How To Detect Bullshit

There is little question that bullshit is a real and consequential phenomenon (especially popular in the financial markets and central planning arena). Indeed, as the following scientific study finds, given the rise of communication technology and the associated increase in the availability of information from a variety of sources, both expert and otherwise, bullshit may be more pervasive than ever before. Despite these seemingly commonplace observations, we know of no psychological research on bullshit. Are people able to detect blatant bullshit? Who is most likely to fall prey to bullshit and why?

The following scientific paper explains... (click image for link to PDF)

 

As the authors conclude,

Bullshit is a consequential aspect of the human condition.

 

Indeed, with the rise of communication technology, people are likely encountering more bullshit in their everyday lives than ever before.

 

Profundity ratings for statements containing a random collection of buzzwords were very strongly correlated with a selective collection of actual “Tweets” from Deepak Chopra’s “Twitter” feed (r’s = .88–89). At the time of this writing, Chopra has over 2.5 million followers on “Twitter” and has written more than twenty New York Times bestsellers. Bullshit is not only common; it is popular.

 

Chopra is, of course, just one example among many. Using vagueness or ambiguity to mask a lack of meaningfulness is surely common in political rhetoric, marketing, and even academia (Sokal, 2008). Indeed, as intimated by Frankfurt (2005), bullshitting is something that we likely all engage in to some degree: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.”

 

One benefit of gaining a better understanding of how we reject other’s bullshit is that it may teach us to be more cognizant of our own bullshit.

 

The construction of a reliable index of bullshit receptivity is an important first step toward gaining a better understanding of the underlying cognitive and social mechanisms that determine if and when bullshit is detected.

 

Our bullshit receptivity scale was associated with a relatively wide range of important psychological factors. This is a valuable first step toward gaining a better understanding of the psychology of bullshit. The development of interventions and strategies that help individuals guard against bullshit is an important additional goal that requires considerable attention from cognitive and social psychologists. That people vary in their receptivity toward bullshit is perhaps less surprising than the fact that psychological scientists have heretofore neglected this issue. Accordingly, although this manuscript may not be truly profound, it is indeed meaningful.

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One wonders just how high the average investors' Bullshit Receptivity Scale is to The Fed's or The ECB's or The BoJ's bullshit... profound or not!