Brandolini's law, also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle, is an internet adage coined in 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer, that emphasizes the effort of debunking misinformation, in comparison to the relative ease of creating it in the first place. The law states:

The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it.[1][2]

The rise of easy popularization of ideas through the internet has greatly increased the relevant examples, but the asymmetry principle itself has long been recognized.

Origins edit

The adage was publicly formulated in January 2013[3] by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer. Brandolini stated that he was inspired by reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow right before watching an Italian political talk show with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and journalist Marco Travaglio.[4]

Examples edit

The persistent false claim that vaccines cause autism is a prime example of Brandolini's law. This famous case involved British doctor Andrew Wakefield who wrote an article about a study that found a relationship between the MMR-vaccine and autism which was later found to be false. As a result, Dr. Wakefield lost his medical license and then disclaimed and recanted.[5] The false claims, despite extensive investigation showing no relationship, have had a disastrous effect on public health due to vaccine avoidance. Decades of research and attempts to educate the public have failed to eradicate the misinformation which is still widely believed.[6]

In another example, shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, the claim that a student who had survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting had been killed by the bombing began to spread across social media. Despite many attempts to debunk the rumor, including an investigation by Snopes, the false story was shared by more than 92,000 people and was covered by major news agencies.[6]

In an example of Brandolini's law during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeff Yates, a disinformation journalist at Radio-Canada said (of a very popular YouTube video), “He makes all kinds of different claims. I had to check every single one of them. I had to call relevant experts and talk to them. I had to transcribe those interviews. I had to write a text that is legible and interesting to read. It’s madness. It took this guy 15 minutes to make his video and it took me three days to fact-check.”[7]

Due to the rapid dissemination of information on social media, the public is much more susceptible to becoming victims of pseudoscientific trends such as Dr. Mehmet Oz's weight loss supplements and Dr. Joseph Mercola's tanning beds which were meant to reduce one's risk of developing cancer. Although government agencies were able to prevent further sales of these products, millions of dollars had already been spent by consumers and fans.[8]

Another example dates back to 2016, when Iceland's football team had eliminated England out of the UEFA European Championship. Nine months after the victory, Icelandic doctor, Ásgeir Pétur Þorvaldsson jokingly tweeted out that a baby boom in Iceland had occurred due to this victory. Despite wide media coverage suggesting the truth behind this statement, statistical analysis carried out by curious researchers debunked the notion proposed by Þorvaldsson's tweet.[9]

Brandolini’s Law is accentuated during larger scale and higher tension situations as well. Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom discuss in their analysis of using Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 prevention that, despite Hydroxychloroquine being frequently proven to not be effective in curing illnesses, including COVID-19, that it was extremely difficult to convince people that it would not prove effective against the highly contagious virus. Because of how afraid people were of COVID-19 during its conception, and how desperately people wanted a cure, widespread social media coverage and a desire for Hydroxychloroquine to work made it extremely difficult to disprove the misinformation being presented.[10]

Social Media edit

According to the Media Education Journal, "Media portrayal of politics has always been subject to contested claims about accuracy and veracity but this has reached a new intensity."[11]

With social media, ideas, thoughts, opinions, and beliefs can be shared at an extraordinary speed. Social media amplifies Brandolini’s Law due to these capabilities. Though there are advantages to social media, there are also disadvantages especially when considering the role it has when spreading bullshit. News and research can be misinterpreted and false beliefs can be spread farther and wider than before. Fake news has a tendency to spread faster and wider through social media than true news, peer review is almost nonexistent in regards to social media, and with the way some true research can be presented through social media can make it easier to misunderstand. To combat the spreading of misinformation is to have scientific articles and news critically reviewed by scientists and to establish the validity and quality of research, stories, and claims with a rating system. [12]

Further applications edit

In 2020, researchers did a study on sensitivity to bullshit and found that, "people are more receptive to bullshit, and less sensitive to detecting bullshit" which establishes Brandolini's law. [13]

Within the context of scientific analysis, Brandolini’s law can be put to use not just on the bullshit being presented, but can also bring the bullshitter under scrutiny as well. When the lying becomes apparent on multiple occasions throughout a stretch of scientific research, the bullshitter becomes more obvious than the bullshit itself, and because the bullshitter loses credibility, the ensuing bullshit is easier to identify.[14][15] In addition, the challenge of refuting bullshit does not just come from its time-consuming nature, but also from the challenge of defying and confronting one's community. [16]

In accordance with Kieron O’Hara’s research to further analyze how bullshitters operate as opposed to just analyzing the bullshit, while it still takes substantially more energy to disprove bullshit than to create it, the overall amount of energy exerted to discover a bullshitter is less than the amount of energy used to discover the bullshit itself.[17]

Bullshit and Brandolini's law has also has been involved in gender issues. The U.S Department of State defines gendered disinformation as " a subset of misogynistic abuse and violence against women that uses false or misleading gender and sex-based narratives, often with some degree of coordination, to deter women from participating in the public sphere. Both foreign state and non-state actors strategically use gendered disinformation to silence women, discourage online political discourse, and shape perceptions toward gender and the role of women in democracies." This is a specific type of bullshit commonly found in politics where women are the victims of false claims.[18] Misinformation is used a lot in fostering gender inequalities especially in social platforms and in political matters. As the refuting of bullshit takes alot more energy than producing it, lives and jobs are effected especially by women.[19]

Mitigating the effects of Brandolini's law edit

Environmental researcher Phil Williamson of University of East Anglia implored other scientists in 2016 to get online and refute falsehoods to their work whenever possible, despite the difficulty per Brandolini's law. He wrote, "the scientific process doesn't stop when results are published in a peer-reviewed journal. Wider communication is also involved, and that includes ensuring not only that information (including uncertainties) is understood, but also that misinformation and errors are corrected where necessary."[1]

Researchers on the topic of bullshit, Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West, study how to refute the bullshit that takes a large amount of energy to discover. This complicated process depends on the audience the bullshit is intended to influence, the time and energy a person is willing to invest in this process, and the medium you are using to do the refuting. In order to refute you need the following: [20]

  1. Be correct by including all necessary information that was run by a friend and double checking facts.
  2. Be charitable by acknowledging the possibility of your own confusion, not attributing malice, and not assigning stupidity.
  3. Be clear and coherent about the argument you are making.
  4. Admit mistakes and faults.

Other techniques for increasing the effectiveness of retracting misinformation include: Preexposure warnings, repeated retractions, and providing an alternative narrative.[21]

Similar concepts edit

The adage, "A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on," has taken various forms since as early as 1710.[22]

In 1845, Frédéric Bastiat expressed an early notion of this law:[23]

We must confess that our adversaries have a marked advantage over us in the discussion. In very few words they can announce a half-truth; and in order to demonstrate that it is incomplete, we are obliged to have recourse to long and dry dissertations.

— Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms, First Series (1845)

Prior to Brandolini's definition, Italian blogger Uriel Fanelli and Jonathan Koomey, creater of Koomey's law and researcher, also shared thoughts aligning with the bullshit asymmetry principle, Fanelli stated, "An idiot can create more bullshit than you could ever hope to refute," when generally translated in Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World.[24]

Koomey states, "In fast-changing fields, like information technology, refutations lag nonsense production to a greater degree than in fields with less rapid change."[25]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b Williamson, Phil (6 December 2016). "Take the time and effort to correct misinformation". Nature. 540 (7632): 171. doi:10.1038/540171a.
  2. ^ Thatcher, Jim; Shears, Andrew; Eckert, Josef (April 2018). "Rethinking the Geoweb and Big Data: Mixed Methods and Brandolini's Law". Thinking Big Data in Geography: New Regimes, New Research. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 232–. ISBN 978-1-4962-0537-7.
  3. ^ Brandolini, Alberto (2013-01-11). "Bullshit Asymmetry Principle: the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it". Twitter. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  4. ^ Brandolini, Alberto (2015-11-11). "@rpallavicini I discovered Uriel's post later :-) My inspiration was Daniel Kahneman…". Twitter. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
    — (2015-11-17). "@RPallavicini seeing Berlusconi vs Travaglio after reading "thinking Fast & Slow" :-)". Twitter. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  5. ^ Dijkstra, Suzan; Kok, Gautam; Ledford, Julie G.; Sandalova, Elena; Stevelink, Remi (2018-12-06). "Possibilities and Pitfalls of Social Media for Translational Medicine". Frontiers in Medicine. 5: 345. doi:10.3389/fmed.2018.00345. ISSN 2296-858X. PMC 6291449. PMID 30574495.
  6. ^ a b Bergstrom, Carl T.; West, Jevin D. (2020). Calling bullshit: the art of skepticism in a data-driven world. Random House. pp. 11–17. ISBN 978-0-525-50918-9. OCLC 1127668193.
  7. ^ Lapierre, Matthew (June 18, 2021). "Truth, lies and the disinformation problem that won't go away". The Montreal Gazette.
  8. ^ Dijkstra, Suzan; Kok, Gautam; Ledford, Julie G.; Sandalova, Elena; Stevelink, Remi (2018). "Possibilities and Pitfalls of Social Media for Translational Medicine". Frontiers in Medicine. 5: 345. doi:10.3389/fmed.2018.00345. ISSN 2296-858X. PMC 6291449. PMID 30574495.
  9. ^ Grech, Victor; Masukume, Gwinyai (December 2017). "Fake news of baby booms 9 months after major sporting events distorts the public's understanding of early human development science". Early Human Development. 115: 16–17. doi:10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2017.08.007. PMID 28843137 – via Science Direct.
  10. ^ West, Jevin; Bergstrom, Carl (August 5, 2020). "Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 prevention? How to separate science from partisanship". NBC. Retrieved April 15, 2024.
  11. ^ Law, Alex (2017-06-03). "Post-truth and fake news". Media Education Journal. 61: 3–6. ISSN 0268-1951.
  12. ^ Dijkstra, Suzan; Kok, Gautam; Ledford, Julie G.; Sandalova, Elena; Stevelink, Remi (2018-12-06). "Possibilities and Pitfalls of Social Media for Translational Medicine". Frontiers in Medicine. 5: 345. doi:10.3389/fmed.2018.00345. ISSN 2296-858X. PMC 6291449. PMID 30574495.
  13. ^ Petrocelli, John V.; Watson, Haley F.; Hirt, Edward R. (July 2020). "Self-Regulatory Aspects of Bullshitting and Bullshit Detection". Social Psychology. 51 (4): 239–253. doi:10.1027/1864-9335/a000412. ISSN 1864-9335.
  14. ^ Allchin, Douglas (2023). "Ten competencies for the science misinformation crisis". Science Education. 107 (2): 261–274. Bibcode:2023SciEd.107..261A. doi:10.1002/sce.21746 – via Wiley Online Library.
  15. ^ Murray, David; Schwartz, Joel; Lichter, Robert (2001). It Ain't Necessarily So. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (published 7 March 2001). p. 159. ISBN 978-0742510951.
  16. ^ Spicer, André (April 2020). "Playing the Bullshit Game: How Empty and Misleading Communication Takes Over Organizations". Organization Theory. 1 (2): 263178772092970. doi:10.1177/2631787720929704. ISSN 2631-7877.
  17. ^ O'Hara, Kieron (August 2018). "Bullshit 2.0" (PDF). eprints.soton.ac.uk. Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  18. ^ "Gendered Disinformation: Tactics, Themes, and Trends by Foreign Malign Actors". March 27, 2023.
  19. ^ "[InternetLab] The gender dimensions of disinformation" (PDF).
  20. ^ "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved 2024-04-21.
  21. ^ Lewandowsky, Stephan; Ecker, Ullrich K. H.; Seifert, Colleen M.; Schwarz, Norbert; Cook, John (2012). "Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 13 (3): 106–131. doi:10.1177/1529100612451018. ISSN 1529-1006. PMID 26173286.
  22. ^ A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes, Quote Investigator, July 13, 2014, retrieved 17 March 2024
  23. ^ Ladwig, Craig (October 21, 2022). "At last, a law for our times". Seymour Tribune. Retrieved 29 April 2023.
  24. ^ Bergstrom, Carl T.; West, Jevin Darwin (2021). Calling bullshit: the art of skepticism in a data-driven world (Random House Trade Paperback ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-525-50920-2.
  25. ^ Koomey, Jonathan. "Estimating Bitcoin Electricity Use: A Beginner's Guide" (PDF). coincenter.org.