Thursday, May 5, 2022

A great set of tips for discussions with people who have opposing views/ Nathan D's Substack

Eight Tips for Changing Minds of the Dogmatic and Unquestioning

Over the years, I have participated in many discussions about the vaccine issue with the dogmatic and unquestioning. Often, these discussions have been with medical and scientific community members. Unfortunately, some of these conversations are often filled with vitriol.

I have found that the same patterns occur over and over again and that over the years, my strategy in these discussions has become more refined. Therefore, I wanted to share these tips for you such that you don't have to reinvent the wheel and so you can be more effective at changing minds.

I've noted the following precepts to be helpful:

1. Always be mildly polite no matter what they say - Inflammatory language gets you to respond in non-optimal ways. So just ignore it and continue with your point. Yes, it can be challenging to avoid getting riled up when encountering name-calling and shaming, but channel your inner Zen master - do not react. Instead, there are ways to be mildly polite while using increasing levels of force. For example, "You seem to be getting upset. But that doesn’t change the fact you are using ad hominems (insults or name-calling) that are irrelevant to the points at hand. I want to discuss it intelligently. Can we bring it back to rational points?" 

2. Point out the logical fallacies - You should train yourself to identify and recognize the common logical fallacies and call them out (see for a list) . It’s an art to be able to read the opponent’s argument, and be able to pick up the logical fallacies. With time, you will get good at it, and it will become automatic for you. For example, you can say, "That's not a good argument because it uses logical fallacy X. <explanation> Do you understand?"

3. “Go to epistemology” and get them to define their terms - Epistemology is simply they study of “how one knows a piece of knowledge is true.” You want them to articulate the reasons why they believe something. This makes is easier to question the rationale why, or serve as a launching point for greater discussion.

Note too, “going to epistemology” is an appropriate strategy when you encounter emotionally-charged language and derogatory labels (i.e., anti-vaxx). Labels only have power when they are ill-defined and unchallenged by one side. So the strategy is to be curious about the labels. For example, "I'm sorry you think I am a conspiracy theorist, what parts of my beliefs make you think so?" or "Hmm, we seem to disagree about X, you seem to be assuming Y. Can you explain how you came to this belief?" or “I’m just examining the science. Why do you feel my criticism are ‘anti-vaxx’?”

4. Catch the reframes - The reframe attempt will occur at some point. They will examine data that is out there, and they will interpret it using their narrative frame. This is the crucial part - you have to catch the reframe attempt and reframe again on top of that. For example, "I have to stop you there. I have a different interpretation of the data. It's saying X."

5. Inject evidence to challenge the narrative - Cherrypicking is rampant in these conversations. Then they assume that anything they drop is the final answer to the debate. Here you need to quietly introduce new information and ask them, "what do you think about this?" or "how would you interpret your previous information in light of this?" If they ignore your evidence, then you need to call it out, i.e., "I brought up X, but you haven't answered my question on it. I'm curious what your thoughts are."

6. Get them to quantify their level of confidence - For the dogmatic, It is helpful to get them to quantify their level of confidence. For example, "On a scale of 1-10, how sure are you of your position?" This can be played nicely with #5 above, and asking follow-up questions like "Well, are you familiar with research X?" or "If research Y is correct, then how would that change your level of certainty?"

7. Appeal to fair standards of science and safety - At the core, there are some values we will share with our opponents. Try to find these values and appeal to them. One such appeal is to fair standards of science and safety - often, our opponents will apply a biased standard to their own position. Call out the double standards. For example, "The research in X seems to assume Y without justification. This doesn't seem fair to me from a scientific perspective. Would you agree that we should uphold scientific rigor in this case?"

8. End your statements with a question, not a pronouncement - Think of your questions as the fencing master's sword. You don't make pronouncements. Instead, you ask questions that inject doubt into the others and listeners. For example, "This paper says X, but have you considered the implication that Y?" or "You seem to be dodging my point about X. I'm curious why are you doing that?" or "You keep saying I am biased. Could you tell me exactly which of my points led you to believe so?"

I hope the above helps in your conversations. The above is rooted in the psychology research on the subject. 

We need more direct challenges to the scientific orthodoxy. Fortunately, they aren't used to being challenged, and they will be caught off-guard when encountering intelligent, coherent debate.

The point is not to win the immediate debate with the authority but to encourage the silent doubters watching to adopt our position.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like #3, "going to epistomology". Delve into how we know something is true, where and how do these beliefs arise. People are so fanatically passionate about what they believe is "true" -- even though these beliefs have nothing to do with direct personal experience. They are merely parroting the propaganda they have succumbed to, without rational analysis. To be fair, this happens on all sides. It is worthwhile to practice this upon one's own beliefs as well, to stop and reflect, "wait a minute, why do I believe this is true?"