MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

bullshit

I have repeatedly likened so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) to a cult – not a religious cult, of course, but to a ‘health cult’. A health cult is defined as a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator. So, are you a member of a health cult?

In case you are a proponent of SCAM, you might be in danger. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Is your SCAM based on dogma, such as ‘LIKE CURES LIKE’ or ‘SUBLUXATIONS ARE THE CAUSE OF DISEASE?
  2. Does the cult demand you accept its dogma or doctrine as truth?
  3. Is it set forth by a single guru or promulgator?
  4. Is your SCAM supposed to cure all ills?
  5. Is belief used by proponents of your SCAM as a substitute for evidence?
  6. Does the SCAM determine your diet and/or lifestyle?
  7. Does the SCAM exploit you financially?
  8. Does your SCAM impose rigid rules and regulations?
  9. Does your SCAM practice deception?
  10. Does your SCAM have its own sources of information/propaganda?
  11. Does your SCAM cultivate its own lingo?
  12. Does your SCAM discourage or inhibit critical thinking?
  13. Are questions about the values of your SCAM discouraged or forbidden?
  14. Do the proponents of your SCAM reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words?
  15. Do they assume that health problems are the result of not adhering to the dogma?
  16. Does your SCAM instill fear into members who consider leaving?
  17. Do the proponents of your SCAM depict conventional medicine as ineffective or harmful?
  18. Are you asked to recruit new members to your SCAM?

Please try to answer these questions honestly and self-critically.

If more than a handful turn out to be positive, you have, in my view, a reason to be concerned. In this case, I would recommend you go to a library and start reading a few books that provide critical analyses of SCAM.

 

Some used to think that Deepak Chopra is amongst the biggest charlatans on the planet. Well, they were wrong! And his new venture proves it beyond doubt.

The Lovetuner is a revolutionary approach to reduce stress, relieve anxiety and arrive in the present moment, connecting your exhale with the power of the 528hz frequency. That’s what the ad says, and Dr. Deepak Chopra agrees!

The website contains a short video which is a ‘MUST WATCH’. Please do have a look at it. Deepak will show you how to use the ‘LOVETUNER’. I promise you, it is impressive! In the video, Deepak also states that he is enthusiastic about the LOVETUNER and promises that:

  • the LOVETUNER creates the frequency of love;
  • the LOVETUNER can replace meditation;
  • the LOVETUNER is inviting love into your life;
  • the LOVETUNER increases your lung capacity;
  • the LOVETUNER increases the coherence of your biofield;
  • the LOVETUNER changes the biofield of the surroundings.

I am sure all these claims are based on the most solid of evidence. The fact that none of it has been published should not disturb us; on the contrary, it means that the evidence is so important that BIG PHARMA does not allow it to be published through the usual peer-reviewed channels – hence the video.

For those who are still not convinced, Deepak adds a written text:

“We want the world to be a more loving, peaceful, harmonious, happier and healthier place, right? First, we need to start with ourselves and be the change we want to see in this world. With the Lovetuner this is an easy and fun way to connect with ourselves and the world around us. The Lovetuner is more than just a meditation device – it is a mindset and a global peace and love movement. The Lovetuner teaches you the breath that spiritual gurus across the globe are going to recommend to you. It’s what you’ll find at your yoga retreat, sound bath, and guided meditation, but with the Lovetuner you can be your own guru.”

So, how does the LOVETUNER work? The website provides a most plausible explanation:

The Lovetuner is a revolutionary mindfulness tool that aligns you with the 528hz frequency, the vibration of love. In music, tuning means adjusting the pitch of a tone. In humans, it means adjusting your emotional and physical state to align with your environment – literally “tuning in” and harmonizing with yourself and what is around you. The Lovetuner has a profound effect on the body, mind and spirit.

Our entire universe is comprised of light and sound, frequency and vibration. The connections between music, cosmos and nature have been known since ancient times. In 1978 Hans Cousto, a Swiss mathematician and musicologist, compared the frequencies in planetary orbits, in architectural works, in old and modern measuring systems, in the human body, in music and in medicine and “discovered” their connection. John Lennon used the 528hz frequency for his song “Imagine.” In music, the 528Hz frequency refers to the note “Mi” and is traced back to the expression “Mi-ra gestorum” on the scale, which in Latin means “miracle”.

The 528hz frequency has a healing and health-promoting effect on our body, mind, and soul. Our cells and organs resonate with this frequency. The vibration is transferred to our entire organism where it can unfold its positive effect. It activates and strengthens our natural self-healing powers.

The 528hz frequency has a very special physical and biological importance.

The medical pioneer Dr. Royal Raymond Rife, who researched at the beginning of the 20th century, used many frequencies in his practice of radionics or electromagnetic therapy, but he specifically referred to 528 because of its ability to repair DNA. Dr. Rife used this frequency among hundreds of others for use with his Rife Machine – “Radionics.” He referred to 528 as “DNA repair.”

Molecular genetic investigations have shown that this frequency can be used to repair defective DNA strands or to restore human DNA to its original state. Scientific studies further showed that it increases the UV light absorption in DNA and can cure DNA by removing impurities that cause disease.

Today, the use of non-pharmacological and non-invasive agents is quite common. Sound waves, which are classified as non-invasive means for stimulating auditory cells, also affect non-auditory cells. Since the frequency of 528hz is related to the musical note Mi, effects such as an increase in the ability to repair DNA are observed.

 

I know, you are dying to know how much the LOVETUNER costs. For just $ 62, it can be yours! I do think that this is a bargain and am deeply thankful to Deepak for alerting me to this life-changing device. Yes, some used to think that Deepak Chopra is amongst the biggest charlatans on the planet. I am sure that his support for the LOVETUNER will make these people change their minds.

During the last few days, we were entertained by one of the more fanatical specimen of the lunatic fringe. From the outset, ‘ASTRO’ was out to provoke, insult, and foremost state utter nonsense. Within just a few hours ‘ASTRO’ posted dozens of comments, one more hilarious than the next.

As always, I let it pass for a while because this sort of thing usually is very amusing and mildly instructive. Then, when my fun was over, I told him or her that my conversation with him or her was finished, thereafter I sent ‘ASTRO’ my usual hint to indicate that my patience was wearing thin (an overdose of nonsense, fun, and hilarity might be toxic) and now I have blocked ‘ASTRO’.

This little incident is a mere triviality, of course. Yet, it is also a most welcome reminder to demonstrate what is needed to get blocked by me. Here are a few selected ‘bon mots’ posted by ‘ASTRO’ which all contributed to his or her dismissal from this blog:

  • Lenny is an intellectual terrorist
  • you manipulate data
  • you are nobody in the scientific world
  • I’m very sorry for your lack of education
  • I don’t hate you for lying, I pity you
  • With all sincerity, and seeing that you don’t have a single scientific publication, I recommend that mounts a business for atheists resentful and sell cheap products with the face of Carl Sagan or James Randi in a coffe cup or pins, I assure you that the media will make of your business, earn some money and you’ll be able to publish a book trash like Ben Goldacre, with his “Bad science” or the Steven Novella. Poor quality is a typical sign of skeptical pseudoscientists.
  • your “letter to the editor” is based on manipulating data and making false accusations, everything
  • you only have an opinion based on your belief and denial that may well be a projection of your lack of knowledge
  • I’m disappointed that you have very superficial knowledge, no wonder Mathie will ignore you
  • Your comments again reflect that you haven’t the slightest idea
  • your lack of reading comprehension is evident
  • You are very ignorant
  • your aggressiveness and lack of empathy tell a lot about your profile of atheist resentful of life
  •  these” verdicts ” that Ernst quotes in his pamphlets are at best a fraud
  • in reality you, Grams and the team of the anti-homeopathy propaganda network have no idea what you’re talking about
  • Ernst,” friend, ” you’re still pretty aggressive, maybe you need some joy in your life. Now I understand why the pseudoscientific skeptical atheist community is so childish and so toxic
  • anyone who questions Edzar’s sacred dogmas is a troll
  • Thank you for confirming that you are a sectarian
  • your obsessive behavior borders on harassment
  • Magazines like Skepter are very popular with immature gentlemen who believe they are the world or with teenagers who are just out of college who believe that science is done with whims
  • don’t be like Lenny and try to grow up
  • real science is in the objective pursuit and not in harassment campaigns orchestrated by a few clowns who believe James Randi is unquestionable
  • every time I read your entries I feel sorry that your level of logic is so low and lousy
  •  Your naivety and superficial knowledge in philosophy of science (and that of most of those who follow you) is very pitiful
  • you are the example of a pseudo-sceptic, a rude and cowardly skeptic who can’t tolerate criticism
  • your friends are a sect, possibly a group based on coertion
  • it doesn’t look like “Lenny” has a single scientific article published, not to mention your colleagues in the “About” section that the few who look like scientists are mediocre in their fields, the rest are small-time activists. No wonder, so much envy, so much anger, so much hatred, that’s what leaves fanatical atheism. They’re talibans of science, not scientists
  • you with your age presume a lot and I only see you being interviewed by mainstream media that talk nonsense against homeopathy
  • You had to control that aggressiveness, you feel more nervous and angry, maybe you’re a relative of the troll Lenny
  • The obsessive behavior of Aust trying to refute Frass already looks like that of a stalker, similar of the journalist Christian Kreil who invented a whole string of nonsense in a German public media trying to link Frass to a questionable company, the media does not even mention Frass’s refutation to Kreil

One thing we cannot accuse ‘ASTRO’ of is that he or she was not industrious. You might ask why I did not stop his aggressive stupidity earlier after it had stopped being funny. Perhaps I should have – but, to be honest, these trolls do amuse me a great deal. More importantly, they might teach us important lessons:

  • The fun one can have with fanatics is usually short-lasted.
  • Some weirdos are very well misinformed, i.e. they read a lot and misunderstand even more.
  • The minds of heavily deluded people are beyond productive discussions.
  • Any hope to educate them will be disappointed.
  • If we allow them to, they swiftly make themselves ridiculous.
  • Their pseudo-arguments are strikingly similar.
  • Their aggressiveness can be considerable.

And finally, the little ‘ASTRO’ interlude tells you something else:

It really does need a lot to get banned from my blog.

Having recently mentioned that bullshit is accepted as a proper term in scientific circles, I hasten to add that chiropractors often excel in putting out bullshit. Most of us probably knew that but I was reminded of it when reading this paper by an Irish chiropractor who employs nit just spinal manipulations but also offers CranioSacral Technique, Counselling together with Neuro-developmental training, and Pre and Peri-natal education:

There are essential ethical elements required for a chiropractor to establish an authentic professional relationship in order to maintain the integrity of a healing relationship with their patients. Ethically, chiropractors also have an ongoing responsibility to do their own personal and professional development. Therapeutic presence is the capacity to hold a healing space for another person by developing trust and rapport and providing them with a safe energetic container influenced by one’s calm and centered state of being. The Polyvagal Theory provides a neurobiological narrative that focuses on the importance of ‘safety’ and the adaptive consequences of detecting risk on our physiological state, social behavior, psychological experience, and health to achieve presence. To fulfill our biological imperative of connectedness, our personal, professional and ethical agenda needs to be directed toward making patients feel safe in the moment and getting into right-relationship. Recognizing and interpreting the mother/baby dyad’s adaptive behaviors provides an insight into their pre & perinatal imprints which reflect the child’s Baby Body Language patterns.

And here are the rather pithy conclusions of this paper:

Practicing the principles of therapeutic presence requires patience, experience and ongoing commitment as it is an invaluable model or paradigm of conscious awareness for helping others. A chiropractor who chooses the path of self-development to help them be more present for others in each moment, in a space of caring and compassion, would enable them to receive as well as give. The ability to serve in presence for someone else’s healing brings the professional into a deeper state of grace and resonance.

When both the chiropractor and mother/child dyad respect their own individual body’s physiological responses, they move towards a more evaluative state in which they become more respectful of themselves and the treatment outcomes. The PVT provides the neuroscience in understanding the continuum between the physiological states of fight, flight, freeze and dissociation. The application of the ongoing evaluation of these states functionally contributes to the treatment and healing process and facilitates a sound basis for the ongoing connectedness of the mother/child dyad.

The way in which practitioners are grounded in themselves, open to others (while holding appropriate boundaries) and participate fully in the life of the mind and body, are important aspects of practicing therapeutic presence which is at the heart of relationships that help others to grow. This inside-out view helps chiropractors to see the ongoing personal development work they need to do as professionals to develop the essential receptive starting place of therapeutic presence for all clinical encounters.

After having read it several times and repeatedly drowned in this abundant mixture of bullshit and platitude, my main question is this:

DOES ANYONE UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS?

If so, please explain.

Subluxation is … a displacement of two or more bones whose articular surfaces have lost, wholly or in part, their natural connection. (D. D. Palmer, 1910)

The definition of ‘subluxation’ as used by chiropractors differs from that in conventional medicine where it describes a partial dislocation of the bony surfaces of a joint readily visible via an X-ray. Crucially, a subluxation, as understood in conventional medicine, is not the cause of disease. Spinal subluxations, according to medical terminology, are possible only if anatomical structures are seriously disrupted.

Subluxation, as chiropractors understand the term, has been central to chiropractic from its very beginning. Despite its central role in chiropractic, its definition is far from clear and has changed significantly over time.

DD Palmer (the guy who invented chiropractic) was extremely vague about most of his ideas. Yet, he remained steadfast about his claims that 95% of all diseases were due to subluxations of the spine, that subluxations hindered the flow of the ‘innate intelligence’ which controlled the vital functions of the body. Innate intelligence or ‘inate’, he believed, operated through the nerves, and subluxated vertebra caused pinched nerves, which in turn blocked the flow of the innate and thus led to abnormal function of our organs. For Palmer and his followers, subluxation is the sole or at least the main cause of all diseases (or dis-eases, as Palmer preferred).

Almost exactly 4 years ago, I published this post:

Is chiropractic subluxation a notion of the past? SADLY NOT! 

In it, I provided evidence that – contrary to what we are often told – chiropractors remain fond of the subluxation nonsense they leant in school. This can be shown by the frequency by which chiropractors advertise on Twitter the concept of chiropractic subluxation.

Today, I had another look. The question I asked myself was: has the promotion of the obsolete subluxation concept by chiropractors subsided?

The findings did not surprise me.

Even a quick glance reveals that there is still a plethora of advertising going on that uses the subluxation myth. Many chiros use imaginative artwork to get their misleading message across. Below is a small selection.

Yes, I know, this little display is not very scientific. In fact, it is a mere impression and does not intend to be anything else. So, let’s look at some more scientific data on this subject. Here are the last 2 paragraphs from the chapter on subluxation in my recent book on chiropractic:

A 2018 survey determined how many chiropractic institutions worldwide still use the term in their curricula.[1] Forty-six chiropractic programmes (18 from US and 28 non-US) participated. The term subluxation was found in all but two US course catalogues. Remarkably, between 2011 and 2017, the use of subluxation in US courses even increased. Similarly, a survey of 7455 US students of chiropractic showed that 61% of them agreed or strongly agreed that the emphasis of chiropractic intervention is to eliminate vertebral subluxations/vertebral subluxation complexes.[2]

Even though chiropractic subluxation is at the heart of chiropractic, its definition remains nebulous and its very existence seems doubtful. But doubt is not what chiropractors want. Without subluxation, spinal manipulation seems questionable – and this will be the theme of the next chapter.

[1] https://chiromt.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12998-018-0191-1

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25646145

In a nutshell: chiros cannot give up the concept of subluxation because, if they did, they would be physios except with a much narrower focus.

I recently came across this paper by Prof. Dr. Chad E. Cook, a physical therapist, PhD, a Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association (FAPTA), and a professor as well as director of clinical research in the Department of Orthopaedics, Department of Population Health Sciences at the Duke Clinical Research Institute at Duke University in North Carolina, USA. The paper is entitled ‘The Demonization of Manual Therapy‘.

Cook introduced the subject by stating: “In medicine, when we do not understand or when we dislike something, we demonize it. Well-known examples throughout history include the initial ridicule of antiseptic handwashing, percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (i. e., balloon angioplasty), the relationships between viruses and cancer, the contribution of bacteria in the development of ulcers, and the role of heredity in the development of disease. In each example, naysayers attempted to discredit the use of each of the concepts, despite having no evidence to support their claims. The goal in each of the aforementioned topics: demonize the concept.”

Cook then discussed 8 ‘demonizations’ of manual therapy. Number 7 is entitled “Causes as Much Harm as Help“. Here is this section in full:

By definition, harms include adverse reactions (e. g., side effects of treatments), and other undesirable consequences of health care products and services. Harms can be classified as “none”, minor, moderate, serious and severe [67]. Most interventions have some harms, typically minor, which are defined as a non-life-threatening, temporary harm that may or may not require efforts to assess for a change in a patient’s condition such as monitoring [67].
There are harms associated with a manual therapy intervention, but they are generally benign (minor). Up to 20 –40 % of individuals will report adverse events after the application of manual therapy. The most common adverse events were soreness in muscles, increased pain, stiffness and tiredness [68]. There are rare occasions of several harms associated with manual therapy and these include spinal or neurological problems as well as cervical arterial strokes [9]. It is critical to emphasize how rare these events are; serious adverse event incidence estimates ranged from 1 per 2 million manipulations to 13 per 10,000 patients [69].

Cook then concludes that “manual therapy has been inappropriately demonized over the last decade and has been associated with inaccurate assumptions and false speculations that many clinicians have acquired over the last decade. This paper critically analyzed eight of the most common assumptions that have belabored manual therapy and identified notable errors in seven of the eight. It is my hope that the physiotherapy community will carefully re-evaluate its stance on manual therapy and consider a more evidence-based approach for the betterment of our patients.

REFERENCES

[9] Ernst E. Adverse effects of spinal manipulation: a systematic review. J R Soc Med 2007; 100: 330–338.
doi:10.1177/014107680710000716

[68] Paanalahti K, Holm LW, Nordin M et al. Adverse events after manual therapy among patients seeking care for neck and/or back pain: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 2014; 15: 77. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-15-77

[69] Swait G, Finch R. What are the risks of manual treatment of the spine? A scoping review for clinicians. Chiropr Man Therap 2017; 25: 37. doi:10.1186/s12998-017-0168-5

_________________________________

Here are a few things that I find odd or wrong with Cook’s text:

  • The term ‘demonizing’ seems to be a poor choice. The historical examples chosen by Cook were not cases of demonization. They were mostly instances where new discoveries did not fit into the thinking of the time and therefore took a long time to get accepted. They also show that sooner or later, sound evidence always prevails. Lastly, they suggest that speeding up this process via the concept of evidence-based medicine is a good idea.
  • Cook then introduces the principle of risk/benefit balance by entitling the cited section “Causes as Much Harm as Help“. Oddly, however, he only discusses the risks of manual therapies and omits the benefit side of the equation.
  • This omission is all the more puzzling since he quotes my paper (his reference [9]) states that “the effectiveness of spinal manipulation for most indications is less than convincing. A risk-benefit evaluation is therefore unlikely to generate positive results: with uncertain effectiveness and finite risks, the balance cannot be positive.”
  • In discussing the risks, he seems to assume that all manual therapies are similar. This is clearly not true. Massage therapies have a very low risk, while this cannot be said of spinal manipulations.
  • The harms mentioned by Cook seem to be those of spinal manipulation and not those of all types of manual therapy.
  • Cook states that “up to 20 –40 % of individuals will report adverse events after the application of manual therapy.” Yet, the reference he uses in support of this statement is a clinical trial that reported an adverse effect rate of 51%.
  • Cook then states that “there are rare occasions of several harms associated with manual therapy and these include spinal or neurological problems as well as cervical arterial strokes.” In support, he quotes one of my papers. In it, I emphasize that “the incidence of such events is unknown.” Cook not only ignores this fact but states in the following sentence that “it is critical to emphasize how rare these events are…”

Cook concludes that “manual therapy has been inappropriately demonized over the last decade and has been associated with inaccurate assumptions and false speculations …” He confuses, I think, demonization with critical assessment.

Cook’s defence of manual therapy is clumsy, inaccurate, ill-conceived, misleading and often borders on the ridiculous. In the age of evidence-based medicine, therapies are not ‘demonized’ but evaluated on the basis of their effectiveness and safety. Manual therapies are too diverse to do this wholesale. They range from various massage techniques, some of which have a positive risk/benefit balance, to high-velocity, low-amplitude thrusts, for which the risks do not demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

Harry G Frankfurt published his delightful booklet ‘ON BULLSHIT‘ in 2005 (in case you don’t know it, I highly recommend you read it). Since then, the term ‘bullshit’ has become accepted terminology even in polite discourse. But what exactly is bullshit? Frankfurt explains that is something between a lie and a bluff, perhaps more like the latter than the former.

Not least due to Frankfurt’s book, there is today plenty of research on the subject of bullshit. As much of it relates to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), allow me to present here just 5 of the most recent papers on bullshit.

No 1

Navigating social systems efficiently is critical to our species. Humans appear endowed with a cognitive system that has formed to meet the unique challenges that emerge for highly social species. Bullshitting, communication characterised by an intent to be convincing or impressive without concern for truth, is ubiquitous within human societies. Across two studies (N = 1,017), we assess participants’ ability to produce satisfying and seemingly accurate bullshit as an honest signal of their intelligence. We find that bullshit ability is associated with an individual’s intelligence and individuals capable of producing more satisfying bullshit are judged by second-hand observers to be more intelligent. We interpret these results as adding evidence for intelligence being geared towards the navigation of social systems. The ability to produce satisfying bullshit may serve to assist individuals in negotiating their social world, both as an energetically efficient strategy for impressing others and as an honest signal of intelligence.

No 2

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. Here, we present 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.

No 3

Recent psychological research has identified important individual differences associated with receptivity to bullshit, which has greatly enhanced our understanding of the processes behind susceptibility to pseudo-profound or otherwise misleading information. However, the bulk of this research attention has focused on cognitive and dispositional factors related to bullshit (the product), while largely overlooking the influences behind bullshitting (the act). Here, we present results from four studies focusing on the construction and validation of a new, reliable scale measuring the frequency with which individuals engage in two types of bullshitting (persuasive and evasive) in everyday situations. Overall, bullshitting frequency was negatively associated with sincerity, honesty, cognitive ability, open-minded cognition, and self-regard. Additionally, the Bullshitting Frequency Scale was found to reliably measure constructs that are (1) distinct from lying and (2) significantly related to performance on overclaiming and social decision tasks. These results represent an important step forward by demonstrating the utility of the Bullshitting Frequency Scale as well as highlighting certain individual differences that may play important roles in the extent to which individuals engage in everyday bullshitting.

No 4

Although generally viewed as a common and undesirable social behaviour, very little is known about the nature of bullshitting (i.e., communicating with little to no regard for evidence or truth; Raritan Q Rev 6, 1986, 81); its consequences; and its potential communicative utility. Specifically, it is hypothesized that bullshitting may be may be relatively influential under specified conditions. Experiment 1 participants were exposed to a traditional persuasion paradigm, receiving either strong or weak arguments in either an evidence-based or bullshit frame. Experiment 2 also incorporated a manipulation of a peripheral route cue (i.e., source attractiveness). Findings demonstrate that bullshitting can be an effective means of influence when arguments are weak, yet undermine persuasive attempts when arguments are strong. Results also suggest that bullshit frames may cue peripheral route processing of persuasive information relative to evidence-based frames that appear to cue central route processing. Results are discussed in light of social perception and attitude change.

No 5

Objective: Fake news represents a particularly egregious and direct avenue by which inaccurate beliefs have been propagated via social media. We investigate the psychological profile of individuals who fall prey to fake news.

Method: We recruited 1,606 participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for three online surveys.

Results: The tendency to ascribe profundity to randomly generated sentences-pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity-correlates positively with perceptions of fake news accuracy, and negatively with the ability to differentiate between fake and real news (media truth discernment). Relatedly, individuals who overclaim their level of knowledge also judge fake news to be more accurate. We also extend previous research indicating that analytic thinking correlates negatively with perceived accuracy by showing that this relationship is not moderated by the presence/absence of the headline’s source (which has no effect on accuracy), or by familiarity with the headlines (which correlates positively with perceived accuracy of fake and real news).

Conclusion: Our results suggest that belief in fake news may be driven, to some extent, by a general tendency to be overly accepting of weak claims. This tendency, which we refer to as reflexive open-mindedness, may be partly responsible for the prevalence of epistemically suspect beliefs writ large.

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Yes, bullshit seems to be an active area of research. And rightly so! There is so much of it about. Those who regularly read the comments sections of this blog will probably agree with some of the writing above. The statement that ‘bullshitting can be an effective means of influence when arguments are weak’ rang particularly true, I thought. ‘Communication characterised by an intent to be convincing or impressive without concern for truth’ might perhaps also remind us of a few notorious commentators on this blog.

In any case, I am relieved to know that research into bullshit is buoyant – there clearly is a need to better understand the phenomenon. I for one intend to use this terminology more frequently in the future.

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