How To Talk With Science Deniers And Sceptics


In an article written in the international journal Nature, Lee McIntyre, research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School, describes his experience with flat earthers and how he managed to get them to listen to him. His observations confirm our own experience, as we’ve learned that it is rarely of any use to argue, and that asking interested questions is much more effective. If you try to understand your counterpart, you gain their trust and thus often get their attention.

Asking genuine questions until you completely understand the other person’s point of view very often leads science deniers and skeptics to realize that they don’t truly understand what they’re talking about either, and that they’re trusting people whose credibility they can’t actually assess.

And trust has to be built, with patience, respect, empathy and interpersonal connections. Because I spent the first day listening, even committed deniers were interested in what I had to say.

He calls this method “technique rebuttal” because the point is to show that the way people form their opinions is based on poor opinion-forming techniques.

 Even non-experts can use technique rebuttal. A geologist can engage a neighbour who is vaccine hesitant. A protein biologist can coach an aunt or uncle who wants ‘more evidence’ that climate change is real. (‘Content rebuttal’ can also be effective, but requires expertise.) Instead of shifting to more comfortable conversations, engage in respectful exchange. If you spend more time asking questions than offering explanations, people will be more likely to heed the explanations that you do offer.

Find the entire article here.

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