The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit Book Summary - The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit Book explained in key points
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The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit summary

John V. Petrocelli

Harnessing Critical Thinking Habits to Combat False Information

3.7 (173 ratings)
24 mins

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'The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit' by John V. Petrocelli uncovers the science behind how people believe and spread false information. It explores the importance of critical thinking and provides tools to detect fake news.

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    The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit
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    Bullshitting and lying aren’t the same.

    In 2017, NBA superstar Kyrie Irving declared in a podcast that the earth was flat. He’d been taught the scientific view, of course, but he still declared that it just couldn’t be right. Why? Because, he said, there’s no concrete information other than what they’re telling us; meanwhile, what he called “the truth” was right in front of us.

    He’s not alone in his belief. It may seem hard to fathom, but a survey of US adults found that 1 in 50 people believe the earth is flat. That’s six and a half million people – more than twice the population of Chicago. 

    If there were evidence of a worldwide conspiracy to create fake scientific findings, then, perhaps, it would make sense to believe in a flat earth. But there isn’t any. For flat-earthers, though, none of that matters. They actively disregard the truth and basic facts. In other words: they bullshit.

    The key message here is: Bullshitting and lying aren’t the same.

    Kyrie asked listeners to “do some research.” But plenty of it has already been conducted by professional scientists – people who know what they’re doing.

    First among them was the Greek astronomer Eratosthenes. Two thousand years ago, he determined the shape of the earth by observing two sticks in the ground. One of them, in Syene, cast a shadow at midday on June 21. The other, 500 miles north in Alexandria, didn’t. This clearly demonstrated the curvature of the earth.

    And yet, two millennia later, the basketball superstar ignored compelling scientific evidence and implied that the truth lies elsewhere. That was bullshit. 

    Bullshitting isn’t the same as lying, even though a liar and a bullshitter may say the exact same thing. The liar cares about the truth but wishes to hide it. The bullshitter, on the other hand, doesn’t care about what is or isn’t true.

    Some bullshit is harmless; in other cases, it can be bad or even downright dangerous. 

    Former US president Donald Trump claimed the rain stopped immediately as he began his inauguration speech. It didn’t – but that kind of bullshit is pretty innocuous.

    Trump also suggested that injecting disinfectant might help cure COVID-19. This was bullshit – and, as far as harm goes, it sits right at the other end of the spectrum. Some medical experts believe that it actually led to the deaths of people who followed Trump’s suggestion.

    In the following blinks, we’ll examine some examples of everyday bullshit, how it may benefit the bullshitter to the detriment of everyone else, and how bullshitting works.

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    What is The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit about?

    The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit (2021) uses real-world examples to help you build critical thinking habits – which will enable you to recognize and resist all the false information that pervades society.

    Who should read The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit?

    • Bullshit detectors who want to hone their skills
    • People who think they’re immune to bullshitting
    • Anyone who yearns for a bullshit-free world

    About the Author

    John V. Petrocelli is a professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, where his research interests include attitude strength and persuasion, counterfactual thinking, metacognition – and bullshitting. His research features in many scientific publications, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. He also offers keynotes and seminars on leadership, communication, and evidence-based management.

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