A close family member of mine is a raw vegan, anti vaxer, anti-antibiotics, anti-fluoride, believes in chemtrails, has a machine that filters water and makes it alkaline, eats lots of supplements, buys only organic produce and buys all her hygiene, beauty and cleaning products at the holistic store.

Overall, her health isn't great, and whenever she gets ill she blames it on something she ate or the chemicals in the air...

In my opinion, she is not nourishing her body properly, and I'm worried that piggybacking all the supplements and miracle treatments is not only ineffective but detrimental to her health. It also worries me she would only go to the doctor as her last resort, and even when she gets a prescription, she wouldn't always take the meds. She says she prefers to fight the illness naturally and have a stronger immune system as a result :(

If I say something she believes in is wrong, she gets upset. So I try to logic her out of her beliefs, but she would rather tell me I have a very linear and mathsy way of thinking (since I am a physicist), therefore I can't possibly understand her "facts". This makes me so sad as she would trust me with physics, yet somehow in an argument about biology, chemistry, "toxins", and vaccines my use of pure logic and critical thinking goes over her head.

On the other hand, she has read books on those topics which are popular science at best and complete garbage at worse. None of those come close to even high school textbook standard - she might as well be reading tabloid articles in book format. Sadly, she feels her arguments are more valid since she has read books with things like "adjuvant", "metabolism" and "blood-brain barrier" written in them. That's enough for her to deem them reputable sources of the truth behind such and such.

Sometimes I wonder... If I had the time and the willpower to read all she has read on this: would she then listen to me? Or would she keep arguing?

Anyway, this person is important to me and I hate our constant arguments. I hate that I hide my chocolate & pretend to be vegan in front of her to avoid upsetting her. I wish we could just enjoy some lunch out in town without hearing things like "that sandwich must have been packed with sugar and gluten because I feel so bad now" for a week afterward, even though her test for gluten sensitivity came out negative. And most important of all I want to make sure she isn't unwittingly ruining her health.

How can I convince someone believing in pseudoscience & conspiracy theories to change their views and trust conventional medicine without making them feel stupid or upset?

  • 18
    Also, maybe this question about arguing science with a passionate non-scientist may have some interesting help.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Dec 11, 2017 at 12:16
  • There have been a lot of comments on this question. I'd like to ask that people only use comments to suggest improvements and clarifications to the question, so we can keep things on topic. Thanks.
    – HDE 226868
    Dec 13, 2017 at 15:57

11 Answers 11


Contrary to the other answers, I think that you can tell your family member that you think her beliefs are wrong and probably even get her to reconsider her stance on some of them. That is not to say it will be simple/guaranteed though.

Use empathy before logic

Most beliefs of this nature have an emotional root, meaning that they will just tune out, giving an excuse (such as: you have a very linear and mathsy way of thinking, therefore you can't possibly understand my "facts") when someone suddenly points out some otherwise perfectly sound logic.

To get past this emotional block, it is essential that you first connect with them emotionally, using empathy to show that you are listening to what they say. Try to find an underlying emotion that is the seed to this belief (such as a fear of being helpless in terms of illness where your only option is to blindly trust a doctor which as she has seen, is still no guarantee). This may not be your family member's reasoning, but it is a common fear that leads to people going down the same path as her as it is more comforting to feel that you are able to do something yourself that you 'understand' than to do what is actually best (i.e. go to the doctor and do what they say). Note that there is a fine line between understanding and being empathetic of the reason, and presuming or shallowly blaming their belief on something. Saying something like "ooh, you only think that because of X" will have the opposite effect, and instead will leave them feeling as though you have rudely undermined their worries rather than shown empathy. Try to only mention reasons that they themselves have acknowledged, and phrase it in a way that validates the reason, rather than using it to blame their misconstrued ideas. If you can show that you are empathetic and understanding of the fear, it will breach the emotional block and then she will be able to properly listen to your logic.

It takes time

Although it would be lovely, you are not going to change anyone's view of the world and help them reach a deeper understanding of how things are in just one day. It is important that you understand it takes a long time for these things to happen. Forcing someone to talk about a subject they don't want to engage in will only be counterproductive; you need to wait for when they are happy to talk about it and try to stay open and willing to go into conversations with them.

Consider introducing her to proper studies, research papers and the process they go through before its accepted by the scientific community

I know it's not so much IPS, but this is the big one that helped bring my cousin to critically look at conspiracies he would have previously followed. You mentioned you are a physicist so I am assuming you are somewhat active in the scientific community and know that the people who are the most critical of scientists are other scientists. As it is not practical to deeply study and understand every new topic in science, it is important to understand the process these things go through before they are accepted; and even after they are accepted they still get analysed and verified over and over again. If you can get her to understand this, and also how to tell the difference between shallow pseudoscience studies and real ones then she will be able to do your job for you and may re-look at a lot of the things she currently believes herself. Obviously this is not the first thing you should do and would take a considerable amount of time and effort, not to mention she may just reject the effort flat out. Just keep this in mind for later on if she has reacted well to the earlier and more specific explanations where you were focusing on being empathetic.

On avoiding conflict

There is no guarantee that you will never raise any conflict when discussing these things. But so long as you are kind and remain calm/rational yourself they should not be lasting. That being said, there are some things you should avoid:

  • Don't force the conversation on her
  • Don't force a viewpoint on her
  • Don't be disrespectful or condescending (some beliefs may be ludicrous, but saying so is one of the worst things you can do)
  • Don't be impatient or get frustrated
  • Don't be hypocritical (if you want her to listen to you, you should also be open to listening to her)

Edit: I thought it might be useful to compare this to a another post with a similar goal and some good ideas - Arguing science with a passionate non-scientist?

  • 8
    While I am in the "sorry, no can do" camp on the OP's dilemma myself, you still get my +1 for "Most beliefs of this nature have an emotional root". I'd add that way down the line, everything has an emotional root, and there are only two emotions at all - (abstract) love and fear. At least I have never met a "human" problem where, when you trace everything down to its roots, you end up with a plausible explanation rooted in those two concepts. So, finding the fears and then working with them would maybe help.
    – AnoE
    Dec 11, 2017 at 16:50
  • 4
    I'd like to recommend a book to complement this, for teaching practical skills for how to get further once you've done the empathizing part: "A Manual for Creating Atheists" - despite its name and focus, the book's value primarily lies in its ability to showcase how you can use the Socratic method to help people question the fundamentals of how they come to consider some things true and others false, and that skillset is broadly transferable to most disagreements about what's true.
    – mtraceur
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:45

I have argued many pro-science positions against those who are typically called "anti-science." I have a reasonably good track record of convincing them. My approach, however, can be very difficult: you have to start from the assumption that you might not be right.

Believe it or not, science does not get to say that something is true, and have it be so. Science has a long track record of getting things flagrantly wrong. The power of science is that it is capable of realizing when it gets things wrong, through repetition and reproduction of experiments, and to come up with new more effective theories.

One of the challenges we face in society today is that science is so incredibly successful that we teach it in schools as the path to find truth. This leads to the attitude that I find most anti-science people have: they simply reject science as a source of truth. The funny thing is, they're right! However, because they are bombarded by people who, in the name of science, challenge them at every corner, they need to find something to hold on to. They cling to any argument which sounds like it could stand up to a beating from a science-lover, using terms like those you mention: "adjuvant", "metabolism" and "blood - brain barrier"

Thus, the first step in persuading such an anti-science individual is to be ready to have to admit that you're not provably right. You might be right. As a fellow believer in science, I'll give your beliefs a heck of a lot more credibility than those which are not scientific, but we have to be ready to be wrong. Once you consider this possibility, you are almost obliged to soften up your rhetoric. You're forced to consider that it's entirely plausible that they're right, and you're not!

If I may offer an example, the last flat-Earther I worked with was quite convinced the Earth was flat. I didn't start from the position that they were wrong. Instead, I tried to found out what they believe the flat Earth theory provides them that a round earth does not. I never rejected their theory, though I did make it clear that I wasn't going to act on their theory until I was more convinced.

The next step takes time: hold this softer position long enough that they start to trust that you wont "science the sh--- out of them" when they say something. Help them reach the point where they're willing to soften their hard anchors and risk admitting that they're not 100% confident while in your presence. This is a trust thing, like seeing someone naked.

For my flat Earth friend, this process mostly consisted of having them explore why people would be so duped into this round-earth thinking. A particularly interesting group for that discussion was that of pilots. Pilots are actually in a position to test flat Earth vs. round Earth theories. You don't see many pilots who believe in flat Earths. Why is that? When they went down the conspiracy theory line with payoffs, that gave me a chance to play "follow the money" with him to show that there's no obvious reason why governments would cover something like this up.

Once they realize that neither your position nor their position is provably true, then you can start the persuasive part of the discussion. You can try to show them why you, personally, find the scientific arguments compelling. You can also listen to them and find out why they find their arguments compelling. I have actually learned a lot about myself that way. Maybe not something about vaccinations or antibiotics, but there is something to be said about the holistic approach to life. The language of science turns out to be rather poor in terms of its expressiveness of holistic concepts, and I have found some of their models are actually rather valuable in some limited domains.

Its a long process, but in the end, it's rewarding.


Unfortunately, your two viewpoints are pretty much diametrically opposed. And anti-vaxxers rely on ignoring accepted scientific consensus and evidence etc., so if you approach this from a scientific, evidence-based or logic-based direction, you are not adding anything that will persuade her. She has her "evidence" and that's probably that.

This may sound harsh, but the only likely solution is just to avoid conflicting on these topics and accept that her lifestyle and beliefs are hers and you can't change them. At least avoiding arguing about it allows you to communicate and remain friends.

If your country gets around to mandating vaccination then that may work...

  • Perhaps before trying to actually change her mind, let her read something like "Influence" by R.Cialdini, especially the chapter about reactance? That might let her observe her tendency to defend her views when challenged, and reduce this effect?
    – Robin
    Dec 11, 2017 at 11:12
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    Thank you, Rory for your input. What you have said is precisely what I have been doing so far. I have avoided conflict as all costs. Unfortunately, this issue is slowly breaking our relationship because we are getting more and more distant. She also judges my choice friends and my boyfriend too because they don't share her beliefs and practices. I cant tolerate such prejudice as well as her non-scientific beliefs and practices. Dec 11, 2017 at 14:09
  • 7
    @RoryAlsop there's a lot of anti-vaxxers who simply don't understand. In the 90s a legitimate number of vaccines were harmful, and around the same time autism started to be recognized and diagnosed in much larger numbers. Some people saw the correlation and were afraid, then a bad, bad man came along and confirmed their worst fears. Since it takes a fair amount of research to see there's actually no link between the two, it's easy to hear someone say "here's what all this science mumbo jumbo says in simple terms" and believe it. Dec 11, 2017 at 19:04
  • This answer incorrectly addresses addresses 'how to deal with someone who you think is wrong'. rather than the actual question 'convince someone they are wrong' and thus is not really an answer.
    – virtualxtc
    May 10, 2018 at 16:55

male vegan conspiracy theorist here. Perhaps I can offer a viewpoint from the other side of the fence, as it were?

I notice your thread is earmarked as conflict aversion. The best way to avoid a conflict, is not to seek a fight in the first place. You appear to be assuming your friend is wrong based on their beliefs, but you haven't mentioned asking them for any evidence or considering why they believe what they do.

Contrary to all the hostile opinions here, conspiracy theorists are not an irrational bunch. For example, people here are advocating using empathy as a solution to try to prove someone wrong, in response to your question, but I don't think that's a particularly empathic thing to do, and if I had read a close friend was trying to be empathic to me only in an effort to undermine my beliefs, I wouldn't consider them as a friend.

Allow me to contrast; when I meet people, the first thing I do is try to find common ground with them, and I don't try to start arguments or try to prove myself right (because a friendship involves overlooking differences).

I see a few other suggestions and views here that I'd like to comment as to why they wouldn't work, or aren't valid. You say that:

In my opinion she is not nourishing her body properly

Are you a professional dietician, or is this just purely your opinion? If you're trying to prove her wrong over an opinion and not a substantiated fact, you're not going to get anywhere on this point. On another:

even when she gets a prescription, she wouldn't always take the meds

Medication does carry side-effects, and as a vegan, I can also comment a lot of medicine also contains animal byproducts, which would very likely explain why she refuses to take the meds as a vegan. The fact you say she "wouldn't always" implies that she does "sometimes". It's curious why you haven't considered this possibility and seem to have framed it as her distrusting the meds (if she distrusts all meds, she wouldn't take any).

Personally, her private medical affairs are hers, between her and her doctor or appropriate physician, and as you haven't expressed having any particular medical training, isn't really something you should be trying to 'correct' her on (a lot of people might try to avoid acknowledging an allergy, for example).

You also mention:

I hate that I hide my chocolate & pretend to be vegan in front of her to avoid upsetting her.

Have you told her this? Did you ever tell her (falsely?) that you were a vegan, or are you merely hiding being a non-vegan?

If she values your friendship, she will be courteous to you, and let you eat whatever you want. As a vegan myself, I thoroughly understand other people have differences of opinion, and so long as they're not trying to cover me in geasy meat laden hands, I don't judge what other people eat.

On the other side of that fence, it is also possible to get vegan chocolate (usually sold in ironically named health shops). But I feel you need to let her know her preaching is hurting the friendship.

I notice another poster remarks:

Consider introducing her to proper studies, research papers and the process they go through before its accepted by the scientific community

According to the British Medical Journal there's issues of publication bias, such as companies only publishing trials that present products in a favourable light (and hiding trials that show adverse effects), or as mentioned, even outright fabricating evidence or data. It isn't helped by the fact that nonsense papers regularly get accepted (there's even a tool that generates them online).

So in a sense, presenting one set of scientific study to refute another, when the process has had a lot of questions raised (both in the past and recently), is a no-win scenario. Presenting scientific studies is merely just going to add more fuel to the argument fire.

Unless you're prepared to hash out a sensible, level-headed debate (and when it comes to passionate opinions, no-one behaves sensibly), there's nothing to be gained from this.

Another poster remarks:

anti-vaxxers rely on ignoring accepted scientific consensus and evidence etc.

Science isn't a democracy, and isn't based on a 'consensus' (Galileo, for example, was extremely unpopular), it's based on facts. It would be a sad day for exploration if scientists merely socially agreed, and didn't seek to push boundaries (if anything, cutting edge discoveries like Higgs-Boson are founded on disagreements and people conducting experiments to prove or disprove a hypothesis).

But these presumed stereotypes don't help. Perhaps she's seen the US vaccine court or VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System), or the long list of side effects that is documented with given vaccines. Personally, I'd argue her aversion is much more simple; vaccines contain animal products, and this is a possibility no-one seems to have considered.

Specifically, depending on which vaccine, they can either contain virus grown in cultured cells of egg (animal product), or they can make use of dead fetus cells for virus growth, which whilst human, would definitely violate all bar the most hypocritical of vegans' beliefs.


It's my strong opinion that a large portion of the behaviors are attributable to veganism, and the others are arguably non-issues (for example, nutrition and health both require specialist knowledge, and unless she's trying to force you to no get a vaccine, her other beliefs should be irrelevant in day to day friendship).

I think you need to tell her, if she is indeed preaching (I assume this is the case, however the way you've written it comes off as you've observed her behaving this way and seek to 'correct' it, rather than embracing the diversity), you need to tell her, her attitudes towards you, are hurting you/harming the friendship, and propose what you're after, like 'I want to be able to eat non-vegan foods without worrying about you criticising me on this'.

I can tell you from experience, you either prove yourself right (that of course assumes you are right), or have a friendship, but you often cannot have both. The process of disagreement is anti-thetical to friendship (the latter is common ground; what do you have in common with them?).

You say you like their friendship, so how about encouraging the parts you like?

Nuclear option

If you really want to prove them wrong, however, you need to examine what their argument rests on. What evidence or reasons do they use. Then you have to impartially dismantle it. Truth is, arguments which are right, can be presented weakly (a strawman argument), both your own and theirs, and likewise, arguments which are wrong, can be made to seem strong (publication bias, hiding of averse data etc).

I think you need to choose, do you really want to prove them wrong, or are you a friend that looks past differences?

[Apologies for the length, but there's been plenty of answers on the other side. I won't be surprised if I get downvotes, but IPS involves considering all sides, and I felt the need to hypothetically present 'hers'.]

  • 1
    I would have liked to make this answer. Thanks you.
    – FDP
    Dec 12, 2017 at 14:05
  • 13
    This is a fantastic perspective from the other side of this, upvoted and thank you. I agree that OP shouldn't feel the need to "correct" personal choices. However, vaccination talk is my Kryptonite; I need to point out that people advocate vaccinations to protect everybody, not just that individual. Plus if vaccination percentages fall too low, the disease can mutate and the vaccine doesn't work for anyone anymore. There's a point where people have to make concessions in their beliefs to keep people safe, and vaccination is well beyond it. Dec 12, 2017 at 15:27
  • 7
    Thanks for your answer, I find some of it helpful. You're right to defend her right to be vegan, but I said she is a raw vegan, so eats no cooked produce. She has never consulted any nutrition professional on her diet choice, only consults holistic websites and said nonsense papers. Thats why I am concerned she's not nourishing her body properly. I know for sure her reason for avoiding meds is because she believes they are going to harm her and not out of consideration for animals. Yes she takes them sometimes, as last resort, when all the natural treatments don't help. Dec 12, 2017 at 16:00
  • 3
    When I try to point out that something is discredited by many other scientists, she argues back with conspiracy theories: "That is because this is the truth the big pharma doesn't want us to know about" etc.. And yes science is not a democracy and it doesn't always get things perfect and yes there are side effects to all medicine, but there is a point where simple caution and awareness becomes nearly paranoia. Dec 12, 2017 at 16:12
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    As a scientist, I'd like to correct a misconception you may be having about how science works. It is not based on 'facts' it is based on 'evidence', which is why 'consensus' within science is actually important. The things Gallelo claimed are not facts, but rather theories that better describe previous observations. This is something anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers seem to miss: their 'theories' need to better describe, or at be at least as good as the current consensus on what reality is to be valid.
    – virtualxtc
    May 10, 2018 at 17:04

People have a belief system where, as far as they are concerned, there are certain fundamental truths, and no amount of argument will see them change their mind. Then, the rest of their beliefs are built upon, and informed by, these fundamental truths.

Now for most of us, these fundamental truths are the belief that science and statistics can be used to test if something is true or false, that certain things (eg murder, torture) are always wrong, and so on. Religious people believe that some special deity exists, and this is also one of those fundamental truths to them, as it's not something that follows on from one of their other beliefs but it's a fundamental belief in itself.

For some people, one of these fundamental truths are that "science" cannot be trusted because it has nefarious interests - scientists are trying to screw us. Having this fundamental belief allows someone to adopt one of many "anti-science" beliefs, such as anti-vax, homeopathy, etc.

A person will put up all manners of resistance against someone challenging their fundamental beliefs. It is simply not going to work to change their mind when it comes to a fundamental, as these beliefs are so strong as to mean losing a friendship to them if necessary, and are so strong that they rely on no other fact to back them up - their mind simply won't change.

If you could change someone's mind about a belief they have, your only option is to find a way to do it that does not challenge their fundamental beliefs. If you can convince someone of the benefits of vaccinating kids without challenging their belief that science/big pharma can't be trusted, then that's your avenue. Not easy, though. But they may be more susceptible to arguments if they are based on personal experience or personal connection: if someone you know got sick because they weren't vaccinated, etc. Avoid the science or statistics angle.

The bottom line is it's not easy, and may not be worth it. If it's something that doesn't harm others, often better to let it go. If it's something that does, like anti-vax, legislation is probably a better option: do as some countries do and make it mandatory to vaccinate kids in order to receive certain benefits/enrol in pre-school/etc.

  • Could you change a fundamental truth by pitting someone's ideas against each other, and not inserting your own views in? ... Like, a Theist faced with The Problem of Evil, may require some shift in thinking, and that could be used to shift their position to where the person bringing it up would want it to go?
    – Malady
    Dec 11, 2017 at 5:26
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    Murder lis a bad example of "thing most people believe to be always wrong" because it is, more or less by definition, "the act of killing someone in a way that is wrong". And if you downgrade it to just "killing" then it becomes pretty clear that most people feel it's perfectly justified in various situations.
    – Erik
    Dec 11, 2017 at 8:11
  • 1
    They're intended as examples. There are indeed many people who think all killing is wrong, and for whom that is a fundamental belief. Perhaps there a a lot more people who don't believe that than I implied.
    – trr
    Dec 11, 2017 at 22:45

I have a cousin (and one of my best friends) who is getting progressively more and more like the person you describe, OP. I once tried to convince her that there is no evidence that the phase of the moon influences menstrual pain, and she got really mad at me. But the peak argument was when, a few days after, my period came and she reprimanded me for taking a painkiller, claiming that menstrual pain is a social construct and that I should meditate to connect with my body and the pain would go away. (I took the painkiller anyway.)

It is really unfortunate, but I think we cannot impose our views on anyone and, even more, trying to do so may be very counterproductive. Of course, if she is in an emergency, you should ignore her disbelief in science and take her to the closest hospital but, otherwise, she is an adult and it's on her to decide over her body. The same way my cousin eventually understood that I am an adult and it's on me to decide to take painkillers or not. If your relative some day gets an infection and decides to rely on natural remedies, and the infection doesn't go away, she will probably believe in antibiotics all at sudden. Sorry for the sarcasm.

A different issue is if she tries to impose these things on non-consenting people, for instance if she has children and decides not to vaccinate them, or she has a dependent elder and she neglects their health. I think, in this case, it is your responsibility to show her statistics on how many children used to die of diseases that are now eradicated (and maybe even use emotional language and images such as sick children, because some people don't believe in statistics either).

Again, if it's only her doing this to herself, just let her be. Do not engage. (I know it's difficult!) Whenever she complains about gluten, nod. If she ever mentions what you take/do/eat, tell her that you won't try to convince her to change her lifestyle if she doesn't try to change yours. Otherwise, no mention. Nod and change topics. That's what I would do.

PS: Just one detail. Being vegan is not anti-scientific. It is entirely possible to be vegan and yet be fully nourished. Of course it takes some scientific knowledge or advice from healthcare professionals, which I do trust.

  • And usually, being fully vegan requires food supplements unless you have the right genes. At least according to the dietitian I spoke with recently.
    – Erik
    Dec 11, 2017 at 8:17
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    Thank you for your input. Thankfully this person isn't responsible for any minors or elderly people. I will attempt telling her I won't try to convince her to change her lifestyle if she doesn't try to change mine and see if that helps. And yes being vegan is 100% ok when done properly. But she happens to rely on the holistic nutrition books to formulate her diet and not a doctor or nutrition professional. So when she gets anaemia she blames anything but her diet for it. What I'm trying to do is guide her to stop blindly believing in alternative medicine. Dec 11, 2017 at 13:40
  • 1
    @Erik: I'm not vegan, but I can tell you right away that's not scientifically backed. The topic was actually addressed recently on worldbuilding SE: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/99766/2104 Dec 11, 2017 at 21:16
  • Again, as sad and powerless as it feels, there is little we can do to change another person's habits if this person does not want to. I believe many people turn to pseudosciences and alternative medicine because it feels much more like a supportive community. So my final advice is, if you still cannot contain yourself and just nod, anything you tell her, please try to speak from a position of empathy and compassion, and not one of pure rationality and dismissiveness. In the end we're all human.
    – user9858
    Dec 11, 2017 at 23:21
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    The topic R.. linked was about living only on potatoes, hence my reaction. Also, I'm not being dismissive. I'm just saying, listen to your dietitian, even if they say "you need supplements"
    – Erik
    Dec 12, 2017 at 8:32

Just from a psychological POV, she sounds eerily similar to someone with anorexia. It is all stemming from control, fear, and generally having an overly anxious disposition. For people with anorexia, often food or things they put in their body is the only area they feel they have real control in. It sounds like she lives in a scary, hostile world that is fraught with dangers and hidden evil agendas behind supposedly helpful things, which is a very paranoid and suspicious way to see things. Stressful experience of reality.

I think false beliefs should definitely be challenged because they can damage quality of life, and we let each other down when we are too permissive with ignorance. OP you have a hell of a job if you're taking this one on though!

Since she already knows you don't agree with her, which makes her automatically defensive around you, I'd probably approach the topics indirectly - like how she chooses her information sources. Maybe anecdotally relate a story to her about a health experiment that was based on false or misleading information, leading to the death of (fifty vegan activists, kittens, anything she would care about personally?!). Pile on all this relatable fallout in a conversational way and keep asking gee, what do you think they should have done? Make sure the right answer is always 'they should have checked their sources critically!'

Maybe her decision making process is at fault here, she has no real tools. There are lots of ways to approach decision making without talking about her beliefs/identity, which would change anyway as a result of better decision making. I'm sure her possibly bad health isn't helping her cognition though...


People selling snake oil are selling snake oil. A lot of people in the business of alternative facts are in the business of alternative facts.

So it may be possible for you to expose the ulterior motives of some of the authorities she finds convincing. Convincing her to stop trusting one of her authorities is unlikely to convince her away from all the psuedoscience, but if you can undermine more of her authorities then she might adopt a more sceptical mindset.

Others aren't necessarily only in it for the money, but you may be able to demonstrate that they are completely out of touch with reality. For example, if she likes David Wolfe, does she know he's a flat-earther and believes gravity is a hoax?

  • 3
    I am unsure as to whether Wolfe believes those, or just knows how to make money from the gullible...
    – Rory Alsop
    Dec 11, 2017 at 12:34
  • 1
    @RoryAlsop Maybe it's like how scammers pretend to be from Nigeria to make sure they hook the most gullible of all gullible people? But I don't think so, cause Wolfe is just selling stuff online without the personal time commitment roping in a mark takes. Whatever the case, claiming to be a flat-earther will discredit him to most people! Dec 11, 2017 at 12:59
  • See also Dr Oz and others mentioned in Ben Goldacre's books/blogs.
    – craq
    Dec 13, 2017 at 5:49

A good place to start within yourself is: why do you care what she believes?

It sounds like you care because you think her beliefs are getting in the way of her health. If you ever try to refute the beliefs, make sure you lead with this, that the reason it matters to you is because you care about her and her well-being. Starting with this and keeping it in mind will also help you maintain a respectful tone.

Since you said you were a physicist, I suspect some part of you also just has an issue with her believing things that are wrong, since your field devotes almost all of its energy to becoming objectively right. And a good portion of the things you mentioned in your question don't have any negative health consequences, for example chemtrails, organic produce, and holistic beauty products. Just let this stuff go. If one of her beliefs doesn't affect her in a way that she cares about, she has no motive to reexamine it. Gently notice your impulse to fight its wrongness, and refuse to oblige it.

  • When you say "a good portion of the things you mentioned in your question don't have any negative health consequences," is "the things you mentioned" referring to the actions of OP's target (raw veganism, anti-vax, etc.)?
    – Aaron
    Dec 12, 2017 at 22:35
  • @Aaron Yes. E.g. chemtrails (I guess this isn't an action per se), organic produce, holistic beauty products.
    – luqui
    Dec 13, 2017 at 0:12
  • 2
    In that case, I think this is an excellent point. OP cites health issues as the need to "save" the subject from their "bad" beliefs, but, as you suggest, much of the mentioned activities have little or no negative health effect. You could go so far as to say OP's intentions might not be as innocent as implied, and that the goal is more likely "I need to make my friend stop believing in things I think are stupid."
    – Aaron
    Dec 13, 2017 at 0:28

Make it a form of love and caring You care about her and would like to see her healthier. You would like to enjoy the time with her without being worried about "gluten in food" and other such things that have no reality for you.

So why not make it a personal issues, in the nicest way possible? Tell her that you may be wrong, but that what you are saying is because you are just as worried about her health as she is. And you are also worried that she is taken in, that some of the "advice" she follows may be dishonest. Choose the most harmful thing she is doing and try to find evidence that the particular peddler of this thing is dishonest (maybe they are eating meat?).

You can also mention that you would like to enjoy a meal out without worries, how can this be done without her getting sick afterwards? Maybe she has some suggestions.

Finally, can the two of you discuss some form of alternative medicine that would not be harmful? One responder said that your family member behaves in a way that suggests anorexia. Then something healthy that makes her feel in control (EXERCISE!) could displace a lot of other snake oils. How would she feel about yoga, meditation, tai-chi, morning walks in the park? Even better, is there a relative who has been doing well on any of these? someone you can present as a concrete example? You want to make it as un-patronising as possible. Maybe you can ask her to start yoga/tai-chi/.. "for your sake"?

Thanks to all other who answered and a note on my experience I have seen great advice and interesting points of view above. Not surprisingly, I also have a close friend who believes these theories, is not in good health, and is convinced that he should not get vaccinated. I wish I could help him, because I am very worried about him getting a bad form of covid. So all your advice resonates with me and I may try some. In the past, with other theories (e.g. a hidden continent under Antarctica) I have had some success by describing scientific reasons why this cannot be true (e.g. we can measure gravitational anomalies and Earth rotation anomalies with such precision that we would know if there was a hollow under Antarctica). With others I have not, and these are the things, sadly, that are closer to home. For instance, he has read books about shamans and yogis, but when I suggested that he start yoga or at least practice some breathing exercises he was uninterested. Another note If you are much healthier than her, asking the less healthy person to do something for the healthier one is not quite fair. I do not know how OP and relative even out in this respect.


“ How can I convince someone believing in pseudoscience & conspiracy theories to change their views and trust conventional medicine without making them feel stupid or upset?”

Forget about the last part. If you could change their views that would be a great success even if they feel stupid or upset afterwards. But you can’t.

When this person talks about their views, you hear words, and they are formed into sentences, but those sentences don’t make sense. But when you talk to that person, the same things happen. They hear words, the words form sentences, but your sentences equally don’t make sense to them. That’s why you can’t convince them, because what you say to them doesn’t make any sense - to them.

All you can do is be yourself, do what’s right for you, and make sure their views don’t hurt anyone else, if that’s in your power. I wouldn’t avoid upsetting your friend, because at least it makes their world view a more unpleasant experience which might get them out of it.

And another thing: You are close to the person. Therefore it’s impossible that you could know better about anything than that glorious person on the internet. A real life person cannot know better than some internet person. You don’t have a chance.

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