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

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,047 ratings  ·  160 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
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 4th 2020 by Random House
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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
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
Manuel Antão
Oct 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Bullshititis: "Calling Bullshit - The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World" by Carl T. Bergstrom, Jevin West

Bullshit uses linear regression…?

They say that it's absurd to claim that women will be running faster than men at some point in the future, but it's worth pointing out that in a pragmatic, real way women are already running faster than men, in the sense that for a very large percentage of men, there are women out there runnin
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
Wick Welker
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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
Kaethe Douglas
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
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
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.
Jessica Mae 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: 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
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
Tomas H
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-economist
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
Mark Ainsworth
Nov 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Totally worth the read! Clear and well written - I understand certain aspects of statistics and how they are presented much better now. Excellent!
Deedi Brown (DeediReads)
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
All my reviews live at


Calling Bullshit is a slightly mathy but surprisingly useful book about how to think critically about the information and research we read about in the news.

For you if: You’ve taken an intro to statistics class and want to learn how data and studies can be misleading.


I was pleasantly surprised by Calling Bullshit. A lot of big idea nonfiction books should really just be a TED Talk, but I didn’t feel that way about t
Tõnu Vahtra
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was definitely interesting book but not remarkable and I had higher expectations (probably I have read too much books on this topic already), it's mostly about logical thinking around statistics + avoiding cognitive fallacies (correlation vs causation et al). The "interesting part" was the various examples, many of them already familiar but also new ones (Lombaroso's "Criminal Man", Chameleon's life cycle). I don't find it very difficult to identify BS when it comes to numbers, it's much mo ...more
This book offers valuable tools and skills that can help refute misinformation, which at least on me had an empowering effect.

Wit the rise of the internet and social media we see the spread of misinformation and conspiracies surge, and as we are thus awash in what the University of Amsterdam coined 'the infodemic', honing what some philosophers call our epistemic duties might be in need of a new impulse. This book greatly succeeds in doing so. It offers useful ways to not only detect misinforma
Ajay Sambhriya
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Inspired from Harry Frankfurt's "On bullshit", the book does a great job introducing the real world bullshit that is ubiquitous in the age of Internet, ways to discern and call it out.

𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘕𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘭 𝘎𝘦𝘰𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘱𝘩𝘪𝘤 𝘚𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘦𝘵𝘺 𝘴𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘢 𝘮𝘢𝘪𝘭𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘢𝘳𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘤 𝘸𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘱𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘰𝘤𝘦𝘢𝘯𝘴. “9 𝘉𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘛𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘗𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘤 𝘞𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦 𝘌𝘯𝘥 𝘜𝘱 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘖𝘤𝘦𝘢𝘯 𝘌𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺 𝘠𝘦𝘢𝘳,” 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘤𝘭𝘢𝘪𝘮𝘦𝘥. 𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘧𝘶𝘭, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘱𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘬 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢 𝘮𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵. 𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘧𝘦𝘸𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘯 𝘦𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘣𝘪𝘭𝘭𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘱𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘦𝘵. 𝘐𝘴 𝘪𝘵 𝘳𝘦𝘢
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is such a timely book considering the amount of disinformation that is actively and haphazardly being thrust at us every day on social media. The authors walk the reader through a wide array of bad information, biases, mis-truths, and fallacies to help recognize these and how to approach correcting or refuting these. It’s highly entertaining and informative throughout. In the early chapter they point out Brandolini’s principle which is: “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an ...more
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
I started following Carl Bergstrom on Twitter for his commentary on COVID-19, which is how I found out about this book.

I thought it was an interesting read and very thought-provoking. It also made me painfully aware of my lack of understanding of statistics; I should probably fill that hole at some point. 😂

I very much appreciated that they emphasized at the end how important it is to proceed with grace and compassion when pointing out that someone else is wrong. It shouldn’t be about “winning” a
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
Oct 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 driv
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
Phil Simon
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: curent-affairs
I can think of few more important books to read these days than this one.

Yeah, some of the material is old hat to me. By way of background, one of my own books is on data visualization. Beyond that, I've known for years the ways that others contrive graphs and data to further their goals. (Hello Fox News.)

No bother. The authors do a fascinating job of synthesizing the problem and offering solutions. I'm not terribly hopeful that we'll prevent others from generating insane levels of bullshit. A
Alejandro Rentería
Nov 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great addition to any bookshelf. This book discusses in depth the pitfalls of using data, visualisations and "mathiness" the wrong way and how it can mislead or bluntly disinform readers. This is, sadly, an increasing phenomena on our day to day lives , "lies fly and the truth comes limping behind".
The author gives out a formula in the last chapter on how to spot BS and call it out on a easy and non-confronting way. And it's not hard, it's just a habit we have to develop since we live on the d
Tamara Niemi
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This should really be required reading for everyone. The ways in which data are intentionally and unintentionally manipulated to convey a certain point can be subtle but Bergstrom and West guide you through it with ease. Honestly, the book is worth reading for the footnotes alone, which are extensive and often hilarious. I loved this book, but what I loved the most was the final chapter, showing how to refute bullshit with accuracy and empathy, and a not so subtle call to readers to not become a ...more
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“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 the sole, purpose of education.” 1 likes
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