Monday, December 07, 2015

That's BS!

As we watch many participants in today's political debates--and the public's reaction to them--it can be useful to consider the lessons set forth in this blog post and the article to which it refers,  "On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit".

Key findings:

We focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. 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.

The authors' suggestion that a type of cognitive bias is at work is interesting. To whatever extent that is true, I would argue that society's inclination to accept bullshit as true is also a function of our inadequate system of education. Many people simply don't understand the basics of physics, biology, mathematics, and statistics.  Therefore, they have an insufficient level of BS detection.

Unfortunately, in health care this is a rampant problem in stories written by reporters about the latest diagnostic and therapeutic "advances."  Indeed, our friends over at Health News Review make a living by demonstrating the inadequacies of media coverage in this field.

But back to politics, it is the disrespect for science that I find most troubling in the current environment.  Let's acknowledge that scientific conclusions are often off the mark: That's the nature of the scientific method and the long-term pursuit of knowledge. No, more dangerously, what we see is the political driven tactic of denigrating the role of science. When scientific illiteracy is promoted as a virtue, bad things happen in the body politic.


Carole said...

Mr. Levy
I'm so surprised no one commented on this post yet! I found it quite interesting and can't wait until our next family and friend get
together, (which will be soon) to have everyone read this post and most definitely the links. I can only imagine the most crazy
and entertaining conversations that will come from it, since we have a great mix of personalities and yes some Regularly called out
BSers. I love a good laugh, and I'm gonna have a blast:) Hey -you read the blog post, right? Is it just me and be honest please- some, a few
comments made absolutely no sense to me, like what the heck?!? Was there someone who stood out that you agreed or disagreed with, very curious? I just know everything about this post and the links I totally enjoyed and got a big kick out of it, thanks!!!

Anonymous said...


I see it because I tend to lean more on fact/written word base than feelings. The idea being to control people with smoke/mirrors of their feelings rather than good sound evidenced based care.

Seen it far too often sadly. Thank you for the post.

Anonymous said...

What I find worse is when doctors do this - and don't examine everything behind the articles they read or their practices or their reasoning.