News Release

Mason scientist develops game to arm users against climate change 'fake news'

New game builds resilience against misinformation; 'inoculates' users against fake news on climate change; gamifies critical thinking

Business Announcement

George Mason University

Cranky Uncle app Name that Fallacy Screen

image: New Cranky Uncle app uses gamification to debunk fake news on climate change. view more 

Credit: John Cook, Cranky Uncle(tm) app

A George Mason University scientist is developing a mobile game that will teach users to defend themselves from 'fake news' on climate change.

ProfessorJohn Cook, an expert on misinformation with Mason's Center for Climate Change Communication, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to enable development of the game, "Cranky Uncle," for iPhone and Android phones.

Cook has spent over a decade studying different ways to counter misinformation. He is now combining his research into inoculation, critical thinking, cartoon humor, and gamification, into a mobile game.

"Misinformation does great damage to society," said Professor Cook, a member of Mason's Institute for a Sustainable Earth. "An essential solution is making the public more resilient against fake news. But how? Gamification is a powerful approach that can potentially reach many millions of people."

In the game, players are mentored by a cartoon Cranky Uncle who is dismissive of climate science. As they learn to recognize the flaws in Cranky Uncle's arguments, they gain points. This is based on a behavioral technique called active inoculation.

"Before becoming a scientist, I drew cartoons for a living, "said Cook. "So, imagine my delighted surprise when after a decade of research, I discovered that cartoons were a powerful tool in countering misinformation."

Cook has tested a prototype of the game in various college classes. "My students appreciated the combination of humor and real-world examples, while I appreciated how engaged they were in learning how to critically think," said Professor Melanie Trecek-King at Massasoit Community College, Massachusetts. "Learning how not to be fooled is empowering."

The crowdfunding page is at and more information is available at


For further information, images, or quotes, contact John Cook:


Work phone: (703) 993-5126

Twitter: @johnfocook



Dr. John Cook is a research assistant professor at George Mason University, founder of the Skeptical Science website, and lead author of a crowd-funded study finding 97% scientific consensus on climate change. He has spent the last decade researching how to counter climate science denial. His PhD into cognitive science found that inoculation, for explaining the techniques of denial, is the key to making the public resilient against misinformation. His research has explored critical thinking and cartoon debunkings (dusting off his skills as a former cartoonist). He is now testing how mobile games can increase critical thinking in classrooms.

About George Mason University:

George Mason University is Virginia's largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at

About the Center for Climate Change Communication

The Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University develops and applies social science insights to help society make informed decisions that will stabilize the earth's life-sustaining climate, and prevent further harm from climate change. Learn more about our research and expertise at

About the Institute for a Sustainable Earth

The Institute for a Sustainable Earth at George Mason University connects members of the Mason community with others across the Mason community-and with other communities, policy-makers, businesses and organizations-so that, together, we can more effectively address the world's pressing sustainability and resilience challenges. Learn more at

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