[ExI] The world of bullshit

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat Dec 18 10:46:55 UTC 2010

Sorry, as someone hanging out with too many philosophers I must quibble: 
most of what Ben Goldacre describes is not bullshit.

H.G Frankfurt wrote an excellent essay/little book called "On Bullshit" 
where he analysed the concept. He concluded that when you deceive, you 
know what is true and choose to signal information that makes people 
believe untrue things. When you are bullshitting, you don't care what is 

The biased academic papers, ghostwritten letters and withheld 
information are all deception of different kinds. Someone knows or 
suspects a true state of the world and acts to conceal it from others.

However, a lot of the bad newspaper reporting *is* bullshit by 
Frankfurt's definition - the journalists are often not trying to 
deceive, they just write stories.

Deception and bullshit are bad, but I think I agree with Frankfurt that 
bullshit is more corrosive. Calling deception is easier and causes more 
direct embarrassment, while the bullshitter often isn't embarrassed. 
They ought to be.

Here is a homespun yule present idea: to publicly call out something 
untrue or bullshit that annoys a person dear to you. "Dear Aunt Mary: 
since I know you hate historical revisionism and love smoking, I have 
made the following blog post where I document the photo-editing of old 
photos of smoking celebrities..."

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford University

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