Conspiracy TheoriesSkepticism

Keeping My Skepticism without Losing My Friends

One of the hardest problems I face as a skeptic is this: How do I respond to irrational or pseudo-scientific ideas expressed by friends? A delicate balance has to be maintained between being a total jerk and not sticking up for skepticism. The key to maintaining this balance is picking my battles. I go through a process when deciding whether or not make a comment. First, was the comment out there enough for any potential social repercussions to be worth making a point? If so, then is this person a good enough friend that I won’t be seen as a contrary smart-ass? Next, how invested do they seem to be in this idea? Are they more of a true believer or are they a fence -sitter? If they are a true believer there is nothing I can do. If they aren’t my idea might click with them.

This process does not always work, however. One time I was hanging out with my friends when someone said, “Oh, I’m not getting the flu shot because the Government uses them to poison us.” Was that comment out there? Yes. Were the offender and I good friends? I think so, we’ve been friends since the start of the school year. Was she really emotionally invested in this idea? It’s hard to tell.

I decided that comment was to extreme to let it slip by. I thought I did a pretty good job of not talking down to her. But apparently, as she told me later, she felt like I was belittling her. I have no idea what I did wrong or what I could do better. I guess I just have to learn what kind of person I can talk to about skepticism and what kind I can’t. A few people take any opposition to their beliefs as a personal attack on them. Also I way underestimated how strongly she believed the government was poisoning us with vaccines.

A mistake along this line of thinking can easily be made. I’ve misjudged how invested someone is in an idea and struck a raw nerve. I’ve misjudged the stability of my friendships. I walk a fine line every time I share my opinion. But I would rather walk that line than remain silent.

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Lyra Lynx

Lyra Lynx


  1. Ssteppe
    June 13, 2010 at 10:55 am —

    Sometimes you just can’t win, but it sounds like your judgment is good. (And you’re learning at an earlier age than I did – it took me years to learn to be tactful and when to keep my mouth shut. And sometimes you can’t predict how someone is going to react.)

  2. dahduh
    June 15, 2010 at 3:31 am —

    People who are contradicted always think they are being talked down to, particularly if it done in public and they ‘lose face’. If you really need to challenge someone’s ideas it is best done in private. If some outrageous claim is made in public, you can always try: “That’s interesting,” and ask for more details – and when they inevitably flounder, merely express polite skepticism so it becomes your opinion against theirs. You can pick it up later when that person is not around to feel belittled, and/or with that person in private.

    In the meantime I think you are doing exactly the right thing in expressing an honest opinion. Nothing is more corrosive to a friendship than insincerity, and I think a sincere contradiction tactfully expressed will strengthen any friendship worth having.

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