Science Gone Stupid: DARPA BS Detector Edition

Guest post by David Middleton



07.30.17 07:00 AM


ADAM RUSSELL, AN anthropologist and program manager at the Department of Defense’s mad-science division Darpa, laughs at the suggestion that he is trying to build a real, live, bullshit detector. But he doesn’t really seem to think it’s funny. The quite serious call for proposalsRussell just sent out on Darpa stationery asks people—anyone! Even you!—for ways to determine what findings from the social and behavioral sciences are actually, you know, true. Or in his construction: “credible.”

Even for Darpa, that’s a big ask. The DoD has plenty of good reasons to want to know what social science to believe. But plenty more is at stake here. Darpa’s asking for a system that can solve one of the most urgent philosophical problems of our time: How do you know what’s true when science, the news, and social media all struggle with errors, advertising, propaganda, and lies?

Take a scientific claim. Do some kind of operation on it. Determine whether the claim is right enough to act on. So … a bullshit detector?

“I wouldn’t characterize it that way, and I think it’s important not to,” Russell says. He doesn’t want to contribute to cynicism that lets people think if scientists admit uncertainty, that means they can’t be trusted. “I have a deep faith that there is real science. It’s not that we know nothing about the world.” Science is still the best way of knowing stuff. Darpa just wants to know what stuff science is really sure about, and how it knows it. And how it knows it knows it.

You can imagine why Darpa and the DoD might want to shore up the social sciences.



No, I cannot “imagine why DARPA and the DoD might want to shore up the social sciences.”  I can’t even fathom why the Federal government would spend any taxpayer money on social sciences… So, I certainly can’t imagine why the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Defense would be interested in shoring up the social sciences, much less, employing anthropologists.

This almost reads as if Douglas Adams wrote it:

“Science is still the best way of knowing stuff. DARPA just wants to know what stuff science is really sure about, and how it knows it. And how it knows it knows it.”

Why not just build a supercomputer to  find the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything… /SARC

Besides, bullschist detectors are readily available on the Internet…

Featured image source.

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Bryan A
July 31, 2017 10:14 am

They will have to test it out on the Global Climate Models and in Michael Mann’s office.
Either way it should produce a shrill sound whenever either is in close proxcimity

Reply to  Bryan A
July 31, 2017 10:16 am

Dang, you beat me to it.

Reply to  Bryan A
July 31, 2017 2:16 pm

“Pardon me for breathing – which I never do anyway” Marvin 🙂

Reply to  Bryan A
July 31, 2017 5:52 pm

On the other hand, Bullshit Generators already exist. It should be easy to test Detectors.

Reply to  BernardP
August 1, 2017 7:21 am

How about Scientology’s E-meter?

Christopher Simpson
Reply to  Etabab
August 1, 2017 9:06 am

Oh, e-meters are fun. I made friends with the head of the Scientology chapter in Toronto a number of years back (I never knew his exact title, but he seemed to be upper management of some kind). As a result, whenever I covered the Canadian Booksellers Association Trade Show I always dropped around to the Scientology booth to say hi and pretend I was interested in their latest books. I always felt sorry for them because I was pretty much the only person who visited them.
Anyway, one time they had their latest e-meter on display (the Mark whatever) and we got to talking about it. He offered to demonstrate it for me, so I took hold of the tin cans and he proceeded to ask questions and make statements. The meter itself, however, was facing in a way that allowed me to see what the needle was doing, so I very quickly discovered how to keep the needle pretty steady by varying my grip very, very slightly. It was amusing to watch him get so excited for a while as he watched the needle and began to believe he’d discovered a natural Theta (or whatever it is). At length, however, I felt guilty and started to allow the needle to pop around in a more natural manner.

Santa Baby
Reply to  Bryan A
July 31, 2017 8:45 pm

Bit we already have ministeries of truth(political) in IPCC?

July 31, 2017 10:16 am

Drain the swamp. I have personally seen tens of millions of Darpa dollars wasted on energy storage schemes that had no hope of succeeding from first principles. Ricardo Signorelli’s FastCap Systems spun out of MIT being an example illustrated in my recent guest post on decarbonizing vehicles at Climate Etc.

Jimmy Haigh
Reply to  ristvan
July 31, 2017 3:31 pm

“Carbon Capture and Storage”. Another scam.

john harmsworth
July 31, 2017 10:17 am

The standard B.S. detector available on the internet ( as pictured), does not go nearly high enough to deal with “Climate Science”. Piles of broken meters tell the tale. Production can’t even keep up anyway.

Bryan A
Reply to  john harmsworth
July 31, 2017 10:19 am

Well, they can always add an “11”

Doug Huffman
Reply to  john harmsworth
July 31, 2017 11:29 am

My reactor power meters covered thirteen decades of reactor power, from 10^-1 CPS to 150%, in three log scale meters. Would that be enough span?

Reply to  Doug Huffman
July 31, 2017 11:42 am

I don’t think 3 decades is enough… I wonder if there would be something analogous to SUR, assuming you could determine the proper range.

Reply to  Doug Huffman
July 31, 2017 12:18 pm

…13 decades…
Dang phones.

Reply to  Doug Huffman
August 1, 2017 8:49 am

Well this particular sc@m is only about 4 decades old, so we got a ways to go.

Bryan A
July 31, 2017 10:18 am

First step to detectng bull$hit is by the number of words utilized in the explanation. This is why most items spewing from Congress are written on hundreds of pages…why Obama Care was written on Thousands, and why the IRS Tax Code comprises Hundreds of Thousands of pages

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  Bryan A
July 31, 2017 10:44 am

Doesn’t have to be long to be unintelligible, or maybe words/sentence or phrase which adds up. Translation? I never had the proper course. Posted this somewhere before, worth repeating.
“The mPerf project is sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s Multimodal Objective Sensing to Assess Individuals with Context program.” Sounds phony, but supposedly came from reliable source. Is there a 14 word department somewhere? OK, technology, not science.

Reply to  Bryan A
July 31, 2017 2:55 pm

A maxim I find valuable: “If more than 1 reason is given as an explanation or justification for a particular action, rest assured that the real reason has not been given.”
BTW the reason legalese is so verbose is because lawyers who wrote contracts, were paid by the word.

Dave Fair
Reply to  rocketscientist
July 31, 2017 6:25 pm

I never let corporate attorneys write my contracts. I gave them drafts for LEGAL review; I told them I had no interest in their business opinions as they fundamentally did not understand business. They all hated me, but I developed and negotiated great contracts that earned me numerous bonuses.

July 31, 2017 10:18 am

I’m only okay with this if –
A) Only “Green Technology” earmarked funds are used for this, and
B) They NEVER take it onto a college campus. The casualties from it detonating would be monstrous.

Reply to  Max
July 31, 2017 10:38 am

You have found the purpose of this project, sir. The first weapon of mass destruction that automatically dials in the yield.
Drop it on any national capital – ten megatons (at least). Drop it on a small town city hall – a one ton detonation.
(Drop it on Anthony Watts house – wet firecracker…)

Reply to  Max
July 31, 2017 10:39 am

It could be dangerous in courtrooms also and in Hollywood.

Reply to  Resourceguy
July 31, 2017 11:56 pm

Government agencies would have to ban it. It would interfere withe the politics.

July 31, 2017 10:33 am

“Take a scientific claim. Do some kind of operation on it. Determine whether the claim is right enough to act on. So … a bullshit detector?”
More simply, as soon as a claim involves any future predictions, it is pure bullshit.

Reply to  getitright
July 31, 2017 10:46 am

Ummm…aren’t all hypotheses future predictions, “If this…then this is expected.”
Perhaps you meant to say: “Studies that whose claims aren’t verifiable or testable, or even that the study itself is not repeatable, are NOT SCIENCE.

R.S. Brown
July 31, 2017 10:35 am

I am reminded of the Columbo show where a government agency
was interested in the military applications of a “psychic” demonstrating his ability to
view objects/terrain at a distance.
The remote viewing experiment was proven by Columbo to be a sophisticated,
elaborate hoax.
Columbo replicated the experiment himself, to the government’s astonishment
and the malefactor’s downfall.
In regard to climate issues we have WUWT , Climate Audit (again), and Climate Etc.,
as B.S. detectors.

July 31, 2017 10:37 am

Perhaps this new research could be tuned to this pressing DARPA agenda. But the research is going to need a re-tooling to follow the money instead of the dots in the research design.
(I’ll take my payment in large denomination bills for this innovation.)

July 31, 2017 10:39 am

A bullshit detector for “Social Science”???
Not much detection needed. The entre category is absent credulity. To anything characterized as “social science”, the epithet applies.
If it cannot be replicated or even verified how does it even rise to the level of anything other than a survey on public opinion? And, even that is of little value.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  rocketscientist
July 31, 2017 12:42 pm

As someone posted a while back on a different thread: “If it has ‘science’ in the name, it isn’t!”

Keith J
Reply to  Joe Crawford
July 31, 2017 4:27 pm

Except materials science. That is real.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  Joe Crawford
August 1, 2017 10:08 am

Yea… guess I have to grant you that one.

July 31, 2017 10:44 am

My BS detector pegged out ages ago when the needle wrapped around the post. Fake News did it in. The Feds haven’t got a chance, it’s like trying to bail out a boat with a soup spoon.

Mike Smith
July 31, 2017 10:45 am

I think they’re really trying to build an oxymoron detector for Military Intelligence.

July 31, 2017 10:58 am

Funny. I had a 7th grade history teacher who was convinced it was his job to give us each a bullshit detector.
The next year, I had a biology teacher who was required to “teach the debate” about creationism. He called in sick that week. It was a recurring flu that hit him the same week every year.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
Reply to  vboring
July 31, 2017 3:01 pm

Your history teacher was of that dangerous sort.

July 31, 2017 11:00 am

What they are trying to build is the artificial intelligence version of the 97% consensus. It will be just like the computer models that produce a result, not based on the physics, but on the beliefs about the physics of the modeler. This BS detector will be the same thing. It will “assess” the credibility of a science claim based on the beliefs of its programmers. Whoever controls the BS detector now controls all the people who believe the BS detector to be credible. But at end of day, its just another computer program that does exactly what the programming dictates. It will fool the same people that the 97% consensus claim fools, and will get torn to pieces by the same kinds of people who tear apart the 97% and the rest of the climate science charade.

Reply to  davidmhoffer
July 31, 2017 2:45 pm

my take exactly David… soon as they open the gate with “credible”

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
Reply to  Latitude
July 31, 2017 3:10 pm

Latitude, I think the military may use the term ‘credible’ in a different way. They assess ‘credible threats’. Don’t assume that the military is in the business of supporting any ‘consensus’. Consensus is how to lose when they end-run your Maginot Line.
Holdren’s silly piece in the Boston Globe [The Boston Globe / Opinion Section / July 25, 2017: “The perversity of the climate science kangaroo court”] is him once again boasting that their 97% consensus Maginot Line will protect the realm against any imaginable misunderstanding they may have about the science of climate.
In it he rails against the Red Team/Blue Team approach to discussing topics of hard science. Really? The military has always been good at that approach because it pits two sets of know-it-alls against each other to reveal something about the weaknesses (or not) of both.
The 97% consensus argument is so weak it can be reduced, by a glove-slap to the face, to a blubbering child. Real men don’t run and hide when they see the gloves come off.

Reply to  davidmhoffer
July 31, 2017 4:01 pm

you’re way overthinking it.
except for outright lies, bullshit detection in ‘scientific’ literature is trivial:
every occurrence of the subjunctive tense is prima facie bullshittery.
the subjunctive tense is used for the exclusive purpose of discussing that which is not.
would, should, might, could, may – every one exemplifies an inconclusive proposition which is mysticism-
also ‘suggest’ is bullshittery.
it is really quite simple to weed out most of the crap if you actually use language for cognition rather than incantation.

J Mac
Reply to  gnomish
July 31, 2017 5:56 pm

Well said, Gnomish!

Dave Fair
Reply to  gnomish
July 31, 2017 6:41 pm

Gnomish for BS Leader! I always assigned a subordinate to the role of BS detector. In any meeting or other gathering, it was his job to shout out “BS..BS..BS” when he detected it, no matter the perpetrator (I was not exempt.). Worked great and everybody learned to think about what they said ahead of time.
Having read the IPCC Reports and U.S. Assessment Reports, I’ve come to the conclusion they are massive piles of non- and mis-information. Mostly speculation, with a bunch of “sciency” words thrown in to lead the gullible to Revealed Truth (green dogma).
IPCC climate models are bunk.

July 31, 2017 11:02 am

Simple, really. Just measure the amount of “skin in the game” a promoter has. Real commitment, not something that can be bailed out. How much in dollars, reputation, career, etc. are you willing to surrender if you’re wrong? Factor in uncertainty and require precise definitions to the judgement. Then if the promoted idea fails to meet the previously agreed-upon tests, you lose.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Gary
July 31, 2017 6:43 pm


July 31, 2017 11:05 am

The only reason I can fathom that this would be taking place at DARPA is that the military wants to up their propaganda game with a new tool.
With the internet and information sharing, the government’s propaganda game has become more difficult (why do you think nations like China and Venezuela heavily censor the internet?) If they can develop a publicly trusted “BS detector” that is finely tuned to give the official government approval to government sponsored propaganda, then that becomes a useful tool to say “look, our sophisticated BS detector says it’s true, and how do you argue with that?” Basically, just another way to apply the blind faith fallacy akin to the parroted meme of “so and so agency says this so it must be true.”
The soft sciences would be a natural place for them to test this because the only application would be to apply this detector to “science” that is not confirmed through the scientific method, i.e. man-made climate doom.

Reply to  RWturner
July 31, 2017 12:11 pm

So…..The next DARPA (FUBAR emulation) need will be a BS detector that detects when the BS detector is BEE-ESSING about the BS that it is certain it detects. And I still am not certain about how much wood a wood chuck would chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. Except for maybe if a woodchuck could chuck wood then the woodchuck would chuck all the wood the woodchuck could chuck. And all that BS.

July 31, 2017 11:05 am

We’re all born with one.
Then the educational system convinces us not to believe what it tells us.
I’m not bitter.

July 31, 2017 11:15 am

Such a device, if made, would need the most robust overload protection systems ever made.
As other commenters have noted, the explosion hazard is very real.

July 31, 2017 11:15 am

Well most of our institutions of “higher learning ” will tell you there is no such thing as truth only locally socially constructed communities. So there you go. Stop bitching about the consequences of stupid intdoctination.

July 31, 2017 11:16 am

The answer here is incredibly easy – ask for the necessary and sufficient falsifiable hypothesis statement.
1) a list of observations, which if observed, mean a hypothesis is false;
2) a logical argument that the lack of those falsifications means that a hypothesis must be favored over all others (including the null).
Translation into plain english (inspired by Scott Adams):
1) tell me what would change your mind;
2) tell me why those if the things that would change your mind aren’t there, the only explanation left is yours.
Karl Popper had this BS detector designed last century.

Reply to  krischel
July 31, 2017 4:11 pm

popper was a neoplatonist mystic and total bullshitter.
popper’s claim to fame is a rebranding of the self contradiction: ‘everything i say is a lie’
he said that nothing true can be proven – and he asserted that as true.
anything that is true is provable and anything unprovable is false.
your darwin award awaits unless you learn to reason.

July 31, 2017 11:29 am

Where’s Griff? Surely a BS detector would go spastic around him.

john harmsworth
Reply to  Craig
July 31, 2017 1:54 pm

A goodly portion of “climate science” is outright fraudulence. A lie detector would do the trick. Call it the Michael Mann test!

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Craig
July 31, 2017 3:44 pm

For that you would need the weapons-grade BS detector.

Reply to  Craig
July 31, 2017 10:04 pm

He probably ran away when he read this, posted the other day:
On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit

Gary Pearse
July 31, 2017 11:35 am

RS Brown’s suggestion is a good one. Red Team it at WUWT! A crowd sourced review would provide an MRI of the paper that immediately will give positive and negative analysis as a guide. I believe this is the future of peer review. Responses would be restricted to a certain length and must have an apropos “take” to be accepted. I wouldn’t restrict it just to anthropologists or other specific disciplines. Logic belongs to everybody and I would encourage some of statisticians to respond in all cases because stats for psychologists 101 seems to be the level that many prominent climate scientists and certainly social scientists are at (famously, Phil Jones of UEA – the prime creator university of the disaster that is climate science today- admitted he couldn’t do simple Excel). Stats will get rid of 3/4 of the offerings at the outset. Plan: let statisticians be the first filter. This will educate and restrain future authors and and the number of papers to be reviewed will be slashed. Remember Trump just had to get elected to stem illegal immigration by 76%!!

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 31, 2017 3:22 pm

Gary P
I think a good scientist should be able to argue the positive or negative case from any set of evidence. It doesn’t have to be ‘believers’ supporting a ‘side’. Disciplined observes can appreciate the positive and negative sides of a multi-faceted argument.
Showing that someone’s argument is incomplete and therefore is a speculative assertion unproven, does not mean it is incorrect or falsified. It may be that there is much more proof needed.
My point is that you could hold a Red/Blue Team analysis here at WUWT and have volunteers to play the Blue team side not because they ‘believe it’ but because they understand what is demonstrable and supported by evidence. A military quality assessment has to be sober and respect that the ‘opposite’ team has skills, points of view and strategies that must be considered. If an opponent cannot be defeated, they can certainly be brought to an acceptable accommodation.
It is the hubris of climate science that is the problem, not the study of the environment and our positive and negative impacts upon it. The WHO’s baseless claim that humans can’t be healthy if they breathe more than 10 microgrammes of PM2.5 per cubic metre of air, whatever the source, is hubris. The study of air pollution is important and should continue.
Just because we like baking bread does not mean we should all become fruitcakes.

Tom Halla
July 31, 2017 11:54 am

This does come across as a joke.
For a real BS detector, it mostly amounts to making available as much evidence for an assertion as possible. Given the advances in information processing and transmission in my own adult life( I’m 61), while conclusions and abstracts of a claim are needed, there is no longer any technical or major economic reason to not make available the supporting data.
Putting as much out there for people who care about the subject to be able to trash, excuse me, evaluate intelligently, the reasons for a conclusion are the only real bullshit detector. I don’t think any AI program will be able to do that any time soon.

July 31, 2017 12:03 pm

A BS Detector project is shorthand for two more familiar phrases, 1) cost cutting by downsizing or rightsizing, and 2) blame the computer not the operator.

Rick C PE
July 31, 2017 12:10 pm

I’ve actually been working on this for a while. Hopefully the table below will not get scrambled by WordPress. I haven’t figured out how to insert graphics such as a Word Table into comments.
I would like to propose development of a new rating system for scientific publications that could be a useful guide to determining what new papers are worth reading vs those that should be ignored. I would suggest is be based on factors such as apparent Bias, Uncertainty associated with data cited, Logical fallacy, Speculative content, Hypothetical assumptions reliance, Improper application of statistics and Testability of conclusions. This BULSHIT index would be derived by rating the content on a scale of 1 to 10 for each attribute as follows:

A papers BULSHIT index would be derived from the natural log of the product of the individual attribute scores. Hence a paper that would be a genuinely useful contribution to science would receive a BULSHIT index of 0. A typical Global Warming paper could receive a BULSHIT index of 16.
I considered adding an additional attribute – List of coauthors with 3 or less being a 1 and 30 or more being a 10. But that may be too subjective a measure although this can be an indication that paper’s primary purpose is to simply to fluff up academic résumés.
DARPA should feel free to send me the money they planned to spend on this project.

Rick C PE
Reply to  Rick C PE
July 31, 2017 12:12 pm

Dang, formatting as a table failed. Sorry.

Reply to  Rick C PE
July 31, 2017 1:54 pm

Doesn’t matter, BS is BS not matter what way you put it.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
Reply to  Rick C PE
July 31, 2017 3:35 pm

While I am sympathetic to your structured approach, consider this:
If one uses ‘might’ in a paper, that carries no weight and needs to be placed into a different category titled ‘speculative’. You get the idea?
Rather than assigning a demerit point for not having proven it, the papers or assertions can be parsed into categories of fact, where a speculative ‘might’ carries little weight. Speculative opinion pieces, even it appearing to be solid science at first glance, would be relegated to the arena of ‘personal opinion’ like the political fluff that passes for intelligent conversation around the water cooler.
I grant that a large, well-formed Aero chocolate bar might pop into existence on a plate in front of me. That is at least possible, but it is also unlikely based on the evidence to date which is that I have to fetch one from a shop.
Climate speculations should be rated for what they are, not condemned as unproven. One outcome would be a clearer perception by the public about what constitutes a fact and what is not. As we know, a lot of model outputs are incorrectly presented as facts.
It is noteworthy that the cli-sci industry always wants factual dollars, not modeled ones, when it comes to their little nook.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
July 31, 2017 4:20 pm

crispin- review your English 101
The subjunctive mood is used to explore conditions that are contrary to fact:
speculation of this nature is anti-science.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
July 31, 2017 4:42 pm

Enjoyed your /s comment. I have reviewed the subjunctive mood as suggested
I did not explore conditions contrary to fact. The examples at the link above confirm this. It does not include ‘might’ which is speculative.
A debate about climate facts would soon find there are precious few of them. I think that was your point. Mine was that a Red/Blue team argument does not have to be made by fanatics. The CBC’s “The Debaters” show is a great example of how this is done.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo but really in Beijing
July 31, 2017 5:17 pm

hi crispin
you did understand and i should have provided a link to make it easy but you handled it perfectly.
i was addressing your statement:
“Climate speculations should be rated for what they are, not condemned as unproven.”
in the context of a published ‘scientific’ paper, speculation is properly condemned.
the tentative acceptance of speculation as ‘valid science’ is (i think) due to lack of certainty.
it’s not always sufficient to know something- it is also important to know that you know it.
to know with certainty that speculation is not science, means that it is appropriate to condemn it when it is presented as if it were. (see that subjunctive, there? it means that ‘it is not’)

Reply to  Rick C PE
July 31, 2017 4:17 pm

bravo mr rick.
please visit mr science.or.fiction at

Reply to  Rick C PE
August 1, 2017 6:10 am

Some of these points are trivially true (logical fallacies, ignored uncertainty), while others are invalid. Banning speculation is unrealistic. A paper will often contain some statements that are presented as solidly supported by the evidence, as well as other ideas that are considered not yet proven, yet plausible and worth exploring in future research. There is absolutely nothing at all wrong with including the latter, as long as their speculative nature is clearly indicated.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
August 1, 2017 12:12 pm

what you say is trivially true but the library is divided into 2 main sections for a reason.
science is the systematic discovery of truth.
when literature is used as a vehicle to deliver a load of speculation it has a different name.
so where does the speculation belong in a science paper?
nowhere, that’s where.
simple declarative sentences – no subjunctive mood. logic and reason – not dreaming.
reportage – not fake news.

DeLoss McKnight
July 31, 2017 12:15 pm

I’m always amazed at what a lot of computer power and sophisticated algorithms can do. It’s amazing to me that Google can have hundreds of responses to a question I submit in the blink of an eye. Even so, this task would be a daunting one. But if we had such a thing, climate change wouldn’t be an issue, would it? I suspect the best it could give us is a range of confidence on any given question.
As for needing this for social sciences, I can certainly understand why the Defense Dept. would be interested in that. With so much asymmetric warfare these days, knowing the psychology of your adversaries, their social customs and mores, would be invaluable. Such research would also be helpful in crafting ways to respond to and manipulate your adversary. I think the catchy term for that is PsyOps.
I hope they are successful in developing a BS detector. Widespread use of such a tool could really cut out a lot of crap in our national conversation, including at least 90% of what our politicians tell us.

Clay Sanborn
July 31, 2017 12:18 pm

The benchmark BS metering in science is the phrase, and any permutation of the phrase.: “The science is settled”. Even more than BS, it is 97% likely an outright lie.

Christopher Simpson
July 31, 2017 12:19 pm

“… one of the most urgent philosophical problems of our time: How do you know what’s true when science, the news, and social media all struggle with errors, advertising, propaganda, and lies?”
I can’t express how frustrated and angry I am every time I see a statement like this. Where did we get the idea that today’s supply of lies and distortion is somehow vastly larger and significantly more dangerous than at any other time in history? The ability to fact check has been virtually nil throughout most of humanity’s existence, and only in the past century or so has it been at all available to the general public, with electronic communications opening up the field exponentially. Sure, there is greater access to untruth, but damn it, there’s also more access to truth. It balances out.
So why this rather sudden and slightly hysterical call to action to “do something” about bullshit?
I suspect it’s because one particular form of bullshit is starting to be seen for what it is, and this call for a “return to science,” “evidence-based reasoning” and the like is a huge smoke screen meant to bring the public back on board to the official bullshit.

Joel Snider
Reply to  Christopher Simpson
July 31, 2017 12:39 pm

‘Where did we get the idea that today’s supply of lies and distortion is somehow vastly larger and significantly more dangerous than at any other time in history?’
It’s the reach, the scope, and the consolidation of the messaging that is unprecedented. The modern media is Goebbels’ wet-dream.
And while there is good information out there, you have to know what to look for, and (more importantly), be aware enough to do so.

Christopher Simpson
Reply to  Joel Snider
July 31, 2017 12:46 pm

As opposed to past eras in which authorities could spread whatever lie they wanted and the people had virtually no ability to check the truth. For the first time in history the average person now has the ability to dig into the facts and unearth information that would have been almost impossible to obtain 50 years ago — or even 30. And yes, a lot of people doing just that, which is why the Church of Global Warming is so widely questioned. Think of how much hold such a message — apparently being voiced by all the world’s scientists and backed by our very own governments — would have had in the 1940s.
We love to doomsay how terrible it is that all this false information is spread around, but totally ignore the fact (yes, fact) that good solid information is also widely spread and that a great many people want to access it and know how to do so.
We’re certainly far, far better off in this regard than we’ve been through most of our history when entire populations had to simi;y accept whatever their kings and priests were telling them.

Joel Snider
July 31, 2017 12:36 pm

‘No, I cannot “imagine why DARPA and the DoD might want to shore up the social sciences.’
The social sciences are a very good primer for enacting propaganda.

Keen Observer
Reply to  Joel Snider
July 31, 2017 2:31 pm

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head (as have a couple of other commenters): It’s all about the propaganda.
If you understand how the best BS is created, you can build a better BSer. On the flip-side, you can also tell when you’re being fed a disinformation campaign by your enemies/opponents. And if a machine can flag that, the machine can also back-trace to the “truth”, if there happens to be one.

Joe Crawford
July 31, 2017 12:53 pm

Probably the best BS detector I have ever seen belonged to a second line manager I had many years ago. He might know absolutely nothing about the subject you were presenting, but within about five or 10 minutes he knew how much you knew about your subject. I doubt he is still around, but he would have been the perfect subject for developing an expert system BS detector.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  Joe Crawford
July 31, 2017 12:56 pm

Guess I should add that the best BS detector probably has more to do with reading the character and personality of the presenter than it has to do with understanding the subject of the presentation.

Bob Smith
July 31, 2017 2:05 pm

Over my career, I have been rather critical of government contracting and management. However, DARPA is one of the more successful government efforts. DARPA has had some significant successes over the years (Internet, stealth technology, other classified efforts, etc.). They have carried out their mission with a relatively small staff. DARPA typically awards contracts to Industry, Academics, and/or government labs.
DARPA’s mission is to look for game changing technologies / systems rather than the typical government program that has to show success. A lot of DARPA’s efforts don’t work out but the ones that do have major impact on the US industrial base. I have never worked at DARPA but I have some experience with DARPA programs.
While this DARPA Request For Proposal (RFP) has drawn snickers, there is no guarantee that any program will receive funding. DARPA will review proposal and determine if any are worth the investment for further study or proof of concept.

Clyde Spencer
July 31, 2017 2:28 pm

For those of you who haven’t bothered to read the original Wired article, there are some interesting and useful links included, such as the “reproducibility crisis” and “P-hacking.”
It seems to me that one of the most useful tests for hypotheses or claims made in the ‘silly sciences’ is, “Does it demonstrate any predictive or explanatory value?” As Carl Sagan was fond of saying, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If it doesn’t pass the personal smell test acquired by years of living, then it deserves additional scrutiny and there should be demands for more evidence. Explanations that seem to conveniently support some politically correct position should be placed in the queue for prompt re-examination by a Red Team before it gets a chance to be cited. If it doesn’t contribute any obvious value to the use to which the ‘knowledge’ might be applied, then it should just be ignored.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
August 1, 2017 10:31 am

For any who might be interested in additional reading on the “P-Hacking” issue:

July 31, 2017 2:45 pm

If it can’t be demonstrated with a robust experiment, then it’s BS.
where “robust” = repeatable, by anyone.
The so-called Social Sciences can’t call themselves a Science without such validation.
Svensmark took his proposal of GCRs modulating cloud cover to experiment with his SKY 1 experiment.
More details about cloud formation specks and their rates of growth were determined with SKY 2.
Both experiments blew so-called “cloud experts” … umm…. hypotheses of cloud formation out of the sky.
One small matter they settled was that cloud droplets require a seed particle or speck before water vapour will condense around it to form a cloud droplet.
Other sources of cloud modulation and the details of cloud formation chemistry have been determined by CERN’s CLOUD experiment. Experimental exploration of the matter continues.
The AGW crowd haven’t done that. They’ve projected plenty of BS from non-validated models—another clue for the BS meter. Observation has shown up the poor performance of the models yet we are continually told “they aren’t bad.”
B. S. They’re terrible. They should have been tossed out over a decade ago, even two decades ago.

Kaiser Derden
July 31, 2017 3:46 pm

I thought the answer was 47 …

Reply to  Kaiser Derden
July 31, 2017 4:13 pm

As I recall, the real meaning of life was found by a supercomputer to be…27? Or per KD, 47? Poor memory.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Kaiser Derden
July 31, 2017 7:08 pm


Patrick MJD
Reply to  Dave Fair
August 1, 2017 4:21 am

He was a computer geek. 42 in ASCII is * which could be anything or everything…

July 31, 2017 4:10 pm

As I recall, the real meaning of life was found by a supercomputer to be…27?

Reply to  texasjimbrock
July 31, 2017 6:39 pm

At one time, the meaning of life was calculated:
It seems that Douglas Adams was right after all: the answer to Life, the Universe and everything, is 42.
Cambridge astronomers have found that 42 is the value of an essential scientific constant – one which determines the age of the universe.

July 31, 2017 4:11 pm

Google already has an algorithm that knows everything about everything! Artificial intelligence certainly beats the intelligence of governments.

July 31, 2017 4:11 pm

(Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker….”

Robert from oz
July 31, 2017 5:01 pm

How are they going to zero it ?

July 31, 2017 5:05 pm

Feynman Test.
That will be $109,099 please.

Reply to  Rob Dawg
August 2, 2017 9:45 am


John Robertson
July 31, 2017 6:46 pm

Simplest BS detector in the world..
Spend your own money on it.
It being the “brilliant social science break through”.
It is amazing how few of our self appointed superiors will spend their own money to cure the “problems” they claim to see.
Yet they see no limit to how much of our money they must seize to “attempt” a cure.

David Cage
July 31, 2017 11:53 pm

I have seen it done using an ordinary polygraph and don’t knock the idea. Once it was seen in operation no one in the management ever agreed to any further trials.

Mark - Helsinki
August 1, 2017 1:22 am

It will be as epic a failure as lie detectors

August 1, 2017 4:49 am

What happened to repeating the work and reproducing the results?

Reply to  Robert B
August 1, 2017 5:14 am

I was reading this in Australia during a break in the movie Idiocy. They seemed to blend together well.
” If you have one bucket that contains 2 gallons and another bucket that contains 7 gallons, how many buckets do you have?”
“Science is still the best way of knowing stuff. DARPA just wants to know what stuff science is really sure about, and how it knows it. And how it knows it knows it.”

August 1, 2017 5:06 am

To DARPA, read my lipscomment image

Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
August 1, 2017 6:13 am

Somehow I imagined you not to be quite so good-looking.

Reply to  Michael Palmer
August 1, 2017 6:39 am

Better-looking?comment image

August 1, 2017 6:33 am

Interesting parallel to the “positivist” movement in philosophy at the beginning of the 20th century (see “Vienna Circle”). Then, the shiny new toy that people imagined should yield a prescriptive algorithm for “verifying” proposed laws of empirical science was formal logic. Karl Popper developed his falsification principle as a response to this strangely naive idea. Today’s shiny new toys are computers and computer programs — and again, credulous people credit them with magical powers of divining the “truth.”
It appears that credulity/scepticism and intelligence are orthogonal — many highly intelligent and accomplished people are also very credulous, whereas people with otherwise unremarkable intellect can have very good built-in bullshit detectors.

August 1, 2017 6:49 am

It’s actually quite simple – the validity of a scientific assessment is inversely proportional to the amount of press it gets

Robert of Ottawa
August 1, 2017 2:50 pm

I detect BS. This is satire, Shirley?

August 2, 2017 1:44 pm

The OP is rubbish. This has nothing to do with BS detection and everything to do with assigning a weighting factor when using the results of Social and Behavioral Science experiments, studies, meta-analyses, and other products — to draw conclusions related to devising solutions to defense related concerns issues problems whatever.
Actually read the RFI linked in the OP and you can easily ascertain it is not a BS detector at all.
What the RFI asks for is proposals on how to automate or semi-automate the assignment of confidence levels to the conclusions of studies, reports and other product data created in the Social and Behavioral Sciences tradespace.

Reply to  David Middleton
August 3, 2017 8:09 am

No, you perceive that’s what a described.
Low confidence does not = the study results were incorrect or flawed (bullshit)
High Confidence does not = the study results are correct.
The whole piece is written with a bias toward Social and Behavioral Sciences.
There is your bullshit

Reply to  David Middleton
August 3, 2017 8:11 am

And to falsify your RRR argument:
Faulty instrumentation can reliably reproduce robust bullshit —

Reply to  David Middleton
August 3, 2017 8:16 am

There are a host of other conditions that can result in reliably reproduced and robust — faulty findings. Poor statistical sampling methods for one.
I thing that has been proved out on this board with regard to hard sciences.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  David Middleton
August 5, 2017 12:43 pm

It looks like a prototype already exists:
Now, if we could only get Mann et al. to sit down and answer a few questions. Or, maybe, give it a trial run at the Red/Blue team debate.

August 2, 2017 8:04 pm

“what findings from the social and behavioral sciences are actually, you know, true.”
I’m tempted to answer with a four-letter word. The first letter is “n”.

Reply to  RoHa
August 3, 2017 8:10 am

Tell that to pavlov’s dogs

August 3, 2017 1:53 pm

[B]ullschist [sic!] detectors are readily available on the Internet…

But do they work for BS that is not set in stone?

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