My recent blog post called K&H: A ‘no bullshit’ zone! attracted quite a bit of comment from people surprised at such language on an accountants’ website. All positive, I would add. I have just read a book called Bad Science by Ben Goldacre*. In it, he quotes philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University who gives a great definition of bullshit:
‘A form of falsehood distinct from lying: the liar knows and cares about the truth, but deliberately sets out to mislead; the truth-speaker knows the truth and is trying to give it to us; the bullshitter, meanwhile, does not care about the truth, and is simply trying to impress us.’
The book goes on to explain the concept of the ‘opportunity cost of bullshit’. All the pseudo-scientific nonsense that is peddled in the media distracts us all from thinking carefully about important issues for ourselves, or from doing our own research into the facts.
This can be, quite literally, an issue of life and death. For example, the media’s MMR hoax caused terrible anxiety to thousands of parents, and resulted in their children not being vaccinated and suffering illness or death as a result. If the journalists had researched their stories and applied some scientific rigour to their work, this could easily have been avoided.
We should all be willing to question the logic of what we are told by anyone who we don’t have very good reasons for trusting implicitly, including business advisers!
At present, accountants are apparently the second most trusted profession in the UK, after doctors. If everyone reads what Bad Science has to say about the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry, I think we would be number one!
I would like to hear your stories about bullshit you have suffered from. Please email me or post a comment.
* See my comments on Bad Science in my LinkedIn books section about this and other recommended books.