Ask Surly Amy

Recently, Dear Abbey screwed up big time. Some poor lady wrote in asking for help because she was afraid that when her family died they’d follow her around watching her poop and stuff. Dear Abby’s response? Yeah, the ghost of her dead mother-in-law probably WILL watch her get it on with the MIL’s son, but just because she’s so frigging happy for them and not because she’s a giant ghost perv.

We need a new, more rational advice columnist and we need her NOW. That’s why we’re introducing a new feature: Ask Surly Amy. Send your questions using the contact form and be sure to choose “Ask Surly Amy” from the menu, and our resident surly girl will dish out skeptical advice on anything from relationship problems to etiquette questions to pervy hauntings.

Here’s our very first installment. Enjoy!


Ask Surly Amy

Hello there.
I have a bit of a problem and it’s kind of a niche one and I don’t
have anyone really to ask so I thought someone here could help me?
I’m just gonna come right out and say it. This guy I’m sorta kinda
dating is a conspiracy theorist. I like him, but I have certain
standards that he’s not meeting. Namely being a skeptic.
Now, I know love is out there for me in the form of a skeptic man, and Rebecca taught me that.
Should I pursue a relationship? His conspiracy stuff
is gonna bother me and I’ll always be afraid that I can’t just let it
be. In a friend, I’ll tolerate ghost belief, alt med, and all other
forms of nonsense, but I don’t think I could have a boyfriend who
believes that stuff. I know people of different opinions can have a
relationship, my mother is jewish and my father is a lutheran, but
this is a big one.
Any advice? I know you can’t decide for me, but I’d like some
outside skeptical input.
Thanks so much!

First of all, thank you for being our very first Ask Surly Amy participant! Your prize is our gratitude and the following advice.

Explain Occam’s Razor to the guy this way:
Either you stop pursuing irrational belief systems or I am going to cut you (out of my life.)

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one and the simplest explanation here is for you to dump the con-nut.

Some things you can totally overlook. Like if your significant other enjoys listening to Barry Manilow, that’s completely fine. At least it is something you can deal with. But if your significant other likes to listen to Barry Manilow while trying to convince you that Lady Gaga conspired with George Bush to take down the twin towers to divert attention away from the war, well then it’s clearly time to move on.

My advice is to lose Mr. paranoid-delusion AND get yourself a ticket to TAM this year! You will be pleasantly surprised by how many hot skeptics will be hanging out at the bar and at the Skepchick party!

See you then!

~Surly Amy

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

*Ask Surly Amy is meant for entertainment purposes only. All advice should be taken with as much skepticism as anything else, really.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Sometimes you just have to bail. I dated a girl that believed heavily in natural medicine and various forms of vitalism. A couple dates in I realized I couldn’t talk to her about interesting stuff, and ended it because I felt the distance in world view was too great to resolve.

    Now, a year later, she is 4 months into a breast cancer diagnosis and has yet to start conventional treatment. She’s going with Ayurveda and a raw food diet. It is shattering to watch this from some distance, and I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I was in a relationship with her.

    Your experience may not be as extreme as mine, but one has to recognize that these ways of seeing things have real life impact.

  2. Uhmmm…No offense, but is that a “real live problem” or is this a big mock up….
    In fact – Is it a conspiracy to pretend to have people writing to you so you can just give unsolicited advise to unsuspecting friends….

    If its a mock up, try not to telegraph the obvious answer in the question. See in “Dear Abby” she totally caught everyone off guard by announcing that the ghosts of dead relatives are watching us have sex. Everyone expects her to give some kind of rational advise. Its a great plot twist to announce that ghosts exist. Except of course she claims to be writing an advise column and not fiction, but the premise still works.

  3. Dear Surly Amy,

    My girlfriend is heavily into conspiracy theories. It’s gotten so we can’t talk about anything else, and she won’t listen to reason. I think I have to end it, but I want to do it as gently as possible because I really like her and I don’t want her to get hurt and I don’t want her to think I’m part of some huge conspiracy against her.

    What should I do?


    Henry K.
    Washington, DC.

  4. I’m so glad that my fiancée is a skeptic. She doesn’t get as worked up about woo as I do, but she certainly doesn’t believe it. The way I look at it now is similar to the advice given. This is more than just a habit that the BF is doing. He has a view of reality that is completely different from the advise asker.

    While differing of opinions on important topics is ok, being completely different in the way you look at the world can really mess things up.

    The research shows that the biggest predictor of failed relationships is how arguments happen. Not the number of arguments, but how you argue with each other. If you routinely show disrespect for the person or their views, then the relationship is likely to fail.

    Not saying she should respect those views, just that the lack of it will cause lots of issues in the relationship.

    I don’t see it working out.

    PS. My marriage/relationship psych research knowledge is a little rusty so please correct me if I got something above wrong. It’s been a few years since my classes in it.

  5. I know this is supposed to be an entertainment response, but I’m going to do as your post suggests and apply a little skepticism.

    If the guy in question could seriously not consider a more skeptical viewpoint, then I would completely agree with getting the heck out of there. A relationship can’t function in a healthy manner if one is constantly annoyed at the other over a conflict like this.

    However, bear in mind that this is a guy in a world where skepticism is much needed and where skepticism is not the default setting in people. This guy may not have had an opportunity, yet, to learn about ways to be more skeptical and the girl having problems with his lack of skeptical prowess may be in a position to fix that. I would suggest that she first take an informative approach. Don’t force conflict by setting an ultimatum. It isn’t time for that, yet. Instead, grab a few skeptical books and ask to read them together. This allows for a little bonding time, a chance for discussion and a non-confrontational way to bring up problems that he may have with his thinking.

    If you set the kind of ultimatum of “stop believing or else,” your most likely outcomes are either a guy who’s been shunned who isn’t entirely sure why or a guy who changes just to make you happy – which isn’t really a change at all on the intellectual level. Give him some room to grow, add something to fertilize his brain and see what happens. If the problem remains, THEN, you can let him know how much it bothers you.

    If it does come to discussing how something bothered you, try to present it in a way that considers his stance while presenting your own. Most of us are aware of how bad information spreads, so it is easy to say:

    “Hey, I know this is an important subject for you and that you’re convinced that it is correct. However, I feel this is a damaging thing for you to think and I am concerned that not only does it deny you the opportunity for better decision-making, I’m concerned that our relationship can’t hold together while it exists.”

    If that still doesn’t work – he’s been warned and there’s no longer any reason worry about it and you can just get the hell out of there.

    Besides, if skeptics only bred with each other without bringing new breeds into the fold, we’d eventually end up with genetic lines like British royalty. We wouldn’t want that, now, would we?

  6. Amy, you totally dropped the ball on this. Canning his ass like home-grown tomatoes isn’t going to do any good. He’ll just find a conspiracy theorista and have a conspiriorial brood. Instead, what Reader should do is take this conspiraphile to a hypnotherapist so he can be hypnotised into thinking rationally. And, when Reader gets annoyed with him, all this person has to do is snap fingers, and he’ll think he’s a chicken.

    Problem solved.


    Perry O. Ellis

  7. Yea I agree. A Lutheran and a Jew might differ on points of theology that no one actually cares about, but they can easily share a similar world view.

    On the otherhand, a CT and a skeptic just don’t match!

  8. @Non Believer: Confused. If someone emails a question, how is the advice “unsolicited”? That is the opposite of “unsolicited”.

    Also confused how the friends would be “unsuspecting” if they sent in a question. Do you mean to ask if Amy is giving advice to people who haven’t asked for it, but whose problems she knows about? The answer of course is no, that would be disingenuous and unethical.

  9. I’m curious to know what kind of conspiracy theorist this fellow is. Is he the type that is always looking for answers? If so, he’s a baby skeptic and just needs to be nudged (or shoved violently) in the right direction. Perhaps the person who sent this in could introduce some scientific articles about whatever it is her CT fellow is researching.
    I also highly suggest adding “Demon Haunted World” and “Why People Believe Weird Stuff” to his reading list.

  10. Of course, then there’s the conspiracy theorist who thinks they’re just funny… but if it’s a problem in a relationship, that’s likely not the case here.

  11. The answer really depends on what the skeptic wants from the relationship, doesn’t it? If it is a long-term committed relationship than it isn’t a good match – some day it will start to get on her nerves too much. But maybe she is looking for a bit of entertainment. In that case, why not? Most skeptics don’t seem to mind accepting a bit of woo in their entertainment. I must admit I just spent 90 minutes of my life watching “Bubba Ho-tep” last night. Some of the skeptics who post here have admitted to liking Doctor Who. When he stops being entertaining, move on.

  12. I have a problem that could use some Surly advice. I volunteer with children, most of the volunteers are parents and one of those volunteer parents is a alt med fanatic. I’ve heard her recommending homeopathy and acupuncture to the kids and their families. The adults can look after themselves but I’m not sure what exactly I should say to the kids if anything.

  13. @Tortorific: Off the top of my head I would simply warn the parent that it is a legal liability for your organization for any of the volunteers to be giving any type of medical advice without a license. If you are not a superior to her perhaps you can speak with someone in charge and let them know that you are concerned for the wellbeing of the kids, the potential liability involved and ask that the woman be politely asked to discuss her faith based health claims outside of the workplace. I wouldn’t say anything to the kids specifically, just teach them facts and how to question things and to investigate. Kids are natural scientists. :)

    If you would like this to be an actual, Ask Surly Amy topic where we delve a little deeper into the topic please send in your specific question via the contact link at the top left of the home page.

  14. Surly is right. Your epistemology is different. You use critical thought, rationale, logic and evidence and he…doesn’t.

    That’s a standard in a partner that, a skeptical person, shouldn’t lower. I posit it’s not the beliefs that are the problem but how he came to those conclusions. I’m paraphrasing Rebecca here when I say I won’t mate with the true believers and neither should you. The men at TAM are better suited for you. (just wait until I get there*)

    *Yes, lame, I know =p

  15. @Amy, I was channeling the ghost of Henry Kissinger, which seemed entirely appropriate in the context of the original Dear Abbey response. Now, I checked with Wikipedia and according to them, he’s not actually dead, but we all know better than to trust them. :-)

  16. @Non Believer:
    See in “Dear Abby” she totally caught everyone off guard by announcing that the ghosts of dead relatives are watching us have sex.

    Perhaps the column was ghost-written by Sylvia Claws?

  17. @kylev: That’s gotta be so hard to watch. I can only sympathize with you. She’s another case to show that purveying BS to the gullible and naive isn’t a “victimless crime.”

    That’s one trip down “Woo Lane” that’s all too likely to be one way. Let’s hope her diagnosis was in error, because if it’s not, the future for her is probably grim, painful and short.

  18. Oof. Never get involved with the conspiracy theorists, they can be straight-up crazy.

    Although I can one-up you… my ex was a *scientologist* and a conspiracy theorist. The woo, it stings.

  19. @Tracy King:
    I just came back to see this today. (reminded by the current Ask Surly Amy.

    I don’t suspect a conspiracy.
    I was trying to be amusing (and undoubtedly failing) by building up to the Dear Abby Plot twist idea.

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