Um, Shit's Complex, Yo

We’ve all been there, at a dinner party where the wine glasses tinkling and people slipping into the easy relief of the weekend and letting loose. Or if you prefer, game night, and in between triumphant whooping and spell-casting, you’re chatting. Or [insert fairly diverse social scenario here.]

Then all of a sudden, out of Totalfuckingnowhere, someone says something about a topic that is your bailiwick.

It turns out they’re wrong, or pushing a particular misconception. You might be a food anthropologist, and someone is talking about how the paleo-diet is how we’ve eaten historically. You might be a local water-treatment engineer, and someone is talking about how the water quality in the area is crap (which you know is not true,) you might have celiac disease, and someone (perfectly capable of digesting gluten but in denial) is talking up that “gluten-free” place that made your intestines bleed. Or you’re a climate scientist, and I’ll just leave it there. You might be a computer security guru, and someone is talking about how to correcthorsebatterystapletheirpassword. Or you could be a physicist and someone is conflating the observer effect and the uncertainty principle.

Now, you’re a nice person, and this is a relaxed social atmosphere, but you can’t just let it go. Hey, no one can know everything, right? So, with grace and poise you attempt to relieve them of their misconception.

After politely stating that they are wrong and why, suddenly they do the unexpected: They double-the-fuck-down. Whether they’ve decided that you are somehow no match for their rhetorical skills, took a course on it once in college, are utterly embarrassed that they could ever be wrong about anything, or have simply gone into 'Splaining Mode at the thought a mere Child/Girl/Werewolf pup would challenge them on their bullshit.

Somehow, despite being absolutely, unequivocally, and beyond all doubt in the right, you’re caught between the desire to drop it entirely:

And a certain seething blistering need to school someone:

So my question (which isn’t really a question so much as a request for anecdotes and knowledge) is in two parts:

  1. What are you an “expert” in? (Expertise not limited to degrees and accreditation, you’re expertise might be being gay and dealing with someone who has zero clue what it entails.)
  2. What is something you constantly have to correct people on that for whatever reason, invites pushback? My preference, as the title states, is for things that experts consider complex and difficult to even begin explaining to someone without a background, but it can be anything.

Tell me your pain.


An example from my own life to get us started. In a discussion about diabetes, someone said that alcohol is a sugar and causes diabetes. I tried to correct them casually, but they became insistent: Alcohol was a sugar because over-consumption caused diabetes.

No. Alcohol is not a sugar. Not by any definition. It does not raise insulin levels like sugar. It doesn’t even have the same number of calories as sugar. I could not convince her that diabetes in alcoholics is caused by the toxic effect of alcohol, and not because it converts to sugar. Part of the problem is that shit’s complex. I couldn’t tell her how alcohol causes pancreatitis because A) I don’t know, and B) No one really knows. But I do know that alcohol is not metabolized as sugar, and I do know that alcohol is not classified as a sugar by almost any definition.

My expertise: Organic and biochemistry training. It doesn’t qualify as courtroom expert, but relative to the general population, I know enough to be confident about this topic.


Hmmmm… history is contentious, obviously. But everyone thinks they know it. People have strong views on the Cold War - we could have won in Vietnam, or everything we did everywhere was totally justified, or the Russian people lived in a complete police state, with no ability to push back against the state, or no individual autonomy - or the civil War - wasn’t about slavery. And there’s “pop” or nationalist history, which tends not to challenge nationalists narratives and then there is scholarly history, which hopefully, does. The civil war case is timely, as the majority of the historiography today agrees on the role of slavery in the war. Many people who are not historians, or don’t read scholarly historians, do not believe that slavery was a major factor. Or that the adoption of the confederate battle flag after Brown V. Board is racist… But people have an idea in their heads about how the past was, and even if that’s a fairy tale, they embrace it because it gives them comfort that there was a time when, things were “right”… even if, in my view, they never were. It’s always been a mixed up, fucked up struggle, right from the time we settled down into cities and began to communicate across vast distances of time by leaving written records. It’s incredibly hard to dissaude people of the notion of the march of history. I think all too often, from the historian’s point of view, all we have is a wreck as we view events from our present moment, and see what a fucking mess we’ve made as human beings and still try to account for the very real moments of grace and beauty found within the wreckage…

I’m gonna start pulling out Walter Benjamin and his angel of history soon…


I don’t actually have any terribly good stories(computer security is widely misunderstood; but in largely banal ways); but this topic demands this video, so I’m just doing my job.


Medicine is my expertise. I specialise in anaesthesia, which is pretty short on dinner party controversies for the most part because it’s an undeniably good thing (If you don’t think so, check out this first person account :cold_sweat: of an operation done with no anaesthesia. An operation I can be almost completely certain to wake you up from with minimal pain and no recall). So unless some poor unfortunate was painfully awake for their operation or dies due to an anaesthetic error (both rare and we put a great deal of effort into making it so) then it doesn’t come up. :smiley:

But still got that medical degree, so I do find it pretty hard to keep my cool with anti-vaxxers and anti-flouridation campaigners … :anguished:

People complaining that healthcare is awful just get my goat too. The reason you sat around and waited for 3 hours in the Emergency Department waiting room with your trivial flesh wound or the cough you could have seen your GP for? It was because the “lazy doctors” were actually busy trying to stop someone dying. The “low-life” who “jumped the queue” was really sick and you weren’t. As with anything, you get to choose any two of fast, good and cheap, but you’ll never get all three. Pay more, you cheapskate and it’ll be faster. Or don’t. Either way, you only get the system you vote and pay for and … :angry:

Whoops. Not getting invited to that dinner party circle again … :flushed:


As a person that is both highly trained in this subject and likely has an advanced degree in alcohol, let me dispense my highly technical thoughts on alcohol and sugar.

Doesn’t alcohol mostly just consume enzymatic resources that would otherwise be used to process sugar? Thus the higher Glycemic load?

…and other stuff?

(I had a recent blood panel, need to cut booze and sugar. Boo! I already lost sixty lbs!)


Oh, and to answer your question directly:

  • hacker comp sci
  • music theory
  • modernist food
  • driving >:)
  • being a nice person, realizing when I haven’t, and apologizing without prodding

Close, but kinda the opposite. Since it depresses insulin production because your body is too busy converting alcohol into vinegar it basically has no glycemic load. It doesn’t interact with that system, it just competes. It actually keeps you from absorbing glucose quickly, which can make you hungry. While theoretically too much glucose in your system will kill you, the amount of alcohol required to accomplish that task would kill you by itself. Diabetics have to take alcohol consumption into account as if they are consuming less carbohydrate than normal.


Hmm, jack of all trades, master of none. Education in Physics and Philosophy, and when I was studying formal logic could internally construct truth trees on the fly, mid-conversation.
Depending on my level of inebriation I believe I could be quite the trenchant pedant. Turns out that pointing to inconsistent logic in religious ideology isn’t an effective tool for convincing anyone of anything. When I found zen I mellowed out a little, I would just ask questions until the inconsistencies became apparent. Seriously committed meme-addicts will never admit they’re wrong though, even if they’ve just realised it themselves, but you can see it in the eyes, the eyes!


But alcoholic drinks often have a lot of sugar. This is probably what she meant. You might have offered her this out. (Did you?)


See, this is why I have a phd in organic chemistry from the University of Boblawblah.

Serious question though, how are liver enzymes used to detect damage from ethanol abuse then? And is that why I pee Balsamic? :smile:

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If I can describe what it’s like to grow up in a Palestinian family, I think the sense of history I learned is that it’s something that you need to desperately cling to, because sometimes that’s all you got. Sometimes to the detriment of truth.

I offered her this out, to which her reply was specifically, “but alcohol itself contains sugar, or is at least converted to it.” Believe me, I find it rare enough that people are interested in chemistry that I try not to scare them off. Actually, there’s a part of me that wonders if I had been more adamant, rather than trying to be fairly pleasant, that she might have accepted what I was saying.

Ah, but you are thinking! You were on the right track, basically. Actually, biochemistry is the relevant field, and there’s a lot I still don’t know (and based on where my interests are headed, may never learn, even though I intend to stay in chemistry.)

Liver enzymes are basically just the dust from the eternal construction site that is a liver constantly being barraged by alcohol, if I understand it correctly. And you metabolize the acetic acid, I think the “balsamic” is what we call dehydration+asparagus byproduct from your fancy modernist cuisine :stuck_out_tongue: .


This whole conversation reminds me of when someone tells me I shouldn’t believe everything I read. I always want to say, “Compared to what, exactly? Something you once heard and can’t stand to have refuted?” You can always tell the people who have only read about something in one place because they are absolutely sure that is the truth on the matter. When if you continue to read about that thing you find out that, Um, shit’s complex. Yup.

(Speaking here as one who is often wrong, of course.)


Yes. I can see this. The same can be said for the Israeli side. That’s the thing people don’t understand about history,and the role it plays in modernity… it’s a tool to present competing claims of legitimacy for… whatever political cause. Everyone employs history, and thinks their version is the One And Only Truth™. But it’s competing narratives, a dialectical conversation, that will hopefully, one day, lead to a satisfactory solution.

[ETA] Also, I want to add that we are mired in our social and historical context, bound by forces we can’t always control and understand, connected to the past in ways that shape us in ways we might not want or expect.


As someone who’s always tried to do philosophy, it shits me no end how few people actually try to have some awareness of their own fallibility via cognitive biases and so on, let alone apply any sort of relevance or importance rating to whatever they’re interested in…

And the pathetic grasp of risk that so many have drives me completely bonkers. Folks are sitting ducks for every Tom, Dick and Harry with an agenda and a bag of fearmongering tricks… the endless line of fuckwits prepared to stick their nose in my business to tell me I have a death wish for cycling without a helmet, simply because Australians are fucked in the head enough to make cycling a crime, makes my fucking blood boil.

Idiots. You’re twice as likely to suffer a serious head injury in a car.


Still… As a cyclist who had a head injury in a stupid cycling accident… Wear a helmet. It will probably never affect you, but it did me. Concussions suck.


Since the benefits, epidemilogically speaking, aren’t obvious (Ben Goldacre did an editorial in the BMJ to that effect), I’ll continue to heed my own sense of risk, thanks very much. It should be an adult’s choice, simply because doing anything to discourage cycling is idiotic.


I hear ya, and happy cycling!

(Wear a helmet, or a hairmet)


As an AGATT motorcycle(does a 400cc twist an go count?) yes. Though I was quite surprised to find most bog standard bike helmets are rated about 12mph or so and when I rode the 12 speed schwinn tank regularly I did faster than that on flat ground, Through realizing at times I was going 35+ mph with nothing more than bike shorts and tshirt (or may as well be naked) for the rest of my body didn’t stop me from doing it. Now I am happy I can wear something that will take the tumble if need be.

Yoga is my area of expertise. I studied a very long time with excellent teachers. I didn’t take teacher training until I was sure I understood the movements in my own body, which took me me years.

In recent years, most studios have found teacher training to be that cash cow that keeps their doors open. People who have studied six months or less are being trained by teachers who have also had minimal exposure to good teachers.

I really hate dealing with people who tell me things like, “I’m a yoga teacher. Your heart chakra is green. Your asthma is related to your heart. You need to wear green socks, because green is the color of your heart chakra. It will help you to heal your asthma.”

So, it doesn’t work like that. The colors that are associated with the chakras vary quite widely according to the author. The number and placement of energy centers varies. It was only in the 60’s that people hit on this idea of the rainbow associating with energy centers. These colors are an analogy, to try to communicate the quality of an experience that is beyond touch, taste, and sight but still a common experience - it’s like in the movies when someone says to the blind girl that the blue of the sky is like the cold rock she is holding. And then, no these colors are not magic light that work like medicine, and it’s insulting to me to say that my illness that I’ve spent years trying to address is some figment of my imagination.