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 hard.
In academic papers, there are no less than three types of citation styles used “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 to 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 judgment.
Does this mean we are doomed because of bullshit? Maybe.
I originally posted this piece in June of 2013. It was an introduction to another Rands charity shirt to support children literacy1, but I am re-releasing this shirt because of the bullshit… the bullshit is getting strong. While I firmly believe a well-researched opinion is a good strategy to inoculate against bullshit, the US of A is breeding virulent bullshit and not only does it feel like it’s spreading… it feels like it’s winning.
This is the third release of this shirt with popular logo designed by Victoria Wang. Unlike like prior versions, this comes in a multitude of colors thanks to the extremely competent humans at Cotton Bureau.
However, the most important fact you need to know about this shirt is that all proceeds from the sale go to the ACLU. The humans have a hard job. Each day they are working to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. In a world full of virulent bullshit where critical thinking is ignored, we need a respectable body who responsible for defending a set of principles and laws so important that we wrote them down.