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date: 23 April 2017

Strategies for Countering False Information and Beliefs about Climate Change

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Misperceptions about climate change are widespread, and efforts to correct them must be grounded in an understanding of the factors, both individual and social, that contribute to them. These factors can be organized into four broad categories: motivated reasoning, non-motivated information processing biases, social dynamics, and the information environment. Each factor is associated with a host of related strategies for countering false information and beliefs. Motivated biases can be reduced with affirmations, by attempting to depoliticize the issue, and via an evidentiary “tipping point.” Other cognitive biases highlight the importance of clarity, simplicity, and repetition. Because beliefs often serve an important sense-making function, alternative explanations for important events may prove an important complement to novel evidence. Message presentation techniques can facilitate updating beliefs. Beliefs also have an important social dimension. Attending to these factors shows the importance of strategies that include: ensuring that lay people consistently have the tools that help them evaluate experts; promoting confidence among those who hold accurate beliefs; facilitating diverse, unsegregated social networks; and providing corrections from unexpected sources. Finally, the prevalence of misinformation in the information environment is highly problematic. Strategies that news organizations can employ include avoiding false balance, adjudicating among contradictory claims, and encouraging accuracy on the part of political elites via fact checking. New technologies may also prove an important tool: search engines that give preferential treatment to accurate information, and automated recommendations of accurate information following exposure to inaccurate information. Both have the potential to change how individuals learn about climate change.