Have you ever ignored or avoided a tough question? Do you find it hard to admit to making errors? Or perhaps you are dismissive of the arguments of others and employ double standards to how you interpret things. If any of these ring a little bit true, then you are likely demonstrating intellectual dishonesty.

In this post, we will look at what intellectual dishonesty is, why it is important, how to recognize it, and the steps you need to take to beat it.

What Is Intellectual Dishonesty?

A good starting point is to explore how intellectual dishonesty differs from regular dishonesty. When someone is being simply dishonest, they are often misrepresenting a clear fact e.g. ‘no, I did not take that last cookie!’ If that is the case, they may need to focus on how to stop lying.

Intellectual dishonesty is not applying the same intellectual rigor or weighting to your own beliefs as you do to the beliefs of others. It may not be as simple as someone lying; someone may just ignore holes in their own thinking or logic, as it doesn’t fit with their intended outcome.

Intellectual dishonesty also often relates to being closed-minded and not being open to others’ points of view. People react by being intellectually dishonest to make the facts suit their opinion. Avoiding other opinions or new information makes it much easier to reach your intended conclusion.

Intellectual Honesty

Before exploring more about intellectual dishonesty, it is important to briefly mention its counterpart: intellectual honesty. This is what we are trying to achieve by challenging dishonesty. To reach it, someone needs to be open to all viewpoints and be willing to change their mind.

If someone is genuinely intellectually honest, they are willing to change their opinion, even if it may not suit their goals. They care more about having high standards of truth than being ‘right’. They will be unbiased in their selection of sources to support their argument and they will adequately reference any sources they use.

Why Is Intellectual Honesty Important?

In a world full of misinformation and fake news, challenging intellectual dishonesty is of growing importance. On key issues such as the environment, education, and health, there is growing confusion around facts. If public opinion is based on incorrect or unchallenged facts, the policies governments make may also be compromised.

We need to ensure we can stop the spread of potentially dangerous mistruths and untruths. How can we do that? By learning how to spot and stop intellectual dishonesty, we are better equipped to fight the problem.

Intellectual Dishonesty in Science and Medicine

One specific example where intellectual dishonesty can have potentially damaging consequences for society is when it is applied to academics. This is particularly the case in science and medicine. This is shown particularly well in a study into intellectual dishonesty in science [1].

The majority of scientists that make mistakes do so by accident. However, there is a tendency among some scientists to make mistakes intentionally. Through “cooking” or “trimming” results, they tailor their results to show what they want rather than what the data actually shows.

If this is done in medical studies or with pharmaceutical trials, the potential for dangerous outcomes is worrying. Indeed, another study [2] highlighted the need to give medical researchers extra training about the potentially damaging outcomes of intellectual dishonesty in research.

How Do You Beat Intellectual Dishonesty?

There is no sure-fire way to beat intellectual dishonesty. Some people simply refuse to believe something other than their own truth. However, here is a 6 step guide that should help you in your worthwhile quest. It is designed for engaging in a conversation with someone. However, it applies to other scenarios, such as a debate.

Step 1: Spot the signs

The first thing to consider when trying to beat it is to understand the signs that it is being used. Here are five common signs or techniques of someone being intellectually dishonest:

  1. Ignoring or avoiding the question.

  2. Employing double standards.

  3. Never admitting error or pretending things make sense when they don’t.

  4. Being vague in their answers, often to deceive others.

  5. Being dismissive of others’ arguments without giving a proper reason.

Step 2: Be intellectually honest

Once you have spotted the signs, the next step is to be sure of your own intellectual honesty. As the old saying goes, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. Also, if the other person spots you being intellectually dishonest, they will be less likely to change.

Step 3: Listen to the other person

Truly listen to the arguments of others and take them in, rather than simply waiting to make your point. By doing so, you may not only have a better interaction with that person, you may be in a better position to call them out on their intellectual dishonesty if you so wish. There are different types of listening you can employ to do this.

Step 4: Question

This is your opportunity to carefully question some of the dishonest claims of the other. This may be difficult as some people may react negatively. They may be affronted and close down the conversation or fight back. To try and prevent this, ask questions in a non-confrontational manner.

Step 5: Re-question

If the other person is dodging your questions, ask them again. You can try and ask the same question a different way to give the other person a chance. However, if they persist in dodging, repeat the question the exact same way.

Step 6: Call them out

If the other person is repeatedly displaying signs of intellectual dishonesty, call them out on it. If other reasonable strategies have failed, it may be best to highlight what they are doing.

Step 6: Rewind

If you feel the discussion is going off track, go back to the start. Listen again and try and comprehend in better detail what their arguments are. Then repeat the other steps to break through their intellectual dishonesty.

Are you prone to being intellectually dishonest or do you know someone who is? Feel free to share your thoughts on the topic in the comment box below.


  1. https://www.researchgate.net
  2. https://www.researchgate.net

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