I’ve been doing this for a little while now, and along the way I’ve established some unwritten rules on how to engage with what @TakeThatDarwin would called ‘the ‘specimens.’
Unwritten, that is, until now…
I present you with @TheoryFail’s Laws of Interaction*.
1. Don’t be a dick
A.k.a Wheatons Law, and the first rule of the Internet, and ideally, of life. This was modified by Mitch Benn at QEDcon 2015 to be ‘Don’t be a dick… first’ and while Benn’s law has merit, try and stick with the original if you can. It’s good to be nice.
2. Really… don’t be a dick
Of course, the problem with not being a dick, is that what constitutes ‘being a dick’ is subjective. It takes quite a lot to piss me off – I consider myself to have quite a high ‘Dick Threshold,’ (DT) while some people you’re likely to be engaging with have a teeny tiny DT.
Sometimes you’ll be crossing their DT just by suggesting that their holy book may not be the epitome of accuracy, of that macro evolution is just evolution over a long timescale. Whatever the case, if you can stay on the right side of that DT, then you’ll make life easier for everyone.
3. Ok, if you really must… be a dick
Sometimes dickishness just can’t be avoided.
Maybe your specimen has a non existent DT, or maybe he’s called your mother a whore. Usually it’s a combination of both. Here’s when Benn’s law comes into effect. It’s impossible NOT to be a dick – simply because the act of interacting is seen as dickish (Of course, not interacting is an option.)
However, please be dickish with some style. I know that most aren’t blessed with a Wildean grasp of the English language, but try not to go down the Ad Hom route.
4. Who are you trying to educate? Choose your target
Ok, this one’s important.
Face facts – it’s HIGHLY unlikely that you’re going to change someone’s viewpoint by reason alone. Most of the specimens are so deeply entrenched in their erroneous world view (wether it’s that God created everything from nothing in 6 days, or that ultra-diluting, shaking and banging makes good medicine etc.) that to go back on this would see their whole life fall apart around them. Science deniers have an unimaginable capacity for cognitive dissonance, and you’re not going to get through that. So why do it?
I like to think that what I, and the TakeThats do has two main purposes. Firstly, it exposes poor critical thinking, and the consequences thereof.
Secondly, if we’re careful, we can reach out to the person who is genuinely questioning. And if we DO manage to connect with one of these people, it’s important that we refer back to the First Law, because if you’re being a dick, they’re likely not to listen.
5. Try not to link to Wikipedia
I love Wikipedia. It’s a great resource for just about everything imaginable. It’s open access structure and well cited articles have improved our access to knowledge unimaginably over the last few years.
But don’t provide Wikipedia links, unless you absolutely have to.
It’s a creationist rallying call ‘Oh, ANYONE can edit Wikipedia,’ or ‘that Atheist/Liberal/Satanic website is useless.’
Instead, try and link directly to scientific sites, and try to tailor these to your specimen. If you have a fully grown specimen, who appears to understand those tricky words like ‘peer reviewed’ and ‘journal’ then Google Scholar or PubMed are great places to start.
If you have a more immature specimen, or on that seems slow to grasp facts, then you may be better off with a more straightforward overview. I tend to talk to creationists about evolution, so my go to sites are the Understanding Evolution site from Berkeley or the wonderful ‘Troubles In Paradise’ from James Downard. In fact, these two contain pretty much everything anyone needs to know about evolution.
6. Go easy on the kids
Once upon a time, there was @UpsetStudents whose sole aim in life was to retweet school kids who were disgruntled that they had to learn evolution in class.
Then people were dicks. Specifically, people were dicks to the kids that @UpsetStudents was retweeting. This WAS NOT COOL.
Soon, @UpsetStudents became upset themselves and decided to leave. I miss @UpsetStudents.
Being nasty to kids is a dick move. Yes, they’re likely to be dickish to you, but we’ve all been young, and we all knew EVERYTHING at the age of 16.
Go easy on the kids.
7. Don’t get drawn into their game – stay on message
Remember that I said that the specimens have an unusually high capacity for cognitive dissonance? They’ll try to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge out of every argument you throw at them, often by using logical fallacies or serving up a word salad.
Don’t let this put you off. Stay strong and stay on message. Eventually they’ll run out of steam and show their hand. Either that or they’ll block you.
So that’s about it. Theory Fail’s Laws of Interaction. These might change in the future as new experimental evidence comes to light, but for now they’ll do nicely.
* Unlike many laws, these ones can be broken fairly easily, and I do it occasionally – some would say often. These aren’t to be taken as gospel, but I think that, as rules of thumb, they’re pretty good. Of course, this all needs to be taken in context, and I’m a white middle-class English bloke with massive privilege. You Yankee-Doodles or Kiwis may choose to do things differently, and that’s fine. Feel free to suggest additions/amendments in the comments. But don’t be a dick.