How do you convince the willfully blind?

Q&A session on climate change, featuring Brian Cox, scientist, and Australian Senator Malcolm Roberts, climate change denier.

The thing that is so frustrating with this interaction is that Roberts makes a big show of saying that there has to be evidence, that evidence is important, that your opinion doesn’t matter in the face of evidence, that policy should be informed by and created by evidence… and the Dr. Cox shows him the evidence and Roberts immediately attacks it as “corrupted” and faked, invoking conspiracy theories and goalpost moving.

Sometimes I feel that it would be so very valuable, or, alternatively, pointless in discussions with people like this to set a ground rule at the beginning. "Good evening, we are going to be discussing [highly politicized topic] here. Before we begin, we would like each of you to register with the moderators what standard and level of evidence you would find sufficiently persuasive for you to change your viewpoint.’

Of course, most people will end up moving the goalposts after the fact, but I still think it would be very illustrative to have that stated beforehand…


I don’t think you can every truly convince anyone of anything; they can only convince themselves.

If they’re going to convince themselves, they are going to have to start by questioning their existing beliefs. So, if you want to help, you can provide them with the questions.

“So, climate change is a hoax? Why do you believe that?”

“Because it’s true!”

“Okay, so how did you come to learn that?”


Just remember that any questions you ask are likely to be thrown right back into your face, so make sure that you have good answers for them yourself.


I think that convincing people, persuasion, etc are generally not a good idea. But the reasoning is that I think it works better to avoid any and all belief. It is easy for people to devise a model of the world which seems to offer certainty, but doing so can cease thought processes - even if the model seems to be the most accurate one available.

The problem is that “truth” is a philosophical problem, and “objectivity” is a worthy ideal such as freedom and safety which should still be worked towards even though it is never actually attained. There is no proof of anything, only the currently best available evidence. So the process is to all try to always update our models as best we can, and never settle for belief or certainty.

The political outlook is based upon persuasion and coercion, the manufacture of consensus and consent, and as such is decidedly unscientific. It is based upon selling certainty and vagueness to push an agenda, rather than anything to do with evidence and understanding. It is adversarial rather than phenomenological.

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You do realize that, by making this statement, you are, in effect, trying to convince and persuade other people of your viewpoint, and that it comes with the implicit insinuation that this particular view is superior to other views?


As long as actual scientific facts are deemed unacceptable, then we’re dealing with belief, and once someone has adopted a belief so strong that it overrides facts, it’s not something you can argue with. You can present your facts, your counter-arguments, and your own beliefs, but the most you can do is cause the other person to admit that they feel so strongly that their mind is unchangeable.


“How can you tell there’s anything out there,” said the man politely, "the door’s closed."
The rain continued to pound the roof. Inside the shack it was warm.
“But you know there’s a whole Universe out there!” cried Zarniwoop. "You can’t dodge your responsibilities by saying they don’t exist!"
The ruler of the Universe thought for a long while whilst Zarniwoop quivered with anger.
“You’re very sure of your facts,” he said at last, "I couldn’t trust the thinking of a man who takes the Universe - if there is one - for granted."
Zarniwoop still quivered, but was silent.
“I only decide about my Universe,” continued the man quietly. “My Universe is my eyes and my ears. Anything else is hearsay.”
"But don’t you believe in anything?"
The man shrugged and picked up his cat.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” he said.
“You don’t understand that what you decide in this shack of yours affects the lives and fates of millions of people? This is all monstrously wrong!”
“I don’t know. I’ve never met all these people you speak of. And neither, I suspect, have you. They only exist in words we hear. It is folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist. They have their own Universes of their own eyes and ears.”


Saying that there are “implicit insinuations” functions to put words in people’s mouths. I explicitly said (twice) that this was only what I thought. Is there any objective evidence that thoughts are more valid because they come from me? Or you? Or anybody else? That would seem to be a classic self-serving bias.

What does it even mean for a view to be “superior” to another? Superiority sounds like a personal problem rather than a simple measure of accuracy.

When you say “realize”, are you referring to a process of making this state of affairs real, or to some kind of perceptive reflex? I doubt if I am either directly creating or perceiving “reality”. As I explained, the closest I seem to be able to get is to make models of it.

Here’s an example to help avoiding conflating your own perceptions with a supposed objective reality: Consider your evidence and develop several different models which could explain this evidence, while not favoring any of them. If there seems to be only one likely model, you might be too close to convincing yourself. Try to juggle at least six or more different models.

Convince the willfully blind?

Stab them in the eyes.

“What!? You weren’t using them anyway…crybaby, find a new hole for tears”


At some point, I believe it was late in his second term, George W. Bush admitted that climate change was occurring and that humans were causing it, or at least contributing. It wasn’t a grand statement and obviously he didn’t follow it up with any specific policies, but it was enough to convince my parents. They have no interest in doing anything about it, but they at least moved out of the “denier” column.

For some people it’s all about the source.

Admittedly I question whether I’m the same way, although it takes a lot more to convince me than just one person saying something.


No it isn’t.


Look, I came here for an argument.


I’m honestly looking at this with a stunned expression on my face, trying to unpack the degrees of surreal logic in it (and trying not to get upset at the pedantic and pompous tone).

shakes head Look, I made the original post on the topic of a stellar example of willful ignorance on a topic that is actively dangerous to us as a species. Speaking personally, my views on how people “should” believe (i.e. that their beliefs be required or educated to a degree of conformity) is that their beliefs are their own business, until and unless those beliefs endanger or cause harm in other people–and, yes, I classify “climate change denial” as being a belief that endangers other people, due to the evidence.

Then you proceeded to come into the topic and made assertive statements based on your opinion that “convincing people is a bad idea”. As part of that extended statement, you used words that have direct negative semantic meanings in association with the concept of “attempting to convince people” and “consensus” (those specific words/phrases being “adversarial”, “manufacture”, “coercion”, “selling of certainty and vagueness to push an agenda”, and a few others. I’m not putting those words in your mouth–you wrote them, and I resent the insinuation).

In addition to not being helpful at all in the general topic of the thread, that statement was essentially hypocritical, in attempting to state a persuasive argument that persuasive arguments are bad. I gently poked at this with my own comment, because I found it humorously hypocritical, as is often done for performance art in this forum. However, in response, rather than address the hypocrisy in your first statement, you then began debating bizarre semantics. With what goal, I have no idea.


And I’m telling you you’ve come to the wrong place.


snort I remember having a discussion with a Christian fundamentalist at one point, and the topic shifted towards the concept of “unquestioning belief”, and, in sheer disbelief on my part, I hypothesized to him, “So, wait, if your book said that The Sky Is Green, and your eyes said that the sky is blue, you wouldn’t believe your own eyes?” And his response was, more or less, “Yes. The Word Of God is greater than that, and I would disbelieve my own lying eyes for trying to tempt me into sin, and give thanks to God for giving me the Truth to avoid sinful thoughts.”

And thus my tag for religious-based willful ignorance, The Sky Is Green, was born.

Being a teacher myself, I honestly wonder how to reach such people… hence topics such as this.


That man is bought. He is spewing the same phrase repeatedly like the parrot he is. “Empirical Evidence”…

I liked it when the audience laughed at him. That was funny.


I need to remember that one.


You don’t.


@popobawa4u is here. That makes it the best place.


People believe what they want to believe and dismiss things that get in the way. How many times have I heard “Oh the commute won’t be that bad. I can read or sleep on the bus.” Or “This street isn’t THAT busy. Plus who hangs out in their front yard??”

Different than refusal to admit something that’s scientifically established.

I don’t think you can convince the willfully ignorant. That said, I sure as fuck don’t have to respect them or their opinion. Hi, Sarah Palin!

It’s been too many years of one side says this and the other side says that, like they are equivalent.

We could just laugh at them, though.