Christmas meal: the advice of specialists to « discuss » with the conspirators (or not)


The holiday meals arrive and with them, the usual conversations around the table. But, among your guests, in addition to your uncle who  » is not racist but … « , you might want to chat with someone who adheres to a few conspiracy theories. How to make sure that the evening does not end in fist fight? We interviewed two specialists who work on conspiracy for their advice.

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You are quietly installed on your chair enjoying a delicious dish, typical of the end of the year celebrations, when suddenly, someone starts a topic of conversation, likely to put the fire with powder.  » Vaccines change our genome », « Covid-19 is just the flu » or  » everyone should have been treated with hydroxychloroquine ». How to react in this kind of situation to « limit the breakage » as well on the atmosphere of the evening as on the degree of support of your interlocutor? We try to give you some wise advice in this article.

Identify our interlocutor

The first thing to do is to find out who you are dealing with. Is the person in good faith in their statement or question? Is she just looking for confrontation? Can a cordial discussion be possible? What is, judged, its degree of adhesion towards the hypothesis or the theory that it puts forward?

Indeed, according to these different parameters, the list of which is obviously not exhaustive, it is advisable not to react in the same way.  » If a person has a radical and extremely strong belief in a statement and you know the conversation will turn into an argument, there is little point in starting a serious discussion. We can, at a pinch, use humor to relaxatmosphere and move on to a lighter and less divisive topic of conversation ”, advises Pascal Wagner-Egger, professor-researcher in social psychology and statistics at the University of Friborg, working in particular on everyday beliefs and reasoning.

Reorient the debate on the reasons to believe

If the degree of support of our interlocutor is « acceptable », we could consider other methods, such as noting the biases, fallacies and errors of reasoning that it manifests. But this choice poses several problems. This presupposes common methodological bases with our interlocutor, which is not always the case. Also, we never have all the factual data in our possession nor the ability to correctly transcribe it in such a context. It can even backfire on us:  » UAn anti-vaccine will know much more about vaccines than someone indifferent to these matters who trusts the epistemic authorities on the matter. By going on this field, we will find ourselves confronted with a person who will seize the opportunity and enjoy this situation of domination. In fact, the best way to defeat a conspirator is not to oppose him anything ”, details Sebastian Dieguez, neuroscience researcher at the University of Friborg working on the links between cognition and conspiracy.

If you still want to engage in the discussion, you can use a technique that some authors call the Ju-Jitsu technique according to Sebastian Dieguez:  » Getting into a head-on confrontation on the facts, figures and arguments is a waste of time because it’s complicated, we don’t have all the data at hand, we won’t spend the evening looking for it, etc. «  Instead, he advises reorienting the debate on reasons to believe: “ You can ask the person why this subject arouses so much anger in them and ask them what it refers to, what view of the world. From there, we will certainly be able to find points of agreement and start a more cordial and fruitful discussion for the future ”.

Consensus and the fight for trust

We can also play the consensus card, an argument that Pascal Wagner-Egger appreciates: “ The consensus argument allows certain hypotheses or conspiracy theories to be very unreliable. For the weather, it would be necessary that 99.9% of climatologists who currently assert that the global warming is mainly of human origin to be corrupted. Ditto for the majority of doctors who have been vaccinated. Controlling the actions of such a large number of individuals who are experts in their fields seems rather improbable, if not impossible ”.

While we have no doubt that this argument can work in most cases, one wonders if it could have a convincing effect in people who trust a single scientist like the professor. Didier Raoult for example. Sebastian Dieguez develops this point: “ The goal of a classic conversation is not necessarily to be right or to convince the other, but rather to get to know the interlocutor. Therefore, staying on the example of Didier Raoult, we can try to find out why the person is attracted to and trusts Didier Raoult. « 

This technique of reorientation towards the values ​​to which beliefs refer has, in our opinion, a great advantage: it makes it possible not to confront the person and to stay in his more or less close circle. Indeed, as Seabstian Dieguez points out, “ a festive meal is something relatively limited in time ”. Therefore, a conversation will not necessarily have the desired effect. On the other hand, stay close to the person, chat with them regularly, remain friends with them on social networks so that she is exposed to fact-checking articles that we might have to share … All of this can help shape her epistemic journey and bring out certain questions for her.

to summarize

As a conclusion, here is what we advise you in the form of a tree decision:

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