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Plyss
Skeptic Friend

Netherlands
231 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  08:28:43  Show Profile Send Plyss a Private Message
Many of the people on this site will, at some point, have tried to convince a believer in some sort of pseudo-science that their beliefs have no basis in reality. Quite likely, the majority of these attempts will have been unsuccesful. For example, i'm still trying to convince my mother and aunts that homeopathy is bogus and that there is no reliable evidence for extrasensory perception.
Such conversations would typically go something like this.

quote:

Aunt: You should consider the possibility of homeopathy. After all, plants and natural compounds have been known to have healing properties.

Me: What you are referring to is more commonly known as fytopathy. This differs from homeopathy in some fundamental aspects. Like the near-infinte dilutions, for example.

Aunt: Well, i realise modern science can't explain it yet, but that's no reason for not believing. Besides, if i take some modern, real medicine it doesn't always work either. The large pharmaceutical companies are making lot's of profits on medicines that have never been properly tested. Why, i prefer to put my trust in that nice, friendly young man downtown who still mixes and potentiates his own medications.



At this point you can start to point out the fallacies in this line of reasoning, but this, in the end, won't serve your purpose of convincing your aunt that there is no reason to believe in homeopathy and that she would be better off relying on evidence-based medicine. Instead, it makes you look like an arrogant pedantic know-it-all.

However, one approach i've found useful in some instances is to point at some conspiracy theory/pseudoscience/superstition of which you are convinced the other person shares your opinion and point out the specific ways this example fails the common-sense test. E.g. a left-wing friend of mine is absolutely convinced that large companies are involved in all kinds of nefarious conspiracies. However, by pointing at a right-wing counter-example[1] that he would never believe, it was possible to make him at least think about such things the odds of such a conspiracy ever succeeding with so many people involved, and the expected costs/benefits of such an operation.This, of course, won't change anyone mind overnight. Nevertheless, when people start thinking rationally about these matters there is a finite chance they'll adopt a more skeptical approach to irrational claims.

Now, to the point of this post:

As mentioned, many of the people on this site will have reasoned with a believer. It would stand to reason that a number of strategies will have surfaced that have the potential to make people think about the irrational beliefs they hold. Of course there is little hope of a "magic bullet" that will make any believer denounce their beliefs, but some ways may be more persuasive in this matter than others.

Now my question is the following: What strategies have you found to be useful in reasoning with believers?
Any response is greatly appreciated.



[1] In this specific case a theory about how black women were involved in a massive conspiracy throughtout the country to manipulate social welfare programs by providing false statistics.

Miss Tick sniffed. 'You could say this piece of advice is pricesless', she said. 'Are you listening?'
'Yes' said Tiffany.
'Good now...If you trust in yourself.."
'Yes..?'
'..and believe in your dreams...'
'yes?'
'...and follow your star..' Miss Tick went on.
'Yes?'
'You'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Goodbye.'

Ricky
SFN Die Hard

USA
4907 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  09:22:19   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Ricky an AOL message Send Ricky a Private Message
I think it really depends on the situation and person. To someone who has not really considered what they believe in depth, I think asking questions is really the best way to go. In your example, it would be something like:

"Has homeopathy every been tested? What are the results? How can water remember what was in it? Can other molecules do this to? Why haven't we noticed this effect else where? How does water decide what to remember? If there are impurities in the water, does the water take on these properties?"

However, if the person firmly believes in what they say and have considered it in depth, then strong bold statements are needed:

"Homeopathy has rarely been properly tested, and when it has it failed. Water doesn't have the ability to remember what is in it, water is just water. We have not noticed these effects else where because they don't exist. Water would also must be able to choose what to remember, so now water has a mind? There are impurities in the water, if what you say is true, water would take on the form of these impurities."

Great topic, I am very interested to see others posts.

Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.
- Isaac Asimov
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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  09:34:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message
Personally I bring up Faith as suspect, Start by driving home the sheer number of faiths 50k+*. Then link them all together with the thing they all have in common, they require a belief in something unproven, whether it God, Gods, Afterlife, Mystical energy forces, the power of three, etc.

Now most faithful equate Atheism and Skepticism with a religion, this idea is very powerful and needs to first be overcome. Showing them that it is only reality we seek and love, that we didnt start with a goal and try to prove it, the goal was there and we just went and found it is all. The same thing goes for non-religious problems like homeopathy, its important that they know you have nothing against it and only wish to prove reality one way or another.

They must also understand the other driving force, Money, all of the suspect medical claims and therapys make millions and millions off of unproven and sometimes potentially dangerous ideas. The willingness of a large group to deceive the public for monetary gain is significant and endemic. That doesnt mean that many practicioners who profit dont believe what they peddle, they just dont know any better.


*If Methodist group 1 says, You must attend church every sunday or go to hell and Methodist group 2 says no you must just try to make church as often as possible or go to hell, these are different faiths.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
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Ricky
SFN Die Hard

USA
4907 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  10:13:10   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Ricky an AOL message Send Ricky a Private Message
quote:
Personally I bring up Faith as suspect, Start by driving home the sheer number of faiths 50k+*. Then link them all together with the thing they all have in common, they require a belief in something unproven, whether it God, Gods, Afterlife, Mystical energy forces, the power of three, etc.


You are talking about claims dealing with religion, such as Faith Healers, right? What I find is that religion is deeply rooted with a person and that this can make them "turn off" to whatever you say. At all costs, I try to avoid religion.

If you are careful, you can avoid religion while dealing with religious claims. For example, in dealing with Faith Healers, I normally merely point out the fact that if God thought you should be healed, why would he ever make you sick in the first place? And does this healer tell God who to heal? If not, why doesn't God just heal you? Why does the healing power of God require money and time to go to a Faith Healer?

Simple phrase, KISS it, Keep It Secular, Stupid.


Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.
- Isaac Asimov
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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  10:40:29   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message
I disagree, We're either wrong or right and Im sick of pretending that belief in the supernatural is ok, we have got to stop pretending eventually.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  10:56:03   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message
On alternative medicine like homeopathy, I have found this argument to be persuasive. Plus it's true...

"I talked to a Doctor friend of mine who said about 80 percent of the people who come to see him will get better with no intervention at all. 10 percent need mild intervention but would probably recover with none. The last 10 percent require medical intervention or the condition will worsen and possibly lead to a medical emergency. So, out of the 100 percent that chooses homeopathy, the same 80 percent will recover. And what will they attribute that recovery to? Homeopathic medicine of course. This fools both the patients and the homeopathic practitioners. That is a pretty high recovery rate. The rest may opt out and go to the doctor when they don't get better. Or not, putting themselves at great risk..."

I have also done (apparently successful) cold readings on people who believe in psychics. I have told them that I am a psychic and I do a reading. "That's me!" More than one has told me. After, I tell them exactly what I did and to pay attention to their next psychic reading. I have had some feedback. Mostly to thank me for helping to turn that light on for them.

Of course, there are many people you will never get though to. Such is the way of faith based beliefs.


Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Siberia
SFN Addict

Brazil
2322 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  12:38:42   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Siberia's Homepage  Send Siberia an AOL message  Send Siberia a Yahoo! Message Send Siberia a Private Message
quote:
I have also done (apparently successful) cold readings on people who believe in psychics. I have told them that I am a psychic and I do a reading. "That's me!" More than one has told me.


Yep. I often do that to predict reactions from people.

Usually, my discussions go around with my mother. Although I've never declared myself an atheist, she's very, very christian. Well, it makes her happy, and that makes me happy, so it's all good. But we often debate science (since I'm a science junkie, in opposition to my quite aloof older sister) and politics.

I've managed to convince her that the Bible is not an inerrant Tome of All Things True. Instead, I made her believe it's a wonderful philosophical guide on how to lead a great life - proportions guarded.

I often point out to her (kindly and without denying the Bible itself) the historical background from that era, the customs, the traditions. I'm no historian, but I've considered being, so I've gathered quite a good amount of knowledge on that area - my best friend's also a historian.

For instance, I've convinced her that Moses' alleged miracles were most likely manifestations of nature itself, given grandeur by the tribesmen who wrote it and did not fully understand the mechanisms behind it. I remind her that writers often exaggerate things for the sake of art and the Bible (God-inspired or not) was written by mortal men.

My method is: try to see their point of view. Explore it. Introduce yours, trying to correlate them somehow. Don't push, don't press and above all, stay calm and sound, lol.

"Why are you afraid of something you're not even sure exists?"
- The Kovenant, Via Negativa

"People who don't like their beliefs being laughed at shouldn't have such funny beliefs."
-- unknown
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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  12:58:15   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message
My mom was amazed by the tricks of mr blaine on ABC, even when I told her that is was simple tricks and editing she wasnt receptive. I then took her outside and 'levitated' for her, even giving it the fake illness/drained energy ploy. I thought she might faint she was so shocked that I could do it.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
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Ricky
SFN Die Hard

USA
4907 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  13:20:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Ricky an AOL message Send Ricky a Private Message
quote:
I disagree, We're either wrong or right and Im sick of pretending that belief in the supernatural is ok, we have got to stop pretending eventually.


I would agree, and in an ideal world, you would be right. However, what I have found is that if you go out attacking god, people just stop listening. So you have to take a choice, start weakly by just attacking false medical and science claims (such as Faith Healing and the Creation), and they will listen to you for at least a little bit, or attack the idea of god right off the bat and risk the chance they won't listen at all.

Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.
- Isaac Asimov
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Ricky
SFN Die Hard

USA
4907 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  13:21:53   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Ricky an AOL message Send Ricky a Private Message
quote:
I then took her outside and 'levitated' for her, even giving it the fake illness/drained energy ploy. I thought she might faint she was so shocked that I could do it.


Just curious, how did you do it?

Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.
- Isaac Asimov
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Maverick
Skeptic Friend

Sweden
385 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  15:56:37   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Maverick a Private Message
It's incredibly frustrating to "debate" with people who have set their mind to something because they want to, or because it feels nice. You can tell them that there's no evidence for, say, homeopathy, or that it could not possibly work. You can tell them why, even. There will always be people who will give the superior reply "you're so narrowminded" and "science doesn't have all the answers" and "you don't know that it doesn't work! It's just the greedy scientists who wants to sell their own drugs". If they have decided that they know more than what they actually know, then very little can convince them they're wrong.

If anyone has got a good method, I would love to hear it though...

"Life is but a momentary glimpse of the wonder of this astonishing universe, and it is sad to see so many dreaming it away on spiritual fantasy." -- Carl Sagan
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 10/01/2004 :  17:54:45   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by Ricky

quote:
I then took her outside and 'levitated' for her, even giving it the fake illness/drained energy ploy. I thought she might faint she was so shocked that I could do it.


Just curious, how did you do it?



Stand with your feet together and heels touching. Keep one foot flat, then push off the ground with the other and stand on your tiptoes with that one foot. From the correct angle (behind and slightly to one side), it will appear that both feet are floating 2-3 inches off the ground.

If you ever watch the program, notice how Blain takes great care to position the spectators behind himself at the proper angle. The "It drains me and saps my energy" line helps sell the trick, but it is also the excuse that gets the people to stand there, since then they "will be able to catch me if I get dizzy and fall backward." (Like dizzy people never fall forward.)


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
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beskeptigal
SFN Die Hard

USA
3834 Posts

Posted - 10/02/2004 :  03:22:40   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send beskeptigal a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by H. Humbert

Stand with your feet together and heels touching. Keep one foot flat, then push off the ground with the other and stand on your tiptoes with that one foot. From the correct angle (behind and slightly to one side), it will appear that both feet are floating 2-3 inches off the ground.

If you ever watch the program, notice how Blain takes great care to position the spectators behind himself at the proper angle. The "It drains me and saps my energy" line helps sell the trick, but it is also the excuse that gets the people to stand there, since then they "will be able to catch me if I get dizzy and fall backward." (Like dizzy people never fall forward.)



I know he positions folks so they can't see the trick, but he goes a bit higher than a couple inches. You don't think he has some device?

As to my technique for persuasion, I go with the 5 and 10 year plans. Chip away, don't try to get big results all at once.

And ask more questions than just giving the answers. Example, "How do you know xyz works? How could you tell it was xyz and not something else like getting well on your own?"
Edited by - beskeptigal on 10/02/2004 03:26:58
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Renae
SFN Regular

543 Posts

Posted - 10/02/2004 :  07:49:55   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Renae a Private Message
Honestly, I don't try to convert or convince people of anything.

I say firmly, "I don't believe in _____ (homeopathy, levitation, astrology) because _________ (there's no medical evidence it works, it's a trick; it's a sham)."

They generally disagree, and I generally don't care. The most I can hope to achieve is to expose them to a new viewpoint or to a fact they may not have heard before. You can't change other people, in most cases.

Kil, I'm a little confused by that 80-10-10 statistic. If you consider conditions like infections (which need antibiotics), high blood pressure (which needs medicine or lifestyle intervention), heart problems (ditto), injuries (which need surgery/pain meds/anti-inflammatories/physical therapy)....how can that statistic be true?

What of the people with arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, AIDS, or other chronic conditions that don't usually get better with time? What about STDs like chlamydia, which can render you sterile if untreated but which wouldn't result (I don't think) in a medical emergency? In fact, what about the complexities of reproductive health in general (pregnancies, infections, menstrual conditions?)

My body has problems storing iron. If I don't take heavy-duty iron supplements and have my iron tested regularly, my ferritin will drop off to almost nothing. Am I in the lucky 10% that would require emergency intervention without treatment? Doubtful that I would end up in the ER...but my energy dwindles, I get depressed, and my hair falls out--is this considered a spontaneous recovery?

Not arguing for alternative medicine here, 'cause I don't believe in it.

Sorry if this is a threadjack.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13467 Posts

Posted - 10/02/2004 :  10:49:05   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message
quote:
Renea:
Kil, I'm a little confused by that 80-10-10 statistic. If you consider conditions like infections (which need antibiotics), high blood pressure (which needs medicine or lifestyle intervention), heart problems (ditto), injuries (which need surgery/pain meds/anti-inflammatories/physical therapy)....how can that statistic be true?


First off, I would not defend that statistic as exact. It was off the top of my friends head. But consider this, most people probably see the doctor for a virus like the cold or flu, a sprang or bruise of some sort, seasonal allergies (that can cause a whole host of alarming symptoms like rashes, cold like symptoms and such) painful but minor burns, and all kinds of simple to treat complaints that would probably clear up on there own, often by way of our bodies own defenses. Conditions like secondary bacterial infections often need mild intervention (antibiotics) but even those infections would more likely than not be taken care of by our own defenses. Sometimes not and that is why they are more likely to be taken seriously.

And then there are those who do have serious problems that need intervention or ells. I am a diabetic, so I know. Also, my friend is a general practitioner. A specialist would absolutely be seeing more of those who are in need of intervention. And those people are often referred to the specialist by a GP...

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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H. Humbert
SFN Die Hard

USA
4574 Posts

Posted - 10/02/2004 :  10:54:21   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send H. Humbert a Private Message
quote:
Originally posted by beskeptigal
I know he positions folks so they can't see the trick, but he goes a bit higher than a couple inches. You don't think he has some device.


Ok, that's the TV edit. In front of the people, he only rises 2-3 inches. That's it. The people watching freak out and they tape their reation shots.

Later in the day, they go back to that same spot on the sidewalk and he puts on a harness and wire rig. They lift him a foot and a half off the ground. Pay very close attention to the camera shots. No spectators are ever visible when he's shown floating that high off the ground, except maybe like an elbow or bit of clothing which they've matched to the previous spectator's wardrobes.

They go back and edit the two scenes together and now it looks like he rises 1-2 feet in front of people on the street. Ah, the magic of television.


As far as my preferred method of persuasion, I've found Chinese water torture to be effective.


"A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true." --Demosthenes

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." --Richard P. Feynman

"Face facts with dignity." --found inside a fortune cookie
Edited by - H. Humbert on 10/02/2004 11:02:51
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