National outbreaks of fake news and partisan “disinformation” have convinced many Americans to doubt scientific consensus—such as the near-unanimous agreement among experts that human-caused climate change is real....a group of researchers, led by a psychologist at Cambridge, think they can stamp out the viral spread of fake news and lies just like we stamp out every other infectious disease—with vaccinations.
Their ‘mental inoculation’ works under the same principal as actual inoculations—that is, exposure to a weakened version or fragment of some nasty contagion can allow a person to recognize and develop immunity to future threats. In their study, the researchers found that they could effectively ‘vaccinate’ Americans from climate change misinformation by presenting them with information on the scientific consensus alongside a pre-emptive caution that some politically motivated groups are spreading lies about that consensus.
The inoculation method, published Monday in the journal Global Challenges, was effective regardless of participants’ political leanings; Republicans, Democrats, and Independents were equally likely to reject the misinformation when it was subsequently presented to them. And among those predisposed to believe climate misinformation, the researchers saw no evidence that the inoculation could backfire, making them more resistant to scientific facts.
The usual rule that new-study-needs-replication applies, but this is a hopeful contrast to the Backfire Effect, that refuting deeply held misinformation can end up reinforcing those beliefs. Getting the truth out to people before the lies burrow into their self-identity seems to be the trick.
More reason to announce that 2017 will be a hot year but not as hot as 2016, and that the denialists are going to pretend this is meaningful.
More speculatively, I can't help but notice that we all don't live in caves that often, most people believe in some (screwy) version of evolution, and that truth and science seem to make halting progress over time. We're not complete prisoners of our psychology - not sure the studies have captured that yet.