"GMO" by Mariusz Rutkowski / CC BY 3.0

Yes, it’s worth arguing with science deniers — and here are some techniques you can use

Jul 2, 2019

By Laura Hazard Owen

Countering science denialism. Arguing with the anti-vaxxers/flat earthers/climate change deniers may feel futile, but research just published in Nature Human Behaviour suggests that it’s actually worth it and can be effective.

Philipp Schmid and Cornelia Betsch of the University of Erfurt in Germany conducted six experiments, online with 1,773 subjects, to see how to “counter arguments of denial at the very moment that they reach an audience, that is, rebutting deniers in public discussions.” These discussions may take place on social media or TV. “Science advocates” have often been reluctant to enter into these discussions at all, worrying they’ll do more harm than good. Here’s what Schmid and Betsch tested, per a write-up of their research by Sander van der Linden, also published in Nature:

All participants were first exposed to an interview with a science denier. Afterwards, they were randomly assigned to a topic-based rebuttal, a technique-based rebuttal or both. A topic-based rebuttal presented the reader with scientific facts countering the misinformation, and the technique-based rebuttal exposed the logical fallacies in the deniers’ persuasion technique. Thus, depending the exact condition, a science advocate was either present or absent and (if present) responded to the denier using a topic-based rebuttal, a technique-based rebuttal or a combination of both approaches. Attitudes towards vaccines and intentions to vaccinate were measured both before and after exposure. Attitudes and intentions to mitigate climate change were measured in the same way.

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One comment on “Yes, it’s worth arguing with science deniers — and here are some techniques you can use”

  • At the end of the article is a link to play the “Bad News” game, where the player intentionally spreads disinformation on Twitter. You would think it would be easy, but I was surprised to find it wasn’t as easy as I thought–my conscience kept getting in my way.

    Try it–I double-dog dare you!


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