Calling Bullshit

Calling Bullshit by Carl Bergstrom & Jevin West uses a sceptical, yet fair, perspective to dissect fact from fiction, well reasoned conclusions from bullshit.

This book tries to dissect true scientific claims and bullshit. The focus of the book is on data-driven bullshit. It goes through various forms of (data) bullshit, and offers tools on how we can improve our critical skills.

My notes from the awesome reading group by Joeri

Recommended further reading (more philosophical/technical books)

Bernard Wiliams – Truth & Truthfulness

Stephen Toulmin – Return to Reason

Plato – The Republic

Plato was railing against the bullshit of the sophists, they were not concerned with the truth, just with influence, money, fame.

We are currently being fed bullshit by media, bots, etc. This can be seen as a digital cave (filter bubble) ala Plato’s cave.

Another way of framing the cave is as a rave. It’s a comfortable place to be, doing philosophy is (more) difficult. We like to distract ourselves, not do the hard work.

Parrhesia – the ancient word for talking truth to power.

Instead of social justice warriors, we have to become epistemic justice warriors

Believing is a form of acting -? weighing evidence carefully…

How do we spot (call) bullshit:

  1. Question the source of information
  2. Beware of unfair comparisons
  3. If it seems too good or too bad

Refuting bullshit

  1. Use reductio ad absurdum
  2. Be memorable (and funny)
  3. Find counter-examples
  4. Provide analogies
  5. Redraw figures
  6. Deploy a null model
  7. Be correct
  8. Be charitable
  9. Admit fault
  10. Be clear
  11. Be pertinent

One has to use logic.

Although closely interconnected, doubt and belief are characterized by profoundly different feelings: “Doubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and pass into the state of belief; while the latter is a calm and satisfactory state which we do not wish to avoid, or to change to a belief in anything else”

Method of tenacity – which brings comforts and decisiveness but leads to trying to ignore contrary information as if truth is private and not public.

Method of authority – which overcomes disagreements but sometimes brutality

The method of the a prior – only use deduction instead of induction

How to refute bullshit

The method of science – There are real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those realities affect our senses according to regular laws, and, though our sensations are as different as are our relations to the objects, yet, by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really are; and any man, if he have sufficient experience and reason enough about it, will be led to the one true conclusion. The new conception here involved is that of reality.

(Typical of cynicism is that the collective (especially the informed part) is duly aware of wrong, hegemonic and dominating aspects of society and its power-structures, but has either learned to agree with them, or to see the hegemonic forces as unshakable. This means people know there is the possibility and potential to unmask hegemonies as domination or injustice and to reveal false consciousness (and as such are enlightened), but they see every ideal that is offered in replacement of those hegemonies as wishful thinking or naïve. This is what Sloterdijk came to call ‘enlightened false consciousness’, to which cynicism amounts. Any optimism about the future has thus been replaced by cynicism.)

The socratic method – let people reason it out themselves by asking questions

  • You have to have these characteristics:
    1. Ignorance
    2. Curiosity
    3. Courage
    4. Naivety
    5. Patience
    6. Will to delve deep
    7. Make time
    8. Suspend judgement
    9. Open and empty mind
    10. Rational compassion

Other recommended books during the meetup:

  • Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening – Stephen Batchelor
  • The Feeling of Value: Moral Realism Grounded in Phenomenal Consciousness – Sharon Rawlette
  • On What Matters, Vol. 2 – Derek Parfit
  • The Myth of Morality (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) – Richard Joyce