3

Part of my own reasons for contributing to a site like this are to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, i.e. to provide a source of additional correct information. However, I despair of ever actually changing anyone's opinion or belief, about anything.

It seems to me that people simply cannot be influenced by exposure to better arguments or information. Whether this is due to cognitive bias, or arrogance, or the fact that admitting you're wrong is too damaging to your self-worth, or whatever. If you have a better argument than someone else, all you're likely to do is alienate them.

Personal example: I've engaged in a number of lengthy debates with very smart lady friend with a university-level science degree who believes wholeheartedly in the virtues of homeopathy. I do not, and have spent considerable effort trying to convince her otherwise (the fact that she's a close friend mean that I can be fairly forthright while staying civil). No luck - she knows what she know, facts be damned.

Are we all just adding to the noise?

  • I thought the site was an interesting idea, but from what I can see people vote after what their preconceptions are, and commenting seems to easily become "political". So no, I don't think we'll change anybodys mind. Which makes me sad. – Lennart Regebro Mar 29 '11 at 8:58
  • @Lennart: I see your point. It's largely dependent on whether the question is a genuine one or not. Does the person actually want to know? There was a question yesterday about proteins and allergy which I answered. In this case the science is clear and the answer isn't controversial. Someone may change their mind here. Landings on the moon, etc. are different beasts. We've got the science but if you think it didn't happen you'll be less likely to change your mind. – user2466 Jun 4 '11 at 6:01
6

While I can appreciate the skeptical attitude [:-)], and I think you are on to something about people, I do think you might be missing the point of this site:

Skeptics is about finding the real answers to questions — anyone who is open to be educated can benefit from well-formed and well-researched (and referenced) answers, since the truth should then be plain.

The key to real answers that is that you are never going to convince somebody to change their mind if you haven't done a good job of making the truth look like the truth (and if it doesn't look like the truth, how can you be so sure it is the truth?)

The second part of that is that many people will find answers to questions they have no opinion on — and true to the mission of the site (and of skepticism itself) we should send them on their way with the facts, and real evidence so that now they know something they have no reason to doubt.

The StackExchange format is probably poorly-suited for working out answers to questions that haven't or can't be properly answered - those questions will all-too-often devolve into pointless, unsourced debate.

What it is great for is questions that have real answers. Some of these may be soft-ball questions, some may be a bit more tricky, but this is, I believe, the true potential mission of this site — to become a reputable source for good, well-sourced answers to answerable questions that have, for whatever reason, become a dumping ground for pseudo-science, rumors, speculation, and blind faith.

5

What's the last major belief you changed in the face of evidence otherwise? People's minds are hard to change. What I find more frustrating than not being able to change people's minds is dealing with people being frustrated that I don't change opinions I've spent months (years in some cases) researching because they tossed up a few quick wikipedia cites.

It's highly unlikely any forum like this will change anyone's mind on something they have already researched. But for instance on my hybrid cars question, it can help someone make a decision on something they have not yet researched. I went into that question with no opinion at all, just looking to decipher a claim I was skeptical about.

It is possible for two educated, intelligent people to look at the same facts and draw different conclusions. That's something all of us need to start remembering.

5

It's not about other people. Are you yourself willing to change your beliefs when you are presented with new evidence?

Being a skeptic is not about thinking that you know the truth but about doubting your own truth.

Before discussing on this site I for example believed that using a microwave is equivalent to other methods of heating. Now, I know that it destroys some of the vitamin B12 in the food.

1

I think that people are more willing to change their minds on the facts, rather than on more important beliefs. At least, if we can correct a few facts, then maybe we can push them closer to the truth

1

Many people tend do believe info (or "answers" in a broader sense) that

  • they found first
  • see as most widespread
  • the only answers they know
  • they are most familiar with
  • they (believe they) understand best

This site slightly helps with everything. It increases the chance that someone without prejudices (yet) will stumble upon the correct answer first, it also helps spreading good info (signal to noise ratio) over internet. It also helps to understand some concepts, clear straw men, etc.

Indirectly it also slightly helps spreading the idea of importance of sources, verifying your claims, reality checks, etc.

Yes when someone with strong beliefs in extraterrestrial origins of Pyramids comes here his mind won't be changed. Nothing can do that, really. But I believe that's not the purpose of this site.

Some "purist" skeptics (lacking of better term) may ask whats the difference between the gullible fool who believes in Nigerian prince letter and a gullible fool who believes in skeptics.stackexchange.com answer just because it was the answer he found first; without really checking it's sources or different claims, etc. Well, both of them aren't skeptics. But as long as these non-skeptics stop paying for i.e. hypnosis to enlarge their penis, it's a step forward.

0

You may not change a person's mind but you might open it.

For example, as a long-time (25..30 year) vegetarian I get a lot of my protein from soy, so I'm initially/intrinsically quite opposed to this answer, but I found it (and more especially, the site it linked to as a reference) interesting: an 'opposing' viewpoint, one I hadn't heard much of.

  • +1 - You have a good point here ChrisW. Even if we don't change someone's mind, providing a clear exposition of the opposing viewpoint has to be beneficial in some way. That alone can be seen as a win for this site. – user2466 Jun 4 '11 at 6:04

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