How accurate is your Bullshit Detector?

by Ron

I had just finished writing my blog post “Are you a Fighter Pilot?” The close of that blog says

“Did you stop to think?” was a question I often heard from my parents. As a teenager, I thought that was just the stock response for when I did something stupid. I didn’t realize at the time it was a recipe to avoid being stupid as an adult.

Stop multitasking. Stop to think!

The next thing I read was about a study titled “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit.” Don’t you just love it when researchers speak in plain language? In other words, how accurate is your bullshit detector?

The scientist ran statements through something called a “New Age Bullshit Generator”. These generated phrases that seemed plausible but were a stream of buzzwords. They questioned hundreds of participants to see how profound they found the statements. All too many of them found the statements quite profound.

The conclusion of the researchers was that it may have been a “lack of critical thinking.” Really? The lack of critical thinking may lead to buzzword statements sounding profound? If I think about it I would agree with that statement. It seems to be profound.

Critical thinking requires critical questioning. There are many good models for critical questions. (I can recommend A more beautiful question by Warren Berger). Here are a few aspects of questioning to think about:

  • Evidence: is it valid? What’s the source? Is it meaningful or profound bullshit?
  • Perspective: Would this look different from a different perspective?
  • Pattern: Does this fit a meaningful pattern?
  • Relevance: So what?

Just because it sounds profound, don’t just nod your head and keep going. Get curious.

Try asking the 5 Whys? Here’s a simple example from Wikipedia on the 5 Whys.

Problem: The vehicle will not start.

1st Why? – The battery is dead. Solution: replace the battery.

2nd Why? – The alternator is not functioning. Solution: replace the alternator.

3rd Why? – The alternator belt has broken. Solution: replace the belt.

4th Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. Leading to the root cause.

5th Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. Root cause!

How many times have your replaced the battery after the first Why? Did you stop to think? Did you get curious? Did you ask a few more Why?”

“Did you stop to think?” was a question I often heard from my parents. As a teenager, I thought that was just the stock response for when I did something stupid. I didn’t realize at the time it was a recipe to avoid being stupid as an adult.

Stop to think!

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