I recently came across this absolute gem of an article. The abstract reads:
Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”). Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements. These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. Our results also suggest that a bias toward accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity.
It is a must read for anyone with a less-than-perfect bullshit detector; which includes everyone.
Pseudo-profound bullshit is unfortunately highly common in many parts of academia, and in the social sciences more so than we would like to think. Even in reputedly “positivist” scholarship I suspect that pseudo-profound bullshit is widespread. I guess a convenient heuristics with which to detect it is the number of non-self explanatory theoretical terms. My bet is that there is an exponential relationship between the incidence of pseudo-profound bullshit and the number of non self-explanatory theoretical terms.