The Debunking Handbook: now freely available for download

By John Cook
Posted on 27 November 2011
Filed under Cognition
and Stephan Lewandowsky
Professor, School of Experimental Psychology and Cabot Institute, University of Bristol

The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking misinformation, is now freely available to download. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there's no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation.

The Handbook explores the surprising fact that debunking myths can sometimes reinforce the myth in peoples' minds. Communicators need to be aware of the various backfire effects and how to avoid them, such as:

It also looks at a key element to successful debunking: providing an alternative explanation. The Handbook is designed to be useful to all communicators who have to deal with misinformation (eg - not just climate myths).

The Authors:

John Cook is the Climate Change Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. He created and runs Skeptical Science and co-authored the bookClimate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand with environmental scientist Haydn Washington. In 2011, Skeptical Science won the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for the Advancement of Climate Change Knowledge.

Professor Lewandowsky is an Australian Professorial Fellow and a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia. He received a Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award from the Australian Research Council in 2011. His research examines people's memory, decision making, and knowledge structures, with a particular emphasis on how people update information in memory. He has published over 120 scholarly articles, chapters, and books, including numerous papers on how people respond to misinformation. (See for a complete list of scientific publications.) Professor Lewandowsky is an award-winning teacher and was Associate Editor of the Journal of Experimental  Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition from 2006-2008. His research has been funded continuously since 1990 by public agencies in 5 countries, but he has no commercial interests of any kind. He has also contributed numerous opinion pieces to the global media on issues related to climate change "skepticism" and the coverage of science in the media. A complete list of his public essays can be found at, which is a blog run by academics from W.A.'s three major universities.

This post has been cross-posted at Skeptical Science

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. Hi John and Stephan
    Thanks for a great resource
    It is very clear and will be a great asset for our group Psychology for a Safe Climate and is up on our website
    Carol Ride
    Psychology for a Safe Climate
  2. Thanks for making this available.

    Unfortunately, PDF documents do not display well on the Amazon kindle, and the conversion process from PDF to Kindle format is frequently less than satisfactory.

    Please also consider publishing The Debunking Handbook in EPUB format, which can be read by most ebook readers, and very easily converted to the MOBI format for the Kindle.

  3. Stephan Lewandowsky at 10:25 AM on 30 November, 2011
    @2: interesting suggestions. I will investigate.
  4. Hi All,

    Great document. It will bhe supremely useful.

    One issue though (and it could just be me) however under the OVERKILL BACKFIRE EFFECT there is a section called "havign your cake and eating it too" in which it says to select a level... I can't seem to get it to change from Basic...

    Anyway, thanks again.
    Moderator Response: Hello TiG82, The links in the handbook are not live. Check them out at
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