Bullshit is everywhere
“Bullshit is everywhere”, said John Stewart during his final appearance at “The Daily Show”. Some bullshit is necessary or at least innocuous, like the white lies we tell other people. It works like “an important social contract fertilizer, and keeps people from make each others cry all day”. But Stewart wanted to use his last night at the TV show to talk about “the premeditated institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract”. Steward classifies this institutional “guano” in three flavors:
The 3 kinds of bullshit according to John Stewart:
1) Making bad things sound like good things:
“Organic All Natural Cupcakes”, because Factory-made Sugar Oatmeal Balls doesn’t sell.
2) Hiding bad things under mountains of bullshit (added complexity for obscuring the facts).
Just try to follow the Political Campaign Finance Laws. Unlimited amounts of anonymous cash can be funneled under several mechanisms.
3) Bullshit of infinite possibility
We cannot do anything, because we don’t yet know everything. Until then, teach the controversy, don’t try to act on what you do know now.
“The best defense against bullshit is vigilance”
I have stepped in all three on Stewart’s list: Healthy lifestyle advice full of anti-science, articles obscuring their limitations, and the global warming “controversy” are just part of a longer list of examples. But now as a science communicator I have learned to recognize the bullshit, and to avoid it. I have been vigilant to avoid turds on my way, but I have often failed to speak out when I see them. Have we as science communicators done our best to call the bullshit when we see it? Here is where I think Stewart’s advice is relevant for science communication:
“If you smell something, say something”
Stewart calls to play the “I spy of bullshit” game. Can we as science communicators stay positive, and at the same time stay vigilant? Can we say something every time we smell bullshit? I think we can.
Here is the video: