How to Keep Friends and Influence People


I’m concerned that when discussing matters with people I know, I might end up alienating my friends or people they are friends with. I can be a bit opinionated anyway and if you add in the extra flavour and motivation that comes from becoming more activist (such as joining the MSS)…well let’s say I can be a bit overbearing. So I need all the help I can get in improving my debating skills.

The recent problem I wanted to put on the table for discussion is this. One of my Facebook friends is called … “Jane” (alias. They’re all going to be aliases). Her partner is called “Peter” and they live together some distance away. I used to see them regularly and now it’s been a couple of years. So we’re friends on Facebook, me and Jane. Not long ago she posted some crackpot conspiracy theory that NASA planned to blow up the Moon (it was the planned 1st and 2nd stage impacts from the LRO) and shouldn’t we all be scared of what might happen.

So there were a few replies saying it was disgusting so I researched it then explained the facts in my own reply. But then I looked around and saw all kinds of Woo in her previous posts that had never come to my attention. So I suddenly realised that she was a credulous “believer”. I resolved not to get involved again, in the spirit of maintaining friends.

But then she posted some David Icke video in which he suggested no-one should take the Swine Flu vaccine. Dangerous, I thought, so I researched the video and made a post debunking it. This then evolved into a couple of exchanges during which I thought I was quite patient. Next thing Jane’s boyfriend, Peter, takes over and starts invoking the 1976 Swine Flu in America. Here is the opening shot:

Back in 1976, during the last “swine flu” scare, (in America), senior citizens were panicked into getting vaccinated, and then herded to the vaccine stations set up at various city government buildings.

The only problem was, nationwide, the vaccines killed five times more people than the so-called “swine flu” did. It wasn’t about “saving the people,” or “preventing the spread of the flu.” Instead, it was all about boosting the profits of the vaccine makers.

Lots of people died. Not one of them died because of the flu. Instead, they died because of severe adverse reactions to the flu vaccines which were administered at the various “vaccination centres.”

People were panicked into receiving the “swine flu” shot during the flu crisis, over time, they came down with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a program originally established by Congress in the 1980’s to compensate those injured by adverse reactions to the original “swine flu” vaccine.

So, the government uses taxpayer’s money to pay the vaccine-makers to issue the vaccines to the people, and then they use taxpayer’s money to pay the people injured by the vaccines for their debilities.

Conspiracy Theory is only Theory when unsupported by facts.

I don’t wish to be contentious, but I think people we should look at how history repeats itself…

Not one of my family members will be taking any kind of “Swine Flu” vaccine.

Obviously I replied and a conversation ensued and though you might be interested in what I said, that’s not the reason for writing.

The reason to bring it up is that I actually care for my friendships. I think they’re precious and worth holding onto. In this case I carried on the conversation by asking for clarifications and by expressing after research that I thought it was about 25 dead out of 20 million shots, and about 500 affected by GBS (still don’t know why this was the case or whether it really is statistically significant). I asked him to clarify those points and took issue on a couple of the other things he was saying.

In his reply he effectively said he wasn’t going to carry on with the conversation and that he will continue to believe what he believes and so on.

So should I have bothered engaging in the first place?  He is obviously a credulous believer for whatever comfort that gives him. Her too. Oh and his cousin joined in too and that exchange has only just settled down 2 weeks later.

Is this what I have to look forward to?  Risking some of my friendships because they are believers?  Or risking the good opinion of other friends when they don’t think the topics are important enough to make a fuss about so they think that I’m being pedantic and trivial when I refuse to let go of the bone?

I don’t want to be a Skeptic who is silent, I want to be effective and influential. Useful though this exchange was, it really only served the purpose of showing me the futility of discussing these matters in that situation. And I really do feel the reason why Richard Dawkins and others often refuse to debate with the believers. It’s been ultimately unrewarding and pointless.

In summary, I have two questions.

  1. How can we communicate critical thinking as a concept that people will listen to?
  2. What’s the best use for our Skeptical brain and action time?

I think the first question is harder.

Please comment. If you think I’m eating too much fish, just let me know in the comments. Thanks for listening.

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  1. #1 by Stu on August 20, 2009 - 15:40

    1. Be very patient. The obvious answer to the statement about the vaccine killing more than the flu should be: How many people out of the 20 million would have died without the vaccine? No-one can answer that question of course but it should have shut him up!

    2. Keep researching. Make sure you know ALL the rebukes when some idiot who believes black is white makes a ridiculous statement.

  2. #2 by Barbara on August 22, 2009 - 00:38

    Hi Andy, think you were sitting the other end of the table last night when I dropped in briefly at the pub. I would have liked to talk to you about this. It is frustrating to find that people you think of as friends, intelligent and thoughtful as yourself, have bonkers ideas.
    No answers but I think primary sch teaching is at fault (former primary sch teacher speaking).

  3. #3 by Yorkshireskeptic on August 24, 2009 - 00:22

    Can’t answer no.1, but i’ll have a go at no.2. Just my late night musings, but see what you think 🙂

    I think the most effective use of Skeptical time is to simultaneously educate and engage those who occupy the middle ground between Skepticism and ‘True Believer (TM)’, whilst illuminating the truly insane woo-woo pushers in-depth so that the middle ground, who might have thought that some woo-woo was harmless (homeopathy, etc), can see just how mental some of it is. Good or bad idea?

    @Barbara
    I’m curious as to how you think primary school teaching is at fault. Looking back at my education (especially secondary school), it seemed to mainly consist of learning how to excel at answering exam questions and satisfying essay markers rather than actually learning how to think…

  4. #4 by Andy on August 24, 2009 - 14:11

    @Yorkshireskeptic

    That makes sense to me. I’d be interested in coming up with a radical plan as well to jiggle the True Believers you mention. But you’re right. better to inform the listener than shout at the deaf.

  5. #5 by Mike on August 27, 2009 - 11:23

    I don’t talk about things like this with my friends, usually. Especially because many of my friends are still pretty devout Catholics who’ll scoff at the idea of alternative medicines but if you tell them an invisible sky-faerie is affecting their lives supernaturally they have no problem with it.

    I find it easier to make sure my views are known on various topics, rather than answering someone’s crazy spiel. So rather than commenting on a friend’s weird status/post on facebook, just make one yourself. That way, if they engage in debate/conversation with you, it’s their choice and they can stop when they want, it’s not you imposing on them. Another easy way is to have a blog, post your views on there and then link to it on your social networking profile, which again makes it seem less like you imposing your pedantic views and more expressing them for the free interchange of ideas.

  6. #6 by Nevets on February 18, 2016 - 21:31

    Dont worry about your friendship.
    If they are not willing to have a friendly debate with you, they are not your friends anyway.
    Vaccination denialists, along with Aids denialists, and alternative cancer cure believers, are extremely dangerous and they should not be allowed to spread their lies unchallenged. If their lies are left unchallenged by people out of fear of offending them, then others will see those unchallenged facts and think they must be correct, simply because no-one has challenged them

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