Bullshit detectors engaged


Found these via John Gruber (here and here), discussing the growing problem of not being able to detect bullshit.

For example, the following is complete bullshit:

We live in the age of information, which means that we also live in the age of misinformation. Indeed, you have likely come across more bullshit so far this week than a normal person living 1,000 years ago would in their entire lifetime. If we were to add up every word in every scholarly piece of work published prior to the Enlightenment, this number would still pale in comparison with the number of words used to promulgate bullshit on the internet in the 21st century alone.

The article starts with the above and then proceeds to dissect why it’s bullshit and how we can better equip ourselves to fight the urge to believe things that have no basis. It’s more likely than not they appeal to existing beliefs we hold, or have a sense of profundity to them.


The first and most important step is to recognise the limits of our own cognition. We must be humble about our ability to justify our own beliefs. These are the keys to adopting a critical mindset – which is our only hope in a world so full of bullshit.

I’ve ordered Harry Frankfurt’s book On Bullshit (get it here from Book Depository) – looking forward to better preventing my naive and gullible side from growing.

By the way, whenever you stumble across bullshit that a friend of yours believes, here’s a few tips from Scientific American on how you can convince them otherwise:

  • 1. keep emotions out of the exchange
  • 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum)
  • 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately
  • 4. show respect
  • 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and
  • 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.

Add comment

By Craig Bailey