How to deal with a stubborn friend
September 25, 2007 8:27 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a friend who is adamant that the moon landings are faked?

I've asked my friend that we avoid the topic of the moon landing in our regular conversation since we're obviously at odds on the subject, unfortunately it regularly creeps in when third parties are involved and quickly escalates to a serious degree of frustration.

I'm well aware of and have seen the Kubrick mockumentary, but these have little impact on my friend. At this point I'm either looking for more succinct "stop and think" points, or points that might make him realize that consternation does not triumph logic and science. Otherwise, I'm looking for suggestions to just have him let the topic go.

For the record he is a good friend of mine but not necessarily an intellectual peer
posted by furtive to Science & Nature (41 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The same way I deal with religious friends. Realise the tools of logic and proper arguments aren't avilable to you. Learn to accept it. It helps to silently mock.
posted by oxford blue at 8:31 AM on September 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Of course, replace religion with any ideology. I really don't think there is a way for you to win though.

Perhaps you should print off this thread, and highlight the intellectual peer quip. That might do it.
posted by oxford blue at 8:35 AM on September 25, 2007

Buy him some more peyote?

I always fight crazy with more crazy. "You think the moon landings were faked? You should check out the evidence that Chicago doesn't even exist. When the city was burned down in the Great Fire, it was never rebuilt, etc, etc, etc..."
posted by JJ86 at 8:40 AM on September 25, 2007 [8 favorites]

Constant, unrelenting ridicule?

Or you could tell him that some random person you met on the Internet said he had a godfather who was one of many dozens of engineers who designed the Saturn V rocket, and denying the moon landing casts spurious aspersions on the careers of thousands of people who devoted their lives and careers to the single greatest technological achievement in human history.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:41 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't see how moon landings can regularly "creep" into a conversation. One of you is steering the conversation in that direction and it sounds like him. Is he an all around conspiracy theorist, or is this his only quirk? If it's the former, you're pretty much either going to have to accept it or move on. If it's the latter, confront him on how odd it is that talking about getting burgers turns into a moon landing debate.

Depending on yours and his personality, there's different ways of handling this. Logical arguments only work if the other party knows the rules. You can ask him to prove the Great Wall exists. You can simply yell "CONSPIRACY" every time he says, "moon", "landing" or "NASA". Or you could just walk away when it comes up.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 8:42 AM on September 25, 2007

Become more of a kook about it than he is, to the point of absurdity. Agree wholeheartedly, and expand logically on the conspiracy theory until even he gets sick of the craziness.

Every time the topic comes up, get really excited about it and start bringing up aspects of it that he can't help but think are too out there. Weave some JFK assassination, Marylin Monroe affair, illuminati, Rosicrucian, and Knights Templar theories into the whole thing and take it to the next level.

Basically, read Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and then present the theories that they protagonists come up with in that book as if you take them completely seriously. That also works with people who are stupid enough to think that The da Vinci Code has any basis in reality (or who think it's not a rip-off of a book that mocked it before it was even written).
posted by The World Famous at 8:43 AM on September 25, 2007

You cannot convince him. Folks who have a belief in weird things (conspiracy theory, creationism, astrology, etc.) are immune to facts. It's sad, but true. You're current position of avoiding the topic is the way to go.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:45 AM on September 25, 2007

it regularly creeps in when third parties are involved and quickly escalates to a serious degree of frustration.

I don't understand how the topic of the moon landing (faked or not) could "regularly" creep into any series of conversations. This is not to be snarky, but are you sure your friend is mentally well? If he's unable to keep from bringing it up, it sounds like he's actually obsessed with this conspiracy theory to some degree, which may be a matter beyond his not being an intellectual peer.

(on preview: Foucault's Pendulum is, indeed, an awesome book.)
posted by scody at 8:45 AM on September 25, 2007

Response by poster: Ah of course! The moon landings were faked because the moon itself is fake!
posted by furtive at 8:50 AM on September 25, 2007

I have a very good and sweet friend who believes in the pole shift. As in the rogue Planet X coming into the earth's orbit, shifting the poles, all happening in 2003. Wait, now it's 2012.

His husband has figured out a good way to deal with it, and we have all followed suit. Now when pole-shift guy starts (I'll call him D), we all sort of good-naturedly let him go for a while. If there's a new person in the mix, hubbie might say, "Oh, no, is he telling you about the pole shift?" And then there's a bit of banter about the whole thing, hubbie teasing D about his survival plan, or telling the new person, fondly, "Oh, see what I have to live with?" Or jumping in to explain to the new person the wackiness of the theory, e.g. "Do you know they had to change their year to 2012?" Or I'll say, "Hey, if there IS a pole shift, I'm coming to your house for bottled water and bandaids," or whatever. We don't try to change D's mind or debate. After about 10 minutes we are usually able to change the subject.

It helps that D is really nice.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:53 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've asked my friend that we avoid the topic of the moon landing in our regular conversation since we're obviously at odds on the subject, unfortunately it regularly creeps in when third parties are involved and quickly escalates to a serious degree of frustration.

Forgive me, but it sounds really bizarre that this topic would regularly come up. Seriously, how could it come up? Are you sure your buddy isn't fucking with you all the time?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:53 AM on September 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Buzz Aldrin clocked a guy who tried to get him to say he'd never visited the moon. Not suggesting you do that.
posted by Soliloquy at 8:59 AM on September 25, 2007 [5 favorites]

My tack is the anti-conspiracy tack: "Do you really think that the thousands of people who would have had to have been involved in defrauding their fellow citizens would have kept their secrets for the last thirty years? Not one of the janitors would have sold his story to Dateline while on his deathbed? The US government can't even keep secrets when only a handful of people know about it, like the nuclear-powered spy systems installed in the Himalayas to spy on China by the CIA, or the outing of Valerie Plame."
posted by solid-one-love at 9:01 AM on September 25, 2007

You could also change the subject into a dumb argument about whether religion is something that only weak-minded, logically-challenged idiots believe in. Sure, that will make you seem like more of an ass than him, but it's virtually guaranteed to derail the Moon Landing discussion.
posted by The World Famous at 9:02 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

There’s often a good reason why people constantly bring up conspiracy theories, besides the whole psycho thing. Does your friend feel intellectually or socially inferior to the rest of you? Does he therefore have to have his own special thing which sets him apart? Alternatively, he might feel a tad bedevilled and oppressed by the man, and needs to find a reason for it.

It does seem to me that he’s bringing it up to be impressive and if you can show him that he doesn’t need to do that with you, that you appreciate him anyway, maybe he’ll stop.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 9:05 AM on September 25, 2007

Response by poster: To answer how the topic may come up, for my part I like and regularly follow astronomy, so it's not that difficult for me to give him an opportunity to segue into the conspiracy stuff... we also both share an interest in sci-fi.
posted by furtive at 9:16 AM on September 25, 2007

Let me take a contrary position here... It's really none of your business to challenge his beliefs. He looks bad to most normal people when he starts in about it, you look worse to them when you grow increasingly frustrated trying to defend Neil Armstrong's honor.

Stop turning it into a problem.

It's like this Ahmadinejad/Columbia flap. Columbia's lecture series highlights speakers who are both topical (check) and influential (check) from all walks of life. Ahmadinejad accepts an invite to speak and the same guys who go on and on about "Islamofascism" hold their breath and turn blue (on their blogs, on TV, in the newspaper) that he shouldn't be allowed to speak and that Columbia shouldn't get federal funding for giving him a pulpit. Now who's the fascist? Moreover, these guys don't realize they're looking (nearly) equally bad by blustering and bloviating their opposition instead of allowing the situation to evolve and letting Ahmadinejad look like a moron on his own - as if America is such a delicate flower that it needs their defense from idiot ideas spewed by foreign leaders.

Let it go. His battles are his alone to fight, and NASA clearly doesn't need your PR to maintain the goodwill of the public.
posted by peacecorn at 9:23 AM on September 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

If he knows you don't want to talk about it, and he does it in front of you anyway, then just excuse yourself from the conversation and say you'll be back in a bit.

Although, make sure you aren't somehow leading him into this. You sound really frustrated by your friend, and if you are a person who likes to debate and/or show off your superiority, I could see you (even subconsciously) goading him into spouting off his theories so you have the excuse to publicly debate him and/or make yourself look superior to him.

I'm not saying this is the case, but sometimes we do things to get a certain reaction without even realizing what we're doing.
posted by tastybrains at 9:35 AM on September 25, 2007

While I have a great soft spot in my heart for conspiracies and conspiracy theories, my affections are always brought low by a few paraphrased lines from Bill Maher: "The government can't even deliver the mail right. How could they put together a vast conspiracy without the truth coming out?"

This has likely already come up with your friend. He's interested in the topic, and seeing how often it comes up, he's very interested in talking about it. So find something else that interests him more. You can either feed him weirder and weirder conspiracies (ala the Salamander Letters - start normal than string'em along until he eventually sits up and call it all hogwash) or find another, non-moon related topic that you're both interested in. From past experience, both of you joining a fantasy sports league will give you gobs, GOBS!, of stuff to talk about, even if you're not sports guys to begin with.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:03 AM on September 25, 2007

With patience and humour.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 10:08 AM on September 25, 2007

I suggest you start denying that the Nazis ever fired V2 rockets at Britain, and that all the explosions were bombs planted by infiltrators. From here, segue into denying that we had heavier-than-air flight until the 1960s.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:23 AM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

don't bring it up. if he does, say, "i thought we agreed to disagree about that." repeat, without variation. he'll get the point.

although if he continually tries to annoy you with this, i'm curious what sort of friend he is...
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:30 AM on September 25, 2007

Seconding the idea to stop bringing up topics that segue into this. I still wouldn't rule out that he's just doing this to mess with you. It's an immature thing to do. But if it makes you very frustrated and you bring up astronomy a lot, then it's an easy way to have junior-high level fun.

Either way, it's easier to deal with your frustration than deal with his ignorance. If he hasn't come around by now, it doesn't have to be your job to educate him.
posted by Gary at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2007

Ugh. I had two housemates like this. The half- crazy conspiracy theory one could never be convinced; the other one realized he was being dumb when I debunked his "facts". If you've already expressed useful rebuttals (no way in hell the Soviet Union would let us promote a fake moon landing; their scientists would have outed us instantly), then I suggest just walking away when your friend brings it up. It's not really your problem, and what your friend believes is not going to affect the modern science of astrophysics.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:49 AM on September 25, 2007

Whenever I hear about moon conspiracies, I would think the best way to debunk it is to ask why the US would fake it in '69, only to risk seeing the Russians actually land there later on, and finding ways to prove that the Americans had faked theirs. We'd have never lived it down. And since they beat us into space in the first place, there was no reason to think they couldn't have eventually landed on the moon, too.

It seems like such a simple argument but I've never heard it brought it up, and thus don't know if there's any holes in it either.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:51 AM on September 25, 2007

Take him to see "In the Shadow of the Moon?" Of course, he wouldn't go, but perhaps it's still worth a try.

Also, I feel for you. That's incredibly infuriating, and really rather insulting.
posted by buka at 11:02 AM on September 25, 2007

From arguing with people who think someone else wrote Shakespeare, I learned firsthand that when you pin them down, they simply widen the circle of confederates needed to conduct the hoax. At one point, everyone in England except the Queen's pillow fluffer was evidently in on it, cuz they'd just forge ahead no matter what evidence you produced.

For the moon specifically, you might point out that several nantions had the technology to know if we launched anything and could track it well enough to detect fraud. They would have gleefully ratted us out. Unless, of course, they too were in on it. ;)

My favorite evidence is the existence of certain types of reflectors left on the moon so that earth-bound lasers could be shot at them and measured (thus, providing extremely accurate measurements of distance). These reflectors are not a secret and many small universities have the capability of repeating the same thing on their own.
posted by RavinDave at 11:09 AM on September 25, 2007

A trip to the Air and Space Museum.
posted by brownpau at 11:28 AM on September 25, 2007

Some universities and observatories have lasers that can be aimed at the mirrors the astronauts left on the moon. They use the reflection to accurately measure the moon's distance from the earth. Taking him to see for himself probably wouldn't be convincing, but ask him if he thinks the thousands of researchers who use this tool are in on the conspiracy, too.
posted by rocket88 at 11:41 AM on September 25, 2007

When you hear it coming, consider checking out of the conversation, with a comment as tactful or caustic as you feel is appropriate regarding your lack in interest in revisiting garbage so thoroughly debunked so many times already, and go get a drink or something else, refusing to say another word (except perhaps "debunked!"), despite having just baited him, and leaving him alone with the others for enough time for the conversation to move back to reality.
If the situation is right, you can also offer an out to any of your other friends to join your lifeboat - "I'm getting a drink, anyone else want one?", where instead of replying "yes - grab one for me, thanks", they can reply "Yeah, I'm come too".

Treating a friend like a mental patient in this way - that anything out of their mouth on the topic is pure delusion, to be noted to aid diagnosis, but never actually considered as a valid human dialogue would be, is playing with fire, but the idea is to make the social cost higher for him than it is for you, until it's not worth it for him to bug you this way.

(This suggestion might be a bad idea, it's hard to know, but it's another thing to try when you feel your toolbox is getting thin :)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:45 AM on September 25, 2007


I suspect the counter-argument would just be "The Russians might have got there first, and the Russian space program was so expensive that the US knew the Russians would give up if they thought they had lost, which is why the US faked it - to win". Which just opens huge new lines of debate in which hours can be wasted. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 11:50 AM on September 25, 2007

withdraw from that particular conversation....rejoin the conversation when a different topic has been started...why argue? By engaging in the discussion you indicate that you consider your friend's theories valid enough to dignify with a reply...if on the other hand your friend is the only one talking he'll soon get bored!
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:18 PM on September 25, 2007

Ahhh ... the John Kerry strategy.

/I kid, I kid.

But the analogy in apt in so far that he's just as likely to take silence as "confirmation".
posted by RavinDave at 1:29 PM on September 25, 2007

My mother is a fundamentalist Christian. Moon-landing conspiracy theories are actually a lot like fundamentalist religions -- they can't be disproved, any evidence against their claims must be "faked" or "improperly interpreted", anyone who disagrees is "duped" or a "liar". And lets be honest: what is fundamentalist Christianity but a vast, cosmic-scale conspiracy theory?

Theres really nothing you can do to logically talk your friend out of his beliefs. I can assure you that despite what he might say, he did not come to his current position through logical and rational thought. He's probably attracted to this particular conspiracy theory for the same reasons that my mom is a fundy: it gives him an "inside", makes him "above" everything that happens, allows him to retain secret "suppressed" knowledge that nobody else has. It's a way of feeling better about oneself.

Over time, your friend may slowly grow more confident in his capabilities as a human being and no longer need the crutch of religion/conspiracy theories. Until then, agree to disagree, humor him even, but try not to take it too seriously. If he's an adult, he'll just have to go through the process on his own.

Good luck.
posted by Avenger at 1:58 PM on September 25, 2007

I think engaging him in the argument is probably a mistake. Remember that people argue about things for different reasons. Unfortunately one of the least common reasons is to collectively search for the truth through dialogue. More popular are the desire to win or prove oneself superior or make other people frustrated or become the center of attention or generally get people going. A conspiracy theorist very likely doesn't even examine precisely to what extent he or she believes the theory - they're not really going to think critically about it. They're emotionally invested in believing it, & either just enjoy the discussions and debates, or get some kind of pleasure from the nature of the belief itself.

If you can convince the person that the important element is truth, ie, it's not about who's wrong or right, but what is actually the case, that's one thing. But honestly, even most people who believe the "right" version of things do so partly out of emotional needs, personal investment, habit, or some other psychological interest, rather than a purely disinterested concern about the nature of reality. (You even see this to some degree among highly regarded thinkers, like philosophers who speak about the need to come up with a theory of knowledge to allay philosophical "anxiety" about skepticism, etc - we intertwine desires and personal issues into supposedly factual debates constantly. See: most political discussions.)

In my opinion, when you debate someone, it is worth trying to understand what their objective in the debate is. Are they actually interested in getting as close to knowledge as they can? Or will they defend their viewpoint to the death because it's their darling little viewpoint and they've been together since senior year and are so in love at this point that nothing will get between them? If it's the latter, you can state your case once (or a few times) but after that, just laugh it off, change the subject, let them know casually how you think it's silly, but do not get caught up in it as a topic of serious contention. You are simply not talking on the same level.
posted by mdn at 2:54 PM on September 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not suggesting you do that.

I am. Sometimes the Aldrin Reaction is the only response left, when dealing with the faith-based. I know this type, and he doesn't care one way or the other about history -- what he's all about is getting a rise out of you.

Take him to see "In the Shadow of the Moon?"

No, don't bother, he's not interested. But if you are, check out Tom Hank's mini-series, instead.
posted by Rash at 3:27 PM on September 25, 2007

From arguing with people who think someone else wrote Shakespeare

RavinDave, if you've been chatting with Derek Jacobi recently, you should put it in this thread. ;)

posted by scody at 3:37 PM on September 25, 2007

If the topic keeps coming up, maybe your friend is not just deluded, but obsessed. Show some respect for your friend by not ridiculing, and discussing the subject calmly, even by listening fully to his theories - once. But also demand respect from your friend by insisting that your friend listen to your side of the story and show respect for your views. Once you've each had a chance to state your case, it's time to move on.

I had a friend who would not respect my lack of belief in psychics, and insisted on discussing it and being mad at me for not agreeing. I finally blew up at her for not respecting my beliefs. She decided to drop the subject permanently.
posted by theora55 at 3:42 PM on September 25, 2007

Smile, tune out, disengage, daydream and try not to roll your eyes in the process until the conversation returns from Planet Odd. This is what I make myself do whenever a conjoined-spousal-friend-unit of mine (who are, ostensibly, professional intellectuals) start gassing on about the pet psychic and the various totally nutball stuff they hear, and apparently believe wholesale, on that Coast to Coast or whatever it's called show where lunatics call in with their loony lunacies.

Sometimes I just mentally hum "Ca Plane Pour Moi" to myself until they're done. And if this guy seriously can't make himself shut up about moon fakery, then he needs medical help.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:08 PM on September 25, 2007

Because psychological help would be too expensive?
posted by oxford blue at 4:10 AM on September 26, 2007

at Cape Canaveral, in the museum, you can touch a moon rock.
Take him there!
posted by spacefire at 7:03 AM on September 26, 2007

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