Blog

The Bullshit Detection Kit

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —August 2, 2009
Filed in Communication

I discovered this video today which lists 10 questions to help you decide whether a viewpoint, opinion, theory is worth taking on board and believing. Here are the questions that will help you detect bullshit (actually they called it the baloney detector kit but no one says baloney in Australia). Write them down and take them to conferences and see how the speakers fair—ask questions and if you don’t really understand what they are saying, pull them up and ask them to say it simply. It’s harder to convey your ideas simply than to use jargon. Don’t let them baffle you with bullshit.

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims? (eg. if you are into magic (or evolution), then all your ideas have a magic (or evolution) bent)
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence? (it’s too easy to just bag the other side)
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

3 Responses to “The Bullshit Detection Kit”

  1. Paul Cooper Says:

    Good post – I think point 7 is too obscure for many people. The rules of science seem largely unknown by the masses and regarded as just another set of arbitrary things. Not so…of course. To me the big rule of science (acknowledging Popper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper) is that hypotheses need to be testable. That is that science advances by falsifying hypotheses that don’t survive adequate testing and coming up with new ones. In this way the work is rigorous, testible, repeatable and above all else objective: the same tests done by different people, different nations, tribes in different locations will yield the same results. That’s it in a nutshell…
    rgds Paul

  2. ken Says:

    Sounds positively logical (in a sciency kind of way 😉
    Do you think it gets at the-truth, or closer to the ‘verisimilitude’?
    Sagan’s baloney detection kit is nice, and Martin Gardner’s Fads-and-Fallaces, too, while Feynman is delightful on the significance of Post-Hoc-Coincidence-Detection. I’d love to see some more group psychology in these little kits (our biases towards conformity etc.), maybe even a mnemonic (hmm, Cialdini’s CLARCCS hits a bit of that)
    Scott Berkun has a fun piece, too, on gurus (http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/2009/how-to-call-bullshit-on-a-guru/)
    xkcd, though, touches on something nicely collaborative: these days, it’s fun to be able to see the history (what Shirky calls the life underneath the visible coral that is the collaborative process)
    http://xkcd.com/285/
    😉

  3. ken Says:

    and how could we forget George Orwell’s “Politics And The English Language”…
    > “Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, Deus-Ex-Machina, Mutatis-Mutandis, Status-Quo, gleichschaltung, Weltan-Schauung , are used to give an air of culture and elegance”
    ouch, show me the red card 😉

Send this to friend

down
up