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Old 11th September 2008, 09:07 PM   #1
borealys
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when loved ones show sloppy thinking...

I'm sure I'm not alone here in having friends and relatives who believe in weird things. I count among my friends and relatives people who believe in therapeutic touch, talking to angels, 9-11 conspiracy theories, rice as a cure for cancer, channeling, chemtrails, reiki, and ESP. And that doesn't even count the stupid email hoaxes some people still occasionally forward to me.

In general, I don't care much. I try to gently nudge people in a skeptical direction when I can, but so long as they aren't hurting anyone or putting their health at risk, as far as I am concerned, they can believe what they want. If they ask me what I think, I'll tell them, but they generally don't -- probably because they know what I'll say. Live and let live, and it works just fine.

But there's one person I'm close to whose sloppy thinking does get to me. It isn't as though he's a woo-woo type, but he is very opinionated and not at all shy about saying what he thinks -- even when he hasn't thought it through or checked his facts. What gets to me is that he always expects me to discuss whatever it is he's on about, regardless of whether or not I have the facts, and he gets sulky or outright angry if I refuse to talk about it, or if I point out that he's got his facts wrong.

Every skeptically-minded person I know in real life seems to know someone like this. So, I'm curious ... do you? How do you deal with them?
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Old 11th September 2008, 09:32 PM   #2
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I think it depends on your relationship, as well as your approach. My dad used to be fond of telling me, and my siblings, "Don't be an idiot."

If that seems harsh at first, well, it was meant to sound that way. Hey! Wake up! Pay attention! However, I know that he said it with the best of intentions, because he never said it in a situation where it would embarrass you in front of other people, and always took the opportunity to explain how your thinking was faulty (or in some cases, absent).

Now, this isn't a tactic that I would recommend for every situation. I think it worked better for the situation between us because my father was in an obvious authority / role model / teacher relationship with me. It's not something I would say to someone who I didn't know extremely well on a personal level, and even then, it can get somewhat dicey. There are some woo type things that my girlfriend believes in, for instance, that I think are complete bunk. I'd not ever accuse her of being an idiot, though. If the subjects get brought up in conversation I might remind her that I don't believe in that stuff, and if she presses, I'll tell her exactly why, but otherwise I try not to evangelize skepticism.
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Old 11th September 2008, 09:48 PM   #3
osmosis
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My dad's side of the family are almost all Jehovah's Witnesses, and actually carry around those 'no blood transfusion' cards in their wallets. If anything serious happens, they could easily DIE from their superstitions.

How do I deal with it? I don't talk about it with them, and I try not to think about the pink elephant.
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Old 13th September 2008, 08:51 AM   #4
Iconoclast08
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Originally Posted by borealys View Post
... In general, I don't care much. I try to gently nudge people in a skeptical direction when I can, but so long as they aren't hurting anyone or putting their health at risk, as far as I am concerned, they can believe what they want. If they ask me what I think, I'll tell them, but they generally don't -- probably because they know what I'll say. Live and let live, and it works just fine.
Even with the more "harmless" woo beliefs, I do think they are hurting someone, *themselves*, but I agree that ultimately the choice is theirs, and getting in someone's face typically doesn't help people change their minds. I tend to think that at the root of a lot of woo beliefs is a general credulousness and aversion to critical thinking (even if it's more domain specific) that can often times lead to a slippery slope issue, even when one starts with more innocuous-sounding woo beliefs. That is, they may have a latent tendency to fall prey to additional bilge (which next time around may *not* be so innocuous) without appropriate weighing of facts and evidence.

Here's now I see it: there's nothing wrong with gently challenging loved ones from time-to-time and offering them a more skeptical viewpoint and additional sources of information, which they will hopefully consider seriously. However, it's not something you should bring up at the dinner table every night. I've had my fair share of friendly but sometimes heated debates with certain family members over the years, and more times than not, after the smoke clears, we both go away learning something. One of the biggest problems in my mind is *not* ever saying anything out of fear of offending. The "hurt-feelings card" shouldn't prevent anyone from standing up to nonsense.
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Old 13th September 2008, 09:15 AM   #5
Highly Selassie
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My parents believe in homeopathy. My mother has the strongest belief, and she has been known to fall for woo before (she used to believe John Edward really had psychic powers, although I think she now realizes it was bogus). I found this out a few years ago, when I was visiting and came down with a cold. They tried to give me that OTC homeopathic cold medicine with the strange name that I can't remember. I refused, saying they should return it because it doesn't work (they had just bought it). My mother told me that she and my father would use it instead. I was amazed that they would believe in homeopathy, and I tried to inform them of the arguments against it. My mom actually got quite upset and refused to listen to me. It seems she's invested a lot of emotion into homeopathy. I've talked with my father about it, and it almost seems like he doesn't really believe in it but he just goes with it to avoid a conflict with my mother. He used to work in the medical field so he really has no reason to believe in homeopathy. My family has been incredibly healthy, but if one of them ever develops a serious health problem I will make it very clear that they need proper medical attention.
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Old 13th September 2008, 03:05 PM   #6
Ron_Tomkins
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I gotta tell you something. Ever since I investigated on James Randi and the Skeptic Gang (Dawkins, Dennett, Shermer, Sagan, Feynman) and came out of the skeptic closet; I hadn't spoke with my family cause I live in New York. Just recently I had to come to Venezuela because of a dying relative. And now, as I speak with my relatives, I begin to pay attention to any woo-related topic that comes out from our conversations. And you know what I have realized so far? That every time someone talks about God or the soul or anything like that, they also add something at the end in the style of "... well, not that I have a proof of that. But you gotta believe in something, you know" In other words, people betray themselves by proving that they know that deep down inside such mindset doesn't hold much water. So what we have is evidence of what Daniel Dennett calls "Belief in belief". That's what I've seen so far. I don't know about the rest of you.
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Old 13th September 2008, 06:27 PM   #7
borealys
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Originally Posted by Ron_Tomkins View Post
In other words, people betray themselves by proving that they know that deep down inside such mindset doesn't hold much water. So what we have is evidence of what Daniel Dennett calls "Belief in belief". That's what I've seen so far. I don't know about the rest of you.
I've got a couple of friends like that. I notice it mostly with people who are into the warm, fuzzy, feel-good kind of woo ... they don't seem to believe, in a real, deep-down way, very much of it, but stay into it because it feels good and is fun. In situations like that, I generally let it go.

I did, however, start spluttering with outrage when a friend of mine told me that her sister, who was having some very unusual health problems, had been to a chiropractor about them and was thinking of consulting a homeopath.

But it isn't the specific wooish beliefs that bother me -- it's when I can see sloppy thinking becoming a pattern. It's when a friend starts repeating idiot claims about foods and medicines and politics and culture that could be debunked in thirty seconds on Snopes. It's repeatedly rushing to judgment based on incomplete or outright incorrect facts without bothering to investigate, and then refusing to reconsider that judgment when the facts turn out to be not what you thought. It's being personally offended by being asked to "prove it."
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Old 15th September 2008, 06:56 AM   #8
whatthebutlersaw
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The thing with this issue, is that deep down I know what I ought to do, but I am too cowardly when it comes to people I care about.

At the moment I find it hard to motivate disabusing someone, who is going through a _really_ rough spot, of her belief that she has a guardian angel. Maybe I will take that discussion once she is out of the woods, but right now she really needs to think that someone is watching over her and I can't be with her as there is a whole ocean and **** , geographically, between us right now. If I could be there to support her and take over everyday chores for her etc, but I can't so I won't.

My immediate family believes in urban legends and forward _everything_. It has gone so far that I only give them my work email, and tell them that I will get fired if I receive anything forwarded. Company policy dontchaknow. This, they believe. That I will not die howwibly, howwibly from not forwarding the dying words of teen-aged murder victims, they will not believe.

Some friends, I can't really talk to anymore as they use their woo beliefs as one-upmanship. They may not be as successful socially, financially or in relationships: but goddamn it, they have Reached a Higher Plane than I. But I wouldn't understand that. Being too earth-bound. It's alright. They still tolerate my existence even though I am not as Enlightened as they. I am welcome to be condescended to anytime I like.
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Old 15th September 2008, 07:56 AM   #9
Tortan
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Originally Posted by whatthebutlersaw View Post
...they have Reached a Higher Plane than I. But I wouldn't understand that. Being too earth-bound. It's alright. They still tolerate my existence even though I am not as Enlightened as they. I am welcome to be condescended to anytime I like.
What the hell are they still doing here? If I were on a higher plane, I wouldn't be on Earth.
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Old 15th September 2008, 12:26 PM   #10
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I have managed to help my fiancee find her way out of the woo forrest. She was very much into astrology, wicca, psychic abilities and probably a few others I never heard about. My approach wasn't to directly confront her about them but to find common skeptical ground and build from there. ******** (Penn and Teller's Show) and Mythbusters were very good entertaining ways to stimulate skeptical thought and we both enjoy watching them. I also bought a lot of skeptical reading material and listened to the skeptic's guide on itunes quite a bit. Over time recognizing other woo as woo seemed to finally carry over into her own woo beliefs and she is well on her way to a full recovery.

I think the main thing that keeps the woosters in thier woo bunkers is the feeling that they are being attacked or belittled for their beliefs. The good news is there is almost always some other people's woo that they will agree is complete nonsense. Stimulate and feed any skeptical interest that you find and try to let them make the connection on thier own.

Last edited by Derwoods; 15th September 2008 at 12:27 PM. Reason: name of show got bleeped
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Old 15th September 2008, 01:06 PM   #11
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One of my in-laws and her husband fall for every bit of woo going. I've come to the conclusion that anything "normal", mainstream, or evedence-proven is boring to them. If it's not got a mystical new-age edge to it then it isn't worth knowing about.

Their latest was the alkaline diet. It's simple, buy a 500 pound water filter with an extra column that will remove the 'acidity' of the water and thus leave behind 'alkaline water', and consumption of said water will make you lose weight (presumably a brita and some bicarb doesn't have the same effect?). Of course, you have to also cut out "acidic" foods, such as anything too fatty, or with a lot of carbs in it, oh, and you should go to the gym every day as well, just in case. They lost a lot of weight, and were absolutely convinced it was down to the water rather than the reduction in calorie intake and increased excercise. I didn't bother saying anything.

Even very small things I don't bother mentioning anymore. For example, they had bought a bag of tomatoes on the vine, and the husband held it to me and said "here - smell the tomatoey freshness of that!". Of course, as every person with a small amount of cooking knowledge knows, it's the vine and not the tomatoes that smell great. I just nodded and said "mmm". Much easier than explaining it and making him look like a tw*t.

Oh wait, remembered another one with that guy: He asked me to hold my arm out straight and repeat "my name is [my name]" over and over while he tried to push my hand down. My hand resisted the mild pressure. He then said to do it again, but this time to say "My name is Susan" over and over. Predicting what was coming, I stiffened my arm up while doing it, and he practically tipped me over trying to push my arm down with 20 times the force of the original. Everyone laughed their asses off, and he went bright red. Score!
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Old 15th September 2008, 02:01 PM   #12
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Shoddy thinking amongst those I care about is definitely an issue for me. Not because of the ideas they invariably come up with or buy into (as long as they're not actually harmful), but because of the lack of respect they generally show towards anyone that makes the "mistake" of disagreeing with them, no matter how hypocritical their beliefs may be.

I'll put forth my mother as a prime example. She works in the medical industry as a Mammographer (as in, the person who actually takes the mammograms, not the person who reads them), at a very prestigious institution. She works very closely with doctors and nurses and others who are extremely well educated when it comes to modern medicine and the technology behind it. Even her training has been extensive compared to others in her job description. Given all of that, you would think that she would be rather well grounded when it comes to opinions on health concerns. Nope. Quite the opposite actually. To the point that I no longer choose to discuss any of my personal health concerns with her.

According to her, there is no such thing as "bipolar disorder" or "clinical depression" or "PTSD" or "fibromyalgia" and doctors just give out those diagnoses to bilk money out of "the system" (which system is never defined, even when you ask her).

Natural "medicines" are "better" than anything any pharmaceutical company has on the market (homeopaths and naturopaths have nothing on her, I swear).

She tries just about every diet on the market (despite not needing to lose weight) that claims to give you all the health of a fully balanced meal without the "evil" of red meat (oh but chickens that have been pumped full of chemicals and antibiotics are fine for you to eat... ). I cannot tell you how many times I was subjected to deep fried tofu slices (yes, you read that right, deep fried) as "dinner" because "tofu is healthy."

She runs from sugar enhanced food products ("god" forbid cereal have sugar in it to make it taste less like cardboard!) as if they were going to attack her with a carving knife, and yet still uses sugar in her coffee.

And then there are her spiritual beliefs. I won't say much there, because given the above you can probably guess how inconsistent and erratic they are. But I will say that "The Celestine Prophecy" is her version of the bible, and she says "grace" to "the goddess" before every meal. It's a disturbing blend of her childhood catholicism and modern new age-y woo.

How do I deal with it? Well... I don't. I speak with her as little as possible, and when she does bring up the subject, I keep my mouth shut in the hopes it will avoid a screaming match. Short of having her committed permanently to a mental institution, there's not much I can do for her. Gentle exposure to skepticism doesn't help, because she's exposed to it every day at work, and it still has no effect. In your face tactics don't do anything except convince her that I'm the one who's insane. Her parents aren't any better (strongly catholic and suffering from the delusion that all technology is demon spawn), so aren't of any assistance in setting her straight. She's even passed on a lot of her woo-ish tendencies to my younger sister (who does a good job of not being hypocritical or aggressive about them).

Thing is, she believes these things because she WANTS to believe them, and nothing and no one will dissuade her of them until she gets bored with them. So I avoid exposure to it.

I'm just glad that my father (they're divorced for soon to be obvious reasons) is the level headed, skeptical, scientifically minded, professional academic researcher that he is, or I'd have no familial refuge for my skeptical nature.
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Old 15th September 2008, 06:47 PM   #13
NewtonTrino
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How were your parents together long enough for you to exist?

I get in big blowup arguments with my Dad regularly about wacky wooish stuff. The rest of the time I ignore it.
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Old 15th September 2008, 09:38 PM   #14
tesscaline
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Originally Posted by NewtonTrino View Post
How were your parents together long enough for you to exist?

I get in big blowup arguments with my Dad regularly about wacky wooish stuff. The rest of the time I ignore it.
I have no idea how they managed to stay together long enough to have me, let alone long enough to have my younger sister (she's 5 years younger at that). I think it stemmed from the fact that they're both from rather heavily catholic upbringings and didn't necessarily believe that divorce was an option. *shrug*
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