I've written some recent posts about bullshit for Brainstorm.
The first one defines bullshit and describes Hunter S. Thompson's use of it on the campaign trail in 1972. And mentions a bullshit lecture on statistics I saw that was actually titled "Not Always Bullshit: A Simple Explanation of Statistics."
The second one relays what Harry Frankfurt, author of On Bullshit, had to tell me about the use of bullshit by Hillary and others on the campaign trail in 2008.
The third describes a bullshit music review in Maxim magazine, asks whether I committed the same sin in Psychology Today, and ties in material from the book How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read.
To be a journalist is to occupy one of the worst stations in life one can imagine. Picture it: Tied to a computer, sometimes on the road, occasionally forced to talk to strangers, always starting from square one on a new topic after each deadline. And you are maddeningly, incessantly indentured to the hard truth of reality, or the hard reality of truth, or some combination thereof, with the nitpicky public waiting to jump on you for any creative deviation from "fact." What a life! It's enough to drive anyone to drink, or let their hair go, or at least compete with coworkers to slip inane specimens of verbiage into front page stories. Well, we know which route(s) Malcolm Gladwell has (claimed to have) taken.
In case you missed it, read Jack Shafer's rundown on Slate. Gladwell told a tale, broadcast on NPR, about challenging a colleague at the Washington Post back in the day to rack up instances of the phrase "raises new and troubling questions" in their articles. Then they moved on to round 2 with "perverse and often baffling." It's a fun story, but Shafer did some legwork and called bullshit on most of it. Anyway, there was a flurry of attention in the blogosphere that seems to have abated.
But wait! A new contender has entered the ring! Who else but Clive Thompson? First, let me quote from a February 11 story in the Canadian paper The National Post: "Malcolm and Clive? Both went to the University of Toronto around the same time. Both are whip-smart and terrifically ambitious. [True.] ... The only difference? Clive never made it to pop culture level, and as one tittle-tattle who knows this world well tells me, 'Clive has always been a little envious of Malcolm.' [Unverified, and to be fair, Gladwell instills both envy and schadenfreude in writers from this country too.]"
So what does Dark Horse Thompson do in his latest Wired magazine column? He creates a mashup that's one part "perverse and often baffling" and one part "raises new and troubling questions." The result: "These tools raise a fascinating, and queasy, new ethical question." You can look it up, right on page 60.
Malcolm, are you listening? That's Thompson: 1, Gladwell: 0. Hop to it.