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Unbelievably, this is no April’s fool joke

Filed under: — rasmus @ 29 March 2020

Last week, a colleague shared a tweet with a link to a very unusual paper. I first thought it must be a joke, but then realised that since it was the last days in March when I read it, it could not be an April’s fool joke. It seems to be a serious paper.

So I thought it would be perfect to share the reference McCarthy et al. (2020) today. The paper has a few useful take-home messages, such as the C.R.A.P. framework.

Update: here is a presentation slide deck to accompany the paper. 

References

  1. I.P. McCarthy, D. Hannah, L.F. Pitt, and J.M. McCarthy, "Confronting indifference toward truth: Dealing with workplace bullshit", Business Horizons, vol. 63, pp. 253-263, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2020.01.001

34 Responses to “Unbelievably, this is no April’s fool joke”

  1. 1
    ozajh says:

    In the light of US experience over the last 3 years, and especially over the last 3 months, this seems to me to be a completely valid academic field.

  2. 2

    I found section 3.4.2 one of the most interesting parts. Applying it to anthropogenic climate change (and its politics), I think that climate change activism is mostly concerned with bullshitting, just like a lot of the climate change denial crowd is bullshitting. Even though there is an overwelming amount of evidence in favour of only one side, it’s useful to realise that the “consensus” is mostly established in an “egalitarian” way and much less through scientific evidence.

    The question is whether the end (climate action) justifies the means (bullshitting—instead of (failing to) educate most of the crowd).

  3. 3
    Nemesis says:

    Hehe, a long needed, excellent paper. Lemmy Kilmister once again proved to be a wise man, quoted at the end of that paper:

    ” Apparently people don’t like the truth, but I do like it; I like it because it upsets a lot of people. If you show them enough times that their arguments are bullshit, then maybe just once, one of them will say, “Oh! Wait a minute— I was wrong.”

    This is exactly why I sticked to this harsh motto all my life:

    ” Spitting blood clears up dream and reality alike.”

    – Sunao

    I’m sure, Lemmy, as a true rock’n roller, would subscribe to that 100%. The truth ain’t pretty, but you can never get rid of it, it will always win. Just take away all hopium, wishful thinking and calculated optimism and you’ll realize mountains of bullshit all over the place. Bullshit sells, bullshit and plain lies are the glue of the system.

    Beautiful, telling lyrics:

    “Motörhead – I Ain’t No Nice Guy”
    https://youtu.be/L_VEdra0wUE

    And, please, allow me to add:

    “Motörhead – Eat The Rich (Official Video)”
    https://youtu.be/Wh3t49NsWBA

  4. 4
    Dave Berry says:

    You may be interested in this interview with the author of a book called Business Bullshit.
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p05fzz5j

  5. 5
    MA Rodger says:

    I suppose the problem is finding a word that has the meaning of “bullshit” but which sounds a bit more sciency. That there isn’t one readily to hand has resulted in many thousands of academics employing the word in the titles of their work, and in the case of Sneddon (2007) ‘Bullshitting bullshitters and the bullshit they say’ employing it as a keyword.
    But I also consider it goes deeper. For myself, I’m inclined to the view that until that alternative sciency word is found and employed, the academic papers on the subject will forever be trying to nail down a nebulous phenomenon that means different things to different people. Thus for me, the ‘definition’ provided by the paper referenced in the OP is itself no more than conceptual ‘bullshit’.

    “A liar is someone who is interested in the truth, knows it, and deliberately misrepresents it. In contrast, a bullshitter has no concern for the truth and does not know or care what is true or is not. In other words, to tell a lie, the liar must know what is true. The lie is designed and communicated under the direction of that truth, whereas the bullshitter has more freedom because they do not care about the truth and are not constrained by it.”

  6. 6
    CCHolley says:

    Interesting. So I wonder how much of climate science denierism is out right lying versus pure BS? I suppose the creators of the denialist memes are adept at using both. I also suspect that many of the echo chamber repeaters of those memes are just loyal BSers with no regard for the truth; however, many more are probably just witless dupes that are plain ignorant and/or too stupid to know better. Anyway, I know I’ve already formed my opinions on where the regular deniers that post on here stand. ;-)

  7. 7
    Karsten V. Johansen says:

    I think Orwell found the precise expression for what we are really talking about: “newspeak”. A “language” where any possibility to express criticism has been wiped out from the vocabulary.

    As the danish philosopher Kierkegaard once put it: “One who is positive has nothing. One who is negative has at least this: that he is negative.” A child start to develop its personality from the moment it for the first time says “no!”

  8. 8
    Nemesis says:

    @Karsten V. Johanson, #7

    ” As the danish philosopher Kierkegaard once put it: “One who is positive has nothing. One who is negative has at least this: that he is negative.” A child start to develop its personality from the moment it for the first time says “no!” ”

    Well said^^ In christian language:

    The nosayer, the naysayer, the doubter is Satan, who undermines the “godgiven” (without alternative) system.

    Another Quote:

    ” A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.”

    ― Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Part I

  9. 9

    Not as relevant and perhaps not as entertaining, but, still,

    D. S. Salsburg, Errors, Blunders, and Lies: How to tell the difference, CRC Press, 2017

    is an official offering from the American Statistical Association.

  10. 10
    Oxyaena says:

    @Marco Identify the bullshit used by climate change activists. Put up or shut up.

  11. 11
    Ian McCarthy says:

    Thank you for posting this and how you did it on Aprils Fools Day

    I am one of authors of the paper. Here is a presentation slide deck to accompany the paper. Feel free to use and share.

    https://www.slideshare.net/IanMcCarthy/confronting-indifference-toward-truth-dealing-with-workplace-bullshit

    Take care and best wishes.

  12. 12
  13. 13
    MA Rodger says:

    Cherrypicking an unrepresentiative example as an exemplar to demonstrate a situation is a well-known device of bullshitters/liars.
    Thus the personal view “I think that climate change activism is mostly concerned with bullshitting” set out @2 which is then challenged @10 by the demand “Identify the bullshit” generates a response @12 with a cherry-picked 30-year-old doomy AGW prediction of ‘catastrophe’ for 2ppm of the world’s land area being presented as being this massed AGW ‘bullshitting’ – cherrypicking being itself a ‘bullshitting” device.

    Mind, was Environmental Affairs Director, Mr Hussein Shihab, actually ‘bullshitting’ when he reportedly said an estimated rise of 20 to 30 centimetres in the next 20 to 40 years could be “catastrophic” for most of the islands? The projected SLR appears today a little steep but the IPCC FAR was projecting SLR at 2mm/yr to 7.3mm/yr. Fixing on the highest value isn’t of itself “bullshit.” (The Maldives have experienced an SLR rate of 4.5mm/year over the period 1989-2017, an increase totalling 126mm which is about a tenth of the average elevation of the islands above average sea level with its tidal range of +/-500mm.) Given such context, the word “catastrophic” isn’t so out-of-place to be immeditately catagorised as “bullshit.” So the cherry-picked exemplar of “bullshit” presented @12, in the context it was made, appears not to be “bullshit.”
    And if we do seek “bullshit,” the island-building policy of the last Maldives’ government (losing an election in 2018 to the opposition) could have been relying on more than sand to build the country’s future.

  14. 14
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Marco: “…it’s useful to realise that the “consensus” is mostly established in an “egalitarian” way and much less through scientific evidence.”

    Wow, a bullshit comment on a post about bullshit. Dude, probably the most thorough statements of the consensus on climate change are the IPCC assessments. These are replete with examples of evidence, citations of peer-reviewed research and distillations of expert opinion. It is true that there is a political process at work as the drafts work their way toward acceptance, but this inevitably weakens the consensus that exists among actual experts.

    I have no idea if you are a paid shill, but if you are, they aren’t getting their money’s worth!

  15. 15
    Susan Anderson says:

    @2 Marco
    “3.4.2. Value evidence over opinions and expertise over egalitarianism”

    You have this exactly backwards. Climate activists, unlike critics of the vast accumulated evidence that is in agreement, value evidence and expertise.

    Pretending that those who follow evidence and expertise are an insider club is just one of the many tactics used by unskeptical “skeptics”. It’s easy to bullshit about this because people don’t want to take action. The “club” is perfectly described in the referenced text. Anything to prevent people from paying attention and working together the solve the problem. They now have the ultimate bullshit governments in charge, too. Bad things will result.

  16. 16
    nigelj says:

    Marcos comments @2 Perhaps what he meant by the consensus being egalitarian was its a representation of the view of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, emerging over time, rather than a consensus among just “the best scientists”. I dont know, perhaps he could elaborate. In any event it would be impossible to decide what cut off point is correct for the best scientists. Its similar to some people whining that only certain people should be allowed to vote.

  17. 17
    Karsten V. Johansen says:

    #8 Nemesis

    Cassandra as the tragic clown.

    Regarding “the end of the world” today I prefer the end scene from Goethe’s “Faust”: Faust who has become blind, is in the illusion that Mephisto is leading his great works. He hears the sound of spades at work, and thinks that this is those works going on, and is told so by Mephisto. But what he really hears is the lemurs digging his own grave. Faust and his illusions here are a precise representation of the de facto climate ignorants leading our societies today and their deep illusions: that it somehow is possible to negotiate with the laws of nature, pressuring them to accept more emissions of our greenhouse gases without making too much fuzz about it.

    Those de facto climate ignorants are the most dangerous, because effective, denialists, because they are talking as if they took the problem seriously. Most people if course observe that they don’t: they are just talking and doing greenwashing, without making any real changes to the policy. Everything is just empty symbolism, as fx in the socalled Paris “aggreement”. What is a non-binding aggreement? It is exactly what James Hansen called it in december 2015: “Pure bullshit”. Contradictio in adjecto. Many people draw this logical conclusion from that: since these politicians really don’t take the climate crisis seriously, then it can’t be very serious… they are satisfied that we can all just go on with bizznizz as extremely usual. As is done and has been so for over thirty years now: https://i0.wp.com/runelikvern.online/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/fig-1-world-energy-consumption-1800-to-2017-vs-world-gdp-1980-to-2017-e1528939247704.png?ssl=1

    I’m afraid it will take very big catastrophies to make all those people realize that this i dead serious. Also after this corona-crisis almost everyone will be preoccupied with “getting back to normal”. Cfr. also the discussion here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/01/the-fossil-fuel-industry-is-broken-will-a-cleaner-climate-be-the-result

  18. 18
    Arjun Singh says:

    Thank you for posting it, it’s really so interesting article I have read today…

  19. 19
    Nemesis says:

    @Karsten V. Johansen, #17

    ” Cassandra as the tragic clown.

    Regarding “the end of the world” today I prefer the end scene from Goethe’s “Faust”: Faust who has become blind, is in the illusion that Mephisto is leading his great works. He hears the sound of spades at work, and thinks that this is those works going on, and is told so by Mephisto. But what he really hears is the lemurs digging his own grave. Faust and his illusions here are a precise representation of the de facto climate ignorants leading our societies today and their deep illusions: that it somehow is possible to negotiate with the laws of nature, pressuring them to accept more emissions of our greenhouse gases without making too much fuzz about it.”

    What a great coincidence as this is my favorite scene from Goethe’s “Faust” as well and I contemplated about it for years and years as it doesn’t fit to Goethe’s “Faust, Part II”, when Faust finally went to heaven^^ Faust was a true megalomaniac dike warden, a slave driver. Mephisto has always been my favorite in that tragedy, I love his style, I love his tragicomical humor, his integrity and his intelligence. Doctor Faustus on the other hand is the perfect allegory of the faustian “elite”, who consider themselves as some sort of “magical” rulers, forgetting they are ruled by Nature and her laws in turn, they don’t realize that all the noise of digging shovels out there are just the harbinger of their own demise. Yes, indeed, Faust is the perfect symbol of what’s going on in politics, economy, technocracy ect, they are really trying to mess with the Laws of Nature, what a faustian tragicomedia that is.

    I’m still struggling with Faust’s trip to heaven at the end of part II, I just can’t believe Goethe was that kind of a super-naive christian shep. Goethe was greatly connected to Nature and he firmly stood in the tradition of the age of enlightenment. So why did he send Faust to heaven in that rather comic end scene of part II? Was it a snarky joke he made on chritianity? If he were serios about Faust’s final redemption, then why did Goethe call his work “Faust, A Tragedy“?! A tragedy never ends up in heaven, does it? Well, maybe that kind of cuddly, funny comic heaven is real Hell instead? Does anyone think, this funny, disney-like heaven Goethe described in his tragedy is the place Goethe the man himself wanted to be?! I’m heavily in doubt. The original legend of Doctor Faust didn’t end up in heaven, but in Hell. Would’ve Goethe ever been so arrogant to change the original ending just for the sake of some funny christian sermon?! I’m heavily in doubt.

    Whatever, that kinda heaven ain’t the place I’d ever like to be, I’ll go on straying with Mephisto, the Devil instead.

    Best wishes to you, Karsten V. Johansen.

  20. 20
    Nemesis says:

    @Ian McCarthy, #11

    Thanks a lot for speaking out in that paper, you and your colleges spoke out what would’ve needed to be said already a long time ago. It’s not just a scientific, but a political, an existential struggle. The corona virus teaches a crucial fact:

    Our economical system cannot handle large scale, global biological crises, the corona crises is just going on for some months now, but the global economy is already rattlin and rucklin like crazy. What will it be like when bullshit hits the climate fan for decades and centuries to come? Will the funny, legendary “invisible hand of the market” (god?) save our asses? I heavily doubt that.

  21. 21

    N 19: Whatever, that kinda heaven ain’t the place I’d ever like to be, I’ll go on straying with Mephisto, the Devil instead.

    BPL: Everybody gets what they want in the end. Whether you’ll still want it once you’ve got it is a different question.

  22. 22

    Nemesis wrote:

    …but the global economy is already rattlin and rucklin like crazy. What will it be like when bullshit hits the climate fan for decades and centuries to come? Will the funny, legendary “invisible hand of the market” (god?) save our asses? I heavily doubt that.

    It’s going to be illuminating, I think, when amid the financial wreckage, people and institutions realize that they are still here with all the physical and mental potentialities they had before, and that all physical assets still exist. My hope is that the objectification of value which is such a feature of modern thought will be revealed for the idol of the mind that it is.

    Maybe that’s what you’re saying, too, Nemesis; not really sure. But I’m quite sure that we both agree that “the invisible hand of the market” can’t possibly work over the long term when its premises are incorrectly set with respect to physical reality–as we know to a certainty they are today.

  23. 23
    Susan Anderson says:

    “We’ve got reality on our side,” Ebell said. He called the investigation of Exxon an “inquisition.” Ebell’s group received about $2 million from Exxon in the 2000s before the company switched direction and stopped funding the small group. [Myron Ebell, Trump/Koch point person on the environment]

    Challenging the overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change is real, Ebell said that “the first thing they try to do is try to change reality. They try to change the facts.” He added, “The next thing they try to do is exaggerate the impacts.”

    In a discussion of impacts, we’re called “political” if we mention who’s got our future on the hook … [sorry I’ve lost the original link]

  24. 24

    #23, SA–

    “We’ve got reality on our side,” Ebell said.

    Q: What’s the difference between Myron Ebell and Jean-Luc Picard?
    A: Picard always has someone who can “make it so.”

  25. 25
    nigelj says:

    nemesis says “but the global economy is already rattlin and rucklin like crazy. What will it be like when bullshit hits the climate fan for decades and centuries to come? Will the funny, legendary “invisible hand of the market” (god?) save our asses? I heavily doubt that.”

    Yes however its interesting regarding covid 19 how the socio economic system has moved so fast to build more ventilators and hospitals, and provide financial help to businesses and home owners etcetera. If only things were that efficient and compassionate in normal times, and no real reason why they cant be.

    The invisible hand of the market is good at producing consumer goods but utterly useless at dealing with environmental emergencies. That’s what the evidence shows.

  26. 26
    nigelj says:

    KM @22 says “Maybe that’s what you’re saying, too, Nemesis; not really sure. But I’m quite sure that we both agree that “the invisible hand of the market” can’t possibly work over the long term when its premises are incorrectly set with respect to physical reality–as we know to a certainty they are today.”

    This is relevant to the market issue, and also connected to parallels between covid 19 and climate change:

    https://www.drillednews.com/post/heated-bill-mckibben-on-solidarity-in-the-time-of-social-distancing

  27. 27
    Nemesis says:

    @Barton Paul Levenson, #21

    ” Everybody gets what they want in the end. Whether you’ll still want it once you’ve got it is a different question.”

    Are you threatening me with christian hell (are you a christian?)^^ Uhm, I’ve seen a lot of people who got the exact opposite of what they wanted in the end^^

    You know, I’ve found the Fire of truth in Hell and I’ve found tons of sweet lies in heaven^^ I prefer the harsh, burning Fire of truth over sweet lies and cosy promises, I stick to Mephisto, I despise Doctor Faustus, the megalomaniac slave driver. And if Goethe was serious about his comical ending in “Faust, a Tragedy Part II”, then I’d despise Goethe as well.

  28. 28
    Nemesis says:

    @Kevin McKinney, #22

    ” My hope is that the objectification of value which is such a feature of modern thought will be revealed for the idol of the mind that it is.”

    I’m far away from any hope at all as hope is nothing but a wishful projection into the future, tommorrow never comes. I completely prefer ACTION over hope.

    ” But I’m quite sure that we both agree that “the invisible hand of the market” can’t possibly work over the long term when its premises are incorrectly set with respect to physical reality–as we know to a certainty they are today.”

    Exactly. We agree on that 100%. Capitalism is nothing but a castle in the sky, far away from physical reality, far away from ecological reality of planet earth.

  29. 29
    Nemesis says:

    @nigelj, #25

    ” Yes however its interesting regarding covid 19 how the socio economic system has moved so fast to build more ventilators and hospitals, and provide financial help to businesses and home owners etcetera. If only things were that efficient and compassionate in normal times, and no real reason why they cant be.”

    Uhm, I see lots of people in the rich countries sealing themselves off and hoarding tons of closet paper literally, hehe (I always knew that I’m alone when things get rough, so I turned solitude into a real friend of mine a long time ago, that’s what I learned in the basement of capitalism). Let’s see how that turns out when things get REALLY rough over food and water, the corona crises will be like kindergarden compared to climate heating and the 6th global mass extinction for decades and centuries to come, hoarding closet paper and pasta won’t help I’m sure.

    ” The invisible hand of the market is good at producing consumer goods but utterly useless at dealing with environmental emergencies. That’s what the evidence shows.”

    You name it.

  30. 30

    #26–

    Thanks, nigel! Excellent conversation, IMO. Shared.

  31. 31

    N 27: I prefer the harsh, burning Fire of truth over sweet lies and cosy promises, I stick to Mephisto

    BPL: The Devil is a liar. If you can no longer distinguish truth from lies, you’ll be very at home there.

  32. 32
    Nemesis says:

    @Barton Paul Levenson, #31

    As Gavin obviously didn’t publish my two last comments (for whatever reasons^^), I will shorten my reply, I stick to what I said:

    I prefer the harsh, burning Fire of truth over sweet lies and cosy promises, like I always did. I stick to Mephisto, not any bullshit. Let’s see if your god will save anyone from the Laws Of Nature resp. the Fire of climate heating and the 6th global mass extinction. (@Gavin: Publish that comment of mine or leave it, I don’t care anymore, I’m out, I don’t need any more climate discussions, I’m sick and tired of it).

    Bye.

  33. 33

    N 32: I don’t care anymore, I’m out, I don’t need any more climate discussions, I’m sick and tired of it.

    BPL: Promises, promises.

  34. 34
    nigelj says:

    Guys, climate discussions get a bit addictive. Like looking at any slow motion train wreck its hard to look away.