When is a stance towards a topic "proven"?

To create this example I will take the anti vax topic.

My first impulse is:
anti vax people are stupid. They ignore basic science.

I myself would (unreflected) instantly agree that vaccines are beneficial.

But why actually?

I cannot prove that vaccines are beneficial myself (im no doctor / medical scientist).
I basically believe what others tell me (Wikipedia / articles / studies).
But unreflected belief in what others tell you is darn irrational isnt it?

My three narrow factors then are:

  • source count
  • source quality ( experiment or theory? number of guinea pigs etc. )
  • source relation ( big pharma / independent lab )

But all of these can be faked / manipulated.
Until I myself proved that something is true I cant be sure it really 100% is right?

Vaccines could be big pharma trying to sell us snakeoil right?
(I dont believe that)

But as I cant be 100% sure it seems I choose what to believe on guts not on facts ( because I cant even determine what is a fact and what not ).

Therefore I have no right to say someone else is wrong?
In this example basically I could not 100% percent be sure that anti vax people are wrong because I could not 100% verify sources and experiments/studies that were made?

What do you guys think?

thank you for your time.

  • 3
    "unreflected belief in what others tell you is darn irrational isnt it?" Not necessarily: when we are babies we learn not to drink detergents because our parents tell us not to do it, and not by a "correct" experimental method. May 9, 2019 at 11:17
  • Hmm some parents also tell their children that bad kids get punished by krampus. Seems to underline my point. Which sources to trust and why - and ultimately: cant even a trustworthy source be wrong / manipulated? May 9, 2019 at 11:34
  • 2
    You can not be 100% sure that the Sun will rise tomorrow, but you are well-justified to say that someone claiming otherwise is wrong. "100%" is a wrong standard for practical certainty, we can always be manipulated, by Descartes's evil demon or the Matrix, if nothing else, but how plausible is that? Second hand beliefs are justified or not depending on the credibility of the sources they derive from. In this case, the medical community (which is separate from pharmaceutical business) is much more credible than its detractors.
    – Conifold
    May 9, 2019 at 21:49
  • @Conifold I guess thats my current approach also. It sounds like the most reasonable. Feels like handling decisions in unsharp information scenarios in AI :) Still if confronted by unrational people with unrational arguments I have a hard time explaining why I prefer x over y and why x is trustworthier. But maybe this is a lost case to begin with (else they would not be unrational). May 11, 2019 at 8:04
  • 2
    Trying to reason rationally with unrational people does sound unpromising. If you do need to convince them (if they are family members, for example) emotional appeals, metaphors, vivid examples, quoting authorities they respect, and other rhetorical devices might be more effective. The strategy of persuading others does not need to track the one that persuaded you, or to rely on rational arguments.
    – Conifold
    May 11, 2019 at 8:10

1 Answer 1


This might help on some questions I read inbetween the lines; Is everything just an opinion? What I learned (and is key) here is "probably". The more sources you have, the more likely it is that something might be true. That might not help in the conversation but it could help to mention that you can disprove almost anything if you are very sceptic and scepticism isn't always the answer. This of course works for either you and the "anti-vax person".

You have the same right to say something is true/false, but that doesn't mean you or the other person is actually correct. But always keep talking, keep the conversation open.

For the conversation you can ask them about their sources and ask why they think this might be true. You could ask questions like "how likely is it the government/big pharma would trick us" or "how likely is it vaxing is really bad for you".

Another note, saying that people are "stupid" can sometimes end a conversation and doesn't bring anyone further.

Hope this somehow helps.

  • I agree with you in every point you make. Especially in that insulting people ends any chance of mutual understanding. That is an impulse I really should learn to control (and are already progressing with). Your question you linked was basically the same as mine I think - sorry I didnt find it and did a dupe. Maybe it even is wrong to find hard stances. It is almost always quite possible that ones current view is wrong. Keeping evaluating ones own and others arguments takes time but will probably ultimately increase the decision quality. May 11, 2019 at 8:28

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