“Vaccines are safe and effective,” write researchers Philipp Schmid and Cornelia Betsch in a paper published in Nature Human Behavior this week. “Humans cause global warming. Evolution theory explains the diversity and change of life.” But large numbers of people do not believe that these statements are true, with devastating effects: progress toward addressing the climate crisis is stultifyingly slow, and the US is seeing its largest measles outbreak since 2000.
Getting accurate information across in the face of this science denialism is something of a minefield, as there is evidence that attempts to correct misinformation may backfire, further entrenching the beliefs of science deniers instead. In their paper, Schmid and Betsch present some good news and some bad: rebutting misinformation reduces the ensuing level of science denialism, but not enough to completely counter the effect of the original exposure to misinformation.
Denialism is not skepticism
Schmid and Betsch make a point of emphasizing that science denialism is a universe away from a healthy skepticism. In fact, skepticism of existing results is what drives research to refine and overturn existing paradigms. Denialism, the authors write, is “dysfunctional” skepticism “driven by how the denier would like things to be rather than what he has evidence for.”