In the previous post in this series, I suggested a first guideline for deciding whether to trust a website:
#1: When the website makes a mistake, what kind is it?
What I had in mind was the distinction between honest mistakes, intentional lies, and bullshit, with the last being the worst.
Next up we have this simple idea:
#2: When the website makes a mistake, how do they handle it?
Do they publish a retraction? Do they put it in a place where a reader of the original story is likely to find it? Or, do they leave the original story as-is?
Continuing with the example from last time, Rush Limbaugh was spouting on his radio show about President Obama’s “invasion” of Uganda to fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Limbaugh said this was Obama’s effort to “wipe out Christians in Sudan [and] Uganda.” Limbaugh could not have been more wrong. The LRA were a marauding band of thugs conducting a campaign of rape, abduction and murder across the region.
I happened to catch this show on the radio and heard a someone call in to set Rush straight.
If you’re the sort of person who can spend several minutes at a time staring at unbelievably large numbers being incremented at an unbelievable rate, check this out: Internet Live Stats.
As I write this at 9:30 am, the counter of blog posts written today is at roughly 1.8 million. It is incrementing at roughly 3,000 per minute. This in the same neighborhood as the rate at which an A-10 Warthog’s very impressive Avenger gun fires its rounds, except that according to Wikipedia, “In practice, the [Avenger] cannon is limited to one and two-second bursts to avoid overheating and conserve ammunition; barrel life is also a factor…” By the way, each of those roughly 3,000 rounds per minute weighs nearly a pound. Can you imagine!?
And that’s just the blog posts. It does not count all the stories at news sites, propaganda at campaign websites, YouTube videos, and on and on.
With all that ammunition being fired at us, how can we tell which are the good guys (the truth-lovers) and which are the bad (the liars and BS artists)?
Last time, I promised a simple way to detect which ideas are full of baloney. The technique I’ll share has kept me from being taken in numerous times, one of which I wrote about in the post, A UFO Nut’s Truth-Loving Test. As in that case, the technique is particularly effective when you have a pet idea that you think is above refutation.
Use your favorite Internet search engine to search for
Here at the public library, I just overheard a remarkable conversation.
A middle-aged woman with a couple of kids and a slightly older gentleman were sitting at adjacent computers. The woman was earnestly explaining that the Church does not consist of a building, but of people. She also said something I didn’t catch about the Rapture (the belief that when Jesus returns all true believers will be taken up to meet him in the clouds).
The man disagreed and said, “What I’ve been told is…”
Sometimes I’m tempted to upgrade to YouTube Red so I don’t have to watch all the ads, but then an ad comes along that changes my life. Well, almost.
Yesterday, a video that I can’t even remember was preceded by an ad I’ll never forget. Maybe you’ve seen it, too. It opened with a scruffy-looking man in his back yard saying, “Yeah, so this is my back yard…” except this wasn’t just any back yard. It was mostly a gigantic swimming pool, sited behind a luxurious home in Beverly Hills. The next five and a half minutes consisted of the scruffy man, Tai Lopez, nonchalantly taking me on a tour of his uber-house while promising to reveal the Three Secrets of Success.
He was disarmingly casual, not even sure how many bedrooms the house had (18, or was that the number of bathrooms?), nor which of his many cars were in this particular property’s garage at the moment (they turned out to be the Ferrari and the “Lambo”).
I admit that I watched the whole thing. Even after all these years of knowing that wealth can’t buy happiness, I still wish I were rich. Call me irrational.
Here’s more from Harry Frankfurt’s essay, On Bullshit.
The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry.
The young-Earth creationist does believe in objective reality. In that sense, he is not an “anti-realist.” However, he most certainly does not support “disinterested efforts to determine what is true and false.”
This is a post I did not want to write. First of all, it requires me to speculate on what’s in other people’s heads, which I don’t like to do. Second, it requires me to use a mild cuss word, which makes me uncomfortable even in print. I’m posting anyway because on the first count there comes a time where you just have to say that a waddling, quacking, duck-like animal is, in fact, a duck; and on the second count the word “bullshit” happens to have no adequate synonym.
What is bullshit, and how does it differ from an ordinary lie? Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt gave a good answer in his famous essay, On Bullshit.
The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.