My wife and I were recently at a dinner party that involved some heavy discussions relating to weight loss, alternative medicine and the usual terms used by Alt med (toxins, balance, natural, wellness).
It is extremely disheartening (albeit somewhat laughable) that many of these 'certified' 'fitness experts' have little (no) understanding about weight loss and human physiology so I felt it important to explain some basic points to someone who was speaking, with conviction, rubbish.
After the evening conversation, my wife suggested that maybe I shouldn't have been so firm with my words when discussing another's profession. I asserted that nonsense, spoken as fact, needs to be confronted head on. I'm fine with people being passionate about and making claims about 'things' so long as they are prepared to explain why or present evidence for such claims. I'm willing to listen and I often learn from others - however, when the basis for a claim is clearly rooted in nonsense, I'm not afraid to suggest that they might be a bit 'off'.
During our drive home, I told my wife that I feel it is important to confront silly propositions especially when other people could be mislead by them. That evening was definitely one of those times. The truth matters and I believe that this person ultimately realized that maybe their position was based on bad reasoning. Others who were listening, however, benefitted the most. And that can often be the case - bystanders or witnesses to a discussion are potentially saved from accepting the proposition.
Yesterday, however, was a different case. While having dinner with our extended family, someone began talking about complete nonsense and I didn't even offer a skeptical comment. After they left, my wife reminded me of our conversation from a couple days earlier. I suggested that, because the person making the claims is one that regularly 'talks shit' and was in the company of people who would understand that little of what he has to say is based in fact, there was no need to point out the obvious.
I also find it difficult to introduce a logical explanation to people who are so simple that they could not understand it so I often don't even bother.
To put it simply, if you talk nonsense to me and I don't point out that it is silly, I likely think that:
1) You are probably thought of as a regular bullshitter and most people would see that
2) You seem so simple that I don't think you would understand how silly your claim is anyway
3) I think you are the only one who might act on such a belief and the outcome has potential to be truly funny for the rest of us
In other words, if you make a claim and I ask you why you accept/believe/claim such, it is because I feel that you are possibly intelligent enough and/or respectable enough to engage. If I don't respond it may be that I have reason to believe that you may be speaking of something resembling the truth but it could be that I have reason to believe that most people would hardly reference your claims to support their arguments for your lack of integrity.
Call things stupid that are stupid unless the people claiming such stupid appear to be as stupid as that which they claim. Sometimes claims made by crazy people will drive people to assume the opposite is more likely to be true. Not engaging pure stupid can often be just as (or more) successful than actually giving them the respect of a response.
(And, yet, I am driven to argue with homeopaths, reiki practitioners and others. Silly me.)