Misinformation is a multi-faceted problem, influencing society at political, social, technological, and psychological levels. Therefore, effective responses to misinformation require multi-disciplinary approaches. The aim of the 4D Project, led by Dr. John Cook, is to develop the “holy grail of fact-checking”: systems that automatically detect and neutralize misinformation about important science-based topics and issues. This can only be achieved by synthesizing research findings from computer science, political science, philosophy, psychology, and communication.
The 4D Project will synthesize four lines of research: Detection (automatically detecting online misinformation); Deconstruction (identifying the exact nature of the misinformation); Debunking (implementing proven refutation approaches); and Deployment (inoculating and debunking in a variety of social contexts).
In collaboration with the University of Exeter and Trinity College Dublin, we have constructed a comprehensive taxonomy of climate misinformation arguments and are developing supervised machine learning methods (manually training a machine to detect textual and inferential patterns) to automatically detect and categorize misinformation about climate change. This research will develop and improve machine learning techniques to detect science misinformation.
Automatically flagged misinformation needs to be assessed, using a combination of scientific fact-checking and critical thinking analysis, in order to identify the exact ways that it misleads. In collaboration with critical thinking philosophers from the University of Queensland, we have developed critical thinking methods to deconstruct and assess misinformation. We continue to apply these methods to different types of misinformation (such as inductive arguments) and explore communication techniques such as parallel argumentation to inoculate people against misleading fallacies.
This video introduces our 2018 critical thinking research published in Environmental Research Letters.
This video features a presentation by John Cook at 2018 CSICon in Las Vegas, explaining how parallel argumentation (in cartoon form) can inoculate the public against misinformation.
Debunking misinformation is notoriously difficult, given the psychological complexities in correcting misconceptions. So it’s imperative that refutations follow principles informed by experimental research. Part of our work involves providing best-practices guidelines, such as the highly influential Debunking Handbook and Consensus Handbook. We have also published research into the efficacy of inoculation to neutralize misinformation, and continue to advance research into misinformation with a variety of experiments, testing different contexts, types of misinformation, and refutational formats and approaches.
In order to achieve meaningful responses to misinformation, research into detection, deconstruction, and debunking of misinformation needs to be deployed at scale in real-world applications. We have published debunkings of climate misinformation through the Skeptical Science website, translated into 24 languages and receiving 3.7 million visitors per year. We developed the Massive Open Online Course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, which has received over 40,000 enrolments from 185 countries. In collaboration with the National Center for Science Education and Alliance for Climate Education, we developed high school curriculum that raises climate literacy and boosts critical thinking by countering climate misconceptions. We continue to develop and monitor the effectiveness of these efforts, as well as develop new social media applications.
In 2020, John Cook published Cranky Uncle vs. Climate Change, a book countering climate misinformation using critical thinking and cartoons. Following the book launch, Cook produced a series of animated Cranky Uncle videos, ideal for use in classrooms.
Earlier this year, we successfully crowd-funded a campaign to develop the Cranky Uncle app, a smartphone game which teaches resilience against misinformation using cartoons, gamification, and critical thinking. The game will be release later this year.