How to fight climate change? With critical thinking, of course

28 March 2018

How can we successfully fight climate change? With critical thinking, of course. John Cook, Peter Ellerton, and Dave Kinkead explain how in a recent article published by Environmental Research Letters: Deconstructing climate misinformation to identify reasoning errors

Misinformation can have significant societal consequences. For example, misinformation about climate change has confused the public and stalled support for mitigation policies. When people lack the expertise and skill to evaluate the science behind a claim, they typically rely on heuristics such as substituting judgment about something complex (i.e. climate science) with judgment about something simple (i.e. the character of people who speak about climate science) and are therefore vulnerable to misleading information. Inoculation theory offers one approach to effectively neutralize the influence of misinformation.

Typically, inoculations convey resistance by providing people with information that counters misinformation. In contrast, John, Peter and Dave propose inoculating against misinformation by explaining the fallacious reasoning within misleading denialist claims. They offer a strategy based on critical thinking methods to analyse and detect poor reasoning within denialist claims. This strategy includes detailing argument structure, determining the truth of the premises, and checking for validity, hidden premises, or ambiguous language. Focusing on argument structure also facilitates the identification of reasoning fallacies by locating them in the reasoning process. Because this reason-based form of inoculation is based on general critical thinking methods, it offers the distinct advantage of being accessible to those who lack expertise in climate science.

John, Peter and Dave applied this approach to forty-two common denialist claims and found that they all demonstrate fallacious reasoning and fail to refute the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic global warming. This comprehensive deconstruction and refutation of the most common denialist claims about climate change is designed to act as a resource for communicators and educators who teach climate science and/or critical thinking.

Deconstructing climate misinformation to identify reasoning errors is already influencing the debate about climate change. It has been mentioned in 9 news outlets including The Conversation, Science Alert and The Guardian. As of today, it has also been mentioned 560 times on Twitter, on 4 science blogs and has had 47 readers on Mendeley. Its Altmetric score has largely surpassed 500, making it one of the top 5% influential research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.