Bullshit detector.

on Tuesday, 3 April 2012
Somewhat inspired by Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit I've come up with a more entry-level guide to discern whether someone is telling you a load of bullshit. These are phrases or words that people usually use to prefix a statement that they have just pulled out of their arse. I hope you find them useful.
  • "Probably" or "Maybe"
Any statement beginning with these words is pure guess work. It means "I don't really know, but I'm going to give you an answer anyway so I don't look like I don't know anything about this subject". It's possible it's an educated guess, that's just something you have to work out based on the person you're talking to.
  • "Scientists have proven"
Oh really? Which scientists? Which study are you referring to? Don't get me wrong, I'm a great proponent of science, but unless you're going to back this up with some sources, I'm going to assume it's bullshit that you're attempting to give credence by throwing the S word around.
  • "Helps" or "Promotes"
This one is usually specific to products, and it's used by cosmetics advertisers a lot. It's a way of making a claim, without actually making it. "This cream helps prevent aging." "This drink promotes healthy bowels." Those words are key to absolving any responsibility for the products not living up to their claims, and in fact if they actually made those claims outright, then the products would be considered medicines and would have to have a wealth of clinical data to back them up. If you see a product advertised with these words, chances are it does precisely nothing.
  • "As a woman"
Before you jump down my neck, I'm not having a go at women. Some women do say this though, before a statement of their opinion, like it gives it any more weight. You may have different experiences of things as a woman, but womanhood is not something you earned or worked at, it's a simple matter of biology. You could use "In my experience" and retain some credibility, but "As a woman" means that you believe your opinion is somehow worth more because of your DNA and that those who don't share your double X chromosomes couldn't possibly understand.
  • "I find that offensive"
Usually followed by a statement explaining their views on the matter. People who say this seem to think that because they are offended by an opposing view, that their view is the correct one and they wont accept anything contrary to that, because it's "offensive". You can justify any bullshit you want by claiming to find any counter-point "offensive", simultaneously putting forward your view as if it were the morally correct choice and making the other guy out to be a bad guy.

Of course there are hundreds of other ways to tell if someone is bullshitting you, but the ones listed here are pretty fool-proof, so now you know when to spot them. Here's what you do when it comes up:


Mark said...

Don't forget "in my opinion" and anything that starts with "as a", such as "As a mother..."

teganwilson said...

I don't mind "in my opinion" that much, at least they are admitting it's their opinion and not presenting it as fact. They might come out with some bullshit, but at least you can say, well that's just, like, your opinion man.

Anonymous said...

Mark is right. I use 'in my opinion' a great deal, and I am full of crap.

Baur said...

After years with dealing with a friend who slings off lies left and right i've gotten pretty good at bullshit detecting. I usually just laugh in my head and say whatever .. insert name here...

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