How to debunk a myth: Skeptical Science doesn't follow their own advice

An excellent article on how to debunk myths (by Skeptical Science):

  1. Lead off with the facts.  You need to state the facts, not the myth. Otherwise, the myth gets reinforced.
  2. If you have to explain the myth, precede it with a warning. State the myth. Then, provide an alternate explanation.
  3. Three facts are better than twelve.
  4. Use simple, clear language. The power of myths is that they are usually simplistic. Your facts need to be able to replace the myth.  Shoot for an explanation simple enough that they can repeat it.
  5. Focus on the undecided; there will always be an unswayable minority especially if it runs contrary to their core beliefs.
  6. Use graphics.
Here's an example of myth-busting done right:

But here's the thing.  Right now, on the Skeptical Science website is this graphic:
If that doesn't reinforce the myths, I don't know what does!


  1. I posted a comment on the article thread:

    would be interesting to see if they ever respond or redesign that thermometer.

  2. Hi, John Cook here, author of the Debunking Handbook.

    It's a good point you raise and this is an issue I struggle with - the tension between raising a myth in order to debunk it and the danger of reinforcing the myth. In the case of the Familiarity Backfire Effect, my treatment of the research was fairly short and simple, intentionally so in order to provide practical guidelines in a short, digestible handbook (e.g. - I wanted to make it short enough that people actually read it). However, a more thorough treatment can be found in a comment posted on SkS by the lead author of the study we cite, which is very interesting and illuminating and adds some nuance to the issue: