How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

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ashomsky
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How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby ashomsky » Sun Mar 13, 2011 11:19 pm

Recently one of my facebook friends posted a link to a lecture about some obviously pseudoscientific material about aliens visiting earth and building the pyramids, etc. This kind of thing comes up every once in a while, and I’m stuck in a conundrum. If I say something, I’m afraid the poster’s most natural reaction is to become defensive. The poster has publicly endorsed a viewpoint and studies show people are much more resistant to giving up a belief after publicly endorsing it than before doing so (see Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion pg 82). The alternative to giving up a belief is digging one’s heels in and supporting it ever more fervently (see the book When Prophecy Fails for a great example of this tendency writ large).

But as Thomas Gilovich points out in his book How We Know What Isn’t So, people tend to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them, thus bolstering their false beliefs. Part of the reason is because people withhold feedback to maintain social harmony (such as when you nod in apparent approval when a coworker complains about being underappreciated and underpaid) but without that feedback they are less likely to challenge their beliefs.

If I say nothing, then the poster has no feedback and may assume others agree with him. Some did explicitly agree with him. Others who see the post might also see the lack of dissent as a sign of social approval.

I want to educate, not to insult, and I certainly don’t want to inadvertently cause the poster to increase his commitment to pseudoscience. My question is: how can I do that? It seems almost impossible to tell someone they’re wrong while not offending them, and they’ve already publicly declared their endorsement. In this case, I told him this video is pseudoscience, not science, and I recommended Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World for a discussion about the difference between the two and said it also specifically discusses the evidence for alien visits to earth. I intend to follow that up with a generally positive comment on a later unrelated post in an attempt to stay on good terms with the poster. But I’m afraid even this gentle approach may have backfired, as the poster posted another link later to the same lecturer.

In sum: are there any articles or tips about how to respond to pseudoscience in a constructive way when someone posts it on social media such as facebook?

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby Ang » Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:04 pm

I often find myself in the same boat. As a veterinarian it is even harder for me because I do not want to alienate my clients who will have to work with me to help thier pets get better.

If we say nothing than we are making the problem worse, not better.

I try not to get argumemtative but start by asking WHY someone believes that point of view or what is in the article that they find interesting?

Then you can figure out what the motivations of the person is. Are they looking for a reason to exist? Do they want an easy solution or cure when there isn't one?

And then I try and say why I think what I do with supporting evidence. For example, when a client asks if Brewer's Yeast works to stop fleas I know that they want a flea prevention that will be safe, effective and cheap. Often they have a fear of the drugs themselves. I explain that it is not effective and what safe alternative there are. I also explain what I use in my own pets and why. And I say "If yeast worked then why would I see all these animals with fleas?"

It can be a tightrope to walk when you start to talk to people about thier beliefs. Good luck!

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby vonklaun » Mon Jun 20, 2011 7:36 am

I understand what you guys mean, a lot.

My personal motivation in sharing things with others is to propose the factual truth of life and objective reality itself to them. And in order to communicate truths that may conflict with a person's fundamental (re: childhood indoctrination) beliefs- one must be both kind and diplomatic. It's one of my big problems with Atheists like Richard Dawkins- it's almost as if they want to 'rub it in' and be 'right' in regards to exposing the materialistic nature of our world/universe to religious/superstitious people. What a fool's errand if their goal is to actually secularize our societies- it smacks more of some personal grudge to me. Most of us have had to deal with crap from religious people in our lives (and growing up)- but what's the point of of doing the pathetic, predictable primate thing of drawing up 'us vs. them' sides and making them feel set against?

I don't want to destroy the idea of 'god' or rob people of the succor they gain from believing in the supernatural (not completely). Religion is nothing more than an -at times- beneficial social technology whose ultimate goal is to get people to behave themselves and be less pray (pun intended) to the evils of human nature.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby vonklaun » Mon Jun 20, 2011 7:38 am

I understand what you guys mean, a lot.

My personal motivation in sharing things with others is to propose the factual truth of life and objective reality itself to them. And in order to communicate truths that may conflict with a person's fundamental (re: childhood indoctrination) beliefs- one must be both kind and diplomatic. It's one of my big problems with Atheists like Richard Dawkins- it's almost as if they want to 'rub it in' and be 'right' in regards to exposing the materialistic nature of our world/universe to religious/superstitious people. What a fool's errand if their goal is to actually secularize our societies- it smacks more of some personal grudge to me. Most of us have had to deal with crap from religious people in our lives (and growing up)- but what's the point of of doing the pathetic, predictable primate thing of drawing up 'us vs. them' sides and making them feel set against?

I don't want to destroy the idea of 'god' or rob people of the succor they gain from believing in the supernatural (not completely). Religion is nothing more than at times beneficial social technology whose ultimate goal is to get people to behave themselves and be less pray to the evils of human nature.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby Monster » Mon Jul 11, 2011 8:48 pm

ashomsky wrote:In sum: are there any articles or tips about how to respond to pseudoscience in a constructive way when someone posts it on social media such as facebook?

I don't have good advice for you except to tell you do NOT do what James Randi and PZ Myers do. They resort to insults.
Listening twice as much as you speak is a sign of wisdom.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby bigtim » Tue Jul 12, 2011 5:34 am

ashomsky wrote:one of my facebook friends posted a link to a lecture about some obviously pseudoscientific material about aliens visiting earth and building the pyramids, etc.


I tell them it's BS and then post links to all the data debunking it.

That happens to me a lot as well since most of the my FB friends (which tends to be extremely extended family) believe in bizarre {!#%@}.
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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby rickoshay85 » Thu Jul 14, 2011 12:28 am

ashomsky wrote:Recently one of my facebook friends posted a link to a lecture about some obviously pseudoscientific material about aliens visiting earth and building the pyramids, etc. This kind of thing comes up every once in a while, and I’m stuck in a conundrum. If I say something, I’m afraid the poster’s most natural reaction is to become defensive. The poster has publicly endorsed a viewpoint and studies show people are much more resistant to giving up a belief after publicly endorsing it than before doing so (see Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion pg 82). The alternative to giving up a belief is digging one’s heels in and supporting it ever more fervently (see the book When Prophecy Fails for a great example of this tendency writ large).

But as Thomas Gilovich points out in his book How We Know What Isn’t So, people tend to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them, thus bolstering their false beliefs. Part of the reason is because people withhold feedback to maintain social harmony (such as when you nod in apparent approval when a coworker complains about being underappreciated and underpaid) but without that feedback they are less likely to challenge their beliefs.

If I say nothing, then the poster has no feedback and may assume others agree with him. Some did explicitly agree with him. Others who see the post might also see the lack of dissent as a sign of social approval.

I want to educate, not to insult, and I certainly don’t want to inadvertently cause the poster to increase his commitment to pseudoscience. My question is: how can I do that? It seems almost impossible to tell someone they’re wrong while not offending them, and they’ve already publicly declared their endorsement. In this case, I told him this video is pseudoscience, not science, and I recommended Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World for a discussion about the difference between the two and said it also specifically discusses the evidence for alien visits to earth. I intend to follow that up with a generally positive comment on a later unrelated post in an attempt to stay on good terms with the poster. But I’m afraid even this gentle approach may have backfired, as the poster posted another link later to the same lecturer.

In sum: are there any articles or tips about how to respond to pseudoscience in a constructive way when someone posts it on social media such as facebook?
What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is WHAT WE DO. John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby rickoshay85 » Thu Jul 14, 2011 12:35 am

ashomsky wrote:Recently one of my facebook friends posted a link to a lecture about some obviously pseudoscientific material about aliens visiting earth and building the pyramids, etc. This kind of thing comes up every once in a while, and I’m stuck in a conundrum. If I say something, I’m afraid the poster’s most natural reaction is to become defensive. The poster has publicly endorsed a viewpoint and studies show people are much more resistant to giving up a belief after publicly endorsing it than before doing so (see Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion pg 82). The alternative to giving up a belief is digging one’s heels in and supporting it ever more fervently (see the book When Prophecy Fails for a great example of this tendency writ large).

But as Thomas Gilovich points out in his book How We Know What Isn’t So, people tend to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them, thus bolstering their false beliefs. Part of the reason is because people withhold feedback to maintain social harmony (such as when you nod in apparent approval when a coworker complains about being underappreciated and underpaid) but without that feedback they are less likely to challenge their beliefs.

If I say nothing, then the poster has no feedback and may assume others agree with him. Some did explicitly agree with him. Others who see the post might also see the lack of dissent as a sign of social approval.

I want to educate, not to insult, and I certainly don’t want to inadvertently cause the poster to increase his commitment to pseudoscience. My question is: how can I do that? It seems almost impossible to tell someone they’re wrong while not offending them, and they’ve already publicly declared their endorsement. In this case, I told him this video is pseudoscience, not science, and I recommended Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World for a discussion about the difference between the two and said it also specifically discusses the evidence for alien visits to earth. I intend to follow that up with a generally positive comment on a later unrelated post in an attempt to stay on good terms with the poster. But I’m afraid even this gentle approach may have backfired, as the poster posted another link later to the same lecturer.

In sum: are there any articles or tips about how to respond to pseudoscience in a constructive way when someone posts it on social media such as facebook?


As an engineer (ret) my test for pseudoscience, and all other scientific claims, is "Can it be demonstrated for all to see"

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What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is WHAT WE DO. John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby CMurdock » Tue Aug 14, 2012 5:33 pm

I haven't read the whole thread. I am responding to the original post.

The first thing you need to do is to let go of the egotistical attitude that you are right and that the "pseudoscience" is wrong. All you have is your own personal belief. In doing that, you also need to let go of the idea that you are in the position to "educate" anyone.

The answer to this is simple: Just express your opinion. Say, "I'm not convinced that aliens have ever visited the earth" or, if you wish to be more forceful, say "I don't believe that aliens have ever visited the earth. That idea strikes me as fanciful." If all you are doing is expressing your personal opinion (which is all you CAN do), then you are free to say whatever you want to say. If your friend or acquaintance has any maturity at all, he won't be angry at you for expressing your opinion.

Too many atheists and/or nonbelievers ("skeptics" is the wrong term) make the mistake of coming on like know-it-alls, and that alienates everyone.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby xouper » Wed Aug 15, 2012 2:43 am

CMurdock wrote:The first thing you need to do is to let go of the egotistical attitude that you are right and that the "pseudoscience" is wrong. All you have is your own personal belief. In doing that, you also need to let go of the idea that you are in the position to "educate" anyone.

The answer to this is simple: Just express your opinion. Say, "I'm not convinced that aliens have ever visited the earth" or, if you wish to be more forceful, say "I don't believe that aliens have ever visited the earth. That idea strikes me as fanciful." If all you are doing is expressing your personal opinion (which is all you CAN do), then you are free to say whatever you want to say. If your friend or acquaintance has any maturity at all, he won't be angry at you for expressing your opinion.

What you say makes sense. Let me try it.

It is my personal belief, based on years of scientific investigation and study, that I am right and pseudoscience is wrong.

How did I do? :P

CMurdock wrote:Too many atheists and/or nonbelievers ("skeptics" is the wrong term) make the mistake of coming on like know-it-alls, and that alienates everyone.

http://xoup.net/know-it-alls

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby CMurdock » Wed Aug 15, 2012 4:36 am

xouper wrote:What you say makes sense. Let me try it.

It is my personal belief, based on years of scientific investigation and study, that I am right and pseudoscience is wrong.

How did I do? :P


You're going to need some training.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby xouper » Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:06 am

CMurdock wrote:
xouper wrote:What you say makes sense. Let me try it.

It is my personal belief, based on years of scientific investigation and study, that I am right and pseudoscience is wrong.

How did I do? :P

You're going to need some training.

Really? I thought I nailed it. I phrased my observation as a personal belief, just as you advised.

I assume from your previous remark that you do not have the idea you are in a position to "educate" me.

CMurdock wrote:. . . you also need to let go of the idea that you are in the position to "educate" anyone.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby CMurdock » Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:21 am

Your response wasn't tongue-in-cheek? I thought you were being sarcastic.

You can't use the term "pseudoscience" to anyone who isn't an atheist. It is derogatory. And saying "based on years of scientific investigation and study" is condescending. You might as well say:

"It is my personal belief, based on my superior knowledge, that I am right and the nonsense you believe in is wrong."

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby xouper » Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:49 am

CMurdock wrote:You can't use the term "pseudoscience" to anyone who isn't an atheist. It is derogatory. And saying "based on years of scientific investigation and study" is condescending. You might as well say:

"It is my personal belief, based on my superior knowledge, that I am right and the nonsense you believe in is wrong."

I agree. Derogatory or condescending language is not helpful to someone who is looking to understand.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby Tom Palven » Wed Aug 15, 2012 7:26 am

One might try to change the subject and, for example, ask the space-alien believer if he believes that every large galaxy contains a supermassive black hole at its center. Some questions like this are more mind-boggling than Bigfoot or space aliens.
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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby Gord » Wed Aug 15, 2012 3:44 pm

CMurdock wrote:You can't use the term "pseudoscience" to anyone who isn't an atheist. It is derogatory.

A preposterous claim! Believing in gods does not blind one to the existence of pseudoscience in non-gods-based disciplines. People can believe in voodoo but not in healing crystals, for example.
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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby scrmbldggs » Fri Aug 17, 2012 3:44 am

CMurdock wrote:I haven't read the whole thread. I am responding to the original post.

The first thing you need to do is to let go of the egotistical attitude that you are right and that the "pseudoscience" is wrong. All you have is your own personal belief. In doing that, you also need to let go of the idea that you are in the position to "educate" anyone.

The answer to this is simple: Just express your opinion. Say, "I'm not convinced that aliens have ever visited the earth" or, if you wish to be more forceful, say "I don't believe that aliens have ever visited the earth. That idea strikes me as fanciful." If all you are doing is expressing your personal opinion (which is all you CAN do), then you are free to say whatever you want to say. If your friend or acquaintance has any maturity at all, he won't be angry at you for expressing your opinion.

Too many atheists and/or nonbelievers ("skeptics" is the wrong term) make the mistake of coming on like know-it-alls, and that alienates everyone.


I have read the whole thread and several others. I am responding to your post.

The first thing you need to do is to let go of the egotistical attitude that you are right and that others are wrong. All you have is your own personal belief. In doing that, you also need to let go of the idea that you are in the position to "educate" anyone

The answer to this is simple: Just express your opinion. If all you are doing is expressing your personal opinion (which is all you CAN do), then you are free to say whatever you want to say. If you won't proselytize, nobody will be angry at you for expressing your opinion.

Too many wooists and/or believers ("skeptics" is the wrong term) make the mistake of coming on like know-it-alls, and that alienates everyone.
Hi, Io the lurker.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby CMurdock » Fri Aug 17, 2012 4:19 am

I don't agree that my advice to the original poster applies to me. I never claimed that I wasn't expressing my personal opinions, and I also don't think that I have been egotistical. My advice to the original poster is good advice. If you want to convey your atheistic philosophy, you need to do it in a way that isn't condescending.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby scrmbldggs » Fri Aug 17, 2012 5:12 am

CMurdock wrote: you also need to let go of the idea that you are in the position to "educate" anyone.


If you truly believe that, your statement(s) seem rather hypocritical. I might be wrong, but that is how it appears to me. :)
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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby Gord » Fri Aug 17, 2012 6:37 pm

CMurdock wrote:I don't agree that my advice to the original poster applies to me.

I believe you. This time.
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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby Poodle » Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:53 pm

I find that merely saying "you're coming out with a whole heap of {!#%@}" works like a dream. They never ask my opinion on the subject again, so my powers of reasoned argument are obviously effective.

EDIT: For some unfathomable reason, the technique doesn't seem to be so foolproof on this forum.

EDIT2: I'd better explain that was a joke. Some people are so serious. On the other hand, I wouldn't pussyfoot around a woo issue. If I was on firm ground, I would tell them what I thought and why.

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby SweetPea » Fri Aug 17, 2012 11:20 pm

ashomsky wrote: The poster has publicly endorsed a viewpoint
Since your friend is already invested, it's too late to be public in your critique of the item.
How do the Deniers get so lucky?
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=24129

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby rickoshay85 » Sat Aug 18, 2012 5:52 pm

ashomsky wrote:Recently one of my facebook friends posted a link to a lecture about some obviously pseudoscientific material about aliens visiting earth and building the pyramids, etc. This kind of thing comes up every once in a while, and I’m stuck in a conundrum. If I say something, I’m afraid the poster’s most natural reaction is to become defensive. The poster has publicly endorsed a viewpoint and studies show people are much more resistant to giving up a belief after publicly endorsing it than before doing so (see Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion pg 82). The alternative to giving up a belief is digging one’s heels in and supporting it ever more fervently (see the book When Prophecy Fails for a great example of this tendency writ large).

But as Thomas Gilovich points out in his book How We Know What Isn’t So, people tend to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them, thus bolstering their false beliefs. Part of the reason is because people withhold feedback to maintain social harmony (such as when you nod in apparent approval when a coworker complains about being underappreciated and underpaid) but without that feedback they are less likely to challenge their beliefs.

If I say nothing, then the poster has no feedback and may assume others agree with him. Some did explicitly agree with him. Others who see the post might also see the lack of dissent as a sign of social approval.

I want to educate, not to insult, and I certainly don’t want to inadvertently cause the poster to increase his commitment to pseudoscience. My question is: how can I do that? It seems almost impossible to tell someone they’re wrong while not offending them, and they’ve already publicly declared their endorsement. In this case, I told him this video is pseudoscience, not science, and I recommended Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World for a discussion about the difference between the two and said it also specifically discusses the evidence for alien visits to earth. I intend to follow that up with a generally positive comment on a later unrelated post in an attempt to stay on good terms with the poster. But I’m afraid even this gentle approach may have backfired, as the poster posted another link later to the same lecturer.

In sum: are there any articles or tips about how to respond to pseudoscience in a constructive way when someone posts it on social media such as facebook?


Highly respected scientists are not obliged to prove anything. Their words are more than enough. That's the reason the double helical sketch was considered as manna from heaven, a sketch, a drawing, and that was that. No demonstration, no proof, just their word for it.
What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is WHAT WE DO. John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)

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Re: How to *constructively* respond to pseudoscience

Postby Charles Wild » Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:35 pm

It can be difficult to respond to pseudoscience (my view).

Why?

Often the pseudoscience is coming from an extremist emotional view where the attitude is that they're right and everyone else is wrong: end of discussion.

That kind of false logic system can never be won (my view).

...

The earth is flat.

- The non-profit Flat Earth Society

vs

The earth is round.

- NASA

...

There is a difference between pure water vs polluted water.

...

True.

False.

...

You posed a wonderful question: How to constructively respond to pseudoscience.

In some cases, the best response is not to respond (my view).

If someone wants to fight, you can choose to walk out of the boxing ring.

Follow peace.

Have a wonderful day.


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