How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

The thing that scares me the most about the current political climate is the idea that we are living in a post-fact world.

As someone who works to validate evidence, and uses data to address question, the idea of coming to conclusion in the absence of such facts is terrifying, but the idea that other people don’t believe the evidence because it goes against their personal doctrine… I can’t express in words how fundamentally terrifying this has become.

Over at Scientific America, there is an excellent article about people who don’t believe facts and what’s to be done about how to proceed. 

In summary:

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.



5 comments on “How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

  1. Emily Scott says:

    Interesting link, thanks. It’s so easy to get emotional when in these arguments and this is a reminder not to make it personal.

    • cej9f says:

      I agree, and I’ve come up with a sort of solution… I vent to my friends. I get angry, throw hissy fits, point fingers and get outrageous… with people who agree with me. So when I am talking to someone who disagrees with me I can remain calm, because my frustration has already been vented. It takes my bubble and makes it useful.

      This requires really good and understanding friends. I’m pretty lucky in that regard.

  2. Ironically, that doesn’t make sense! Shermer’s article end with personal anecdote. I am convinced that Shermer has a lot of experience in real time discussions. But nothing in the review of (still arguable) science has statistics of social effects.

    The only sort-of-fact I know on this is Dawkins’ Convert’s Corner, which collects a massive set of anecdotes of worldview changes. It is remarkable how often confrontational argumentation, not necessarily in real time, has changed people’s mind. (Biologically, changed their self perception of behavior.)

    But it doesn’t mean that those people are confronted much or even personally. They are bystanders or prompted to change worldview. (Whether by “cognitive dissonance” or changing self-perception or any other model of that process – they are very many, I see in Wikipedia.)

    Unless someone research the area of what works to change people’s mind, I am going to continue being confrontational. It works, at least some of the time … but the outcome is imperceptible for the worldview evangelist/defender.

    Based on the same sort-of-data one can as well conclude that if confrontation feels awkward – is of little personal utility – one should desist. The fraction of converts is unknown, and their feeling of liberation and gratefulness happens a long time (often years) after the meeting.

    So – and this makes sense to me – don’t worry, be happy!.

    • cej9f says:

      I can see that, and how you choose to confront people is entirely up to you. In my experience, I have found that the moment confrontation turns to anger, or name calling then both sides shut down and any meaningful discussion gets thrown out the window.

      That’s where my argument for civil engagement comes in, it allows both sides to continue the discussion, which ultimately may change minds. I hope.

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