Brandolini's law

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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. The false claims, despite extensive investigation showing no relationship, have had a disastrous effect on public health. Decades of research and attempts to educate the public have failed to eradicate the misinformation.[5]

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.[5]

In an example of Brandolini's law during the COVID-19 pandemic, a journalist at Radio-Canada said, "It took this guy 15 minutes to make his video and it took me three days to fact-check."[6]

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]

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.[7]

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.[8]

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 bullshit being presented, furthering the concepts presented by Brandolini’s Law.[9]

Further applications[edit]

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.[10][11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

In 1845, Frédéric Bastiat expressed an early notion of this law:[14]

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 also shared thoughts aligning with the bullshit asymmetry principle, stating, "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.[15]

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. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Lapierre, Matthew (June 18, 2021). "Truth, lies and the disinformation problem that won't go away". The Montreal Gazette.
  7. ^ 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. doi:10.3389/fmed.2018.00345. ISSN 2296-858X. PMC 6291449. PMID 30574495.
  8. ^ 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 – via Science Direct.
  9. ^ West, Jevin; Bergstrom, Carl (August 5, 2020). "Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 prevention? How to separate science from partisanship". NBC. Retrieved April 15, 2024.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ Allchin, Douglas (7 July 2022). "Ten competencies for the science misinformation crisis". Science Education – via Wiley Online Library.
  11. ^ Murray, David; Schwartz, Joel; Lichter, Robert (2001). It Ain't Necessarily So. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (published 7 March 2001). p. 159. ISBN 978-0742510951.
  12. ^ O'Hara, Kieron (August 2018). "Bullshit 2.0" (PDF). eprints.soton.ac.uk. Retrieved 15 April 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ 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
  14. ^ Ladwig, Craig (October 21, 2022). "At last, a law for our times". Seymour Tribune. Retrieved 29 April 2023.
  15. ^ 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.