Research into both receptivity to falling for bullshit and the propensity to produce it have recently emerged as active, independent areas of inquiry into the spread of misleading information. However, it remains unclear whether those who frequently produce bullshit are inoculated from its influence. For example, both bullshit receptivity and bullshitting frequency are negatively related to cognitive ability and aspects of analytic thinking style, suggesting that those who frequently engage in bullshitting may be more likely to fall for bullshit. However, separate research suggests that individuals who frequently engage in deception are better at detecting it, thus leading to the possibility that frequent bullshitters may be less likely to fall for bullshit.

Canadian psychologists conducted three studies (N = 826) attempting to distinguish between these competing hypotheses, finding that frequency of persuasive bullshitting (i.e., bullshitting intended to impress or persuade others) positively predicts susceptibility to various types of misleading information and that this association is robust to individual differences in cognitive ability and analytic cognitive style.

This seems to make sense – at least in the contest of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Those promoting bullshit are the ones that fall for bullshit.

Think of Prince Charles, for instance. In his book HARMONY and on many other occasions he insists on promoting homeopathy and other SCAM, like for example iridology, osteopathy or detox. He even advocates homeopathy for animals and he proudly tells us that, on his farms, he has instructed the personnel to give his cows homeopathy. Thus he is a good example of someone who is frequently bullshitting with the intend to impress or persuade others while, at the same time, being highly susceptible to various other types of misleading information, such as iridology.

Charles is a good example because we all know about the alternative bee under the royal bonnet. But he is certainly not alone, quite to the contrary. If you look around you, I am sure you will find that there are no end of bullshitters who fall for bullshit. Before bullshit became a term used even in scientific journals, they used to say ‘one can never kid a kidder’, but the new research by the Canadian psychologists seems to suggest that the assumption is not entirely correct.

5 Responses to ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter’ (or can you?)

  • This is very interesting. We have a data set of some 800 from the research you cite. What is also of interest should be classic case studies of famous scientists and the evidence that they are either immune to BS bullshitters or else susceptable to BS bullshitters.

    My own peer reviewed published research into the origination of the full theory of macroevolution by natural selection has produced two such case studies. Research proves Darwin and Wallace (1858 and Darwin 1859) not only replicated Patrick Matthew’s (1831) prior published theory, his orignal terms and explanatory examples and highly idiosyncratic explanatory analogies but that Darwin also knowingly serial lied about who he knew who had prior read and cited Matthew’s breakthrough, whilst Wallace kept silent on that issue to enable his own and Darwin’s fraud by plagiarism and lies (AKA bullshit).

    Interestingly, Wallace but not Darwin also spread lethal bullshit by advocating antivaccination and Wallace (but not Darwin) also spread ludicrous belief in the existence of the paranormal bullshit

    My peer reviewed research on Darwin’s and Wallace’s science fraud by plagiarism

  • My veterinarian friend coined the term “Bullshitometer”. He is currently working on a prototype . My bullshitometer is governed by logic, reason, the laws of physics, physiology, and a deep working knowledge of the natural world (reality).
    Pegging the “Bullshitometer” is done by making extraordinary claims that defy our known real world (homeopathy) , pseudoscience mumbo jumbo explainations (word salads), demands to bow to an oracle (instead of relying on evidence) and reliance on logical fallicies to advance the pseudoscience agenda.

  • Not quite sure how this fits into the discussion here, but I’ve used the following taxonomy to identify chiropractors in the wild. It helped me identify different mixes of credulity and consciousness about a chiropractor’s relationship to what they thought, said and did professionally. It may relate to varying levels and types of bullshit, bullshitting, and bullshitters.

    Primary: These are the true believers, typically faith based meatballs who believe the Chiropractic Spine holds the secrets to health and disease. They’re full-fledged and immune to critique just as any devout religious person or cult member would be. They may well be deluded with chiropractic bullshit but they’re not bullshitting. They’re sincere, like first quarter chiropractic students. They may, however, remain primary for their entire career. Adjust the spine and all is fine.

    Secondary: A relationship to chiropractic that often (but not necessarily) follows a primary one in which an event, person, or experience might serve to demonstrate that chiropractic wasn’t, if you will, all it was cracked up to be. In fact, not nearly. This results in a cognitive dissonance in which the chiropractor, fully realizing the bullshit, is going on the gas and brake at the same time. This sometimes results in anger that they’ve been duped. They’re caught between a chiropractic rock and scientific hard place.

    Tertiary: These chiropractors are typically those who are dressed for a chiropractic party with no place to go, who rationalize their dilemma and cognitive dissonance by arguing, it may well be shit … but it’s good shit. They are bullshitters trying to make lemonade from their chiropractic lemon. But, the tertiary may see right away the bullshit and use it immediately to sell a chiropractic lie for fun and profit. The distinction between bullshit and bullshitting no longer exists for the tertiary chiropractor.

    Quaternary: Reserved for chiropractic college presidents.

    While I’ve found these categories useful for considering “which witch is which” in the chiropractic jungle, these relationships are applicable for any alt-practitioner whom you may encounter online or in your community. They’re not meant to be linear or progressive, never mind be strictly separated by definition.


  • An earlier article co-authored by Jonathan Fugelsang, which you could regard as the Bullshit Motherlode:

  • Bull-sh!t “meta” research that rather than doing the difficult work of looking at the scientific issue involved, picks an easy side believing that side’s BS without justification and piles on.

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