The world is full of bullshit right now. Perhaps it’s always been full of bullshit, but I’m sitting here right now and I feel that we – as a species – have taken the bullshit to an entirely new level. Strongly held beliefs are based on the flimsy opinions delivered by totally unqualified sham journalists who are more interested in the size of the audience their stories attract rather than the quality of the facts that support the story.
As an idealistic engineer, I believe that we should be able to source all facts. If you tell me that the sky is blue, there should be a convenient way for me to say, “Well, that’s an interesting theory, but can you definitively prove to me that the sky is, in fact, blue?” You would respond by providing me a URL to a site (or something), ideally several, which definitively and incontrovertibly explain how the sky is blue. I’m not talking about a Wikipedia link or a Quora article, I’m talking about a well-sourced thing, a universally agreed-upon thing that once and forever clearly defines: yes, the sky is blue.
It turns out this is really hard.
In academic papers, there are no less than three types of citation styles used to “to uphold intellectual honesty (or avoiding plagiarism), to attribute prior or unoriginal work and ideas to the correct sources, to allow the reader to determine independently whether the referenced material supports the author’s argument in the claimed way, and to help the reader gauge the strength and validity of the material the author has used.” As you read that definition, you’ll note that nowhere does it state that a citation’s purpose is determine whether said fact is or is not bullshit. A citation’s purpose is to help the reader gauge strength and validity of an argument, to compare other important ideas, and help the reader to form a judgement.
Does this mean we are doomed because of bullshit? No, not if we read.
As I read that definition of citations, I realized that much of what a citation intends to do your brain already does if you provide a steady flow of well formed ideas. When you read any sort of book, you’re exposing yourself to a world of ideas that are decidedly not yours. You’ll love some, you’ll forget many, but, most importantly, your brain will diligently and automatically parse these thoughts, characters, ideas, scenarios, facts, fictions, and wit safely away in your mind so that you, as a reader, can form a judgment of the world in the book. But also, most importantly, the world around you.
I really want the planet to read more, so, once again, I’m offering the Rands in Repose benefit t-shirt.
This is a reprint of a popular logo designed by Victoria Wang and is available via Cotton Bureau in a variety of eye pleasing colors.
As with all previous shirts, 100% of the proceeds from each shirt go to First Book, a nonprofit organization with the mission to give children from low-income families not just the opportunity to read and to own their first new books, but also learn to form their own judgements built with their own knowledge and ideas that they find in books.