Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Debunker

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Covid-19
Debunker

A debunker is a person who attempts to expose or discredit claims believed to be false, exaggerated, or pretentious. The term is often associated with skeptical investigation of controversial topics such as UFOs, claimed paranormal phenomena, cryptids, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, religion, or exploratory or fringe areas of scientific or pseudoscientific research.

Contents

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to "debunk" is defined as: "to expose the sham or falseness of."

If debunkers are not careful, their communications may backfire – increasing an audience's long-term belief in myths. Backfire effects can occur if a message spends too much time on the negative case, if it is too complex, or if the message is threatening.

Etymology

The American Heritage Dictionary traces the passage of the words bunk (noun), debunk (verb) and debunker (noun) into American English in 1923 as a belated outgrowth of "bunkum", of which the first recorded use was in 1828, apparently related to a poorly received "speech for Buncombe County, North Carolina" given by North Carolina representative Felix Walker during the 16th United States Congress (1819–1821).

The term debunk originated in a 1923 novel Bunk, by American journalist and popular historian William Woodward (1874–1950), who used it to mean to "take the bunk out of things."

The term "debunkery" is not limited to arguments about scientific validity; it is also used in a more general sense at attempts to discredit any opposing point of view, such as that of a political opponent.

Notable debunkers

  • Stephen Barrett founded Quackwatch and writes on medical quackery.
  • Brian Dunning produces the podcast Skeptoid.
  • Stanton Friedman has debunked both supposed UFO cases and debunking attempts on other UFO cases.
  • Martin Gardner was a mathematics and science writer who extensively debunked parapsychology in his magazine articles and books.
  • Susan Gerbic is the founder and leader of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia which has the mission of improving the skeptical content of Wikipedia. She has focused her skeptical activism at debunking famous "psychics" such as Sylvia Brown, Chip Coffey and Tyler Henry.
  • Harry Houdini debunked spiritualists.
  • Ray Hyman is a psychologist who is known for debunking some parapsychological studies.
  • Philip Klass was a pioneer in the field of skeptical investigation of UFOs.
  • Alan Melikdjanian (Captain Disillusion) is a debunker of viral videos and hoaxes on the internet, usually deconstructing them and explaining the post production techniques and software used to create the illusions.
  • Donald Menzel was Philip Klass' predecessor in debunking UFOs.
  • Joe Nickell writes regularly for the Skeptical Inquirer.
  • Penn & Teller are an entertainment team who often demystify magic tricks and illusions. They have also debunked many other aspects of popular belief on their show, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.
  • Dorothy Dietrich a professional magician and Houdini expert and historian. Has been put in charge of Houdini's grave site, and is the founder of The Houdini Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
  • Phil Plait is an astronomer and science writer who's specialty is fighting psudoscience related to space and astronomy. He established Badastronomy.com to counter public misconceptions about astronomy and space science, providing critical analysis of pseudoscientific theories related to these subjects.
  • James Randi has exposed faith healers, "psychics" and others claiming to have paranormal powers.
  • Carl Sagan was a noted astronomer who debunked purported close encounters such as the Betty and Barney Hill abduction, and pseudoscience such as Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision.
  • Michael Shermer, executive director and founder of the non-profit organization The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of the group's magazine, Skeptic.
  • Notable organizations

  • Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
  • The Skeptics Society
  • The MythBusters, a program on the Discovery Channel. Two former special effects technicians, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, use modern technology to test the validity of urban legends.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology debunked the World Trade Center controlled demolition conspiracy theories.
  • Popular Mechanics has released several publications also debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories, in particular those mentioned in Loose Change.
  • Snopes debunks or validates urban legends.
  • Quackwatch
  • SourceWatch
  • The website Bad Astronomy, by astronomer Phil Plait, debunks astrology and other myths related to the sky.
  • James Randi Educational Foundation
  • American Council on Science and Health
  • Backfire effects

    Australian Professorial Fellow Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland (and author at SkepticalScience.com) co-wrote Debunking Handbook, in which they warn that debunking efforts may backfire. Backfire effects occur when science communicators accidentally reinforce false beliefs by trying to correct them.

    Cook and Lewandowsky offer possible solutions to the backfire effects as described in different psychological studies. They recommend spending little or no time describing misconceptions because people cannot help but remember ideas that they have heard before. They write "Your goal is to increase people's familiarity with the facts." They recommend providing fewer and clearer arguments, considering that more people recall a message when it is simpler and easier to read. "Less is more" is especially important because scientific truths can get overwhelmingly detailed; pictures, graphs, and memorable tag lines all help keep things simple.

    The authors write that debunkers should try to build up people's egos in some way before confronting false beliefs because it is difficult to consider ideas that threaten one's worldviews (i.e., threatening ideas cause cognitive dissonance). It is also advisable to avoid words with negative connotations. The authors describe studies which have shown that people abhor incomplete explanations – they write "In the absence of a better explanation, [people] opt for the wrong explanation". It is important to fill in conceptual gaps, and to explain the cause of the misconception in the first place. The authors believe these techniques can reduce the odds of a "backfire" – that an attempt to debunk bad science will increase the audience's belief in misconceptions.

    References

    Debunker Wikipedia


    Topics
     
    B
    i
    Link
    H2
    L