Expert Bullshit Detection.

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Date: Summer 2021
From: Skeptic (Altadena, CA)(Vol. 26, Issue 3)
Publisher: Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,271 words
Lexile Measure: 1200L

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"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."--Abraham Lincoln

IF ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS CORRECT, THEN THERE should be people who are rarely duped by bullshit. Who are these people? Can they help us understand the moments when critical thinking fails and how to overcome them?

These are the questions I've asked in my qualitative research on bullshit and bullshitting. It involves identifying expert bullshit detectors and understanding their styles of thinking.

From my research, I am convinced that there are many specialized, expert bullshit detectors in our midst. Through years of experience, they've "seen everything." They've been witness to every bit of bullshit pulled in their respective professions and industries. They have highly specialized knowledge that makes it very difficult for people who don't know what they're talking about to get away with bullshit. We have much to learn from them. And so, I went out into the field to discover what they do differently from the average person. Here are two examples from my book--used car dealers and real estate agents--and some principles of bullshit detection that we can all apply to our lives.

Curtis Baker and Used Car Dealers

As an automobile hobbyist and enthusiast, most days Curtis Baker can be found working on an old car. I joined Baker while he refinished a 1995 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet in his 60,000-square-foot warehouse. After discovering the car on CarGurus.com, he flew to Dallas, Texas, and drove it all the way home to Charlotte, North Carolina. I've never known anyone like Baker, who can work with tools, weld, talk, and eat spaghetti and meatballs, all at the same time. Baker is the perfect person to ask why car buyers are so often duped by used car dealer bullshit.

"I don't think people are duped so much by direct bullshit from sellers. People are duped more by the facts sellers don't share with them. And only someone who doesn't really want to sell is going to tell you something that would make you avoid the car. The seller of that sweet 2006 Mercedes-Benz SL500 with 50,000 miles isn't going to tell you that soon enough you'll need to replace the hydraulic suspension that will cost you anywhere between $3,500 and $5,000. Dealers bullshit by omission." Baker believes that information omission is orchestrated by both sellers and buyers. The seller is not readily forthcoming, but the buyer participates by not asking the right questions. He believes that if buyers can demonstrate to the seller that they know what they're talking about by the questions they ask, there is considerably less room for the seller to bullshit.

What are the questions that Baker asks himself and sellers when he's interested in buying a car? Baker explains, "I ask myself, if I was to buy this car, how could I drive it for free for the...

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