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There is a similar question here: How to tell someone believing in pseudoscience & conspiracy theories is wrong without making them feel stupid/upset? My question has a different setting: I'm dealing with a person who is not my friend or family member.

Situation: I was talking to a guy (an acquaintance who I have some common business with, not related to job) about sex-related topics and I asked him if he knows that syphilis can be transferred via kisses, and he responded with a bunch of nonsense. He believes that "syphilis is a gene of the negroid race which helps to deal with high temperatures and that if a woman is infected, she will have a specific scent." (My rough paraphrase of his words.) That is obviously all false.

The problem is, he seems to have rather chaotic sexual habits, and I believe he might end up having some STD. He mistakingly believes that he can tell if someone is infected and take some actions to prevent the infection.

My goal:

  • At the minimum, I want to tell him he's wrong, but I can't (and don't want to) spend too much time on it.
  • Ideally, I'd like to teach him something about reputable sources of information and how to spot urban legends, pseudoscience, etc., but I don't want to give him a lecture.
  • I already told him what I know about the disease, but he replied with, "I'll find the info later [and show you]." He seems like a stubborn guy, and I hope there's a method to present the information vividly, in a way which he wouldn't want to argue with.
  • I don't want to be rude, but I'm not really afraid of upsetting him. Our relationships are somewhere between "colleagues" and "bros," so he's okay with informal conversations.

That is not the first time I hear this kind of bizarre "facts" from him, and since we'll probably communicate for a while, I'd like to do something about it, partly because I care about him a bit, and partly because some of his "myths" affect the way we do our common business.

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    Can you elaborate on why this isn't a duplicate of the question you posted? You mention you think they're different because you're "dealing with a person who is not [your] friend or family member." But you then say that you're "bros" with this person. Maybe explain why the answers on the other question don't work for you? – scohe001 Jul 30 '18 at 23:39
  • @scohe001, first, I don't have much time and not willing to put much effort into that. Second, we're not bros, I've said we're somewhere b/w colleagues and bros, which means we're communicating informally but we have some common business (not job though). This implies that I can't use empathy as a primary tool like I would with a family member or a close friend. – scriptin Jul 30 '18 at 23:44
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    It's fine if you don't have time to clarify right now, but this answer looks like it would work for you along with a few others. I'm going to vote to close this question as a duplicate. If it ends up being closed you can always edit when you get time to clarify the difference and it'll get flagged for reopen. – scohe001 Jul 30 '18 at 23:52
  • @scohe001, also, I explicitly mentioned that it's possible to make him upset if necessary, which contradicts the goal of the other question. – scriptin Jul 30 '18 at 23:54
  • Voting to reopen this: 1) The context is different from that in the suspected duplicate (acquaintance vs. close family member); 2) Our information about the mindset of the "target" is completely different (hardcore esoteric in the other question, merely suspected stubborness in this one). In my opinion, this may allow for different approaches (and thus different answers). – Flo Jul 31 '18 at 6:23
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My go-to approach when dealing with bizarre beliefs like that is to simply ask "Why?" See also this wiki article for some more info.

In my experience, going straight to disproving their belief will often be perceived (by them!) as some sort of aggression (trying to take away their opinion, trying to make them look / feel stupid), which in turn often makes them angry and / or stubborn, which ultimately renders them completely immune to any form of rational argument.

To avoid this, I try to get them to justify their belief themselves, explain their reasoning and provide their sources. If they do this, the next stage would be to "attack" their logic and / or their sources. Both can again be achieved by asking critical questions, which may be formulated as open "Why"-questions or as suggestive "Don't you think that..."-questions.

"Aren't you overlooking X here?"

"Why do you think Source_A is reliable?"

"I think the most common objection would be Y, how would you counter that?"


The important thing, in my experience, is to not explicitly take a position that puts you in opposition to them. A lot of bizarre beliefs and "theories" have some built-in defense mechanisms that involve seeing everyone who disagrees as "one of them" (henchmen of the Illuminati, sycophants of Big Pharma, extremist (left / right), ), i.e. an enemy who is not worth being listened to.

With this in mind, the above approach offers an additional benefit in that it lets you take a neutral stance. You show that you are willing to learn from them, but also make it clear that you're not going to be easily convinced. For me at least, this was an easy part to play, because I'm very much "science-minded", and I'm willing to suspend my disbelief just for the sake of entertaining an idea of a "theory" and judge it on its own merit, even if my expectation of learning something fundamentally new is extremely low.


Lastly, it's useful to keep in mind that you're unlikely to change their mind in the course of one discussion, especially if the beliefs you're attacking form an important part of their world-view (not likely in the particular case you gave as an example, but you never know). So don't be too frustrated by (apparent) lack of success, and don't blame the other person for "not getting it".

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