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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,842 ratings  ·  397 reviews
Bullshit isn't what it used to be. Now, two science professors give us the tools to dismantle misinformation and think clearly in a world of fake news and bad data.

It's increasingly difficult to know what's true. Misinformation, disinformation, and fake news abound. Our media environment has become hyperpartisan. Science is conducted by press release. Startup culture eleva
...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 4th 2020 by Random House
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Trevor
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think you need to read this book. It’s not urgent, anytime over the next couple of weeks will do fine. I was thinking while I was reading this of Bad Science (which you should also read, not least since the jokes are much better), but the advantage of this book is that it is written by people who are (how do I put this in a way so as not to hurt their feelings?) relatively dull. Dull, it’s true, but systematic (or do I repeat myself?) And so, they present the seemingly endless ways we can have ...more
Ryan Boissonneault
Aug 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Brandolini’s law, which states that “the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it,” explains why there is so much bullshit in the world. As Uriel Fanelli put it, “an idiot can create more bullshit than you could ever hope to refute.”

So creating bullshit is easy; refuting it is hard. And it is precisely this asymmetry that explains why bullshit persists and how it can even grow over time.

So how can one hope to rid the world of incr
...more
K.J. Charles
Excellent read on bullshit, and specifically the modern kind that hides behind statistics or plausible-sounding claims. Full of useful examples, ways of tackling it (including 'get off the internet'), and memorable quotes. Very definitely a book that should be issued to everyone, although what it doesn't tackle is the people who are absolutely determined to believe bullshit because it suits them better than the truth. I don't know what you do about them.

Read this as a refresher against the tsun
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Mehrsa
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very readable and interesting, but not particularly new or revelatory book about fake news, bullshit stats, and things like p-hacking and click-baiting articles. I've read books that are better at deepdives into this stuff, but this was a good intro to how to call BS. I found particularly fascinating the sections about deceptive graphs and stats because that stuff can be tricky. However, it does feel like bullshit is the least of our problems these days. given how people just believe o ...more
Tara Brabazon
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this book. It is OK. It makes some strong points about quantification and the visualization of data sets. But in so many ways, it performs the problems it critiques, but in the inverse.

Two scientists write this book. Their commentary on science is welcome. But they are attempting to understand social media, historical transformations, the changes to education, and - indeed - affirm the value of media literacy training.

Intriguingly, the entire literature on information litera
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Wick Welker
Falsehoods fly and truth comes limping after it.

This is a very important book to read right now. I highly recommend reading it as soon as possible. What Bergstrom and his colleague accomplishes in "Calling Bullshit" is a blueprint of all the various ways in which lies, exaggerations, contextualizations and data misrepresentation flood the media sphere and have completely corrupted truth.

First principle: science is messy. As a medical doctor myself, I know that it is INCREDIBLY difficult to prove
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Will Ansbacher
Feb 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
A very useful little book that provides techniques for detecting and calling out both bullshit and lies, with a particular focus on quantitative science.

The authors (who teach a course based on this material) observe that one significant issue with science is the specialized language and insider techniques that make it impenetrable to the outsider, something that doesn’t apply so much in other fields such as advertising or politics. And precisely because of that barrier, “science-y” language ha
...more
Farhana
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
I started this book while waiting for Abbu outside the ICU. The book ends today. So, today again I went to the hospital in front of the ICU.

I was wondering how much bullshit one person has to experience over the lifetime or even in a month. Anyway, this is a solid piece of work. Something that goes well beyond Darrell Huff's "How to lie with Statistics" and even more.

It mostly focuses on the bullshit that is presented in the form of information or anything that we tend to consume to act upon or
...more
Paul Fulcher
May 15, 2022 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2022
Bullshit involves language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade or impress an audience by distracting, overwhelming, or intimidating them with a blatant disregard for truth, logical coherence, or what information is actually being conveyed.

The subtitle, "The Art of Scepticism in a Data-Driven World", would be a more accurate description of this book, although the authors do seem rather proud of the main title, with the word 'bullshit' featurei
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David Rubenstein
This is an entertaining book about recognizing bullshit, researching and calling it out. Much of the book describes the various types of bullshit, and the research required to snoop out its origin. Then, a short portion of the book is about calling it out; how to call it out, and even when to call it out. The book is filled with anecdotal bullshit, and the research the author used to ferret out its origin. Much of the bullshit is unintended--it is simply a matter of passing along incompetent ana ...more
Andy
Jul 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Skepticism is important, and so I applaud these professors in their mission to fight BS, and much of what they talk about is important and true. But a lot of it is esoteric trivial examples. I'm disappointed because I was looking for a book on how to beat the very dangerous bullshit threatening the world today (in areas like pandemics).

Also, I can't get around the fact that you have to go deep into any topic before you can say something meaningful about it. And so this survey of all kinds of bul
...more
Lada
Jan 18, 2022 added it
If you are a data scientist or if you are already a Carl Bergstrom fan, this book is probably not for you. You might encounter some new examples and find the humor enjoyable, but much will already be familiar since it is written for the most general audience.
Ramona Mead
Jun 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: advanced-copies
I was expecting a light, funny, informational read when I selected this book. I should have known better with terms in the blurb like "expertise in statistics" and "examples of selection bias!" Don't get me wrong, this is an incredibly interesting book, and there's humor. It's thorough and it is DENSE, full of graphs and equations and research examples. It was over my head at times. I had to read small portions at a time (and sometimes re-read them) but it makes a lot of sense to me how we as a ...more
Susan
Dec 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, books-i-own
"Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it." - Jonathan Swift
Just what the doctor ordered for the current state of the world. Super informative, enjoyable learning, brilliantly explained with lots of everyday relatable examples- highly recommend this especially considering the nonsense that we end up consuming daily on social media in the form of stats and graphics (this has especially spiked since the pandemic began!). As a researcher it is my job to be able to see through the noise in
...more
Grrlscientist
Sep 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you [thereafter], save only this, that if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not sole, purpose of education.

— Idealist philosopher John Alexander Smith (1863–1939)


Spin. Fake News. Conspiracy theories. Lies. We are daily confronted with a stinking quagmire of misinformation, disinformation and fact-free drivel
...more
=^.^= Janet
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zz-2020-rev-wir
As someone who was recently roasted and bullied online as they did not believe that I am a superspeed reader, (they even sent me links to articles that state that speed-reading is a fallacy and a farce..and the language got really bad after that ... on their side as they blocked incoming messages) Yes, I read that fast ... it is an eidetic memory thing that runs in my family but do I remember the book a week later? Mostly ... plot, ending, etc. but I certainly do no memorize it!

What kind of wor
...more
Sam
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm giving this four stars and probably only skipping the fifth because of the pop title which undercuts the seriousness of the topic, IMO. Logic and Rhetoric have all but disappeared from educational programs when they were once mandated. Misinformation, disinformation and the manipulation of information seem more pervasive since, and I could claim a causal relationship, but would I be correct? It doesn't matter. What matters is that one understands what determines a causal relationship from a ...more
Jessica Stover
Currently reading this one, but noticed that no one has yet dropped the link for the professors' course at UW, which has been available online since before the book was finished: https://www.callingbullshit.org/sylla... I'd also like to add some context.

I made author CT Bergstrom's acquaintance over the early winter after finding his course online. In addition to studying disinformation, he's a bio professor and career epidemiologist, and his Twitter feed is why I was prepared earlier than nearl
...more
Darren Douglas
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was ok
A lot of reviews waxing lyrically about this book but it's just too dense. You can easily glean all the information you need from the comments section on Goodreads...
And it started so well...hmmm. Around chapter 3 it all gets a little repetitive, stats are fired off to support the hypothesis of recognising bullshit but sadly ends up sounding like bullshit itself.
Boil it down, it isn't hard to recognise bullshit if you use common sense, I don't need citations and theroetical ramblings to do so
...more
Michael
Dec 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
At first I thought this was going to be a rehash of all the other books out there on cognitive biases, but it turned out to include quite a few things I haven't heard articulated very well, like how the scientific process and publishing industry work, and about AI and big data (this section was excellent). This is a book I could happily recommend to others as a primer on critical thinking and spotting, ahem, bullshit, especially on the internet. The authors did a really good job of not making it ...more
Luke
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Was this book bull-shitting me??

I found it too dense - to many examples and cramming to much in. Also found it had negative lilt to it making it even heavier. A lot of the stats methods I've learned before and was fine to read about them again but I didn't feel like they were effectively training the reader to be able to call bullshit.

I think it would have been more effective to give the reader an actual headline, ask them to pause and think about the ways it could be bullshit and then the autho
...more
Glen
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

A book that shows you how to think critically. Could be useful. Unfortunately, it relies on Snopes for some of its examples, and they've shown they can't really be trusted. "Fact checking" has become just so much...BS.

Still, some useful stuff here.
...more
Kaethe
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Like everyone else, I believe that I can't be fooled by...anything, ever. Knowing that it's just that certainty that makes one vulnerable, I deliberately give myself little booster shots of skepticism by reading every one of these books that comes out. But despite having a longish career in medical research spent dealing with data, there's always something. These days I think my greatest vulnerability is my own experience: often I overlook the simplest grounds for calling bullshit while trying t ...more
Philipp
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
I guess this is Sagan's Demon-Haunted World for 2021? Both authors go through the most common ways that data is used to bullshit people and to create narratives. It grew out of a university course (Calling Bullshit) and goes over ways data is misrepresented, chosen, how sometimes counter-intuitively data can be interpreted, how people trying to sell you stuff or ideas can manipulate data to tell the story they want to tell,

So if you want to learn how to spot when someone tries to BS you, go for
...more
Nalini
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of this book is stuff that I (and probably many readers) am familiar with intellectually but don't necessarily apply reflexively whenever I read the news or hear a statistic. So for me, this book was really useful in that it primed me to intentionally be on the defensive about common misrepresentations in statistics and data visualization.

By far my favorite chapter in this book was the one on selection bias; it's easy to think about selection bias when you're reading an econ paper or a cli
...more
Arpit Agrawal
Sep 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
It is a nice and to-date summary of how and why bullshit spreads, how to protect oneself from it, and finally how to protect others from it. Over the years of dealing with such bullshit, I had been able to develop most of the rules of thumb mentioned in the book but it was still nice to see it all structured in one place. Giving it 4 stars only because while the execution was flawless, there wasn't much new to learn for me ...more
Amirmansour  Khanmohammad
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating read, great ideas from causality to statistics, from ethics to science.

After reading books of Neil Postman, I always regretted that he couldn’t see the internet and social media era to adjust his brilliant books accordingly, but with reading this book, I think the gap is filled.
Andrei Prodan
Sep 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Excellent!
Raghu
Apr 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
There was a time when we trusted a news item if it appeared in one of the reputed media outlets. Newspapers like New York Times, Washington Post, and newsreaders like Walter Cronkite had the credibility and trust of the public. But things are not that simple anymore. Lies, disinformation, and misinformation have been around ever since humankind invented the printing press. We have added fake news, fake images, and fake videos to this collection in the era of the Internet. Sharp political polariz ...more
Tomas H
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
It is currently August 2020 and there is a peak volume of bullshit in the world right now. Feel free, my fellow readers in the future, note this date of August 2020 for those of you who find this review, and search who the US president is right now and look up something called “Pizzagate” that I am embarrassed to say I saw a friend re-post on social media a lengthy explanation of how utterly true it is. Again, it is August 2020. Pizzagate was a conspiracy theory in 2016. Bullshit can make a come ...more
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Science and Inquiry: December 2021 - Calling Bullshit 15 122 Jan 17, 2022 01:43AM  

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