I started out with a posting on “Woo Words“, then moved on to “Evidence not Credentials“. Now I’m adding more thoughts that will hopefully help to enrich your Bullshit detection kit.
I do hope this one is obvious, really obvious. In fact I’d be astonished if it was not, and yet so many of us still fall for it.
When somebody famous is engaged to push a specific product we all know in our heart of hearts that its just marketing hype, so why does it still happen? Well, basically because it works. The celebrity in question gets a wad of cash for their services, so they are quite happy to do or say whatever is required, and the advertiser reaps a jump in sales.
OK then, so what else can we add to our “Bullshit detection kit”? Well how about developing a healthy respect for evidence and learning to be skeptical about claims that are backed with nothing except credentials.
You do of course appreciate that you can obtain a degree in just about anything without actually studying or passing any exams; just pay the appropriate fee and become instantly accredited. A great example is Thunderwood college. This is a site run by Brian Dunning of Skeptoid and offers you free instant degrees. Brian is not attempting to con anybody, he simply designed the site to drive home the point that many credentials are bogus and meaningless. The mainstream academic community will of course issue valid degrees as proof that the recipient has acquired a specific level of knowledge. Unfortunately, there are also thousands of others churning out worthless credentials not recognized by the academic community, so unless the credentials are from an institution that is recognised by the mainstream academic community as an accredited organization, its meaningless.
There are specific words that should trigger your bullshit alarm whenever you hear them. I’d recommend that you build up and keep your own list, but to ensure that you get the idea I’ll start you off with an initial list and take you through a few examples.
“energy” – This is a word that is normally used to describe measurable well understood physical things such as sound, light, heat and electricity. Usage beyond that is an abuse of the word. Terms such as negative energy, chi energy, aura, psi or just a plain old energy-field do not describe anything real or measurable and have no meaning. Such usage is most commonly found within the context of the paranormal or alternative medicine, and when detected should set your bullshit meter buzzing, so keep an eye out for this one.