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A very natty bullshit detector

Mark Liberman reports on Gerald Cohen‘s test for bullshit:

…how could one prove … that a given statement is hopelessly unclear, and hence bullshit? One proposed test is to add a “not” to the statement and see if that makes any difference to its plausibility. If it doesn’t, that statement is bullshit.

Mark had learnt the same technique himself some time ago and tells it this way, which I found hilarious:

This recent interview with Jacques Derrida reminds me of a parlor game that a colleague of mine claims to have played, back in the day when it was easier to find academics who took Derrida seriously.

My colleague would open one of Derrida’s works to a random page, pick a random sentence, write it down, and then (above or below it) write a variant in which positive and negative were interchanged, or a word or phrase was replaced with one of opposite meaning. He would then challenge the assembled Derrida partisans to guess which was the original and which was the variant. The point was that Derrida’s admirers are generally unable to distinguish his pronouncements from their opposites at better than chance level, suggesting that the content is a sophisticated form of white noise. On this view, as Wolfgang Pauli once said of someone else, Derrida is “not even wrong.”.

I shall treasure the phrase “not even wrong”.

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  1. Pingback by Pigsaw Blog » Blog Archive » Another “not” theory | 2005/09/21 at 16:39:59

    [...] ;

    Another “not” theory

    Some time ago I wrote about a bullshit detector — that if you can add “not” to a sentence and [...]


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  1. Pingback by Pigsaw Blog » Blog Archive » Another “not” theory | 2005/09/21 at 16:39:59

    [...] ;

    Another “not” theory

    Some time ago I wrote about a bullshit detector — that if you can add “not” to a sentence and [...]

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