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Mason researcher: Focus on 'inoculating' people against bad science

November 6, 2017

John Cook

When it comes to changing the minds of climate change deniers, George Mason University professor John Cook said there are better ways to spend one’s efforts.

“If I had to put a number on it, I’d say only 2 percent change their minds anyway,” he said.

Cook, a professor at George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication and founder of the Skeptical Science website, believes better outcomes can be achieved by “inoculating” people so they aren’t influenced by misinformation.

Cook points to how polio, a formerly incurable disease prevalent in most of the world, has been virtually eradicated since the 1970s by interrupting its spread through widespread vaccination. He believes reducing misconceptions about climate change can be achieved in much the same way.

“We stopped polio from spreading by exposing people to a weak form of polio to build up immunity,” Cook explained. “In other words, when introducing the [climate denier] myth, also explain the technique or fallacy the myth uses to distort the facts.”

Science deniers distort facts, Cooke said, and repeat them over and over in public forums until the myths create doubts. Inoculating people against these myths requires “some degree of climate literacy,” he said, as well as the critical thinking to discern how the myth distorts the facts.

“It’s about liberty and freedom,” Cook said. “We should be free from being misled. We should have the freedom to be accurately informed.”

John Cook can be reached at 703-993-5943 or jcook20@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.