Sunday, 6 December 2015

On pseudo-profound bullshit

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.”

No kidding. I guess I contribute mine!

On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit is the title of an article by University of Waterloo psychologists Gordon Pennycook (PhD candidate), James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang, based on research funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. It's published in volume 10 of the journal Judgment and Decision Making.

The paper defines pseudo-profound bullshit (PPB) as seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. The article cites numerous examples from Deepak Chopra.

The studies find that "Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine."

Can you think of any genealogical examples of PPB?


Unknown said...

The author of the book "On Bullshit" did not go so far as to define that extra effort that took us to profound; but Harry Frankfurt, of the Department of Philosophy, Princeton University, did us all a favour and actually made a philosophical study of the subject. Very informative, very entertaining.

As to examples in genealogy, I cant think of one, but I would look at the field of Heraldry where one is easily led to the finding of the "Family Coat of Arms." A whole industry is dedicated to selling the Family Coat of Arms, which is I suppose is not really "profound bullshit" but rather an example of absolute bullshit.

Gail B said...

I agree with Rod Blacker completely. The Coat of Arms scam and family heraldry is something I came up against over and over in my professional life as a Special Collections (genealogy, local history, archives) librarian. Try as I might to make a simplified few paragraphs as hand-outs to patrons, they refused to believe that their surname entitled them to a Coat of Arms. In academia, I beleive, it is called "confirmation bias". You believe all the studies that support what you already believe.

Any time I read a newspaper article, that ends the headline with "study says" or "reports find" or some such, I turn the page. Every study has an anti-study, it seems.

That said, I have forwarded this to the many academics, in my family, whom I know will recognize the Bullshit for what it is.

Kudos to Reid and Blacker for covering this topic.

Gail B said...

And now I wish to correct my earlier comment. I meant, of course, that patrons believed they were entitled to Coats of Arms simply based on their surname, and of course, they were not.

Sheepish here.