Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World

By Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West

Recommended on: 26th August 2020

Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World, by Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin D. West. This very readable book describes how easy it is for journalists, politicians, companies, and yes, even researchers themselves to bullshit people.  As Bergstrom and West note: “Perhaps the most important principle in bullshit studies is Brandolini’s principle. Coined by Italian software engineer Alberto Brandolini in 2014, it states: ‘The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than [that needed] to produce it.’ Producing bullshit is a lot less work than cleaning it up. It is also a lot simpler and cheaper to do. A few years before Brandolini formulated his principle, Italian blogger Uriel Fanelli had already noted that, loosely translated, ‘an idiot can create more bullshit than you could ever hope to refute.’

We also like this book because it provides fresh perspectives on the black box of artificial intelligence algorithms; how to understand conditional probability in simple, visual ways; how p-hacking leads to a misleading research landscape; and why even superb scientists can publish irreproducible results. Not that Bergstrom and West aren’t above a bit of occasional bullshit themselves, but this is an important book that we feel is destined to become a classic. Also good for audio listening.