I went to undergrad with someone who I am good friends with. He was always very bright and got into a top tier grad school. I went to another grad school and we're both postdocs now (again, at different universities).

However, in grad school he got involved in some questionable research activities. He did work with his adviser that was legitimate, which is how he graduated and even got a postdoc (it was good work and it was from a top school) but he had "side projects" which are now the entirety of his postdoc and "research". His adviser tried to stop him from graduating because of the crankery. However, since my friend did have research done for a PhD, his adviser couldn't stop him.

At first, I thought I just didn't understand my friend's research, but now I am convinced that it is pure crankery and it has gotten worse over time. I have tried offering gentle corrections but he isn't having any of it. He's nice enough, just doesn't listen.

How do I help my friend? In grad school, at least he did some legitimate research. Currently, he's doing none and the stuff he is doing is getting more and more cranky all the time.

  • 54
    A good colleague once told me that when a wise person argues with a fool, bystanders cannot tell them apart. Pretty much the same for fool replaced by crank, except that cranks are totally immune to refutation of their ideas. Sorry about your friend.
    – Ed V
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 15:17
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    The quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, @EdV, but something very similar is in the Bible: Proverbs 26:4, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him."
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 15:35
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    Related question when it turned out to be a physical health issue.
    – cag51
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 19:54
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    You said the "side project" is taking all of your friend's postdoc time. Does it mean that he is not doing the work he is funded for?
    – Taladris
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 8:13
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    Can't you reveal more on the nature and level of the crankery? For example, by comparing it to crankery in some other field than your friend's (in order not to give the identity away). Please respond by editing (changing) your question, not here in comments (without "Edit:", "Update:", or similar - the question should appear as if it was written today). Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 10:09

13 Answers 13


I’m sorry for the pessimistic answer, but you can’t help your friend. I speak from experience with an acquaintance with similar tendencies. Cranks suffer from delusional thinking. Nothing you can say will make him see that what he is doing is nonsense. It’s fascinating to try reasoning with such people and marvel at the sorts of answers they give to questions asking them to explain their ideas and why they make sense. But in the end, none of what you say will make any difference whatsoever to your friend’s beliefs.

  • 13
    (+1) I completely agree with this. Having dealt with a crank myself, they simply cannot be convinced they are wrong. Nothing works and it just consumes time and energy, particularly if they are obsessed with something that requires considerable effort to find their errors. Sadly, it is best to just avoid cranks and hope they right themselves eventually.
    – Ed V
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 0:21
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    Hm. Absolutist. Disproportionately so, for the lack of evidence/precedent on this particular person. But certainly also a possibility. I would say to probatively support critical thinking skills, but also bear in mind that.... there is no limit to how much the practical and emotional costs of trying to help may grow, if you keep persisting and they just won't hear it.
    – Will Chen
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 1:29
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    I think it might depend on the type of crankery. If your friend is mentally ill and delusional and has lost touch with reality, then you're not going to be able to help other than trying to get your friend to a medical professional. If your friend is fully sane but their out of control ego is driving them to stubbornly persist in problems that are impossible like squaring the circle, it may technically be possible to reach them, but in reality... not likely? (I am not a psychologist, so I'm probably using terms wrong).
    – bob
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 12:59
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    @EdV I'd be wary of generalizing from experience with "a crank". Yes, there exist people who are delusional and persuaded that they hold some kind of absolute truths and will not be reasoned with. But there are also people who happened to have written an erroneous mathematical proof, but are not otherwise irrational and can be reasoned with.
    – Stef
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 16:30
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    @ChrisSunami the trope of the misunderstood genius/visionary is beloved by pop culture philosophers everywhere, but it is a caricature. In the real life historical examples typically cited (Einstein, Galileo, you name it), it was always very clear that the person was not a crank, even if some initially thought their theories wrong or misguided.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 20:58

Two thoughts:

First: Check out this article.

The point it makes is that many of us think we know more about something than we actually do. For example, would you say you understand how zippers work? Flush toilets? Flutes? If you are like most people you probably think you understand these everyday objects more than you actually do. This effect is known as the "illusion of explanatory depth".

SLOMAN: So, the illusion of explanatory depth was first demonstrated by a couple of psychologists named Rozenblit and Keil. And they asked people how well they understood how these things worked, and people gave a number between 1 and 7. And then they said, "Okay, how does it work? Explain in as much detail as you can how it works." And people struggled and struggled and realized they couldn’t. And so when they were again asked how well they understood, their judgments tended to be lower. In other words, people themselves admitted that they had been living in this illusion, that they understood how these things worked, when, in fact, they don’t.

Something similar might work on your friend. Ask them to explain the mainstream theory, why we believe it, etc.

Second: Check out this article, which deals with a mathematical crank known as the "trisector" who claims to be able to trisect an angle with just compass and straightedge, which is something that has been proven to be impossible.

The author, who deals a lot with cranks, says you should not examine their proof for an error or ask them to find the error in the proof of impossibility. Instead, you should:

To the first letter from a trisector respond politely, being sure to congratulate him for the goodness of his approximation, or its simplicity, or his cleverness in finding a new approximation. Include a computer printout giving the errors in the construction for angles of various sizes - I go from 0 to 180 degrees in steps of three. This is important because the computer still has the power to inspire respect and awe. Also, enclose some other approximate trisections with some remark like, "I thought you might be interested in seeing how other people have gotten approximate trisections."

I have greatly improved my success rate in recent years with this technique. I still remember my gratification at my first success. An engineer in New Jersey had produced a large hard-bound book, more than 250 pages long, with the title Adventures in Geometry stamped on the cover in gold. I thought that anyone who had invested so much in the trisection was beyond salvation, but in response to my letter he wrote in part:

"I am satisfied that I have achieved only an approximation, and I will now put it aside."

A soul snatched from damnation! I have had some other recent successes and perhaps some of the now silent trisectors are convinced too.

This might not be adaptable to your friend's field, unfortunately.

  • 9
    May not always work. I have not been able to convince a halting problem crank, even when provided with an explicit example of a program which halts, and which his halting solver says does not halt, that his halting solver is wrong. He resorted to trying to subtly redefine the halting problem and playing semantic games to make it look like he is not redefining the problem. Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 9:34
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    (something along the lines of "when my solver simulates the program execution the simulation does not halt; therefore the answer of not-halting is correct") Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 9:35
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    @user253751 For the halting problem, congratulate them on writing a halting solver that works on many programs. There might be some clever tricks in there that make it work for programs that more trivial halting solvers do not work for. The fact that it does not work for all programs still stands, and that's ok.
    – HolKann
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 10:47
  • 6
    I think this approach only works for the crank who is sane but looking for a pat on the back and a feeling of having accomplished something great, in which case this is the equivalent of giving them a glamorous (in their eyes) consolation prize. They failed to do the grand thing that no one had done (being impossible, which they don't acknowledge), but they did (in their eyes) succeed at something almost as grand. It seems like this type of crank is a narcissist--sane but with a serious personality disorder.
    – bob
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 13:04
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    @bob I'm no expert on the psychology of cranks, but if you look at the second source, some cranks genuinely just want to get some recognition. One would-be trisector was very happy when their local newspaper covered their failed attempt, even though the local newspaper correctly described the trisection as a failure.
    – Allure
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 13:17

No one responds well to being told they are crazy. I would ask probing questions: "Can you show me a functioning simulation? What specific predictions does your theory make?". Basically encourage them to apply the same tools of critical thinking to their own ideas as they might apply to other ideas.

  • 13
    Hmmm. I could probably build a simulator that would "support" any crankery you like. Do this if you like to argue with your friend, which is fine, but it is unlikely to change how they think.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 15:08
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    I disagree! Building a working simulation of a crazy theory is non-trivial. And if you force them to be concrete in their claims they may update a bit.
    – jerlich
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 15:33
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    Hmmm. Maybe a new career for me: Buffy's Crank Support Simulations; Ltd. Artificial worlds are easy to build. Matching reality is much harder. Ask Einstein. I'd give the URL to my service, but it would be spamming here, I fear.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 27, 2021 at 15:37
  • 1
    A computer let's you fudge numbers. In all seriousness, if you dive low level enough into any computer system, you can make 1+1=3 (Do it in C, overload the + operator, make it return nonsense, that's just off the top of my head)
    – Nelson
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 3:51
  • 7
    Your suggestion would work well if they were not utterly lost to crankery... Otherwise, have you ever met cranks?! One of two things happen: they are actually concerned with your comment and leave to work on their theory (good case) or it is so unsalvageable and riddled with nonsense and inconsistencies, that five minutes into the topic of "turtles all the way down" you find yourself arguing about what color is the 245th turtle in the sequence, and that calls for Proverbs 26:4, mentioned by Buffy in another comment thread.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 7:45

If your friend is showing symptoms of delusion or obsession, encourage your friend to get help from a mental health professional.

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    nobody goes to a therapist, if they don't agree that there is a problem
    – Christian
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 9:10
  • 2
    One should frame this in terms of concern for the friend (which OP seems to have), and perhaps in terms of how it may impact their career, relationships, or quality of life (whichever is easiest). Convincing them they are not in a healthy relationship with their research may be easier than destroying their claims. Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 10:34
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    @Christian that is not true many people are sent to observation regardless of how they perceive their illness.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 12:52
  • @NeilMeyer But as the name suggests, that’s only “observation”—so that “we” can find out what’s wrong with the person, not to fix them. Therapy does little-to-nothing for someone who doesn’t want it or think they need it. It’s why personality disorders (which are almost by definition a problem for everyone around the patient rather than for the patient themselves) are among the most intractable kinds of mental illness, while anxiety disorders (which are literally by definition things which profoundly bother the patient) are often the most responsive.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 22:44
  • On the other hand, @Christian, there are cases where people are required to go to therapy—and not just observation—and it can work. But that’s only because the first thing the therapist does is try to get buy-in: “you have to be here, might as well try to get something out of it,” “it couldn’t hurt, could it?” etc. If successful, there can be progress. But if someone refuses to buy in, it’s true that it’s effectively impossible to force them to do so, or to produce any kind of improvement while they’re resisting.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 22:48

A question worth pondering - is it crank, or just alternative?

What's the difference? Cranks believe that the truth is being suppressed, that their work is particularly astounding, and that any criticism is an attempt to suppress them.

If the views are merely "alternative", then they're trying to explore possibilities, and that's actually an acceptable thing. Most new theories begin as "alternative", and the greatest discoveries happen when someone is viewing things from an unusual perspective.

The approach to helping your friend to be better is different depending on which category it falls into. True cranks need to discover their problem for themselves, which means you need to point them in the direction that will lead them to self-discovery of the problems. Alternative researchers are best helped through guidance - often the best approach here is to ask probing questions and offer possible ways to improve the work, rather than trying to get it discarded entirely.

To demonstrate the difference between these, consider General Relativity and theories that compete with it.

In the "alternative" category, you will find a broad array of alternatives, many of which have been tested and found to not match experiments, but some of which have come from quite well-known physicists and mathematicians. This is healthy - if General Relativity is going to be improved upon, it will be through development of alternatives.

Meanwhile, an example of a "crank" within this field is Autodynamics. The creator of this "theory" (a term I am using quite loosely, and unscientifically) claims that his first book on it was immediately blacklisted by the "National Atomic Energy Commission" of Argentina, and that a daily newspaper published an account of his theory, and was then threatened with being shut down if they published any more from him. To be clear, this is information provided on the official Autodynamics website (which I won't link to, here - if you want to view it, follow the above Wikipedia link, it's linked from there). Essentially, the claim is that Autodynamics didn't "win" against General Relativity because it's being suppressed.

It can, at times, be hard to tell the difference. The best way to tell, is that aspect of claimed suppression. Does your friend believe their work is being suppressed?

  • 3
    Suppression is the best way to tell? History suggests not. Plate tectonics: suppressed. Heliocentric model: violently suppressed. Etc. Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 19:17
  • Also, Fuzzy Logic: as a CS undergrad, I had read several articles about it, and there seemed to be no there there - I was convinced it was as not innovative at all. I asked a professor about it and he said that if I looked, I'd see that the Fuzzy Logic "scientists" only get their stuff published in their own academic journals. That's very far from a glaringly obvious red flag! Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 19:25
  • 2
    @WHO'sNoToOldRx4CovidIsMurder - It's not suppression that is the indicator, it's the belief by the proponent that it's being suppressed, and that suppression is the only reason why it's not accepted as fact. It's the "claimed suppression" that is the hint. Also, plate tectonics weren't suppressed, they were disbelieved due to insufficient evidence and lack of explanation for a mechanism. There's a difference. In the case of the heliocentric model, it was declared heretical - again, major difference. It's the belief, in absence of evidence, of suppression that tells you it's a crank.
    – Glen O
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 0:46
  • 1
    No. Galileo certainly claimed, accurately, that his ideas were being suppressed. His writing was banned,... Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 4:33
  • Galileo was warned to abandon his support of the Copernican model. Books supporting the Copernican model were banned. On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was withdrawn from circulation pending correction to "clarify" that it was only a theory. Per nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06769-4 anyway. Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 4:39

Adding on to @jerlich 's answer, ask your friend to explain it to you. Ask them to show you examples of why they think their theory might be correct. Be open to them being right, and have them prove it to you. Where you see flaws, point them out, and ask for them to be explained, apply Ockham's razor, etc.

Where you see flaws, suggest an experiment that would clarify your theory vs theirs.

  • 18
    May I ask how many cranks you have cured using this method?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 1:35
  • 7
    I've been cured with this method. And for smart people who are sincere but misguided, I've seen their course corrected many times. Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 2:26
  • 8
    Okay, thanks. Well, if you were a “smart person who is sincere but misguided” then I can see how this approach you’re advocating might work. As I said in my answer, my experience with real scientific cranks is that their condition is incurable, so my guess is you weren’t actually such a person and we’re talking about slightly different things. Anyway, you have your life experience and I have mine. I stand by what I said in my answer.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 4:12
  • 1
    Also lets not forget that also a lot of successful theories have flaws. So as long as his theory makes testable predictions (which do not disagree with known experiments) it is golden.
    – lalala
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 12:20
  • 2
    @user56202 here are some examples. John Nash is another example, related of course to him developing a mental illness.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 1:43

The way you have framed this question, and the answers so far (whether optimistic or pessimistic), have all approached the situation as an intellectual one, about convincing your friend that the knowledge they believe they have is incorrect. I suggest that this is not the way to proceed.

Instead, think of this as an issue of communities. Your friend's academic work has left the 'respectable academia' community and moved into 'crank' territory – this may be within a community of likeminded others (the internet makes this very easy to achieve) or perhaps as a lone operator. The situation isn't like a misinformed student, it is analogous to (but not the same as, and not as serious as!) someone who believes in a conspiracy theory, religious cult or extremist beliefs. There is no one set of reasons people can be vulnerable to such beliefs, but common characteristics might include loneliness, a sense of frustration or powerlessness in their previous situation, and isolation which enables them to lose perspective quickly.

Under this view, trying to help your friend by discussing the correctness/validity/truth/whatever of the work they are doing is orthogonal to the problem. Instead, see what you can do about the underlying issue. Perhaps your friend was frustrated with what they saw as a lack of progress in mainstream academia. Perhaps they are corresponding with someone charismatic who gives them the positive feedback they have been craving. Perhaps they are very bored (and lockdown has made this much worse!) and when they are writing their crank work they feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Therefore, consider what you would do to help any friend who seemed to be 'falling into the wrong community'. Perhaps inviting them to join your squash league would help. Perhaps encouraging them to volunteer teaching highschoolers would help. Perhaps reminding them of some non-academic pursuits they were involved in when you were undergrads would help. You could also gain insight by looking online at advice given to people with friends/relatives who are conspiracy theorists, COVID-19 deniers or have extremist political views (again, I am not suggesting that these are all equivalent!) which typically stresses that arguing directly with them doesn't really help.

  • 2
    +1 The book Escaping the Rabbit Hole by Mick West explains this point in much greater detail and gives actual examples of people who fell down the rabbit hole of a conspiracy theory but eventually made their way out again. Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 13:08
  • 1
    Good answer! One other possibility to consider though: mental illness. One type of crank seems to be a person who has lost touch with reality. That kind should be easier to spot though...
    – bob
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 13:14
  • 1
    Perhaps inviting them to join your squash league would help. Really, this is physically improbable unless uni squash teams are travel-sponsored. This is due to both friends being in separate institutions and it seems well apart - otherwise the friendship would be better maintained and the crank's fate avoided. But it's not likely to work anyhow. Cranks retain their intuition and readily sense when old friends are trying to shepherd them away from what they are currently at. This guy sounds (1) wilful; (2) intellectually independent; and (3) uneasily biddable. A case for a professional.
    – Trunk
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 13:11

Unlike the stereotypical crank, your friend is actively engaged in research to make a living (presumably). The absence of credible work will automatically force him to confront some tough questions, following which he will have to make a tough, decisive choice. All is probably not lost. The best you can do is to stay around and be supportive (of the person, not the suspect research) in case he does fall upon hard times and could use help. Would be nice to avoid the temptation to be smug and say I-told-you-so if this does happen.

Otherwise, it's best to play a passive role rather than actively counter him.

  • 1
    This has the advantage that if his research turns out not to be that cranky after all, you haven't burned all bridges with that person yet.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 22:48
  • Not always. All you need is to be able to get more funding from somewhere or someone else.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 21:13
  • @DKNguyen - I see your point. If some cranks are able to continually get funding without results, I'd be happy to learn their ways. ;) Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 18:14
  • 2
    @AppliedAcademic Expand your circle of cranks. The more cranks you know, the more cranks with funding you know which gives you access to the people providing said funding. Have you ever met a crank that another crank thought was crazy crank? It is a spectrum. It's morbidly interesting...and baffling.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 18:33

One approach that might be useful here is to focus attention on the academic filters relating to publication of research. If your friend is truly absorbed by nonsensical theories and ideas, presumably he will have a hard time publishing those ideas in academic journals, and this will make it hard for him to establish a career where he can be paid to do his research.

Consequently, you might start by asking him if he is having any success publishing the ideas that you regard as "crank" ideas. If he has been unable to get through peer review then you might further inquire as to the problems he was having and this could lead to a frutiful discussion of what would be required for his ideas and theories to be proved or disproved. Try to focus on the falsifiability of his theories and what kind of evidence he could examine to show that the ideas are true or false. Ask him to explain his theory to you and to explain how he will demonstrate its merit to peer reviewers. You can then raise objections and challenges as "devil's advocate" to "assist" him with preparing for peer review. (Of course, you can also tell him you find his ideas to be wrong.) That will allow you to challenge the merits of his ideas from the perspective of helping him to prepare for the rigours of academic publication.

If he truly is well off-track, one possibility is that he might come to reject any value in peer-review entirely. If he seems to be heading in this direction, encourage him to look at the merits of the filtering and feedback system that peer-review provides (especially for novice researchers). Remind him that he was able to complete his PhD, so in principle he should have the skills needed to put forward publishable work if his theory is sound.

(And of course, if he is having no trouble having his ideas published in reasonable academic journals, this might mean that your diagnosis of their crankery is incorrect.)


If you spend a reasonable amount of time with this person then you can sidestep the whole crankery problem using animal training techniques such as training an incompatible behavior and least reinforcing scenario. (This doesn't work for problems like cold emails from trisectors, unfortunately, it requires a pretty strong commitment to regular reinforcement.)

Train an incompatible behavior: Get them to start working on something else, some problem that actually is solvable. You don't have to say work on something else instead of crankery at all, simply working on something else will be incompatible with working on crankery (only so many hours in the day, etc.). As an example, a bird trainer who didn't want his bird to land on his head trained the bird to land on a specific target instead. Training the bird to land on the target was much easier than trying to convince the bird not to land on his head, and obviously if the bird lands on the target then it is not landing on his head. This shouldn't be too hard, since most academics are easy to distract with any new problem, and you can use lots of positive reinforcement (asking to hear about results, showing interest in the problem, praise for any clever solution, etc.).

Least reinforcing scenario: When they go back to the old, unwanted behavior (crankery), just ignore it and use positive reinforcement for the new, wanted behavior. If you try to argue with them that the crankery is useless/bad/etc. then they will just be motivated to come up with new reasons why it is good/important/etc. and spend more time thinking about it/working on it....the opposite of what you want! Instead just ignore it and change the subject whenever it comes up. If they start a conversation with [crankery, blahblahblah], you could redirect with something like, "Actually I have been spending all of my time on [cool topic]! Did you hear about [cool application] they have been using it for? It is really nifty, let me tell you about it..." (Or even just make a non-committal noise and then start talking about something entirely unrelated.) Talking about the crankery doesn't get any reinforcement from you (good or bad), it just falls into a black hole and gets no response (to the crankery) at all.


I think that, rather than discussing the specifics of the "work" of your friend, it might help to encourage your friend to "take the outside view": briefly ignore the great potential/novelty/grandeur/etc. of this particular work, and instead consider what to do with "other works superficially similar to yours". If they accept this and have a reasonable view of "similar works" (Nobel prize winning works are the wrong reference class...), their frame of mind should become a bit closer to yours, at least for a moment.

Some questions to consider can be: Would it be worth spending as much time on those projects as you do now? Would now be the best moment to spend time on it, or are there more urgent or less risky projects to work on right now? Is this good for your career? If there are simpler or more concrete goals that the grand work in theory should resolve, would it be better to primarily focus on these goals instead?1

If your friend either rejects this exercise, insists on an incorrect reference class, or concludes that it's nevertheless still worth it to spend most of their time on this, then I don't think there's much you can do. They've made their decision.

1: This seems to have worked at least once: "I believe [a hypothesis commonly believed to be true] is false. (...) Even if [this hypothesis] is true, my belief in the opposite has led me to many ideas I’d have never found otherwise.", Ryan Williams, On the Strong Exponential Time Hypothesis And yes, said ideas indeed did lead to a some good papers.

I don't know.

You say little about the actual field of research he (you too ?) is in. You are a bit vague of the depth of the friendship. Seems like you two are just ex-sparring partners from undergrad days and the relation has fallen off since then.

But you do feel concerned on a human level and want to know what to do in this situation. I suppose you fear he'll be removed from his present position and/or excluded from serious consideration for any future appointment. One thing I know (though knowing and applying are two separate things) is that you can't be successful when trying to play two roles in someone's life: you can't be friend and critical colleague.

Bearing in mind some similar posts, it might be worth looking into if any other event has occurred in his life in recent years that may have started him down this road. This could be a traumatic event, a medical condition, a painful relationship break-up or - most likely here - encountering a charismatic yet misleading pseudo-scientist.

Something you can do is to go to your own doctor and frankly discuss the situation and how you should best handle it. The doctor may have ideas or experience of use. Or they may suggest that you contact a psychologist/counsellor.


Sometimes cranks are right. Consider Noah who became "delusional" that a great flood was coming. All the scientists of the world opposed him.

If your friend is not developing a perpetual motion machine, which is known to be an impossible source of energy, perhaps give your friend a little room for some original thought. This world would not enjoy much of its present collective knowledge without the participation of many who stepped beyond the bounds of what their present society would have termed sanity.

Christopher Columbus dared to sail off the edge of the planet, believing that the world was a sphere, and not flat at all. Many mocked him. He was considered delusional. But who ended up actually being delusional? It was those who accepted incorrect groupthink.

Without details, we cannot say much about whether or not your friend is truly going off the deep end. Neither can we know of a certainty that your friend is incorrect or less correct than yourself--or even the rest of us.

Given the historical problems with groupthink, I would propose that your friend is doing society a service. If those who are "delusional" accomplish nothing more than to get others to think more carefully about the facts and to be open to a new reality, they have accomplished a great thing. Without people like this, and imagining a world in which no one dared think or believe anything beyond what was popularly accepted to be true, we would never have advanced to where we are today. Even if your friend is not correct, your friend should be regarded as having the same rights that all of the rest of us have, including the right to be wrong.

Ultimately, what one chooses to believe is a personal choice and an inalienable right. It is sometimes possible and helpful to persuade someone through the utmost of tact and consideration, but it is never right, nor even actually possible, to coerce one's beliefs.

  • In principle, yes, but, in practice, there is a substantial cost both to the individual and to those around them... Engagement with really-dubious ideas takes time and energy that can displace... in all our limited time-and-energy situations... time and energy better allocated elsewhere. Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 23:13

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