Calling Bullsh*t: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World

Authors: Carl T. Bergstrom & Jevin D. West

Published: 2020, Penguin Random House, USA

ISBN: 978-0525509189

About the Author

Carl T. Bergstrom Currently a Professor at the University of Washington. Theoretical and evolutionary biology is his area of study. He earned his PhD at Stanford University and was also educated at Harvard University.

As well as his biological work he has taken a passion for disarming misinformation. As well as writing Calling Bullshit and teaching it as a class, he has been involved in rating academic journals.

Jevin D. West Also an Associate Professor at the University of Washington. He takes an interest in how misinformation spreads through society and the science of science.

Who is it for?

This book has a wide reaching audience, it has no particular link to the sports industry but it does have links to sports through analytics and understanding different ways of describing science, data and visuals and how they can be manipulated.

I think this book would be of more interest to analysts than coaches.

What is it about?

This book starts with looking at the dangers of misinformation and how to spot misinformation. They make the point of The Brandolini Principle where it takes a multitude of effort more to dispel bullshit than it does to create it.

The book then goes through chapter by chapter looking at different mediums where bullshit can occur, such as in numbers, big data, science and data visualisation.

One of the most interesting chapters was on the use of big words to hide misinformation, something I think that is quite prevalent in a few of the sports/rugby analysis community on twitter.

The final chapter of the book goes into actually ‘calling bullsh*t” and how do it.

What did I take from it?

I took a lot from this book including the Brandolini Principle mentioned above.

I always knew correlation doesn’t equate to causation but learning the different types of causation was interesting; probabilistic cause, sufficient cause and necessary cause.

Goodhart’s law was another interesting take from the book “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

“Well Actually” guys. Calling bullsh*t when you name an exception to a rule that disrupts an otherwise constructive conversation just to feel good about yourself.

How to call bullshit – politely.

Should I buy it?

I think you should buy this book. It is an enjoyable and thought provoking read. It is a good life skill to understand how the misinformation is spreading in the world and how to spot it. It will also keep your eye on potentially stating bullsh*t yourself.

From a sports point of view, it holds little relevance bar understanding and keeping an eye on contrarians and people who use complicated words on twitter to sound smart as is often seen.