The science of bullshit

[Photo source:]

By Joe America

Science is the discipline of discovering new truths. Statistics are the stuff of scientists and liars alike.

I learned a little bit about statistics in college, which is one reason I joined the army right away. To get away from it. But then, later in life, I found the disciplines useful in my job, which was for a while to identify where to put new bank branches. I used a technique called “regression analysis” to statistically compute, based on existing branches, the characteristics of a branch that contributed to branch success. Factors like population density, wealth, growth, competition, street traffic volumes, number of businesses, and so forth were measured. From that I fabricated a statistical model to calculate branch deposit account growth rate, average balances of accounts, runoff rates, and so forth for prospective new branches.

This was a great improvement over the thumb against the horizon method, and helped me get promoted fast.

An unfortunate side effect was that my brain got warped and now I tend to index everything. I like ranking people, or concocting rating methods, or admiring the Transparency International survey outputs. It is possible to assign numbers to about anything. For example, we could index Philippine government officials based on expectations of the number of years they would spend in prison if they were found guilty of participating in sedition or undermining the Constitution and rule of law. Just speaking hypothetically, for instance, we might produce an index that looked something like:

  • Cayetano: 40 years
  • Aguirre: 35 years
  • Alvarez: 30 years
  • Gordon: 30 years
  • Calida: 30 years
  • Pimentel: 30 years
  • Panelo: 25 years
  • Andanar: 20 years
  • De Castro: 15 years
  • Uson: 10 years

Well, that is not science, is it? It is just a list, something this government seems to admire. But if we got 100 people to do the rating, we would be moving toward science. And if we got 100 attorneys to do it, our output might be more statistically firm because they know law. That presumes they are moral attorneys, an assumption that I know weakens the idea a lot, because such characters are hard to find, particularly in the Philippines.

Still, we could rate until we are blue in the face and would not get to a confirmed fact until courts acted and we could enter the real data as to how many years they got. But science is valuable because it pushes us toward that factual understanding. It tries to narrow the unknowns, and thus helps us to figure things out.

One understanding derived from our example might be “impunity is temporary”.

Prior to the actual factual finding in our example, we would just be working within what the statisticians call “degrees of confidence”. That’s what scientists actually do. They calculate the probabilities an event will actually happen, a skill not unknown to my bookie, Sal. However, I rather suspect that if we promoted our findings as science, we’d get thrown out of most mathematics halls and sent to the English building to work up some fiction.

But I’m getting off track.

What I really want to define statistically is the level of bullshit emanating from government officials. We have such a large base of subjects who can give us good readings. For example, the populists like Senator Poe are always slathering popular icing on their statements, thus loading them up with smarmy irrelevance. But that is not as serious as the emanations from Foreign Affairs Secretary Cayetano who is busy giving us hefty dollops of Chinese “patriotics” that totally undermine a certain sovereign truth, that you can’t defend the Philippines by giving it to China. But the worst is probably Justice Secretary Aguirre who has developed the practice of paying crooks to lie in order to imprison the innocent. Boy howdy, that is bullshit in its finest aroma.

So  . . . continuing our statistical discussion . . . we might come up with the following “Philippine Bullshit Rating” (PBR) based on an index from zero. . . something akin to a lovely halo halo special from Max’s chicken house . . . to 100 . . . rather like a huge fly-covered pile of fresh carabao leavings in the middle of the farm to market road.

  • Aguirre: 100
  • Cayetano: 99
  • Uson: 99
  • Alvarez: 99
  • Roque: 98
  • Gordon: 95
  • Calida: 93
  • Pimentel: 90
  • Poe: 88
  • Angara: 85
  • Pernia: 50
  • Tetangco: 35
  • Trillanes: 10
  • Hontiveros: 8
  • Aquino (B): 6
  • Robredo: 2

Well, one person’s reading is not science. But 100 people could push our level of confidence up, and 200 would be even better.

But sometimes it is too much work to be statistically rigorous. For example, it is pretty commonly known that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. We don’t need to measure the probabilities.

And we can say with complete and utter confidence that Philippine government officials will go out tomorrow with straight faces and earnest demeanor to spout something other than the honest, earnest truth.

Then they will go home to their families as if they were honorable.


56 Responses to “The science of bullshit”
  1. buwayahman says:

    You left out Acosta

  2. Even the carabaos are smelling the bullshit already.

    Most probably, their nostrils are widened in disbelief.

  3. NHerrera says:

    When you apply statistics to bullshit, then the word and the concept gets elevated to science. It’s about time. Thanks, Joe.

    My takeaways from the article:

    – I learned a little bit about statistics in college, which is one reason I joined the army right away. To get away from it.

    – But then, later in life, I found the disciplines useful in my job … and helped me get promoted fast.

    – But sometimes it is too much work to be statistically rigorous. For example, it is pretty commonly known that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. We don’t need to measure the probabilities.

    And to my last takeaway, I agree your PBR (“Philippine Bullshit Rating”) is not needed for the likes of the first 10 you listed because as you described, the top of the PBR is rather like a huge fly-covered pile of fresh carabao leavings in the middle of the farm to market road. And that describes to a T the top of your “honor” roll:

    Aguirre, Cayetano, Uson, Alvarez, Roque, Gordon, Calida, Pimentel, Poe, Angara.

    Is this your way of doing a “Passion” during the Christian Holy Week, Joe. It seems to qualify, metaphorically.

    • NHerrera says:

      And so we are fair at TSH, generally speaking the blogs and comments here are less than 50 on the PBR scale, or mathematically:

      TSH Blogs and Comments < 50 on the PBR scale.

      Just going with the flow of your mathematical mind, Joe. 🙂

    • I noodled about whether I wanted to descend to the current vernacular or not, and then decided it will prove that I am really hip, to use Duterte-speak casually as if it were the only choice available. Hyperbole is where you find it, and there is a lot of it these days.

  4. josephivo says:

    … and then comes the next level questions in science, “why?” and “how”. Plain stupidity, self-interest, for the greater good, to please the master, all of the above? Followed by “what is the digestion process that produces the BS and what fodder is required?”. Only when we have it all mapped we can start to select cattle that produces less or less polluting BS.

    P.S.: The university of Maastricht, the Netherlands, is making a lot of progress in producing lab-meat, bypassing the need for animals to do so. They foresee the first trials of artificial real meat burgers on the market in 5 years and common usage in 10 years. Old fashion BS producers only to be seen in zoo’s?

  5. edgar lores says:

    1. I remember when I was in elementary school in the province, must have been either Grade 4 or Grade 5, we were asked to collect cow pies to fertilize our school garden projects. I believe they were carabao pies actually. (Refer to photo.)

    1.1. Thus on some Saturdays, I would go around the surrounding fields, with an empty rice sack, and collect the brown pies.

    1.2. As I recall, the pies could be graded by their time in the sun and their general quality. To the best of my recollection, there were 4 grades:

    1.2.1. Finest. These were pies that were bake dried by the sun, light gray in color, and were wholly intact. When applied to the garden, the pies would break into easily handled pieces.

    1.2..2. Medium. These were pies that were not wholly cured by the sun and had a darker gray tinge in some areas along the circumference. They could be collected.

    1.2.3. Fresh. These were brown and needed further curing. Not to be touched.

    1.2.4. Riddled. These were between Fresh and Medium but were not whole. They were riddled with holes by battalions of dung beetles. Also not to be touched.

    2. Sorry to spoil your meal, but would there be a similar way of sorting the bullshit from the three branches of government?

    2.1. I guess most bullshit from the alter egos of the president would be graded as Fresh.

    2.2. And those coming from Congress would differ according to which chamber they were ejected from. Medium from the Senate, and Riddled from the Lower house.

    2.3. The bullshit from Duterte would be Fresh as well… but it would contain a secret rejuvenating agent that would make them fresher than Fresh even after 3 to 6 months’ exposure to the sun. Maniwala kayo.

    2.4. Of course, the bullshit from the Judiciary would be of the Finest quality. They were not carelessly and verbally spewed like the offerings from Cayetano or Roque. No, no, no. They were offered in san serif Verdana with portions emboldened and embiggened in Latin. And would tail out with the imperious “So ordered.”

    • NHerrera says:

      There you go: an edgar categorization of “pies” across all three branches of the government!

      • NHerrera says:


        I like the dung quality you assigned to the Judiciary. When actuations or decisions are couched with some Latin — it always impresses me — it can’t be but the finest quality, however stenchful it is.

      • NHerrera says:

        A translation from Latin.

    • chemrock says:

      There is another category of poop you missed out. Its messy, very liquid, it’s mass is splattered on the floor, and it trails for a few feet as the animal moves, and if you had the opportunity to witness it’s production, you will notice traces of the materials around the posterior body as it gushes out the orifice. This is diarrhea and it comes from animals infected with bacteria in their intestines.

      I would arbitrarily posit those ranked above the 70% index chart has this kind of shit. The ground zero of the bacteria infestation is Malacanang Palace.

      Josephino asked for the whys and the hows, presumably so that proper treatment can be extended. When the bacteria is in the intestines, as an auto-reaction, water seeps through the intestinal walls providing the liquidity to flush stuff out. So do we find a means to stop the water seeping through, or something to kill the bacteria, or to determine what toxic stuff has been consumed. Most will take Laparamide to stop the watery flow. The real problem is the stuff they consume at ground zero. You eat bullshit, you get diarrhea.

      • karlgarcia says:

        I don’t know if carabaos gets their daily dose of antibiotics like cattle, pigs and chickens.
        These makes them and us more vulnerable because the probiotics gets destroyed by antibiotics and much worse it causes super germs, germs immune to antibiotics.
        And the more we eat them, it is more like going to the pharmacy and ordering unprescribed antibiotics.

        Having said all of that, this will also cause the people mentioned to have verbal diarhea more because what they don’t fart, they belch.

      • edgar lores says:

        Thank you for the refinement and the additional grade!

        1.2.5. Liquid. These are pies in the making.


        Come to think of it, we have now mentioned two of the three distinct physical states of matter — solids, liquids, and gases.

        I am not sure that bullshit can take the other two forms of plasma and Bose-Einstein condensates. Gas is another matter… and we shall consider it.

        We know that bovine methane emissions are a significant factor in global warming. Thus:

        1.2.6. Gas. This is bullshit aroma — popularly known as a fart — that is emitted before the solid/liquid forms exit the body. We will compare them to the trial balloons and fake news that the bullshit artists send out to test/influence public opinion.

        Unless there are other observations, I hereby declare our poop analysis is… complete!

        • chemrock says:

          What about those shit that refuse to come out?

          About farts – I heard in cabinet meetings, every one encored the effusion from a cankerous mouth and after almost 2 years, putang-fatigue has set in.

    • Hahaha, that’s soooo scientific. I’m afraid I will have to defer further commentary until my laughing dies down.

    • Sup says:



  6. NHerrera says:

    Off topic

    JKU and his country may be strong by possessing nuclear bombs and missiles, but plays the part of a subservient vassal to China and Xi. Guess who also plays the vassal even more, notwithstanding his self-trumpeting and acting as a strongman.

  7. chemrock says:

    Sorry Joe, pls delete the ealier comment. The tabulation did’nt work out right.

    Ratings for me :

    Cayetano: 100
    Alvarez: 99
    Calida: 99
    Aguirre: 99
    This is the group of Executioners, active enablers. They are the intelligent, educated people who knew exactly what they are doing are wrong. It’s a case of “Father, for they know what they are doing”. They are the seeds that fell off the toxic plant from Davao.

    Pimentel: 89
    Gordon: 85
    Roque: 85
    Same educated class who knows exactly what is happening. They know the rights from the wrong. They go with the flow not because they are part of the plan, but their own game plan is best served to toe the Malacanang line, at least for the moment.

    Poe: 79
    Angara: 79
    These are intelligent people who ought to know better, but has no galls to rock the boat. Better be safe than sorry types, who thus ocassionaly pray at the altar of the dictator

    Uson: 69
    This group came off the Dunning-Kruger production line. There are lots of of them — Sass Sagot, Nieto, Kat de Castro, etc etc. They do lots of damages but some of their acts will return to haunt Davao. They think they are some smart ass storm troopers for the “Change is coming” scam but unable to see they are nothing more than opportunists out for the 15 minutes of fame and to quench their thirst for the feel of exhilaration they feel when close to the centre of powers. I put these lower on the totem pole because it’s a case of “Father, for they know not what they do”.

    Pernia: 50
    Technocrats who just go about their job. They shut their minds off wrong-doings by their team members. Professionals who reasoned his own portfolio is the only thing that matters. They are not politicians like Roxas who quit the team when the boss grows corrupted.

    Trillanes: 20
    Aquino (B): 10
    Hontiveros: 2
    Tetangco: 2
    Robredo: 0
    The A team, not perfect, but who perseveres for the sake of national interest not personal gain. I have Leni at perfect 0 because I have never seen or read her lie.

    • Actually, that describes generally what was going through my mind, but you’ve fine-tuned it. Interesting where you have Tetangco. I tend to see him as being more of a house man, willing to describe the economy in terms that are most favorable to the President rather than hard-nosed objective.

      • NHerrera says:

        Re Tetangco: perhaps top officers of the BSP tend to tenor their statements like the US Fed Reserve Board, whose every member’s word may give the wrong jolt to the market?

      • chemrock says:

        Tetangco exudes the kind of confidence required of a central banker. Steady and calm as a rock. There are very few people in Philippines that has his stature. I think he is above the fray. I have never seen him being politically tainted, not even in Pnoy’s term. He played a crucial role in helping to navigate the ship with the Pnoy admin to a stellar performance for the country. He could have carried on another term had he lobbied for it. I guess Tetangco and Gilberto Teodoro are 2 wise men who walked away from the power centre and spared their family name being dragged down into the shit.

        • NHerrera says:

          I have said several times in the past that for as long as the SC behaves generally above the fray of politics, we are going to be fine. I definitely cannot say that anymore. But the BSP through the years have behaved admirably. Except during the time of Marcos?

          • chemrock says:

            Marcos was an exceptional man. He was president, SC supremo, great builder who can build anything without savings, fantastic magician who can make money and gold disappear before your very eyes, one of two Philippines representative to appear in the esteemed list of top crooks in the world, who can run an economy backwards in record time, can also make people disappear, a great progenitor who can clone offsprings in his liking, amongst other outstanding skills. Yeah he was a great man that’s why certain leader is trying to emulate him.

        • karlgarcia says:

          How would you rate the current BSP gov?
          Espenilla is almost 1 year in office.

    • NHerrera says:

      Apt explanatory notes to go with the PBR rating. Sounds like a member of the A Team.

  8. edgar lores says:

    As perfect scoring as perfect can be.

  9. Popoy Del R. Cartanio says:

    This particular piece este Blog is a wakagen, a WAKAGEN (that’s a Yell from a street corner). It’s one of the few exceptions from the TSoH so many posted here. In Melchor Hall in Loakan, Baguio, the plebe must answer the question: “What’s a WAKAGEN dumbjohn?” The answer: “Wakagen is a summation sir. Sir it is the thoughts of the person sir, and the impact of the thoughts sirrr. IT IS GENIUS, S i r r r r r r.”

    “I am not impressed dumbflicket, give me 20.”

    That’s a language osmosis for Popoy who was imagining he was a COW seemed to have imbibed during a short visit, sometime in January 1958 (2018-1958 equals 60 years ago) and may no longer be spoken there. The pecking order of the poultry then was immaculate, cow, yearling and plebe.

    • Popoy Del R. Cartanio says:

      Before knowing this piece is a Wakagen, the photo illustration brings back memories of 1956 the time we were taught in Los Banos how to tell the age of a carabao by counting the notches in its horns (the age of horses by the dental state of their molars). The animal (Bus Philippenensis) is truly Filipino in behaviour and character.

      Monching Magsaysay banned the slaughter of carabaos, the Filipino farmers’ best buddy.

      I thought the appropriate photo to depict the fighting character of an Andres Bonifacio will be our national animal the Bubalus Mindorensis, the TAMARAW fast going (if not already) extinct in the island of Mindoro (Mina de Oro). Oh Yes, I retract and must qualify symbolism of the two bovinaes, The carabao photo depicts the WHAT IS the state of the here and now, a photo of the Tamaraw should reflect the WHAT OUGHT TO BE of the near future.

      • Popoy Del R. Cartanio says:

        Yes of course, about regression I got to say something about it too, but later. For now, regression analysis is, may be like thinking rocket science. Regression (and progression) could be also thinking like time travel. Abangan, Eh.

  10. karlgarcia says:

    More carabao dung.

    Because we are supposed to be happy that the families of OFWs can spend more pesos and our exports can bring in more pesos, our debt swelled to a record high.

    And soon to be higher thanks to funding farm to market roads.

    All forecasts of chemrock is coming to fruition.
    We are doomed.

  11. chemrock says:

    Off Topic

    Found this interesting page at Cambridge University. As you know, CU is the one pissed off with Cambridge Analytica.

    Do a free online check on your psychometric profile based on your facebook likes and data, and twitter also if you have it.

    The reading in my case was amazingly accurate. AI is frightening.

    • Fascinating. Based on my Twitter profile I tend toward Liberal and Artistic (62%), Impulsive and Spontaneous (44%), Contemplative (34%), Competitive (37%), and Easily Stressed and Emotional (54%) . . . where average is 50% on all measures.

      The analysis says:

      Openness to experience describes a dimension of personality that distinguishes imaginative, creative people from down-to-earth, conventional people.

      Your digital footprint suggests that you are intellectually curious and appreciative of what you consider beautiful, no matter what others think. You might say that your imagination is vivid and makes you more creative than many others.

      Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses.

      Your digital footprint suggests that you are random and fun to be around but can also plan and persist when life requires it. It appears that depending on the situation, you can make quick decisions or deliberate for longer if necessary.

      Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world, versus being comfortable with your own company.

      Your digital footprint suggests that you are similar to people who prefer low-key social occasions, with a few close friends. You might say that it’s not that you are afraid of large parties; they’re just not that fun for you.

      Agreeableness reflects individual differences in concern with cooperation and social harmony.

      Your digital footprint suggests that you can find it difficult to get along with others when you first meet them. You might be suspicious of others’ motives in this situation. It also looks like people warm to you over time, and you to them, although that doesn’t stop you telling them “how it is”.

      Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions.

      Your digital footprint suggests that you are generally calm. You come across as someone who can feel emotional or stressed out by some experiences, but your feelings tend to be warranted by the situation.

      My Jungian Personality Type is pegged at INTP, which is at variance from my Myers Briggs assessment of a number of years ago, which was INFJ, right on the border between F/T and P/J. Ambidextrous, I guess.

      It is a fair assessment from 598 tweets.

  12. madlanglupa says:

    Gonna drag them out of the Portakabin, dig a pit, drop all that shit then burn them with diesel.

    In this case, I would use high-octane gasoline and white phosphorus. Phogas ’em.

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