Brandolini’s law

Over the last few weeks, this picture has been circulating on the Internet. According to RationalWiki, that sentence must be attributed to Alberto Brandolini, an Italian independent software development consultant [1]. I’ve checked with Alberto and, unless someone else claims paternity of this absolutely brilliant statement, it seems that he actually is the original author. Here is what seems to be the very first appearance of what must, from now on, be known as the Brandolini’s law (or, as Alberto suggests, the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle):

To be sure, a number of people have made similar statements. Ironically, it seems that the “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” quote isn’t from Mark Twain but a slightly modified version of Charles Spurgeon’s “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on” (1859) which, in turn, might be inspired by Jonathan Swift’s “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” (1710). Always according to RationalWiki, the concept may also refer to the teoria della montagna di merda (“the Bullshit Mountain Theory”) as postulated by Uriel Fanelli, another Italian.

Anyway, there are a number of reasons to credit Brandolini and, apart from the overwhelmingly elegant formulation, the fact it’s not that much about the speed of dissemination of bullshit but rather about the inherent difficulty to refute bullshit. There are plenty of examples ranging from the “Friedman was Pinochet’s mentor” story to the infamous “loi de 1973” in France [2].

So, from now on, I’ll refer to the Brandolini’s law (a.k.a. the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle) which states that:
The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

[1] It’s actually Alberto on the picture. It was taken at XP2014 on May 30th, 2014.
[2] A conspiracy theory developed by far-right/left politicians in France over the last years.

30 commentaires:

  1. Cela s'applique-t-il, pensez-vous, à l'alarmisme climatique. A la lumière de larticle sur la loi de 1973, (techniquement j'ai deux yeux deux oreilles et pas de cravate), je me demande qui des uns ou des autres complote. Amicalement

  2. It's something I've been discussing for years. It's also a very poor estimate. Simply casting an existing idea in pseudo-science ("order of magnitude" is just using buzz words) isn't sufficient to dub something as a law, let alone name it after the person who does it. Sorry, but posting an image on the Internet doesn't qualify either.

    1. I would like to sympathise, if you feel you have been undercut from due credit for a brilliant idea. But really, "Murphy's Law" and "Godwin's Law" didn't enter popular culture via peer review. This deserves its place

    2. Robert Marchenoir18/07/2014 16:01

      Roger, you're missing the point.

      It's obvious this does not pretend to be a scientific law, but an astute observation on human failings. As such, it's very true. And useful.

    3. Take it from one who knows: Life is easier to understand when one does not strive to be literal every minute of every day. Such an approach also helps one's ability to sense humor when he encounters it.

    4. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par l'auteur.

    5. And now with the above, we have conclusive proof that the energy expended towards refuting bullshit is an order larger in magnitude than that required in producing it.

    6. I'm not sure that this is supposed to be a scholarly endeavor but frequently citing Rational Wiki as the sole source greatly limits the credibility. In most cases students are not allowed to quote Wiki's but are challenged to find the original source.

    7. Herber,
      Agreed. The thing is this post wasn’t supposed to match the standards of academia. I wrote it for my own amusement.

  3. The language of this aphorism--and Roger Gay's comment--certainly reflect the scientism of our times. But aphorisms are not to be taken literally. Indeed, I've never seen a truth wearing shoes. Or boots.

  4. In other words, he's basically redundantly aphorism-ifying "Gish Gallop" from the other direction.

  5. I promulgated what I term the "mountain of lies technique" as a debating strategy, terming it simply as rate of lies > rate of rebuttal. In about 2012.

  6. Bullshit Baffles Brains is a long-standing English proverb, dating back to at least 1970.

    1. Soul o' wit brevity + alluring alliteration (and, looking deeper, levels of meaning) make that one hell of a corollary proverb, Moor. Never heard it here in the "sorrowful Midwest" (Bright Eyes, Gold Mine Gutted), so gratitude to you.

  7. "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit" -OR- "If you can't baffle them with brilliance, dazzle them with bullshit." Obviously, there are 2 more iterations / variations of this exact linguistic construction.

  8. So why does the BS look so good to begin with? Accepting it -- even creating it -- is a blunder. But I am also tempted to say that every big blunder first looks like a brilliant prospect.

  9. The academic world has spread bullshit since the acceptance of words. Regardless of who or what people agree, popular acceptance will endure. No matter who can take credit for this quote,the logic is still present. Still a problem, a menace to human evolution .human progress in academic freedom. It's harder to belive then to imagine what truth really looks like. Anyone or myself can spin this quote 2 ways to sunday,but the fact will never change. Listen to the point .the logic . That's what's important.

    1. The academic world has spread bullshit since the acceptance of words. Regardless of who or what people agree, popular acceptance will endure. No matter who can take credit for this quote,the logic is still present. Still a problem, a menace to human evolution .human progress in academic freedom. It's harder to belive then to imagine what truth really looks like. Anyone or myself can spin this quote 2 ways to sunday,but the fact will never change. Listen to the point .the logic . That's what's important

  10. Roger Cays criticism is classic fallacy of composition. If some small part of an argument is false, all of it is. Since measurement of the amount of energy expended in creating or refuting bullshit is not practically possible, an estimate will have to do. It's called a heuristic approach. Same is true of Moores law. The precise amount of time to double computer power is not precisely measurable however the "law" is a good approximation.

  11. Why dont we speak of this with respect to evolution. The evolutionary fitness of a species of bullshit is totally dependent on the rapid evolution of a truthful selective force to eliminate that species. That truthful selective force is in an evolutionary arms race where the truthful selective force force is at a competitive disadvantage a temporal disadvantage as the bullshit species has already had an opportunity to ruin the environment of truth eroding the very environment of knowledge. Ruben Mejia

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  13. In Romania we have a proverb „Un nebun aruncă o piatră în apă și zece înțelepți se chinuie să o scoată.”, which literally means "A madman throws a stone into the water and ten wise men have trouble taking it out." Its metaphorical meaning is pretty much the same as what you call "Brandolini's law", and I'm sure this proverb is much older than Brandolini himself.

    1. Thanks for this. I added it to my personal file (although I don't speak a word of romanian^^)


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  16. Before Brandolini assymetry law, Gilad Lotan in 2011 proved that on tweeter Incorrect information (fake, hoax, etc.) travels farther, faster on Twitter than corrections

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