Skeptic etiquette

By Phil Plait | February 1, 2009 10:15 am

Being a skeptical blogger is easy. You can say what you want, and everyone assumes you’re just some antisocial jerk in his basement. Doing it in real life can be… difficult.

I sometimes have trouble in social situations because someone will say something that is perhaps not supported by reality, and I have wind up jumping right in. I don’t say they’re stupid or anything like that, but people identify with their ideas, so saying that an idea is wrong is basically saying they are wrong, and maybe even implying they’re stupid (or, more likely, they wind up inferring it).

It’s a delicate thing, trying to change someone’s thinking. Do it too strongly and you violate Wil’s Rule (in his banner). Do it too weakly and you may feel you’re not true to your convictions.

That’s why Allyson Beatrice’s post on Cocktail Party Physics about skeptical etiquette is so wonderful. It’s long, but well worth your time to read; it’s funny and true and may hit home. I have lots of friends I can call on their dumbosity, just as they do on mine, and we’ll laugh about it. But that’s not always true in every social situation… and it’s a minefield out there.

Not everyone who reads my blog is a self-identified skeptic, of course, and some folks may be skeptical about some things but not others. Still, I just bet you deal with friends/family/strangers who talk about astrology/homeopathy/antivax stuff. What do you do when that happens? The comments are open. Let’s talk.


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