In this post, I’ll be discussing everyday conversations with grandparents, parents-in-law, friends and the friend potentials. This obviously doesn’t apply to professors and other career self-esteem tyrants.

Let me start by saying that provided you have no issue with breaking etiquette and being taken for an arsehole, you can argue and chastise about any topic you like, whenever you like.

This guide will help the rest of us to be more socially cohesive in our constructive criticism.


1. I think my Grandma’s gone crazy

Q: My grandmother just said, “Go and fetch my watering can and water the garden. I don’t want the fairies to get dehydrated”. Should I link her to The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe and patronisingly tell her that “it’s ok, even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies“?

A: Absolutely not. Your grandmother is always right. If she told you she keeps a one-horned one-eyed flying purple people eater and asked you to fetch some cat food for it (and also some for her cats), the correct response is, “Yes, grandma”.

2. Vaccinate?

Q: My girlfriend’s brother has just informed the whole family at the dinner table that echinacea is a wonder herb which cures everything from common colds to measles. Further, vaccines are basically just antifreeze and everyone knows antifreeze can give you a fever, so he does not plan to vaccinate his newborn baby against any diseases, including polio, measles or whooping cough. Should I tell him he’s a muppet?

A: Yes, yes you should. Very loudly. And if your girlfriend and her parents have a problem with you stating your objection, you can tell them to thank you for saving their grandchild/niece’s life. And then you should link him to my wonderfully short and punchy rundown of the simple refutations to some common anti-vax claims. Finally, you should make a mental note not to let this person babysit or Godfather your potential future children. Exercise your veto quickly.

3. Like, gluten or whatever

Q: My waitress reckons a gluten-free diet will help me reduce weight, fart less and cure my autism. Should I have a go at her?

A: The trendy, hipster gluten-free diet thing is actually a massive money maker. Not only did it earn $2.6 billion in 2012, it also elicits absolutely no benefit for the general population. So, she’s wrong. But in this case, she’s not actually hurting anyone. Not eating gluten won’t hurt you as much as not getting a vaccine, for example. Gluten-free diets are the only treatment for celiac disease. There is also very, very mild and poorly understood evidence for something called ‘non-celiac gluten sensitivity‘, on which only three papers have ever been published and they all seem to contradict one another. In addition, they were not able to identify a cause, and many participants suffered other food sensitivities as well. If it exists, the highest current rate estimate for NCGS is about 6% of the population. In short, the gluten-free thing is a fad. Of course, there is no evidence that it cures autism, despite some goblin’s horrendous and counter-scientific claims that “the road to autism recovery starts with diet“. People will say anything for a buck. But basically, if they’re just misled about yet another fad diet that won’t do a bunch of harm (other than maybe issue false hope, which is pretty bad), let her have a whinge about gluten then pick up your sourdough on the way home.[Note: I will be writing a piece on this topic soon, as well as #hipsters]

4. Help! I just found out my best friend’s an Atheist/Christian/Jew/Muslim/ALP member/Some other category that is inherently divisive and different to me (read: wrong). Should I tell them how stupid they are and how clever I am?

You’ll be alright. Unless they’re about to stone their neighbour on the sabbath or try to implement fair and cost-effective domestic policy while maintaining a realistic lens through which to approach foreign affairs, keep it to yourself. If it comes up in conversation and they ask what you believe, then you can debate ’til the cows come home, but don’t go picking fights with mates. Just remember that they’re your friend, which is more important than them believing exactly what you do. If one of you wins, you both lose.

Writing more regularly is fun. I’ll try to keep posting as often as possible. Discussion, criticism and charming compliments all welcome!


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