A field guide to bullshit

Alison George

How do people defend their beliefs in bizarre conspiracy theories or the power of crystals? Philosopher Stephen Law has tips for spotting their strategies

You describe your new book, Believing Bullshit, as a guide to avoid getting sucked into "intellectual black holes". What are they?
Intellectual black holes are belief systems that draw people in and hold them captive so they become willing slaves of claptrap. Belief in homeopathy, psychic powers, alien abductions – these are examples of intellectual black holes. As you approach them, you need to be on your guard because if you get sucked in, it can be extremely difficult to think your way clear again.

But isn’t one person’s claptrap another’s truth?
There’s a belief system about water to which we all sign up: it freezes at 0 °C and boils at 100 °C. We are powerfully wedded to this but that doesn’t make it an intellectual black hole. That’s because these beliefs are genuinely reasonable. Beliefs at the core of intellectual black holes, however, aren’t reasonable. They merely appear so to those trapped inside.

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(Image: Nick Ballon for <i>New Scientist</i>)

(Image: Nick Ballon for New Scientist)

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