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Technically I'm not a Skeptic, but I do like to have science on my side when making arguments in domains where appeals to objective moral law fall on deaf ears.

I get quite a bit of mail from the charities I support and very often they make very bold and broad claims. I haven't attempted yet because I have a feeling I'd be A.) accused of forcing people to make value judgements or B.) plain old trolling.

So whatever I ask better be both written in a completely neutral tone and in a way that only asks the answerer to evaluate the circumstances. And at all costs avoid religion.

So my question is, how would you frame a question like:

"The Foo and Family institute of New Barland says the population will level off at X billion in 20XX and then start decreasing, is this true?"

Which to some would seem like an objective thing people could be skeptical about but to others might seem like a proclamation of anti-Malthusian values.

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Try something like this:

Title: "Will the population level off at X billion in 20XX and then decrease?"

Body: The Foo and Family Institute of Foobar claims that the population will level off at X billion in 20XX and then start decreasing:

insert here quote of their claim

Is there any evidence supporting that claim?

  • +1; couldn't agree more. The trick here is to focus on the claim and point toward the people making the claim only for the purpose of clarification or providing potential arguments or reasonings. – MrHen Jun 8 '11 at 20:09
  • Yeah, seems like whatever I do, the best thing to do is to be short and to the point, although most of the good questions on this site seem to go on just a little bit. – Peter Turner Jun 8 '11 at 20:23
  • @Peter: I think that's a mistake. There are questions I simply don't even bother reading unless they have been flagged, because they are too long and are not interesting to me. – Borror0 Jun 8 '11 at 20:26
  • It's also good to have a link to the quote. Maybe they publish their newsletter on their webpage? – Christian Jun 8 '11 at 21:37
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As I see it, this question is (at face value) completely unrelated to the pro-life/pro-choice debate. I therefore don’t think that it would cause too much controversy.

Furthermore, I’ve got the impression that we would stand pretty much at opposite ends of the spectrum in the abortion debate and yet I don’t see any problem (at all) with your question.

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I see multiple sides of the question. The first, and most relevant: "How do I ask this question at Skeptics.SE?" Borror0 has provided an excellent answer to that question.

The next is, "How do I translate this question for the pro-life community?" This is off-topic at Skeptics but is nonetheless interesting and difficult. I, personally, would focus more on their viewpoint of the claim than the actual claim itself. Ask them details about it: who is a proponent of the belief?; why not 20XX+50?; why does it matter?; would XYZ help or hurt? After these types of questions, drift the conversation onto the Enemy's viewpoint: Why don't the experts agree?; what about this pro-life expert over here?; do you think this counterpoint is relevant?; why is this evidence wrong? These questions will hopefully provide enough information to judge whether the person talking is thinking critically or is open for a real debate on the subject.

If they are, then you can move onto the claim itself. Ask how to measure its success; bring up the points that Skeptics provided; ask about the thresholds of the claim and where it stops being plausible (201X, 202X); ask about the logic and reasoning. Drill down through the layers of the claim until you find a solid disagreement and then stop. Shake hands on the disagreement and walk away with positive emotions. Make them feel good about finding the differing point and, as they ponder it later, maybe they will grow curious again and bring up the subject for more discussion.

My (mostly irrelevant) two cents.

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