The scientific way to win an argument every time


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Good advice even for ideologues. But it falls flat when you are debating one of those people who care more about “winning” than being right.


I’m unconvinced.


Now I’m feeling argumentative.


But how many people are motivated exclusively by a desire to win an argument? In my experience people are more interested in defending the integrity of their viewpoint, and the powerful desire to win is merely a psychological defense mechanism to achieve that end. If you can bring them to your own conclusions, instead of trying to work backwards from them to back up your argument against their own conclusions, and if you can lead them to any flaws you perceive in their own conclusions, you can often convince them to adopt, if not exactly your own conclusions, conclusions other than those with which they began.

The Socratic method is tragically underused. Even I don’t use it nearly as much as I’d like to; being raised and embedded in an culture where it’s extremely rare, it doesn’t come naturally.


I’ve met more than you’d think, but I agree they are in the minority.


people who sell things - these are good techniques, i use many of them frequently


What if everyone knows these techniques. Wouldn’t you get stuck in a “You go first” “No, you go first” showdown?


These can be a real exercise to try to put in place, when someone really just wants you to listen to how right they are. It can really feel to me like they’re trying to run out the clock and fill the space with their words, every sentence of which is wrong to begin with.

Maybe still useful if the patience can be mustered.


The scientific way to win an argument every time

a) Be right.

b) Never argue with my mother, or a) will be null and void.


Whoever designed this chart is apparently wholly unfamiliar with internet commentators.


Only if you spend a lot of time with people who are reluctant to share their opinion. I don’t know any of these people.


All basic grifting tricks I’ve read reiterated in an endless list of books and articles I’ve read on the subject. One must bear in mind that this isn’t going to work every time, and it’s not a set of instructions on how to be right, just suggestions on how to convince other people that you are.

Keep them in mind the next time you see someone, especially someone on television, trying to convince you to believe one way or another. Another thing to keep in mind is if the person making the appeal is presenting their information in such a way that it, if accepted, would be the sort of thing that someone would incorporate into their sense of identity. It’s very difficult to get things out of that part of a person’s mind, but almost alarmingly easy to get things in. Some of the steps in presented here fall into that category for better or worse.

People who peddle things, be they cars or political ideologies know this and exploit it every chance they get. They also know that if they can convince you to incorporate their pitch into your sense of self, exposure to contradictory information will more often than not harden your convictions, even if they’re completely wrong.


No you’re not.


Nuuuuurse! Nuuuurse!


Can you rope it in there with the pejoratives, 57Lh7m5gq2f04iR ?

Many people do legitimately and professionally sell things using some of those techniques in a fair, reasonable, caring, nurturing way. It’s a win-win to give a buyer the info they need to make an informed choice, while making great efforts to be as objective and verifiable as possible. The seller’s credibility depends on it. With many customers, the last thing you want to do is talk them into something, forever be held hostage by their “you promised x” whinging, and invest in a relationship that’s doomed to an early end.


Yeah, no.

The first rule of winning an argument, or of changing somebody’s mind, is the same first rule of any effective communication: know your audience, and tailor your communication accordingly.

These “rules” appear to be based on real scientific studies (hooray!). However, like almost all sociological or psychological research, the conclusions from those studies are based on broad, overall generalizations about groups of people, generalizations that will very often fail to apply in very important ways to specific individuals within those groups (boo). More importantly, those generalizations are almost inevitably drawn from a terribly narrow and homogeneous sample: the white, well-off, industrialized Westerners you find overwhelmingly to populate first-year psychology classes at American universities, where almost all such studies are done. There is no reason to believe that any of these conclusions are valid for anybody from a culture or background that is different from that of American college students (i.e. almost everybody on the planet) (boooooooooo).

Try those techniques on an individual to which they are not well suited, and they will backfire.

Try those techniques on me, and I will roast you alive.

“How to Present Your Point of View Rule #2: using elements that people associate with science (like a chemical formula or graph) can make your argument more persuasive”? Oh. Right. Good luck with that. I’m a chemist. And a university professor. I critique other people’s attempts to communicate using chemical structures and to render a scientifically-meaningful graph for a living. If you even go near a chemical formula or structure and you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, I will bury you in your ignorance. If you even attempt to present a “trivial” graph to bolster your argument, and that graph is not exactly on point, fails to say exactly what you think you says, or is missing a single unit on a single axis, I will correct your graph, explain exactly why your graph is irrelevant or incorrect, and give you a failing grade.

How to Get Agreement #2: Flag Your Opponent’s Dangerous Beliefs, and Pifalls #3 Avoid Using Too Many Facts. Oh, please. Look at the example being offered: “Your belief that we will never colonize Mars is incorrect because it might be dangerous to stay on Earth.” That’s absurd. Whether the validity of my conclusion is dangerous or desirable has nothing to do with whether my conclusion is correct. The truth isn’t based on wishes. I would rather that anthropogenic climate disruption were not happening, because it would be much less dangerous if it weren’t, but that doesn’t make it true. Some arguments are actually about facts, and some people have both better access to a greater supply of those facts, far greater understanding of those facts, and far greater experience in interpreting and using those facts. If you try to bring that kind of emotional knife to a science-based gun fight where you’re arguing with people that have a BSc or PhD in that discipline, you’ll be picking pieces of yourself off the floor.

Want to win an argument? Know your audience (which includes the realization that the person you are arguing with is not necessarily your audience). Understand what your audience considers a compelling argument. Argue accordingly.

And whatever you do, do not use emotional appeals and surface-level “seems like science” information in an argument with a scientist.


A lot of this stuff is High School Debate Class 101, which is not to downplay the value of these “tactics.”

The disappointing thing about High School Debate Class is that you’ll never encounter its rigors in anything called a “Debate” ever again.


These are the people I was referring to:

Because, like Bill O’Reilly, they will demonstrate how “right” they are by talking over the top of you so you cannot represent your position.


Yes I am.