Post No.: 0343
A liar knows for sure that what they’re saying is false, whereas a bull****er doesn’t know for sure whether what they’re saying is true or false, and doesn’t care – they’ll just make stuff up and say, or listen to others and repeat, whatever sounds impressive or plausible to suit or serve their own overall agenda. Someone who spreads bull may guess that something’s likely false because they’ve just made it up or haven’t checked whether it’s true or not, or more likely they may believe that it’s true out of sheer faith or out of simply wanting to believe that it’s true. Whatever the case, a bull****er only cares about being persuasive rather than factual.
By the way, it’s not down to others to prove that our claims (such as concerning our own wonder treatment or other product) are false, but for us to prove that our claims are true. The burden of proof is on the party who first brings about a claim (so in the above example, the burden of providing proof is on the party who claims that a product does something, such as cure cancer or increase fertility).
And the truth doesn’t fear examination i.e. if you believe you’re telling the truth then you shouldn’t be afraid to have other people independently scrutinise it. (The same if you believe you’ve behaved morally – you shouldn’t be afraid if others were to investigate what you did. Hence that’s a good test if you are unsure about doing something that is ethically questionable – if you’re concerned about other people examining what you’re about to do then you should probably not do it.)
Bull or bunkum can be harder to detect than outright lies because a bull****er can truly believe in her/his own claims. Such people can therefore probably even easily pass polygraph tests when asked whether they believe that their own claims are true. But of course the mere belief in something being true doesn’t make that something true. Yet their defence will be that they’re not knowingly lying.
To help preserve these beliefs, they don’t tend to want their claims, ideas or methods revealed in sufficient detail to be independently, properly and fairly examined, tested and closely scrutinised by people who could break them down (e.g. their claims of paranormal activities or unaided psychic abilities). And even if they are presented with lots of strong and unambiguous evidence that their claims are false, they will – depending on how long and how much they’ve personally invested into these beliefs – tend to find it tough to give up these beliefs because of confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance and the damage to their own public reputation to admit that they have been misled and may also have been misleading the public for so long, sometimes for monetary profit. Common strategies include constantly shifting the goalposts (e.g. claiming that an experiment was invalid because ‘the spirits won’t cooperate under those conditions’) and personal attacks on the debunkers. They become outright fraudulent liars rather than bull****ers at this point.
The primary goal of TV, video channels, commercials and mass media in general is to grab attention or maximise viewing figures in a modern world that’s competing for everyone’s attention. Content is therefore often more about entertainment than pure education. As a result, genuine public health interventions that could truly address the social causes of a disease are far less lucrative or voyeuristic, salacious or vaudeville than the ‘colonic irrigation’ or ‘quick-fix promise’ content that frequently gets promoted by social media influencers or commissioned for primetime TV. Coupled with this, most viewers would rather buy into such hyped-up bull or fads more than the boring truth or genuine solutions that would work (but which might be extremely personally effortful and/or affect their perceived liberties or free choices). This means that both supply and demand are to blame – consumers want ‘easy solutions’ and so businesses want to sell ‘easy solutions’, but what they mostly sell are bull because true easy solutions to complex problems seldom exist.
So if people are told that an exercise or parenting programme will work to improve their or their children’s health, for instance, then most people will barely listen or they’ll forget about it because they’re lazy and/or hate to think that their own behaviours are to blame for any problems. But if they’re told that a pill or capsule that they’ll only need to pop once or twice a day works then lots of those very people will pounce onto the (typically over-exaggerated or false) hope or hype!
Although follow-up stories seldom get produced because they’re kind of non-stories, especially if they’re about failures or things that ended up being underwhelming – if you can remember the original stories of hype and what were hailed as ‘this is the next big thing’, there would be tons of ‘where are those things now?’ stories! This links to Post No.: 0318 and the value of following a news story over time.
False/fake news is quite effective at drawing attention – even when people know that something is fake, they’ll still tend to be drawn to it out of curiosity thus it makes an impression on people. Maybe it’s just like people are drawn to watching magic tricks even though they know they’re just tricks? Well false/fake news is often used as a form of misdirection, just like misdirection is used in magic tricks – it steals our attention, at least away from the truthful news and therefore truth.
Because of trying to grab (the finite, hard-limited-to-up-to-24-hours-per-day-per-person and thus increasingly valuable commodity of) attention – fear stories are frequently pushed in the mass media, yet stories that retract those fears when they’re found out to be false are not pushed as much or at all. This means that much of the public remains believing that the fear, presented by the original sensationalised fear story, still exists. It’ll kind of be too late anyway because the masses of frightened and hysterical blind leading the blind or the naïve leading the naïve – who further disseminate and perpetuate the misunderstanding or lie all over the web, on social media or via gossip – make such false beliefs hard to overturn in their communities. It’s similar with hyped-up hope stories of cures or treatments sometimes.
Examples include the persistent fears of monosodium glutamate (MSG) unless taken in vast quantities, or the perennial hope that vitamin C supplements will help combat a cold or flu despite the very mixed evidence or minor effect even if true for the average person. It’s quite surprising how much people in general are unaware of the current best truths, and large enough parts of the media aren’t generally interested in pushing these truths to the masses either because they cannot be sensationalised to grab greater attention. This is one reason why we must always think critically and be cautious of social media news feeds or gossip being our main source of education. This also involves taking things on an individual case-by-case basis, because some fears and some hopes are real; some risks should be heeded and some pills do work.
Hysteria and emotion persuades far more effectively than cold, bland numbers or dry, simply-stated statements of fact – and the media, advertising and PR industries exploit this fact of psychology every single day. Journalists want the story that hits the front pages more than conveys the truth plainly (or even the truth at all in some cases from some news outlets). The media therefore prefers visceral, subjective qualitative information over dry, relatively more objective quantitative information, and the emotional human-interest angle over raw statistics or facts.
For instance, Formula 1 is hardly the most dangerous sport when we look at the death or serious injury rates – it used to be quite dangerous but not anymore, and that’s a credit rather than a criticism. Other, relatively less glamorous or less well-paid, careers, sports or even motorsports are statistically more dangerous (e.g. motorcycle road racing). Yet are these activities even as dangerous as drinking from an unknown water source in an impoverished country because some people don’t have clean water on tap? Are they even as dangerous as a regular journey on a public road? They might be per mile but not in total? Whatever the case – to assess a danger, we must ask how many people are expected to die or get harmed. We should be guided by the statistical data first and foremost rather than the intuition, perception, popular belief or marketing.
Please don’t blame facts and statistics with a broad stroke when specific ones are false – blame the people who make false ones up or spread lies or bull! In other words, don’t generalise all statistics as being classed alongside lies or damned lies. Do your own further research and cross-referencing if you don’t want to be duped, and apply your own evidence-based critical thinking. Meow.
Be aware though that numbers, even when not deliberately fabricated, can be inaccurate or unreliable – hence why we must always be extremely careful to take them in their proper contexts because the ones we’re presented might not represent the full picture or they might be being compared to other numbers in an unfair way (e.g. we might attempt to compare the total numbers of people who’ve been infected by a disease in various countries, but if some countries have been testing for the number of infections far more vigorously than others then it’s not a fair comparison; hence these numbers should be heavily cautioned and taken in the context of ‘out of those who’ve been tested, where different countries have been testing more than others’). When an accounting method has changed from one moment to the next, those figures will no longer be directly comparable without applying an appropriate adjustment.
One must also overall be swayed by the direct evidence rather than any ‘on paper’ or proxy hypotheses or explanatory mechanisms if they contradict each other. For example, if wooden chopping boards are harder to clean than plastic chopping boards then why aren’t there more cases of people who use wooden chopping boards getting ill or infections? If eating insects is inherently hygienically disgusting then why aren’t those who are regularly eating them across the world dying or getting ill from doing so more than those who don’t? At one time, on-paper theories suggested that bees ought not to be able to fly, but they obviously evidently were flying and were flying quite well.
So ultimately follow the evidence and the reliable sources of statistics rather than any other argument, measure or hyped-up fear or hope.