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The Bulls**t Asymmetry Principle Mental Model

Written by John Kuder

Table Of Contents

Originally named Brandolini’s Law, which is named after Italian software developer Alberto Brandolini, who proposed it in a tweet on January 2013.

He wrote that “the amount of energy needed to refute bulls**t is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it”. It’s much easier to say something without caring whether it is true, or if it is logical, or if you can back it up. “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it” – Johnathan Swift, The Examiner, 1710

Let’s define BS as spreading of misinformation (incorrect information) and disinformation (intentional lies). Refuting is proving it wrong, which is not the same as questioning it or just calling it BS.

Several cognitive biases help this happen, such as the Confirmation Bias, the Mere Exposure Effect, the Anchoring Bias, the Framing Effect.

Summary and conclusions:

Brandolini’s law is a general observation, rather than an empirical fact, so there are situations where it’s wrong; a generalized corollary of this principle, which holds in more situations, is “bulls**t often takes more energy to refute than to create”.

Accounting for Brandolini’s law can help you determine whether bulls**t is worth refuting, help you understand how to refute bulls**t better (e.g., by addressing only its key points), and help you understand and predict people’s behavior (e.g., by understanding why an expert isn’t responding to every piece of bulls**t in their field).

Refuting bulls**t doesn’t necessarily mean that people who believe it will accept that it’s wrong, or will change their associated stance; this often requires additional work, such as using debiasing techniques to address the cognitive biases that lead people to believe in the bulls**t.

How it applies in small business:

Internally, team members talk to one another and to customers. Many times, people feel like they need to have an answer, even when they don’t, so they make up something that makes sense or they repeat something they heard from a different context. When is it harmless and when is it a threat to the business operation?

Externally, an unhappy customer might make up a reason for their request, such as a product failure. How much effort will it take to prove them wrong and at what price?

How does this principle relate to EQ?

It requires all 4 areas to leverage this principle effectively. Self-awareness and self-management to recognize and develop our personal response to potential BS, and social awareness and relationship management to notice how others are affected and to ask appropriate questions and set boundaries.

How can we use Mindfulness?

Noticing our state; are we reacting or being proactive?

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandolini’s_law https://modelthinkers.com/mental-model/bullshit-asymmetry-principle https://effectiviology.com/brandolinis-law/

Book: Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0525509186

Transcript:

Hi there. What we talking about today? We are talking about a mental model today. Okay. Which one? It’s called the Bulls**t Asymmetry Principle. Okay, so you were laughing. Let me try that again. The Bulls**t Asymmetry principle, I, that’s not the original name. Okay. The original name is the, is Brandolini’s Law.

Brandolini was a let’s see. I’m gonna have to put on my glasses. Yeah. Italian software developer, Alberto Brandolini tweeted about this in 2013 and he gave it the name, the, Bulls**t Asymmetry Principle. Okay. His, his statement was, “the amount of energy needed to refute bulls**t is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.”

Oh, well, I could agree with that. Okay. I can agree with that. Yes. And so the another way of saying it would be, it’s much easier to, well, part of it, the, the beginning part, the, you know, how easy it is to produce bulls**t. It’s, it’s really easy to, to say something if you don’t care whether or not it’s true, or whether or not it makes any sense or, or, or not being able to back it up. Right. If you don’t have any facts, several family members like that, they just say stuff, you know, and Oh yeah. If it sounds as close to what you thought it might be, you know, it’s okay. Cuz it’s entertaining, right? Oh, oh yeah. It was, it was entertaining.

That’s the thing. So, and. All right. So yeah, it was called Brandolini’s Law, and I’m taking issue with the law part of it. Okay. Okay. As others have done. When I, this seems so simple, but I read, when I read into this read up on this, it there, there’s a lot of discussion about it and, and part of the discussion was, was based around the, the taking the word law, you know, and, and that it has to be just like this.

Yes. Okay. And, and it’s not always an order. An order of magnitude is 10 times. So 10 times the energy to refute it. Well, one person said, well, no, that’s, that doesn’t, that doesn’t hold true at all. All you gotta do is ask somebody for their their references, their sources, and, and that’s refuting it.

Well, I will take issue with that. Yeah. You haven’t refuted it. You’ve just questioned it. Right. Now that’s a different thing. Okay, you kind made them wrong. Falsehood flies. This is a quote. “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.” This is from 1710. Jonathan Swift in a newsletter he wrote called The Examiner.

So the idea that that bs that, that bad not bad news, but, but BS, travels much farther and faster than the truth. Oh, heck yeah. That’s been around a long time. Oh, yeah. Gossip, you knew that. All that stuff, right? Oh, yeah. Right. So in, for, for for the rest of our discussion, let’s define BS also. So we’ve call, we’re calling this a principle.

A principle. The, the bullshit asymmetry principle. Not a, not a law, but just a principle and, you know, a general idea. Okay. Okay. A framework. Okay. That’s what mental models are, is a framework. Okay. Okay. So it’s, it’s kind of a, a simplified way of looking at things. All right. Now, when we talk about bs, let’s talk, let’s define that as spreading misinformation.

Like a person being misinformed. Just, you know, Uhhuh doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Uhhuh or disinformation, which is intentional. Why? Okay. Either one. Okay. Is we can label as bs. Hi. There’s, there’s actually quite a bit of discussion about, you know, how do we define bs? What is that? I know. So, so let’s keep it simple something, right?

So, and, and refuting it is basically proving it wrong, you know, showing factually, you know, adding up an argument of, or summation of. Factual, factual checkable data that that proves that the, the BS is wrong. And when you think about that, all of a sudden Yeah, well it becomes, it becomes fairly obvious.

It’d take a lot more work to, to go and do all the research to, to prove something wrong than to just say some BS Sure. Donut. So there are several cognitive biases that actually help this, you know, principle to happen. Okay. Okay. One of ’em is the Confirmation Bias. We’ve talked about that. Yeah. Right.

We we’re, we’re biased towards things that confirm what we already believe. Right. Okay. The Mere Exposure Effect. Yeah. I, and the fact that we did a video on that, so the fact that we’re familiar with something makes it seem more likely, more true. Right. Okay. Then, then the Anchoring Bias. This is a thing where we, we set the, the, the, the, the way something is presented in the, at the very beginning, it, it set, it creates an anchor that we use as a reference.

We talked about this, I think we talked about this a little bit in terms of the pricing of. Of used cars. Yeah. You know, they’ll put a price on the car that’s way above what they’re willing to sell it for, but it anchors that number in your brain. So when they discount for it, when they discount from that uhhuh, you feel like you’re really getting a deal.

Ah-huh. Yeah. When, you know, it was just there to, to, to, to get you an inflated number in your mind. Anyway. So this gets you, that gets you the marketing. This just tick you off. Okay. And then the Framing Effect, which is very, very close to the anchoring bias, it has to do with how things are framed. Uhhuh, you know, and, and you know, the, yeah, the, the context that we put something in.

Okay. Yeah. Put, try to talk to a teenager in the wrong friend of mine. Yeah. Okay. Well, another or wrong friend, I, I remember a, and this story just really stuck in my head. It was a, a story about a, a person who’s riding on the subway and, and there’s a woman. Sitting there with a, she’s got a child and the child is, is just all over the place.

And, and, and it’s really annoying the person that’s observing this uhhuh and feels like that. And, and they’re sitting there, you know, judging the mother about, you know, not, not keeping their child under control and mm-hmm. And, and and all this stuff. And, and so that’s a frame, right? That’s a, and then the woman, S you know, kind of shakes herself awake almost, and and, and looks at the person, sees that they’re annoyed and says, I’m, I’m really sorry my child’s bothering you.

We’ve just come from the hospital where we learned, you know, visiting his father, and we just, we’ve learned, you know, he, we got a diagnosis, he’s terminal and blah, blah, blah. And we’re, you know, and, and instantly, The situation is reframed. Correct. Right. And instantly the person now has more a reference plate.

Yes. Much more empathy for, for that person and, and much more tolerance mm-hmm. For the, for the child’s behavior. So that’s an example of the framing effect. And I’m, I, I know I’ve gone off a little bit from our asymmetry principle, but so I, I’m gonna do that. I’m definitely gonna put some sources. Along with this, because there, there was some really interesting reading, and it will go way too long if we try to cover it all, but there was a nice summary in conclusion in in one of the articles and so a point, one of the points they made was that it’s a general observation rather than an empirical fact.

So a more general way of stating it would be that bullshit often takes more energy to refute than to create, okay. Right. And that, that takes that order of magnitude out of it. You know, if somebody wants to take issue with the fact, well, well sometimes man only takes twice as much energy, you know, cuz it’s really easy to, to, you know, pick something apart.

Okay, great. But it still takes more energy. All right. Another, another thing that they discussed and pointed out was, you know, one of the choices we have to make when we’re confronted or faced with, with something like that, with BS, is. Is it worth refuting? Right? It got to that point, didn’t it? Is it worth it?

I mean, what is the cost of letting it stand? Of letting it go? I mean, yeah. You know, if somebody’s just trying to impress somebody, right? Yeah. If, if, if it wasn’t gonna hurt anybody right? Then if there’s no harm, yeah. Then what? What’s the point? Is it worth the energy? Okay. Another one it was, was, you know, like behavior in terms of.

Somebody’s an expert and they, let’s say they’ve published articles about this topic and, and it’s, it’s a pretty deep scientific topic. Okay. And so in order for, you know, and, and someone who doesn’t really understand the topic says something that, that is, is wrong and, but it just, you know, it’s just their ignorance mainly.

Right. Okay. Well for that person, that expert to. To go through and, you know, bit by bit, explain Yeah. And educate them on the, on the whole topic. Not worth it. Yeah. And, and that’s, and so, and they, you know, at that point it’s, the behavior is about, you know, them just kind of standing in their own authority and, and letting, letting it roll off.

Right, right. Okay. Another big one is refuting. It doesn’t necessarily change somebody’s mind. Oh, no, no. We, we knew about that too. Okay. Now I don’t wanna pick on anybody intent, don’t wanna pick on anybody, but yeah. When somebody decides, when somebody chooses to believe something and. And so there can be a mountain of proof that, that’s not true.

But Mountain it’s, they need to believe it for, for their own something inside them saying. So they’re going to no matter what, to remember that no matter what, they’re gonna hold onto that. A phrase I heard many, many years ago was, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” There you go.

So not a lot of not a lot to be gained in proving people wrong in, in, especially in a social situation. Yeah. And where, where there’s no big stakes. Let’s see. Okay. So how does this apply to small business? Yeah, it does. It we’re very focused. Yeah. Okay. Well, a couple of ideas internally. Okay.

Internally within the business team members talk to each other, right? All the time? No. You hope so? Well, so there’s, there’s gossip, there’s opinions you know, there’s, there’s discussion of, of items in the news. What we had, we’ve heard some and, and sometimes it’s, it’s a matter of, you know, not reading very far, not, not getting, not getting, not being curious enough to get a lot of facts.

And so there was a recent recent thing we were discussing. And, and it appeared that, that the powers that be are we’re doing something just that was destructive and stupid for no purpose and, and yet dug into it a little bit and it turned out, oh well, no, really, it’s just we’re just swapping one thing for another and, and putting things back to Right.

Right. And. And it’s, it’s all okay. It’s, and everybody’s happy. It’s, it’s been blown outta proportion as, as things do. And yeah, and as more people talk about it, the more blown out. Remember that old game of, what was it? Telephone, telephone, telephone. Oh yeah, yeah. That was quite eye-opening at the time. So so members talk to each other and they talk to customers.

So a lot of times they feel like they need to have an answer. You know, especially in a work situation, we, we feel like if we don’t have an answer for something, a lot of people just don’t wanna say, I don’t know. They feel like it demeans them somehow or, or weakens them. Well, the thing is, is you should know, you know, this is, sometimes this is your job, sometimes you should, so you, yeah, sometimes, sometimes, you know, there’s questions that come up that hasn’t really haven’t come up, so it’s not, but yes, the perception there is certainly in the, in the, in the eyes of customers coming in.

Well, you should know this. How come? Right. I didn’t guess one time to do that. So so people will make something up mm-hmm. To have an answer. Mm-hmm. They’ll make something up or, or they might just repeat something that they’ve heard or have heard in an effort to just fill in the blank. Mm. You know?

Mm-hmm. Create an answer. So when it, when is it, so the questions are when is it harmless again? And, and when is it, what does it threaten the business? Right. Right. If, if someone is giving a customer an answer that is actually poor… False information is, is going to impact the business, perhaps lose the sale?

No. Or, or worse. Right. Create a, legal situation Right. Then, then that needs to be corrected. Right, right. So that’s an internal externally Yeah. And unhappy customer. Yeah. Okay. Some people, we, we know some friends who work. We have some friends who work on you know, phone line taking calls from customers and customers will.

Tell stories, they will fib and they will outright lie uhhuh and make stuff up and say, well, I never did that, or I didn’t get, you know, I didn’t get the package that was shipped to me. Whatever. I didn’t get the bill or it was broken, or it did, you know, it, it malfunctioned in this way, Uhhuh. And, and it’s a, it’s in a way that couldn’t have happened.

Right. And so you know, a product failure, so how much effort is it worth for that customer service representative or, or even sometimes the owner of a company? How much. Is it worth for them to prove that person wrong? To prove, catch them in the lie, versus just considering the cost of doing business and giving ’em their money back or, or making it right.

So there it’s all you know, it, this really comes to, it’s part of a risk management, overall. Risk management. True. And you gotta build that into your business. Yeah. This is risk management, you know, and if you haven’t done that, Might wanna think about that. And, and we also talk about emotional intelligence eq, so how, how this might, this relate to that?

Mm-hmm. Well, I see it as relating to all four. Quadrants or, or areas of, of eq. So we’ve got self-awareness and self-management. So those are need to recognize and develop our own personal response to potential bs. We sometimes we just, we don’t know if it’s BS or not. We think so, but you know, or sometimes tend to create self.

Just to see, and then everybody’s face, you know, not maybe in a business environment. No. But, and then our social awareness and our relationship management areas of EQ to notice how others are being affected by, you know, either something we’ve said or something that’s being said in our presence. Right.

And then to ask appropriate questions and sometimes to set boundaries, right. And say, well before you say that, you need to check your facts. Right. You know, that’s, that would be a. Fairly direct, but, but you know, appropriate way of saying you know, what is, or what have you got you know, what evidence have you got to back that up?

Right? Where, where’s your, you know, can you gimme some reference material for that? I’d like to know more about that. Yes. Can you, and if they can’t, well, you know, I, yeah, we have that. I’ve got some questions about that. So maybe you, you know, maybe you need to get some facts before you keep saying that.

And then lastly, mindfulness. We talk about mindfulness and, and it’s very closely related to the first part of the eq, you know, the self-awareness especially. And so in my, in the, the mindfulness is all about being very, very present, noticing exactly how we feel and what we’re noticing in our, in the moment, right?

So noticing our state and, and are we reacting or are we being proactive? So that would be some question. I was reactive this morning, but I got proactive. Exactly. Exactly. So if we hear, you know, if we hear something that that, for example if we hear someone speaking that that is just repeating something that they’ve heard that it’s obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Right. Yeah. I heard a lot. So reacting would be laughing out loud or saying, oh my, you know, call, calling them out and, and criticizing, you know, judging them and being proactive would be asking some questions or. Simply smiling and letting it go. Yeah. And sometimes has thrust and that’s the hardest. And very closely related to this, I I, in come in the reading I did, there is a book.

On, I found it on Amazon. I’ll put a link also in the, in the with the references. It’s called, the title of the book is Calling Bullshit, the Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World by Carl Bergstrom and Devin West. Who, so this another one dad, darling, today, I mean our town, our current times we are, You know, this was, this was written before Chat GPT Ooh, and the rise of AI.

But one of the, you know, now we are in a, this world where AI is, is scraping all this information off of the internet or it’s reassembling stuff based on and based on a predictive algorithm. It’s not really thinking, thinking. No. And so, A lot of what it comes up with in these early days at least, is incorrect and, and needs to be fact checked.

So this book could be this, although it was written in 2020, it seems to be very forward looking about where we are today. Cool. So enjoy if you, if you found this as useful, leave us a comment. Yeah, if you enjoyed the any of the references, please let us know and we will see you soon in another video.

Bye.

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  1. Great topic!

    • Thanks, Barrett Pressure Washing !

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