in a variety of social contexts

I suspect you can now see why it is called the 4D projects.

Let’s briefly see what each of these is about.

1. Detection of misinformation

The team working on this include University of Exeter and Trinity College Dublin. So far they have not only constructed a comprehensive taxonomy of climate misinformation arguments, but they are also developing supervised machine learning methods. Their goal is to have a software AI model that will automatically detect and categorize misinformation about climate change.

Here is the taxonomy they have.

Side Notes: What the heck is a “Supervised machine learning algorithm?”

Basically you feed in raw (training data) data alone with the desired output. From this the software model will infer the functional algorithm. This can then be used with new data. You can read more about it all here.

2. Deconstruction of Misinformation

Once detected you then need to understand what it is that has been detected. In collaboration with critical thinking philosophers from the University of Queensland, they have developed critical thinking methods to deconstruct and assess misinformation.

3. Debunking the Misinformation

This part sounds easy … but its not. Often what can happen is an assumption that there is simply a misunderstanding, hence providing the correct information will soon sort it out. Give it a go … and surprise surprise … the misinformation persists.

Needless to say, you soon discover that there are psychological complexities in the mix when correcting misconceptions.

For this they have published research into the efficacy of inoculation to neutralize misinformation, and that are continuing to advance research into misinformation with a variety of experiments, testing different contexts, types of misinformation, and refutational formats and approaches.


4. Deployment of meaningful responses to misinformation

There is the well-known Skeptical Science website where debunkings of climate misinformation. (Yes, same name as this blog. When John and I discovered that we had websites with the same name back in 2008, we exchanged notes and worked out we were both OK with this).

They have also developed the Massive Open Online Course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, which has received over 40,000 enrolments from 185 countries.

In collaboration with the National Center for Science Education and Alliance for Climate Education, they have also developed high school curriculum that raises climate literacy and boosts critical thinking by countering climate misconceptions. 


The following is a brief introduction to the Massive Open Online Course…

Further Reading

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