Being a critical thinker isn’t easy. But it’s important to minimise exploitation to yourself, others and the environment.
Here are 5 ways to spot BS
1. Research logical fallacies
A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Logical fallacies are like tricks or illusions of thought, and they’re often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people. It’s very easy to make logical fallacies, even with relatively reasonable critical thinking skills. Here are some of the most common ones.
On this page you can find examples of logical fallacy statements. For example, “You should eat all of the food on your plate because there are children starving in Africa”. This is called an “Appeal to Emotion” fallacy in which two facts that have no correlation to each other are used to manipulate the receiver into doing something.
2. Use good reasoning methods
There are three good reasoning methods that can be used to detect bullshit: deductive, inductive and abductive reasoning.
Deductive reasoning concludes:
“When it rains, things outside get wet. The grass is outside, therefore: when it rains, the grass gets wet.” Mathematical logic and philosophical logic are commonly associated with this style of reasoning.
Inductive reasoning concludes:
“The grass got wet numerous times when it rained, therefore: the grass always gets wet when it rains.” While they may be persuasive, these arguments are not deductively valid, see the problem of induction. Science is associated with this type of reasoning.
Abductive reasoning concludes:
If you think something seems like bullshit, check to see if they have reasoned with any of these methods – if they haven’t, you’ll probably find their reasoning in a logical fallacy as discussed above.
3. Have a bullshit spotter’s attitude
Try not to become too emotionally attached to your beliefs – if you do, you’re bound to end up in a situation where your belief is invalid and unreasonable. Good critical thinkers (bullshit spotters) are humble – they understand you also suffer from the The Dunning- Kruger effect – that is, not having the competence to know that you’re not competent . When given a different opinion, ask yourself – How could my belief be wrong? Do not believe everything you think . Be prepared to change your mind about anything you believe in. Dr. Peter Boghossian discusses this in detail in the video below.
4. Look out for bullshit slogans
Here are just a few to get you started:
“It’s 100% natural!” – Since when was everything natural good for you? Arsenic is natural… but I wouldn’t recommend adding it to your coffee.
“Treat others as you would like to be treated” – Going back to the point on ‘attitude’ – think carefully about this slogan – it may have good intentions but there are always exceptions. Should a person who has committed a range of dangerous crimes be treated the same way as others? This is quite a subjective question.
“Seeing is believing” – Humans have a vivid imagination, the potential to ‘see things’ and a biological trait that makes us see patterns that do not necessarily exist. If you ever read “Demon Haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark” by Carl Sagan, you can find many examples of this. One example, is how humans have seen a ‘face’ in the moon for thousands of years in many different cultures. This face has been linked to a variety of religious and superstitious beliefs. However the reason we find a face in the moon is because human evolution has encouraged this pattern recognition – a baby that is more likely to recognise faces has a higher chance of survival. Also, as Neil Degrasse Tyson pointed out in an episode of Cosmos, seeing is NOT always believing – many of the stars we can see in the sky are no longer there.
5. Learn to spot evidence of bullshit
Closely linked to the logical fallacies, also keep your ear out for the following statements. You’re more likely to hear these when having a debate with a friend or family member, or when being sold something.
“It’s been know for thousands of years… ” – To quote Tim Minchin – just because ideas are tenacious it doesn’t mean that they’re worthy.
“Everyone knows that!” – Yeah okay, we all once knew the earth was flat, too.
“I saw it on the internet” – The internet is a wonderful collection of information that has changed the way we think and live, however, it is full of bullshit. If someone says they saw in on the internet, make sure they can back up their source on the internet, or research it yourself.
“Someone told me” The fact that someone told you something may increase the likelihood – but it doesn’t make it true.
With these five tips… and by thinking more about the information you are exposed to, you will have a clearer vision as to how to navigate and understand the world around you.