MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

‘How to convince someone when facts fail’ – this is the title of a very good and ‘must read’ article by Michael Shermer recently published in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The issue is clearly relevant to numerous discussions we have on this blog. Therefore, I will repeat Shermer’s conclusions here:

If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience,

1. keep emotions out of the exchange,

2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum),

3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately,

4. show respect,

5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and

6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.

These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.

Wise words and good strategies! But, as Shermer himself admits, they unfortunately don’t always work. This blog and the comments made by its readers provide ample examples of failures in this respect.

By and large, I try my very best to adhere to Shermer’s principles. Yet, I do not pretend that I always succeed brilliantly – on the contrary, far too often, I lose my rag. I am not particularly proud of it, but neither am I all that deeply ashamed.

The thing is that any attempt at a respectful and constructive dialogue requires the co-operation of both sides. If the opponent is continually disrespectful, offensive, dishonest, unable to grasp even the simplest concepts, etc., I often just stop the dialogue. If that does not prevent my opponent from being a belligerent nuisance, I have been known to get impatient or even rude. TO ALL WHO I OFFENDED IN 2016, I CAN ONLY SAY THIS: THERE PROBABLY WAS A GOOD REASON FOR MY BEHAVIOUR.

I know, this is not good enough, particularly as I should set an example for others. How can I expect all the commentators on this blog to be respectful and constructive, if I too loose my temper from time to time? The answer is I cannot (by the way, this is one reason why I have passed other people’s outbursts and ,so far, published them largely uncensored; as long as I cannot fully control myself, I must not censor others with the same predicament).

So, here is my resolution for 2017:

I will continue to be provocative (this is part of the ‘raison d’etre’ of this blog) but, at the same time, I will try harder to show respect, politeness and understanding. Crucially, I am herewith asking everyone to PLEASE do likewise. Failing this, I will start censoring those sections of the comments that I consider abusive; and [I almost forgot] I will ban those commentators who repeatedly need censoring.

43 Responses to My New Year’s resolution for 2017: MORE RESPECT, PLEASE

  • As in so many instances, harder to do than to state.
    I posted on another site earlier a vaguely similar quandary, viz how decent people should respond to a newly elected President who is routinely referred to, even by some conservative politicians, as a Nazi
    I said that many of the jokes made about him are funny, such as the idea of putting a child lock on the nuclear button, and I said that, more seriously, I have no doubt that there are contingency plans in place for when the US elected a madman, or somebody who became mad while in office, ranging from arresting him to, in what circumstances I can’t imagine, putting a bullet in his head.
    So far so Dr Strangelove, and I’ m certainly not advocating such extremes.
    But- what DO we do when we get to the point that the very planet is in danger? I take your point about Hitlerism-although I also have used him as an example- but there are many articles nowadays about whether we would recognise Fascism as it was happening, since it can happen gradually while we’re looking the other way. And of course, many Trump/Farage supporters argue that the election has happened, he was elected, and that’s the end of the argument.
    But many people don’t know that Hitler also was elected. He didn’t just seize power. And then they looked around and asked ‘How on Earth did we manage to get here?’.
    So, to return to your and Shermer’s original question, how is it possible to have a reasonable discussion with people who simply don’t believe in reasonableness or even reason? People who believe that lies are just as valid as facts?
    Having an argument down the pub or on a blog is one thing. Everybody can just go home and just find other friends.
    You yourself have blocked at least one person from your blog. But what’s to be done with people who’ve slid right off the scale, and yet are still in a position of immense power? In the case of Hitler, since he was elected, killing him while he was still the leader of a democracy would have been a shocking crime. Killing him once it became obvious how depraved he was would have made the perpetrator a hero. Where do we draw the line, and how do we even discern it? Most homeopaths are just silly or deluded or well- meaning but gullible, and can be left to their beliefs. But the most dangerous have to be stopped. What’s the equivalent with Trump, or the more maniacal of the people who post here?

    • good questions … I wish I knew the answers.

    • Maybe we need mandatory psychiatric evaluations for those given such potentially powerful positions with an unbiased group(if possible) deciding the findings and making them public before the election. However, in this latest and most disturbing case it apparently would not have mattered, or maybe his supporters do not understand the the close characteristics of a Narcissist to a Sociopath. Morality obviously was not a factor. Hitler was a Sociopath but many likely thought he was only a Narcissist who meant well for his country, even though he meant more for himself. Sounds familiar?! Is success without morality or honor or honesty really success? (in health care and politics)

  • When an alt-med supporter posts a comment on one of your articles who writes something along the lines of “You don’t know what you are talking about, you need to educate yourself.”, what is the purpose of allowing their post to appear in the comments?

    In my opinion, it does two things: it adds useless noise; it adds a signal that clearly shows disrespectful behaviour is perfectly acceptable. It does not: provide entertainment; provide critique; start a meaningful discussion.

    • Pete Atkins- I guess the only reason to allow pointlessly stupid comments is to show how pointlessly stupid some people on the other side are.
      Maybe to block them, and allow only the – relatively- rational ones would constitute a version of the ‘false balance’ scenario we see too often in relation to, say, global warming or Creationism. In other words it would make it seem that, as global warming deniers like to pretend, there is ‘disagreement’ among scientists, when in fact there is no such thing.

      • Wow…Ol’ Barrie is really adhering to Edzard’s goal of being more respectful. He wrote,”….to show how pointlessly stupid some people on the other side are.” Geez!!!!!

      • @Bar

        I note that you accept that global warming is currently occurring; do you also believe that it is primarily a human-caused phenomenon? Please explain YOUR reasoning for YOUR BELIEF in AGW. Do you acutually have some knowledge of the topic or do you merely post talking points of greenies? Time will tell.

        Be well, Bar

      • Barrie, I understand what you are saying. The reason I asked was because of the following article:

        How liars create the illusion of truth, by Tom Stafford, 2016-11-11.
        https://mindhacks.com/2016/11/11/how-liars-create-the-illusion-of-truth/

        If you repeat things without bothering to check if they are true, you are helping to make a world where lies and truth are easier to confuse. So, please, think before you repeat.

        To me, allowing comments, such as I mentioned previously, to be posted on a moderated blog — i.e. publishing them — is repeating the lies.

        • it’s about finding a balance, I think.

          • You mention of “balance” has reminded me of Dara O’Briain’s wonderful skit: Science doesn’t know everything 🙂

          • The further question being- as altmeds are bound to bring up-‘Quis custodiet custodies?’
            In other words, it’s always likely that they”ll claim they’re being silenced, as looncakes like to think is happening via Big Pharma or the ‘World Jewelry’ conspiracy.
            Still, I can see it’s a difficult job, so more power to your elbow.

          • Ah… finding a balance. There’s the rub!

          • Edzard has generally been fair in allowing opinions which are oppositional to many of the biased, uneducated thoughts of some(er, most) on this site regarding paramedical disciplines. Props to him for this!

            The whining of the usual insulting …[CENSORED]…, when their bogus opinions are challenged, likely does become quite loud for him at times. Here’s to hoping he continues to keep his fine forum fair and balanced.

            Be well

          • please read my post again. it tells you that I will ban repeated offenders. so far, you are the only such person.

        • Pete Atkins- I in my turn wasn’t putting that forward as my belief, just as a possible option for someone like E E trying to do the difficult job of juggling the balance between intelligent opposition and outright lunacy. And all stations in between. I’m sure that all intelligent people on this blog will agree that if the argument is to be won, it will be won by reason and not simply by assertion. The middle- not very -ground is to do with how much lunacy, or absurdity, is granted, perhaps out of fluffy kindness. Or perhaps ,well- meaning masochism.2

          • I’m sure that all intelligent people on this blog will agree that if the argument is to be won, it will be won by reason and not simply by assertion.

            Our ancestors were made fully aware of quackery more than 150 years ago by:
            Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1842)
            https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Homoeopathy_and_Its_Kindred_Delusions

            Dan King, MD (1858).
            https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Quackery_Unmasked

            Holmes and King used science and reason; whereas in the 21st Century we are being increasingly instructed to: ignore the elephant in the room; be respectful towards each and every bull in the china shop.

            Yeah, these instructions are definitely working — and they are becoming increasingly effective — to suppress science, empirical evidence, and critical thinking.

          • Pete Atkins- the Holmes I know well, and recommend it to people regularly. Very chucklesome.
            The other I shall have to track down.
            As to the chances of science and reason in a world where Trump is considered to be a fit person for government – it looks like being a hard struggle.
            Who would have guessed it would come to this?
            It’s an unfortunate reminder that progress should not be taken for granted. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘3 steps forward, 2 steps back’.

  • Pete stated, “When an alt-med supporter posts a comment on one of your articles who writes something along the lines of ‘You don’t know what you are talking about, you need to educate yourself.’, what is the purpose of allowing their post to appear in the comments?” I would replace “an alt-med supporter” with “any commenter.” Allowing sometimes controversial opinions (and vitriol) to flow only from haters of paramedical disclipline, and not the other way round, would gut the spirit of your enjoyable blog.

    • L-B has a point. His comments reinforce the need to better educate the public about facts and refute the misinformation he represents and his other pretenders promote. Fraud should never overshadow the truth, but must always be exposed to protect the vulnerable and naive. True narcissists deny facts and the truth and are experts at misguiding ignorance.

  • You see, that latest comment by Illogical-Bias is typical of his distortions and misrepresentations, and a good example of why I feel I can no longer attempt discourse with him.
    He uses the phrase ‘haters of paramedical discipline’ almost to suggest that there’s an illogicality in their opinion, and that ‘hate’ were the overriding, driving passion here. Any ‘hate’/’dislike’/’disagreement’, assuming it exists, would seem to me to be the result of thwarted rationality, rather than a driving force looking around for something to lash out at.
    Any ‘hatred’ I might feel towards anything or anybody is the result of hearing lies, obfuscation, misrepresentation, charlatanism, skulduggery, malfeasance, and so on. I wasn’t born with an overriding sense that I needed to ‘hate’ something, and then looked around for something to fill that particular gap.
    Jeebus knows, I live in a beautiful area of Crete. I’ve got my hands full ‘loving’ stuff. The ‘hating’ stuff is what keeps jumping up and obstructing the view.

  • @Bar
    There were no distortions or misrepresentations in my post. CENSORED…

    If you actually value debate, bring it on……..

    Be well

  • Bless …[CENSORED]. He do keep trying, don’t he? It’s
    His claims about the bias and lack of knowledge of opposing contributors to this site ring as true as do the claims of Trump supporters that Obama’s administration has been a ‘disaster’.
    They equally provide no evidence. Just making the assertion seems to be enough.i

  • I’be now pretty well lost touch with some of this.

  • I see that, new year or not, Logos-Bios is up to his old tricks still, claiming that my reference to ‘pointlessly stupid’ comments is itself a sign of disrespect.
    Once again, his somewhat erratic grasp of English let’s him down. I think ‘I don’t care what people say, I I believe the Earth is flat’ would be an example of a stupid comment. Or ‘Big Pharma knows the cure for cancer, but refuses to announce it in order to maintain its profits’. It’s not even necessary to personalise them by making them ‘ad hominem’ criticisms, they’re just stupid. I feel no need to trot through some silly charade of pretending to respect anyone who utters them or similar. There’s a world of difference between saying ‘Logos-Bios is stupid’ and on the other hand pointing out a stupid remark. I’m willing to be respectful, but not necessarily to have respect.

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