The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to Spot Bullshit

Dr. Robert Park, a physics professor at the university of Maryland, has produced a list of seven warning signs that a scientific claim may be nonsense. While none of these warning signs proves that the claim is bullshit, they tend to be present when bullshit claims are made, and therefore should serve as warning signs. You can read the full article here.

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

The list of warning signs is pretty good. The only thing that I can think to add is that the claimant relies on authority over data for their claim. Otherwise, I can think of nothing to add – but perhaps you can, and that’s what the comments section is for.

I especially like the explanation for #5:

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries. There is a persistent myth that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, long before anyone knew that blood circulates throughout the body, or that germs cause disease, our ancestors possessed miraculous remedies that modern science cannot understand. Much of what is termed "alternative medicine" is part of that myth.

Anyway, check it out, it’s well worth reading and keeping in mind when you hear a claim made.

1 comment:

Evan Davis said...

I have explained #1 to so many people as the reason I trust science over the media. All findings are published to Journals popular to colleagues in the same field to be placed under scrutiny. If it stands up this information is simplified and handed to the media. It's how I disprove aliens, ghosts and the dragon in my garage (he didn't stand up to scrutiny, fooey).