This one is definitely a FAQ – how do I talk to someone who is a true believer in whatever? Here is the most recent version of this question I received:
I have looked through the site, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t posted anything on how to talk to a CAM believer. I work at a local (I’ll say it, natural) grocery store where many of my friends and co-workers believe strongly in detox, cleansing, herbs and special diets. This wouldn’t bother me so much but one friend in particular is using the alkaline diet to help push her cancer into remission. She is hoping to stop chemo all together, and just rely on the alkaline diet. It’s getting harder to bite my tongue.
My question is this, how do I talk to these people with out sounding like an a-hole? I feel like every time I try to have a conversation about these things I just get angrier and angrier with their lack of knowledge, and just plain ol’ distrust of medicine and science all together. What do you say to hopefully make someone listen? How do you talk to a CAM believer?
Perhaps the reason this is such a frequent question is because there really is no universal answer. The situational variables will tend to dominate – such as the relationship between you and the believer in question, the topic at hand, if there are any personal stakes involved, and your expertise and level of knowledge. There are, however, some useful rules of thumb.
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There are a few areas of evolutionary biology that particularly fascinate me, partly because they represent such a dramatic example of large-scale (macro) evolutionary change. The evolution of whales from terrestrial mammals and of humans from ape ancestors are two of my favorites. But perhaps more dramatic still is the evolution of birds from theropod dinosaurs.
Each discovery of a feathered dinosaur or bird ancestor is a lance straight through the heart of creationist denial of evolution. I have to admit it’s fun to watch prominent creationists squirm when confronted with such clear evidence of transitional forms and evolutionary change – not that they flinch in their denial, but their protestations do become increasingly shrill and desperate.
Welcome Eosinopteryx brevipenna, the latest feathered dinosaur discovered in China. This little guy had feathers, although described as “reduced plumage”, stubby wings (and so was probably flightless), a bony tail, teeth, and clawed fingers. It also lacked many modern bird features, such as bony features that would have allowed for full flapping flight. Its feet were clearly adapted for running.
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The coming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) has rekindled debate over the legitimacy of the very concept of “mental illness.” A recent article by Peter Kinderman, a professor of clinical psychology, takes a strong position against the “mental illness” approach, writing:
But diagnosis and the language of biological illness obscure the causal role of factors such as abuse, poverty and social deprivation. The result is often further stigma, discrimination and social exclusion.
This is a healthy debate to have, as the concepts involved are tricky and there are real implications for societal perception, insurance coverage, and treatment strategies. I do not, however, share Dr. Kinderman’s position, which in my experience is fairly typical for a clinical psychologist. He is essentially saying that his profession’s approach to the question of mental illness is superior to the psychiatric profession. While the debate is legitimate and important, I can’t help feeling that there is a major component of a turf battle here also.
The question is essentially how we should think about symptoms of mood, thought, and behavior. At one extreme we night consider all aspects of human mentality as being part of the normal spectrum, with differences being just that – differences. Those who follow the position of Thomas Szasz consider labels on mental differences to be largely politically and culturally motivated forms of repression.
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If you would like to donate Girl Scout cookies to the troops but don’t have a hookup yourself, here’s your solution. Just use the PayPal button below, choose the amount you would like to donate (increments of $4, as it’s $4 per box), and my daughter, who is in the Girl Scouts, will take care of the rest.
Thanks in advance for your generosity, and I’m sure both the Girl Scouts and our forward deployed troops who are jonesing for thin mints or tagalongs will appreciate it.
The deadline is past. Thanks to everyone who donated. We raised 85 boxes of cookies for the troops.