What flavor bullsh*t do you prefer?
I like to think of myself as a bullsh*t mitigator. I am surprised every single day how susceptible people are to pseudo-science but mostly how hesitant many of us are to question the answers we are often given. The podcast below provides context for the problem at hand and I find it particularly interesting — especially when so much is at stake on our sociopolitical landscape.
Intelligent and informed discourse is required globally and ultimately will determine the future of our planet. Not to be too precious about it but the news about the airpocalypse in Bejiing should make you uneasy. The denial of climate as an important topic or global focus should make you downright ill — literally and figuratively.
A paper in journal, Judgement and Decision Making by Gordon Pennycook, James Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang examine how analytic we are when presented with information.
Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”).
Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements.
These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. Our results also suggest that a bias toward accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity.
In full disclosure I am intrigued by cognition, heuristics, and behavioral economics in general. I consider it one of the lenses for many topics I explore on my blogs, Data & Donuts and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Brand. Healthcare and medicine lend themselves to scrutiny for many reasons but mainly because of the confluence of free markets, patient preference, and influence of astronomical amounts of money. The medical-industrial complex is a mighty beast.
Ignorance abounds when polarized pundits oversimplify solutions and ignore the hydra of needs for a useful and realistic modification of the US healthcare system. The dilemma extends well beyond access (although insurance is a good place to start), clinicians, and the cost of prescription drugs. If you don’t recognize the large profit generating elephant in the room dwarfing objectives like health and quality of life — you are feeding the bullsh*t machine. Historical accounts of the MIC “are connected to everything including eugenics, capitalism, colonization, slavery, immigration, war, prisons, and reproductive oppression.”
Professionally, I take this seriously. I write easy to digest books about Improving Numeracy in Medicine and introduce the journalist, health educator, and clinician to data sources freely available for knowledge enhancement — cheap bullsh*t detectors for the price of a cup of coffee.
If anything you read here resonates, please share with your friends, family, and colleagues. We need to start conversations and question answers.