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 Losing a friend over skepticism?
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Posted - 11/19/2011 :  11:49:23  Show Profile Send SlickChick a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Hello! I've never posted here before, but I've been prompted to over an argument with a friend that started out as a friendly debate & has spiraled into her not speaking to me. She took a natural, unproven cure for a chronic condition & declared herself cured, to the point where she canceled a scheduled surgery; I told her it was great if she felt better, but she should err on the side of caution and, you know, have the surgery (although chronic, it's not life-threatening.) Since then, she has been emailing me links to pseudoscience sites promoting her miracle cure, pointing to them as proof her cure works. I spent a great deal of time pointing out the flaws in the so-called "studies" she was extolling as proof of the treatment's efficacy; she responded by telling me that I was brainwashed by mainstream medicine. I finally told her, this treatment may work for you, but that doesn't mean there's science to back it up; at which point she flew off the handle and accused me of not understanding her pain, etc. And it's true; I haven't lived with chronic pain, but I didn't expect her to take it personally, I was merely responding to her assertions that her treatment had valid science to recommend it. Anyway, she's really mad at me now; I wasn't trying to be a jerk, but I guess I came across as one (even though she said some insulting things to me, like calling me brainwashed). I was merely concerned about her health.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened, where I've challenged someone else's use of pseudoscience or false statistics & they get angry. I'm not overbearing about it; usually I just shut up. I shut up last week when my boss was harping on about homeopathy. I just nodded and said "huh" a few times. I didn't know what else to say. If I'd agreed with her, I would've been lying; if I disputed her, I would've been an asshole. People really seem to take it personally, and I sometimes wonder what the value of skepticism is in my own life if it makes me unwelcome at parties. I don't intend to make this a woe-is-me tale, or paint myself as a huge victim; I just don't want to be a jerk.

I say all this partially to vent, but I also have a general question: how do you temper wanting to promote your point of view while not coming across as pedantic or condescending? When do you think it's OK to dispute someone who's promoting pseudoscience? (For me, work is generally off-limits.)

Evil Skeptic

13476 Posts

Posted - 11/19/2011 :  13:02:39   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Welcome to SFN SlickChick!

Your problem is not an unusual one for skeptics. And sometimes, you just have to know that nothing you say will matter. When people make choices that may be harmful to them, they also often make the emotional investment that they are doing the right thing. It's not necessarily the case that they haven't given it some thought. They may be just not particularly skilled at recognizing truth from fiction. So any objection is viewed by them as being told that they are not smart enough to know what's best, when really, it's that they may lack the skills to know. So yeah. Sometimes you must just walk away.

She might actually feel better. There is that too. A placebo effect, maybe. If the condition isn't life threatening, in all probability, the pain will return and she will reassess. There is the chance that her pain will not return, and in that case she will likely credit the "cure" and that will be that. There is a member of my family that is sure homeopathic's work. And in all of these years, no matter what angle I chose to combate that notion in him, I have made no headway at all. Some people are just beyond our reach.

If I were you, (if advice is what your after), and you value her friendship, I would tell her that you were only concerned about her well being, and even though you don't agree with her, you value your friendship and that you were just trying to be helpful.

Sometimes the answer is in how you frame your argument. I have, to the best of my knowledge, never not been invited back to a friends party, or what have you, by stating my position on a matter of concern to skeptics. I do try to present my point of view without also knocking them at the same time. The fastest way to get someone to not listen is to suggest, even by inference, that they aren't as smart as you are. (And it might be true that maybe they aren't.) No one said being a skeptic is easy...

The thing is, there will be people who'll listen to you, even if it's not the person you are not agreeing with. So take heart in that.

I dunno, but maybe this paper presentation at TAM9 will be helpful.

Sadie Crabtree on Winning Hearts And Minds for Skepticism - at TAM Las Vegas 2011

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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SFN Die Hard

3739 Posts

Posted - 11/19/2011 :  13:13:33   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit marfknox's Homepage  Send marfknox an AOL message Send marfknox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I've definitely been in such situations before. At this point if someone is really pushing some opinion to me, I will start out with saying, in a very friendly tone of voice, that I don't really put any stock into (whatever it is they are claiming.) I make sure to phrase my skepticism in a way that it is clear this is MY opinion, and that I do not judge anyone for their differing points of view. If they still get upset, I gently suggest that we agree to disagree and avoid the subject. The only way I get into an in-depth debate is if they seem calm and genuinely interested in my criticisms. If they seem more upset, there is no point to even a civil debate because it's not about truth-seeking, it's about pride and winning.

"Too much certainty and clarity could lead to cruel intolerance" -Karen Armstrong

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