“Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”

November 30th, 2015

Bullshit and academia continue their delighted dance. Behold a new study:

On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit,” Gordon Pennycook [pictured here], James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563. The authors, at the University of Waterloo, explain:


‘Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from gordon_pennycook_1philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”). Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements. These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims.’

BONUS: Emily Willingham explores (in an essay for Forbes magazine) the cameo role played by 1998 Ig Nobel Prize physics prize winner Deepak Chopra in this study. (Thanks to Karen Weintraub for bringing this essay to our attention.)

BONUS: Social Media and Bullshit

BONUS: Extending Bullshit Studies – more from Academia

Putting words into dogs’ mouths – ventriloquistically

November 30th, 2015

Dog-TalkProfessor Sirpa Leppänen of the Department of Languages, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, has a paper in Discourse, Context & Media (Volume 8, June 2015) about the ventriloquistic authentication of the human voice, as found in dog blogs.

“It approaches dog blogs as an example of the strategic use of pervasive but contentious anthropomorphic western discourses about animals and discusses how dog bloggers use anthropomorphism as a discursive means for crafting and collectively ratifying authenticity in a translocal, interest-driven and informal social media context in which traditional territorial and demographic parameters of authenticity are not easily available or relevant.”

That’s to say, investigating the ways in which bloggers might put words into their dog’s mouth (so to speak). Given, as an example, is the ventriloquised voice of a US-based Tibetan Spaniel:

“Momma and I started obedience class last night. I am sorry to say that it was not our best showing. I am really scared of dogs I don’t know… and my cute little tail that is usually curled up on my back was tuck, tuck, tucked between my legs! Yikes! Those other dogs, even the little ones were FRIGHTENING! I did a lot of growling and made ‘wookie’ noises as momma calls them. (I guess I sound a lot like Chewbacca.)
Anyway, another dog had the audacity to lunge at me – well, I tell ya, I snapped at him!! I nearly bit his nose. Ha! That’ll show him!”

See: ‘Dog blogs as ventriloquism: Authentication of the human voice’ (a full copy of which may be found here:)

Bonus question [optional] Does your dog ‘speak’ – if so what does it say?

Tad Pfeffer joins the Luxuriant Facial Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS)

November 29th, 2015

Tad Pfeffer has joined the Luxuriant Facial Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS). He says:

I have spent my ~40-year research career studying the mechanics of glaciers and ice sheets and their role in sea level change. For much of that time, I used to preface lectures and conference presentations with the observation that there is something intrinsically funny about being paid to run around on glaciers and think about how they work. Sea level rise isn’t as funny as it used to be, but the principle still stands. My membership in the LFHCfS is simply consistent with this philosophy and reinforces the long and time-honored tradition of scientists getting away with nonsense generally. (PS The headshot on my Jefferson Fellows page is an old one, and my beard there is nothing to write home to Mom about. Here, instead, is a Getty photo of me taken by Natalie Cass at the Sundance Film Festival.)

W.T. Pfeffer, Ph.D, LFHCfS
Professor, INSTAAR and
Dept. of Civil, Environmental, Architectural Engineering
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, Colorado, USA


David Plonka joins the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS)

November 29th, 2015

David Plonka has joined the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS). He says:

I am a research scientist and Internet researcher. My luxuriant flowing hair is as much the result of my hair-cutter leaving the employ of my barber shop many years ago (and my having not patronized any such establishment since) as it is the key element in an extended social experiment to determine what it takes for a scientist to be most often be referred to as “dude.” As such, it has most certainly improved my life.

David Plonka, Ph.D, LFHCfS
Research Scientist
Akamai Technologies
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA


The tweets of Dr. Kwak (Twitter Investigator)

November 28th, 2015

Dr-KwakThe tweets of Dr. Kwak, who is an expert on Twitter [being the lead author of ‘What is Twitter, a social network or a news media?’ (cited 3,000+ times)] may be found here.