#53 – How to detect bullshit

By Scott Berkun, August 9, 2006

Everyone lies: it’s just a question of how, when and why. From the relationship saving “yes, you do look thin in those pants” to the improbable “your table will be ready in 5 minutes”, manipulating the truth is part of the human condition. Accept it now.

I’m positive that given our irrational nature and difficultly accepting tough truths, we’re collectively better off with some of our deceptions. They buffer us from each other (and from ourselves), avoid unnecessary conflicts, and keep the wonderful confusion of our psychologies tucked away from those who don’t care. White lies are the spackle of civilization, tucked into the dirty corners and crevices our necessary, but pretentiously inflexible idealisms create. Small lies prop up and support our powerful truths, holding together the insanely half honest, half false chaos that spins the world.

But lies, serious lies, should not be encouraged as they destroy trust, the binding force in all relationships. One particularly troublesome kind of lie is known as Bullshit (BS). These are unnecessary deceptions, committed in the gray area between polite white lies and complete malicious fabrications. BS is usually defined as inventions made in ignorance of the facts, where the primary goal is to protect oneself. The aim of BS isn’t to harm another person, although that often happens collaterally. For a variety of reasons BS can be hard to detect, which is why I’m offering this missive as a crash B.S. in BS detection. But be warned: to keep you on your toes there are several bits of BS tucked inside this essay which you will have to find for yourself.

Why people BS: a primer

The first lie in the Western canon comes from the same joyful tome as the first murders, wars and plagues: the Old Testament. Despite my distaste for trips into religious texts, this one has supreme tragicomic value.

To recap from the book of Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, as pretty as it is, for they’ll die. He wanders off to do some unexplained godlike things, as gods are prone to do, leaving the very tempting, and non pit-bull or electrified fence protected, tree out for all to see. Meanwhile Satan slinks by and convinces Eve apples are good: so she and Adam have an apple snack (the bible refers to them only as fruit, apples are a western addition). God instantly returns, scolds Adam, who blames Eve; resulting in everyone, snakes, people and all, getting thrown out of Eden forever.

Please note that in this tale nearly everyone lied. God lied[1], or was deceptively ambiguous, about the apples (they weren’t fatal in any modern sense, as if I told you reading this essay will kill you, you’d expect I meant sometime today – please read the footnote if you’re angered by critiques of scripture). Satan misrepresents the apple’s power, and Adam, approximates a lie in his wimpy finger pointing to Eve. It’s a litany of deception and a cautionary tale: in any book that makes everyone look bad in just a few pages, is it really a surprise how the rest plays out?

People lie for three reasons; the first is to protect themselves. They may wish to protect something they want or need, a concept they cherish, or to prevent something they fear, like confrontation. There is often a clear psychological need motivating every lie.

A well known fib, “the dog ate my homework”, fits the BS model. In the desperate fear driven attempt not to be caught, children’s imaginations conceive amazing improbabilities. Fires, plagues, revolutions, curses, illnesses and absurd reinventions of the laws of physics and space-time have all been summoned by children around the world on the fateful mornings when they find themselves at school, sans-homework. It’s an emotional experience, this need to BS: as logically speaking, the stress of inventing and maintaining a lie is rarely easier than accepting the consequences of the truth.

Which leads to the second reason people lie: sometimes it works. It’s a gamble, but when it works, wow. Did you lie to your parents about girls, boys, fireworks, drugs, grades, or where you were till 2am on a school night? I sure did and still do. My parents still think I’m a famous painter / doctor / professor in London (shhh), and my best friend still believes his high school girlfriend and I didn’t get it on every time I borrowed his car[2]. Even my ever faithful dog Butch used to lie, in his way, by liberating trash from a house-worth of garbage cans, then hiding in his bed, hoping his lack of proximity to the Jackson Pollock of refuse that was formerly my kitchen would be indistinguishable from innocence.

Which gives us the third reason people lie, a truth saints and sinners have known for ages: we want to be seen as better than we see ourselves. Sadly, comically, we also believe we’re alone in both having this temptation, as well as the shame it brings with it (e.g. “We’re not alone in feeling alone“). The secret truth is everyone has moments of weakness: times when fear and greed melt our brains and we’re tempted to say the lies we wish were true. And for that reason the deepest honesty is found in people willing to admit to their lies, or their barely resisted temptations, and own the consequences. Not the pretense of the saints, who pretend, incomprehensibly, inhumanly, to never even have those urges at all.

Ok, enough philosophy: lets get to detection.

BS detection

The first rule of BS is to expect it. Fire detectors are designed to expect a fire at any moment: they’re not optimists. They fixate on the possibility of fires and that’s why they save lives. If you want to detect BS you have to swallow some cynicism, and add some internal doubt to everything you hear. Socrates, the father of western wisdom, based his philosophy around the recognition, and expectation, of ignorance. It’s far more dangerous to assume people know what they’re talking about, than it is to assume they don’t and let them prove you wrong. Be like Socrates: assume people are unaware of their own ignorance (including yourself) and politely, warmly, probe to sort out the difference.

The first detection tool is a question: How do you know what you know?

Throw this phrase down when someone force feeds you an idea, an argument, a reference to a study or over-confidently suggests a course of action. People so rarely have their claims challenged, that asking someone to explain how they know sheds light on whatever ignorance they’re hiding. It instantly diminishes the force of a BS driven opinion. It works well in response to the following examples:

  • The project will take 5 weeks“. How do you know this? What might go wrong that you haven’t accounted for? Would you bet $10k on this claim? $100k?
  • Our design is groundbreaking.” Really? What ground is that? And who, besides the designers/investors, has this opinion?
  • Studies show that liars’ pants are flame resistant..” What studies? Who ran them and why? Did you actually read the study or a two sentence press clipping (poorly) explaining the results? Are there any studies that claim the opposite?

When you ask a flavor of “how do you know what you know?” often they can’t answer quickly. Even credible thinkers need time to sort through their logic, separating assumptions from facts: an an exercise that works in everyone’s favor.

Of course it’s fine to hear: “This is purely my opinion” or “It’s a guess, as we have no data”, but those are far weaker claims that most people, especially if they’re making stuff up, typically make. Identifying someone’s opinion as speculation, rather than fact, disarms the threat of most kinds of BS.

The second tool is also a question: What is the counter argument?
Anyone who has seriously considered something will have seen enough facts
to fit their current argument as well as alternative position: ask for them. It’s a grade school assignment, intended to show there are many reasonable ways to interpret the same set of facts. However, someone who is bullshitting you won’t have researched or thought through anything: they’re making things up. Asking for the counter argument will force them to either back up their position, or to end the discussion until they’ve done due diligence. (If they claim there is no counter argument, end the discussion. They are not only BS’ing you, they think you’re a moron).

Similarly useful questions include: Who besides you shares this opinion? What are your biggest concerns, and what will you do to address them? What would need to change for you to have a different (opposite) opinion?

Time & Pressure

A good thought holds together. Its solid conceptual mass maintains its shape no matter how much you poke, probe, test and examine. But BS is all surface. Like a magician’s bouquet of flowers, it’s pretty as it flashes past your eyes, but its absence of integrity become obvious when you hold it in your hands. Anyone creating BS knows this, and will tend towards urgency. They’ll resist reviews, breaks, consultations or the suggestion of sleeping on decisions before they’re made.

Use time & pressure, the third tool of BS detection, in your favor: never allow big decisions to be mismanaged to the point where they must be made urgently. Ask to withhold judgment for a day, and watch the response. Invite people with expertise you need but don’t have to participate in decisions to add intellectual and domain pressure (Hiring them if necessary. The $500 you pay a lawyer, accountant or consultant to review something effectively becomes a well spent BS insurance fee).

Be a leader in creating an environment unpleasant for BS. If everyone knows the gauntlet of friendly, but rigorous, intellectual curiosity claims must run through, BS will be discouraged while still in the minds of the tempted.

Confidence in reduction

Especially in business and technology, jargon and obfuscation hide huge quantities of BS. Inflated language is a technique of intimidation. The bet is that if you don’t understand what they’re talking about, you’ll feel stupid, or distracted, and give in to the appearance of their superior knowledge. This is, of course, entirely bullshit. To withstand BS you have to have an inner core of self-reliance, holding on to your doubts longer than the BS’er holds onto their charade.

For example:
Our dynamic flow capacity matrix has unprecedented downtime resistance protocols.

If you don’t understand what the hell this means, err on your own side. Don’t assume you’re missing something: assume they are. They’re either hiding something, communicating poorly, or don’t themselves understand what they’re talking about. BS deflating responses include:

  • I refuse to accept this proposal until I, or someone I trust, fully understands it.
  • Explain this in simpler terms I can understand (repeat if necessary).
  • Break this into pieces you can verify, prove, compare, or demonstrate for me.
  • Are you trying to say “our network server has a backup power supply?” If so, can you speak plainly next time?

Assignment of trust

The fourth tool of BS detection (derived from the rule of expecting BS) is careful assignment of your trust. Never agree to more than your trust allows. Who cares how confident they are: the question is how confident are you in them? It’s rare that there isn’t
time for trust to be earned. Divide requests, projects or commitments into pieces. It’s not offensive to refuse to take someone’s word if they have no history of living up to it before (especially if they’re trying to sell you something).

And trust can be delegated. I don’t need to trust you, if you’ve earned the trust of people I trust. Anyone skilled in the BS arts has obtained that skill through practice, diminishing the odds that many BS-proof people have been successfully deceived by them in the past. Nothing defuses BS faster than a collective of people that help each other detect and eliminate BS. If a team of people witnesses the complete evisceration of someone’s BS few will attempt it again: they’ll know your world is a BS free zone. Great teams and families help each other detect bullshit, both in others and themselves, as sometimes the real BS we need to fear
is our own.

Footnotes

[1] One popular interpretation of Genesis 2:17 is that God meant “you will be mortal” when he said “you will surely die”, so its not a lie – this is in line with the many who believe in the omnibenevolence of god or the perfect nature of the bible. While I question these positions, they are popular views and deserves mention. More to my point, in the context of Genesis, there is no reason Adam could know, when told by God he’d surely die, any of these modern interpretations of God’s words, or the symbolic meaning of all these things, we know now in the present.

[2] This is of course, complete bullshit. I have never lied to anyone ever.

The link about apples not being in Genesis was added on 3/6/2012. I’d known about this common erroneous assumption, but didn’t see the need to call it out until now.

The phrase, “or was deceptively ambiguous”, was added 9/25/2006.

The phrase “..they weren’t fatal in any modern sense… ” was added 6/30/2010

References

Photo credits: Bullfighting arena, Razorback’s Ozarks, Tricorder, Bulls for sale.

224 Responses to “#53 – How to detect bullshit”

  1. madhukar bhaiya

    really liked it….gimme some more, please. mb

    Reply
  2. Jeff

    On the section ” Confidence & Reduction ” , I would like
    to point out that two segments of our population use un-necessary verbage. They are politicians and economists. Far too often, they use a language I call ” obfuscatese ” . It sounds so important, accurate, and official, most people don’t question the user. Those who do attempt to unearth the truth are belittled, as if to say, ” How dare you question me? I’m the expert in this field/I’ve been in this department for ‘X’ years ” , and so on.

    Reply
  3. 7thson

    First off you are all full of bull shit! God didn’t write the bible man did!
    When we start the coversation with that fact, it’s fairly safe to say you are all full of BS.
    Open your mind ask questions, and don’t limit your thoughts to the passions of whatever religion you have been brainwashed to believe.

    Reply
    • Saxtus

      no god wrote the bible with his pinky finger i saw it on family guy!

      Reply
    • David Lieber

      @7THSON

      Scott was simply serving up an example of critical thinking–hardly thumping a Bible. Everyone knows that human beings wrote the Bible, including believers, and that much of what they wrote was bullshit. A few more seconds of your time would have brought you to that understanding.

      Reply
      • Jas

        And the bible was written by a bunch of traveling hash heads who had nothing better to do except pass on ” big fish stories”

        Reply
  4. English Learning Center

    Yes,this is a wonderful Article i really enjoy through out the Article,that how we detect bullshit it gives new and working ideas.

    Reply
  5. Loak

    Lying is a perfectly valid tactic to achieving your goals.

    Most people suck at using it (Wrong situation or lies that are just stupid and unbelievable), but most people are also very gullible, so it kind of cancels out.

    There’s also a few rare situations where you’ll want someone to catch your lie.

    Reply
  6. pfffhtt

    hey idiot has it ever occurred to you that adam and eve weren’t to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge because then they will know good and evil thus causing them to sin and do things that are unholy also the eating of the tree has caused them to lose their immortality.

    Reply
    • rationalthinker

      Yeah, last I checked. Adam and Eve, were in fact, DEAD.

      sounds like he was 100% correct when he said, eat and die.

      Hey morons, It’s not God’s fault, YOUR ignorant assumptions led you to the WRONG conclusions.

      Reply
  7. stefan

    thank you.

    I actually read quite a bit of your site and didnt get side tracked.

    maybe it was the alcoholic freedom flowing through my mind as I sit here gazing out of a 32nd floor lounge window.

    anyway, I have been doing the ‘talking about writing a book’ for nigh on 10-15 years. started a bit then got bogged down by work and family- well, work really.

    sorry, I waffle, in summary, your site made sense and was informative (and encouraging) to me, I will send a cheque for a doughnut and coffee when my first book gets erm, finished….if published you will have my thanks and a mention!
    Cheerio.

    Reply
  8. fran

    To sum it up for me is people lie because they think they look good, and it boost there ego, until they find out they can’t do what they lied about then they look like a fool. thats what you get when you really lie. I guess we all do the little white lies, but they suck to.

    Reply
    • brenda

      people lie with malicious intent to belittle some one else or inflict harm. i belive this is done so that they can 1. say they are just as bad as i am. 2. see how much better i am 3. as a form of control 4. lie to them selves.

      Reply
  9. Kevin

    What a load of guff this article? is mister . All of these comments below come from a bunch of idiots bullshit’n themselves . F this world and all the morons that have inherited it . I am all alone but not lonely in my reflections of pure honest simplicity

    Reply
  10. Carol Cartwright

    My teacher–who was a sort of Gnostic Stoic existentialist atheist rationalist freethinker radical passing as an Ivy League educated Republican–used to say in his upper level undergrad course on the History of the English Language:

    “Language was invented to tell a dirty joke with, then to lie about it later.”

    Reply
  11. Katharine Trauger

    I wonder. Are you suggesting BS is good? A little confusing, there! I mean, do you subscribe to it? Are we to take all your articles seriously? Or do you recommend we test them?

    Also, you left out one lie in the Gen. story: Eve, in her response to the serpent said that they were not to eat of it or to TOUCH IT. Obvious stretching of the truth, there, and who knows if she heard it wrong from Adam or if she just stood there and made up stuff while visiting with a snake…BUT the fact that she was promoting or believing THIS lie caused her to have more confidence, perhaps, when she touched it and experienced no change at all…

    So, if you are a proud and practicing BSer, take a lesson from Eve and include some confusion for our radar screens. Got it? :-)

    Just a thought.

    Reply
  12. Annoyed

    I’m really getting annoyed by all these people who are implying that the author of this essay is unintelligent just because he said that God lied by saying that Adam and Eve would die if they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Why do you think that you have the monolopy of opinion on a religious subject? Since countless scholars who are older, wiser and indubitably more intelligent than most of the people commenting here have attempted and failed to come up with one definitive theory of what any one example of symbolism presented in the Bible actually means, what on Earth makes you think that you can? Honestly, that’s just a little bit arrogant isn’t it? Can’t we all just except that nobody really knows, because the fact of the matter is that NONE OF YOU WERE THERE!!!!

    P.S JK if you are going to be so pedantic about people getting their quotes wrong, well then you might want to check your own, because I think you will find that Proverb 16:18 actually reads “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”.

    Reply
    • marc

      Adam and Eve. It’s “ha Adam” actually, which means something different folks! The bible itself says not to take these thing Literally… Yet we’ve been lead down that very path. A good resource for all this are the authors who use the bible itself, to shred it. It’s easily done and I’m still amazed at myself for missing all that while a born again at bible study. Details aside, any truths in the book were lifted from earlier pagan sources. Similar to how they built over pagan sacred sites etc.
      Also consider this curious similarity; born into sin…born into debt. Seriously ponder that as these crafters of old knew very well what they were doing – and where they were taking thing$! They were adept at creating fake secular histories as well. There are more and more sources with alternate views on the Dark Ages. They were “dark” because someone didn’t want the truth out (as to all the machinations via vested interests).

      Reply
    • Saxtus

      I WOULD SAY WHAT I WOULD SAY BUT THEN I’D COPY YOU!

      Reply
    • Just Me

      I really luv it that I am not the only one that say, “NONE OF YOU WERE THERE.”

      Reply
  13. Mark

    I was hoping to read more about detecting BS for people who inflate their own accomplishments, or ego or who think they know everything, or clearly exaggerate if not lie about their own accoplishments.
    For example, I know a person who clamined an accomplishment I know to be clearly false because I have very good knowledge of worlds records of certain things and am a a very good mathematician who eaisly identified that what this person did physcially would have completely shattered the world record and yet this person was never known in any way by any media, nor mentioned in any sports records books, or trivia anywhere. In fact, this feat he clamis he did based on my math, based on a history pattern won’t even be achived for even 50 or 60 years from now, and this feat would have been recorded about 30-40 years ago. so we are talking a world record that would have not been reached for 80-100 years. But this person always seems to have an answer for everything, yet he believes in what amounts to be nothing more than complete nonsense, and seems to blame everyone else for every wrong instead of looking at himself.

    Reply
  14. Shenaaz

    About Adam and Eve in the Quraan

    This is in the Quraan regarding Adam and Eve:

    No mention in Quran, (Muslims holy book), on what Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat. Actually, they were commanded not to approach a tree in the Garden of Eden.
    Quran says (English meaning translation):
    “O Adam! dwell you and your wife in the Garden, and enjoy (its good things) as you wish: but don’t approach this tree, or you run into harm and transgression.” Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them, bringing openly before their minds all their shame that was hidden from them (before): Satan said: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree, for not becoming angels or being alive for ever.” And he swore to them both, that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over their bodies. And their Lord called them: “Did I not forbid you that tree, and tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy to you?” They said: “Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: If you (God) don’t forgive us and don’t bestow upon us your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost. God said: “Get both down with enmity between yourselves (mankind). On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood,- for a time.” He said: “Therein shall you live, and therein shall you die; but from it shall you be taken out (at last).”
    [Quran, chapter7 (Surat Al-A'raf), verse 19 to 25]

    Reply
  15. Edmund Samph

    Great stuff! Periodically I do a dogpile.com search for stuff off the top of my head, sometimes just to see how good the search engine really is. This time my search was for “meaningless bullshit and speculation”. Which resulted in my finding your site and this page. ” #53 How to detect bullshit” I like the tricorder it’s always impressive when you can back it up with technology.

    Reply
  16. chan

    sounds like a whole lot of b.s if you ask me :)

    Reply
  17. Anaerobic Digestion

    Great post. I really enjoyed reading it. It’s true, A BS alarm needs to be never far from your thoughts these days whe told something is “groundbreaking” the very word is made for BS! Also, “Studies show”. Yep! Big warning bells on this one too, as you say who’s “studies”? Anaerobic Digestion Community

    Reply
  18. Bea Esse

    I clicked the link to ‘On Bullshit’ and there’s a good, brief explanation in a review of the book (paraphrased) – lying is in opposition to the truth, bullshit doesn’t care about either truth or lies.

    Reply
  19. marie soul

    I think bullshit is a way to make people think you know more about a certain topic then you really do.So I am not so sure it is a lie,..To me a lie would be something someone knows that is the truth but tells the opposite. That is my view,and when I read a story,fictional that is has a lil bullshit I kind of look forward too. But maybe thats just me :)

    Reply
    • Mel B.

      G-d did not lie. If you study the Torah in Hebrew atleast (and it should be studied in hebrew or else you’re getting a less than accurate translation) you will see that God tells Adam not to eat from the tree. Adam tells Eve that God said not to eat and not to touch the tree, thereby confusing her. God told Adam that if you eat from the tree you’ll die, not if you touch the tree, you’ll die. Eve was confused and she thought that since she touched the tree and lived, she could eat from it as well. She ate from it and then was punished. Adam confused her. God did not lie. Read it in Hebrew. Also the Torah starts from Bet, not Aleph. The first word is “Breishit” showing that this world was not the first world created and hints to a possibility of other worlds. Jews have contributed a lot to science. IF you study it with a rabbi, you’ll see that in the beginning there is light before there is day. Many Jewish scholars attribute this to a “Big Bang” type theory where light exists even without illuminaries like the sun.

      Reply
  20. david

    god didn’t lie..adam and eve were created by god to live forever..are they still alive? no they died just as the lord said they would if they disobeyed. as a result of this original sin we must also all eventually die

    Reply
  21. Arianne

    I love being a BS detector, it’s got to the point now where my dad will make something up and I’ll immediately say “your lying” so far I’ve been right every time. My dad’s lies are never serious, just stupid ones to wind me up, but to be honest if anyone else said them, I’d have to go through the process you mentioned to make a plausible decision. I found this article so true and funny :P thanks

    Reply
  22. Bill Riedel

    There is now an impressive list of books by academics on bullshit. I have developed a bit of a reading list as a primer on the subject:

    1. Gilgun, Jane, 2008 – ON BEING A SHIT, Unkind Deeds and Cover-ups in Everyday Life, Lulu Enterprises, Morrisville, NC, USA.
    2. McGinn, Colin, 2008 – Mindfucking, A Critique of Mental Manipulation, Acumen Publishing Ltd., http://www.acumenpublishing.co.uk.
    3. Law, Stephen, 2011 – Believing Bullshit, How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, USA.
    4. Frankfurt, Harry G., 2005 – On Bullshit, Princeton University Pres, Princeton, NJ, USA.
    5. Hardcastle, Gary L. and George A. Reisch (Editors), 2006 – Bullshit and Philosophy, Guaranteed to Get Perfect Results Every Time, Open Court, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
    6. Culbert, Samuel A. 2008 – Beyond Bullsh*t – Straight-Talk at Work, Stanford U. Press – page 104 point is made that we may think we are through with the past; but it may not/never through with us……

    Reply
  23. Raquel Romero

    Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite justification seemed to be on the internet the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people could take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thanks

    Reply
  24. Nicholas

    Your distaste for dipping into religious texts apparently continues unabated as you completely mangled the interpretation of the Torah . One wonders if you actually read the text itself since you repeatedly call the fruit from the Tree “apples’ . The Torah never says it was an “apple tree”. I call Bullshit on your facile interpretation of a text you have never seriously considered within any theologically valid framework. This sort of sophomore atheism is hard to take seriously.

    Reply
    • Scott Berkun

      Thanks for your comment.

      I knew about the various interpretations of ‘fruit’ but didn’t see the significance of calling out a trivial detail. Apples are a fruit, as are figs, grapes and many other tasty things. Which specific fruit it actually wasn’t isn’t relevant, and as apples are the most commonly referred to fruit in the West, I followed suit.

      And as this essay was written in 2006, I have since lost my distaste, and often read religious texts.

      I did add an additional link to the post to clarify the point.

      Now that this indignity to apples has been corrected, I look forward to a deeper critique.

      Reply
  25. David Forthoffer

    Scott Berkun said, “People lie for three reasons”.

    I figure people lie for other reasons, too.

    4. They want to help someone temporally or emotionally.

    5. They are too lazy to come up with something under Reasons 1 through 4.

    Reply
  26. Angela Beasley

    I love this essay and all of your writings. And anyone who doesn’t agree with it is probably so consumed by or used to bullshit that they don’t even know the difference.

    Reply
    • Observer

      “And anyone who doesn’t agree with it is probably so consumed by or used to bullshit that they don’t even know the difference.” No need to speak for everyone else. Just yourself.

      Reply
    • SdrawkcaB

      I do not agree.

      The author used a hypothetical example:

      ‘Our dynamic flow capacity matrix has unprecedented downtime resistance protocols.’

      As technical person I have been confronted with this sort of thing…although I would never be so mealy mouthed.

      Flow capacity matrix suggests a combination of vector calculus and linear algebra. Resistance protocols suggests optimization and some number theory derived mathematics.

      First of all let me say I am quite reclusive. I do not not care for people very much. In fact, I can be downright obnoxious if only to belittle idiots.

      My standardized response to those that question me with dumbed down lay responses is:
      Its hardly my problem that you have never bothered to educate yourself above the bare modicum of primary school intellect. Now, why is it that I am required to explain myself when it is you that does not understand introductory science?

      On that basis, I expected something more tangible from this article then some explanation of a biblical fairy story…an explanation that appears in plenty of other places.

      And yes, I do not get invited to any meetings with clients or other lay people.

      Reply
  27. Bill Riedel

    This paper was one of my early finds on the academic(s’) literature on the subject and as I have gotten much deeper into bullshit I recently received my hard copy of ‘The Bullshit Factor – the truth about corporate disguises, lies and denials’ by Bellini, James and Kati St Clair. Having read the entire book I am even more impressed than I was after having read only parts of the electronic version on the internet (amazon.co.uk) – I highly recommend this book. While the title implies that it applies to corporations, it is my opinion that the information applies to all organizations, including dysfuctional governments. Bullshit ueber alles!

    Reply
  28. Kyle

    By Golly! I figured it out!

    The Fruit Of Knowledge is a BS Detector that allowed Adam to realize the whole truth of his existence and that he was a slave of God brainwashed to think he was a leader!

    The snake or Satan likely had it with the corruption going on and refused to own any slaves so was kicked out of heaven 4 it.

    Reply
  29. Bruce

    There is another factor. Robert Heinlein (and maybe others) called it the “willing suspension of disbelief”, and used it in reference to science fiction, how you can read it and not be continually going “that isn’t true”. In life, though, the willing suspension of disbelief is fairly common. You want to believe someone, so you do – even if it’s improbable. Think new girlfried/boyfriend. The intent is to make the other person think you trust them, and are therefore trustworthy yourself. That’s how we bullshit without eve saying anything.

    Reply
  30. Gary Howard

    Good stuff as always, Scott. I ain’t bullshittin’.

    P.S. I follow you through Rss feed.

    Reply
  31. Amy

    Any time I hear about a talking snake I automatically detect BS. Just sayin.

    Reply
  32. trevor

    OK yet again good article. However I disagree with your interpretation of Genesis. God did not lie. What he meant by you shall surely die(as far as I’ve been taught) is that they spiritually died. They disobeyed God and are therefore seperated by sin from God and this is what is meant by spiritual death. Plus Adam died physically later anyway so draw your own conclusions. I don’t mean to be preachy but and I could be wrong but I have to put my two cents in.
    Keep ‘em coming

    Reply
  33. Bill Riedel

    A book that has just been published by Joe Bennett NZ titled ‘Double Happiness: How bullshit works’ appears to go along with this paper. The description of the book is excellent – if a person is interested in the academic(s’) literature on bullshit this book appears to be must read.

    Reply
  34. Carol

    Please add: It is probably BS when an expert has not made the rule change but claims this new rule will be “no problem”.

    Dang, I went to a university counselor who gave me terrible advice.
    You know, one of those hard to get into college programs, and he told me I was a shoe-in. I wasn’t.
    His bosses had changed the rules to allow people with lower scores to get in to achieve diversity. He knew about the rule change but did not know it was about letting less qualified people in, he had believed the BS of his bosses who claimed that “essays and interviews would make sure people could handle the program”.

    My instinct was that it was strange that he was telling me what I wanted to hear, but he was the expert so I believed him.
    So there is a component of BS you missed: when the ground shifts under the “experts”. Experts have very little chance of predicting the future when they have been BS’ed about changes to their area of expertise.
    I should have grabbed onto the rule change and investigated it and investigated it. His bosses would have lied to me, too, though.
    Anyway, for everybody here to know: An essay and interview is a way to keep out qualified people for diversity. Apply to lots of schools even if they will cost a lot more.

    Reply
  35. Bob Smith

    Ill tell you what BS is, it’s your city waste department refusing to collect your garbage can because it is the wrong shape.

    Reply
  36. http://rbkwebb.wordpress.com

    Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all folks you really understand what you are speaking approximately!
    Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my web site =). We could
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    Reply
  37. sam doles

    you keep telling me i am entered to win millions of dollars but you keep telling me i have to keep entering every day. if that isnt bullshit iam a monkeys uncle which i may be.

    Reply
  38. Peter Pumpkin

    Hi scott like this wrighting. I am a inspired wrighter and i am pretty sure i will make my own BS detection like ur article says then ill be like ‘beep-beep- i detect some BS!!!’ to my sister LOL.
    then she’ll be like beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beepand we have like it sounds like a car parking lot or like when drive on new york city people honk honk at you.
    Im pretty sure its new york but it might be albany where they do that but anyways ill be like beep-beep!! LOL, thanks for the idea im probably gonna wright a book about this article and ill probably sell it for like 4.99. like i dont want to sell it for too much because then poeple say lohh thats too high price but then if i sell for like 4.99 then there like oh okay and i see like 50 copies. but if i sell for like 10 dollars i only sell like 10 so its obvious make me more rich if i sell for like 4.99. i actually like ending in a 7 so it woud be like 4.97 cause my uncle taught me for every 3 sents that you shave, one more buys so Ill probably sell like 51 then it mkes it smart for me to sell it for 4.97. i dont know what happens if y sell it for like 4.98 though becaue i dont like 8 and people probably be mad because f you think about it the number 8 is like the devils number cause is like 666 = 1/3 of 222 and 2222 is 8. so that scares me but besides that its ok ill probably sell if for just 4.97 so that people dont think im the devil LOL!!!

    Reply
  39. Allen W.

    Hi Scott,
    I have been leaving you messages on your posts in character! I just wondered if you like my fictional character? I am trying to develop a sense of person so I can deeper explore the depths of his nature. He has an IQ of just 74, but he is an incredibly deep character with passion and a belief in the world. I am just wondering if you like my character or if you think it still needs work before I begin writing the official book? Your opinion is greatly valued to me. Peter is going to be a bit like Lennie in Of Mice and Men.
    Please let me know if you like the character of think I should improve on him.
    Thanks,
    Allen Wrench

    Reply
  40. Bill Riedel

    Allen I think you should read Joe Bennett, 2012, Double Happiness: How Bullshit Works before you start writing your book – a visit to bullshitcitynorth might also help get you started – cheers!

    Reply
  41. Crystal Kaulbars

    Excellent essay, Scott. I know it’s 7 years since you’d written it, but still relevant and hilarious as the day you wrote it!! Thank you for puttin’ it on the ‘Net!

    Reply
  42. Bill Redeel

    Best indicator that a bullshitter is talking bullshit:

    When a speaker makes promises that you know and s/he knows that s/he can’t keep and you know that s/he knows that you know s/he can’t keep and s/he knows that you know; but s/he tries to bullshit anyway.

    Reply
  43. Bill Riedel

    Some one once told me that the Gods in the heavens, the gods on the mountains and the gods in the ocean did not bother him; however, he could not say the same thing about the God-bureaucracy on earth. His point was that we need to separate the activities of the god-bureaucracy from our own relationship with gods. To me that makes a lot of sense.

    Reply
  44. Bill Riedel

    Vacillation – a bullshit indicator:

    Here is a current example – how can one write that something that makes 4 million citizens sick, is very safe? Wilful blindness?

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/efwd-emoha/efbi-emoa-eng.php

    “Estimates of Food-borne Illness in Canada
    The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that each year roughly one in eight Canadians (or four million people) get sick due to domestically acquired food-borne diseases. This estimate provides the most accurate picture yet of which food-borne bacteria, viruses, and parasites (“pathogens”) are causing the most illnesses in Canada, as well as estimating the number of food-borne illnesses without a known cause.

    In general, Canada has a very safe food supply; however, this estimate shows that there is still work to be done to prevent and control food-borne illness in Canada, to focus efforts on pathogens which cause the greatest burden and to better understand food-borne illness without a known cause.”

    Reply
  45. hector hurtado

    No doubt there are many human beliefs but there is only one reality. One truth. I hold that truth to be everything written in the Bible. Why? Take a look at Israel. In the Bible, Israel is God’s chosen people. Prior to 1948, non-believers would say “here is what proves your Bible false. Israel has no land, no army, no government, and no LANGUAGE.”(Hebrew, the jewish language, actually had to be reconstructed) Jerusalem was captured by the Romans around 90 A.D and the Jews went into exile for more than 1800 years, until they became a nation in 1948. Fulfilling scriptures (prophecies). They were in exile longer than Rome was an empire. Both east and west combined. Here are the scriptures concerning this; Ezekiel 37:21-22, Amos 9:14-15, Ezekiel 37:10-14, Isaiah 66:7-8, Jeremiah 16:14-15, Ezekiel 34:13, Jeremiah 31:10.
    p.s it’s no secret that the Bible was written by man but that does not mean it is mans word. From Genesis to Revelation, you can tell it is written by one author. I also used to make the defense “the Bible is written by man!” but then I actually read it. I hope whoever reads this comment, researches evidence for and against the God of the Hebrew Bible from trustworthy sources. I also ask that you enter that quest with no verdict already in your mind, but as though this were the first time you heard about this.

    Reply
  46. Osama bin laden jr.

    Hi Scott berkun

    Reply
    • Tyrone Williams

      He terrorist, get the hell outta here

      Reply
  47. Heather

    Why, this article is the biggest bunch of bullshit I’ve ever read!

    Just kidding. I enjoyed it and found it spot-on!

    Reply

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