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Bullshitters: Who Are They and What Do We Know about Their Lives? [pdf] (iza.org)
350 points by etxm 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 260 comments



It's important to note that this study focuses on data from 15-year-olds taking a math test. I assert that drawing broad conclusions based on that sample is suspect and may be, in fact, bullshit itself.


The authors only claim to have strong results for the studied demographics, make further remarks about other possible biases, and argue these results provide some insight and encourage further research.

This is perfectly fine. Not all fields have the luxury of perfectly controlled lab experiments. If we applied the methodological discipline of experimental physics to social sciences, we might as well give up now.

In the abstract they say:

"Despite this being a well-known and widespread social phenomenon, relatively few large-scale empirical studies have been conducted into this issue. This paper attempts to fill this gap in the literature by examining teenagers’ propensity to claim expertise in three mathematics constructs that do not really exist."

"we find substantial differences in young people’s tendency to bullshit across countries, genders and socio-economic groups"

"Together this provides important new insight into who bullshitters are and the type of survey responses that they provide."

In the conclusions they say:

"There are of course limitations to this study, and many issues on the topic of bullshitting that remain unexplored. First, the PISA data analysed are cross-sectional rather than longitudinal. We therefore do not know whether bullshitting is a stable trait that can be consistently observed for an individual over time, or if it is something that changes with age (and the factors associated with such change)."

Their strongest claim appears to be: "Despite these limitations, we believe this paper has started to open an important new area of social science research"


> The authors only claim...

Bullshit!

The authors wrote an article entitled "Bullshitters: Who Are They and What Do We Know about Their Lives?"

That's the title of the piece. Not "some possibly generalizable observations about the behavior of 15 year olds"

Sure, the paper's contents contain the massive CAVEAT EMPTORs, but that's exactly how bullshit works in academic writing.

Bold titles, sweeping statements in introductions and conclusions. But enough profuse caveats sprinkled around that you can always say to anyone who takes a closer look "no see I mentioned exactly what I meant on page N"...


I agree with your point. 15 year old boys are by no means a good sample for the population as a whole. I would argue 15 year old boys are in fact one of the worst samples for this study. Aren't boys going through puberty known to be reckless and shortsighted?


Exactly boys are cognitively less developed than girls at that age. The fact that the authors of the study did not control for this well-known fact suggests to me that the study is just more clickbait academic bullshit.


If you’re going to study something, study it where you can best measure it. Develop your tools and methods. Create theories on this and apply them to new, more difficult domains... hopefully get feedback and insights from the larger community as you progress. Science proceeds at a pace and through a process.


To some extent, I agree. However, 15-year-olds are the direct result of their parents' attitudes and teachings so their foundations have largely been established by that point. Put another way: if children are raised by bullshitters who never cared if their children are also full of crap, then that 15-year-old will likely continue on that path forever, unless they have a serious epiphany.

As an American, I am so disgusted by lies that I refused to bullshit my kids about Santa Claus. I informed them that it was utter bullshit but that they were not to ever tell other kids the truth because that was between them and their parents. It really gave my kids an entirely different perspective on American culture and the mass insanity (however benign it is considered) that entire cultures can adopt as the status quo.

Personally I felt that weaving an absurd yarn about something so important for the overall culture in general and for the kids in particular was only going to damage my credibility with my kids later when they finally learned the truth, that truth being that I had foisted a ridiculous lie upon them since before they could remember.

It is my conclusion that the vast majority of what people consider their precious traditions are nothing more than excuses to continue to act badly in the face of a lack of critical thinking.


That was a strange choice. Did they have cheap access to high school students?

It's a recognized problem in psychology that much research is the study of college undergrads, because they're available for free. More recently, there's the use of Mechanical Turk for studies, which means the population studied is people really desperate to work for peanuts.

Now a study of job applicants... that would be more interesting.


But the paper is very clear about that limitations.


no it doesn't. it's 15-year-olds self-reporting on how familiar they are with mathematical topics, some of which are made up.


It's interesting the definition of bullshit in this study:

> ‘Bullshitters’ are individuals who claim knowledge or expertise in an area where they actually have little experience or skill.

compared to the definition that the philosopher Harry Fankfurt came to in his book On Bullshit, and that this study references:

> bullshit is speech intended to persuade without regard for truth. The liar cares about the truth and attempts to hide it; the bullshitter doesn't care if what they say is true or false, but rather only cares whether their listener is persuaded.

The key difference being, these teenagers might still have regard for the truth, they think they know it and believe they know it. But they're still bullshitters under the definition used in this study. Intention seems to have been discarded in this study when I think it plays a very big part, especially among teens. The specific context of a situation might mean certain individuals are inclined to overclaim vs others because they have different reasons to.


On Bullshit is one of my favorite books from long ago, thanks for reminding me about it, I just found my old copy and looking forward to digging through it again!


Literally everywhere? I don't think I've worked in a work environment to date where at least half of anyone in a management position was not a complete BSer. It honestly made me wonder if that's what it takes to move up.


Clearly not if only half of management are bullshitters. It's also not exclusive to management: I've met plenty of rank-and-file developers who specialize in talking shite.


The difference is that if you're an IC you generally have to produce actual work that will be evaluated at some point. It's of course possible to BS your way into showing your manager you did more than you actually did or better than what you actually produced. If you're in management, then your job becomes mostly talking/meetings, which is much more conducive to "hand waving," which is probably why there are so many BSers who end up thriving in those roles.


No way. Plenty of people drift through life getting other people to do work for them.


Bullshitters are good at presenting the work they're doing as very challenging even when it's trivial, so they can also just ride simple a task for a long time.


If there's a team of any substantial size, it's quite easy to BS your way in a contributor position for a year or two, and then hop to the next job.


I have been thinking about that too. I go to work to do interesting technical stuff and deal with political stuff only as necessary. That's what motivates me. But I think it would be much better to go there for the purpose of self-advancement and only do stuff that serves that purpose.


I'm 17 pages in and I am wondering if the paper itself is bullshit and that's the joke.


Your comment was published 20 minutes after the submission. If you were 17 pages at that point, it makes me wonder if you were just pointing out that you found the paper somewhat insulting.


I was skimming.


if you skimmed the questions in the survey, you might be a bullshitter


If it's not bullshit, then I definitely need a ELI5 explanation of this: https://imgur.com/38CXnRx


This is my interpretation as someone who has never seen this type of study and is giving the authors the benefit of the doubt:

Take Table 3. The outcome "O_ij" for each student's "views of abilities" is the scale score (split into self-efficacy and problem solving). The table shows bullshitters think they're awesome, giving positive scores (higher than the mean). Bullshitters were previously categorized into four groups by asking questions about what math terms they were familiar with, including terms that don't exist (maybe they were familiar with 0,1,2, or 3 of the fake terms)

Control for other factors by adding levers for achievement, socio-economic status, gender and school. These are the capital letters, set by test scores, etc. Students from each school will have a different u_j, probably higher for higher-performing schools B.S. is probably a matrix of ones, or 1-4, or something.

Perform a regression (let a computer do some matrix math to solve for unknown variables), using all of the students as data points. Each student will end up with a different set of italic letters indicating how much the capital letters influence their outcome, with students who are similar in one aspect sharing similar (or equal, depending on how they set up the problem) values for that italicized letter. For table 3, it looks like the study claims students who have been identified as bullshitters end up with higher beta values ("regression results").

It's possible this explanation is bullshit, though.


The paper seems to provide an insight to 15-year-olds' bullshit... but I'm not sure if this also applies to our society as a whole


Same boat friend, same boat.


Please explain


I dislike bullshitters and I've unfortunately had to work with many.

I read the paper and something that really stuck out at me is how bullshitters were more likely to actually try and understand the problem than non bullshitters.

Page 25: I think about what might have caused the problem and what I can do to solve it Non bullshitters: 85% Bullshitters: 90%

I study a map and work out the best route Non bullshitters: 55% Bullshitters: 71%

Interestingly, the non-bullshitters were more likely to try and put off the work to someone else: I leave it to my brother to worry about how to get there Non bullshitters: 34% Bullshitters: 27%

Another shocking thing for me was that bullshitters viewed themselves as having more perseverance and perfectionism: When confronted with a problem, I give up easily Non bullshitters: 17% Bullshitters: 8%

When confronted with a problem, I do more than what is expected of me Non bullshitters: 28% Bullshitters: 45%

I really didn't expect this. It's got me thinking.


The "bullshitter" metric actually used is highly correlated with people trying to choose the "correct" answer to the questions.

I'm not sure that people trying to conform to the correct answer in a survey/test is particularly well correlated with what most people would consider "bullshitters" in life though (the guy selling vaporware with fake testimonials, the guy who can confidently talk at great length on a subject without actually saying anything meaningful, the guy that's having lots and lots of sex with amazing girls every night but they all go to another school) who are being creative rather than conformist in how they present themselves.

[FWIW it probably also picks up a fair few kids who ticked their familiarity with 'proper numbers' because they studied proper and improper fractions quite recently and understood it very well, though those who [also] asserted familiarity with "subjunctive scaling" have fewer excuses...]


I don't find this surprising at all. People who lie, first lie to themselves. In many cases I suspect they're being entirely genuine and don't see where they fall short of their own self-assessment.


But the bullshitters are proven to be bullshitting the survey...


I'm amazed Ireland is so low on the bullshit scale. I feel like we're amazingly good at it. Actually I would say that the country is full of quite subtle bullshitters. I think they gamed the test.


Hey, it's quite common to each country to see themselves as the best in some things that everyone have.

I've been around South America and each country has a word for "McGyverism" because they see themselves as resourceful. The funny part? Every one of them say they are the only one with a word just for it.

Same goes with bullshit, people in Rio de Janeiro think they're best in bullshiterry in the world. NYers claim the same, and Chinese street vendors in Shenzhen area too.

It's just normal for human groups to see themselves this ways and even take proud of it


I have only visited Ireland as a tourist, and my impression was that the Irish very much like to tell stories to anyone who will listen, or even to random innocent tourists who are waiting on a train platform. Telling stories is not bullshitting however, but maybe this is a cultural tradition that makes the people aware of bullshitting in a way that affects the test scores?


Immigrants scored higher on the bullshit scale(survival tactic?) and accordingly countries with high immigration rates scored higher as well.


I imagine a good bullshitter would also be a good antibullshitter (wait for a situation where one could conceivably bullshit, and, if someone tries, press them in a way that will reveal what they’re doing if they are bullshitting, and be harmless if they aren’t)


I also imagine the converse. A good antibullshitter can be a passable bullshitter.

If you know which patterns peg your bogometer, you can avoid using them yourself in situations where you need to be believed.

For instance, I know that logorrhea, babbling, and "the gallop" are strong indicators of deception. The bull can always shit faster than the farmer can shovel it. So when I want to be believed, I could pause after every point, and maybe take some strawmen from a partially-scripted faux-skeptic conspirator so I can knock them down.


I think that’s actually a stereotype about the Irish, at least in the US.


I consider myself to be an anti-bullshitter. I once said in a job interview that I knew nothing about the technology they were hiring for, but I was pretty sure I could take a decent stab at it.

I was telling the truth.

I got the job.


"I don't know" is such an underappreciated phrase (followed with action to remedy that).


We had an interviewee (is that a word?) today who said that he didn't know and to me that was a reason to hire him.


> We had an interviewee (is that a word?) today who said that he didn't know and to me that was a reason to hire him.

I've seen this in interviews too, but my experience on this response is a bit mixed. I appreciate the honesty, but saying you don't know is a dead-end to solving the problem. A better response would be "I don't know X, but it sounds similar to Y which I solved by ...". Even if X and Y are not closely related, it at least shows they have the ability to make these mental connections.


I'd say quite possibly so...if he also followed that up with "...but I could find out." (or something similar).

Saying "I don't know" is one thing - it's good to admit one's lack of knowledge.

Being able to then follow it up with the will to expand their knowledge - that is valuable IMHO.


Yes it was clear that he acquired his other knowledge through hard work and interest.


Maybe it is a word, but I think candidate is a more generally accepted term


Ah thank you, I know that word and now I have no idea why I made it difficult for myself :D


I've had recently that experience as well. (We hired him.)


I usually take the "I don't know, but I would like to take a stab at it anyways" approach to interviews.

I make my competence on a subject clear. Ie. Did an assignment using this tool or read a few blogs so am aware of it and that's it. But a surprising number of times the problem isn't thay difficult despite my ignorance about it. You can often find a very close analogue to the unknown thing and then take it from there or let the tool itself function as a black box and design the requested system around it.

The plain "I don't know" - er while noble, can often be mistaken for incompetent when every other bulshitter claims to know it all.


Politicians that use it are extremely rare.


Ditto “I was wrong”


could be any of a number of reasons (or combination thereof) why you got that job.

* comparison to other candidates * truthfulness/honesty * track record * personality

At some point, the "I know nothing about this" really isn't all that true, especially for senior dev folks. I'm not sure there's much tech I couldn't say "I know nothing about X", because I understand fundamentals. I don't know much about a lot of tech - erlang/lisp/rust all spring to mind. But I understand variables, scoping, order of operations, etc - even if the behaviour is somewhat different from what I'm used to, I know some fundamentals that I didn't know in the beginning (or... were not muscle memory on day one).


Yeah, I am shortening the story. The interview lasted longer than that one sentance and we discussed the technology. I was aware of a lot of the principles behind it (and I had read up before the interview), I had just never used it. Like you say, for senior people that's probably the case with a lot of tech.


I think that was just honest, not anti-bullshit. It would be anti-bullshitting if you said you don’t know about some technology, but in fact you do.


In the past few months i've become increasingly aware that many successful people around me completely full of shit. They manage to get millions in investor capital or run financially successful businesses for years with horrible ideas and business practices. (selling coffee on the blockchain, changing business direction so often engineers can't finish their projects).

I'm trying to use this to build enough confidence for me to start my business ideas and pitch to investors. If these idiots can do it, why can't I?


Here's my counter theory of "bullshitters" that I imagine will be very unpopular on this forum. (Can you disagree without down voting?) Programmers (Engineers who really spend most their day programming) do intellectually difficult, solitary work. The quality of their work is often difficult to measure because its often easier to write your own code than really spend a lot of time figuring out someone else's code. So if you write code that works, you are hero. You are effective at doing something hard.

But because of this, many programmers I have worked with who admittedly are really smart, think they are head and shoulders above their peers, particularly those who aren't writing code. Being your own judge of the quality of your work distorts your perspective.

People who spend a lot of time programming are sometimes not outgoing or people who prefer interpersonal interactions over technical problems. If they are, they often become managers. If they are managers long enough they inevitably lose touch with the nuts and bolts of what the technical team is doing. They talk about things without understanding them nearly as well as the people on the front line of implementation. In the eyes of the people doing the technical work they can be seen as "bullshiters" who are less capable and less effective than the engineers.


The life skill secret is not how to bullshit, it's being able to tell whether someone knows when they are bullshitting, or if they don't even know when they are. Are they a Joker (who knows) or a Clown (who doesn't).

Jokers you can get in on the gag with. Clowns you have to avoid, because a clown is just a clown.


When job postings are full of trivial BS language, why complain that some people are completely serious about playing that BS game? It's a wart of contemporary corporate culture, particularly in the tech sector. When you are searching for a "blockchain expert to influence the team", you are attracting only extrovert types maybe with good communication abilities, not a modest and calm guy possessing a sense of inner pride for his work.


This is the issue. If your marketing, product, and hiring lingo is all self-aggrandizing BS, then your organization will come to reflect that same style. Tech companies are creating BS, communicating BS, and rewarding BS, so is it really such a surprise that the workers themselves have live/breath/eat BS in order to succeed? Those who don't embrace are seen as not fitting in to that organization's "corporate culture".


Not to mention the fact that if you really are searching for a "blockchain expert to influence the team" there's a higher chance the job itself is bullshit, because valid use cases for blockchain seem quite limited, which I suspect would put off many non-bullshitters.

People at work half-jokingly ask me when we're going to integrate blockchain into our platform because they know that, even though it'd sound good in the marketing literature and sales pitches, we have so far discovered no practical use for it and don't want to waste time and energy[1].

[1] Not just the team's energy: solving a problem at scale with blockchain is likely to be hugely inefficient in terms of infrastructure and power consumption.


I once read a wanted ad that described how their company was focused on AI, blockchains, UX, IOT, cloud computing and Big Data. That was the coveted bullshit, buzzword bingo I'd always heard about!


What they actually wanted: a WordPress theme


I recently put up a job post for a COO position for my company and the number of bullshitters with MBAs bragging about their accomplishments on blockchain has been astronomical. It’s amazing to me that bullshitting comes so naturally to some people that I almost wanted to interview them just to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.


Lower coefficient of bullshit in areas where people are likely to say "u wot m8"? Can't say I'm surprised.


The US has a long history as the land of the bullshitter - the snake-oil sales men, the Psychics and Tarot card readers, the self-help authors, the "business coaches", MLM... the list is endless.

And people love it so much they'll gladly get into debt for it and even vote for the king of Bullshit for president.


Ah, why did you have to spoil a great cultural observation with a contemporary political dig at the end?


But it's not political, really. Both parties have different politicians shoveling different bullshit to different people. Same game, different target audience.

That's not to say genuine people/products/value doesn't exist but you have to dig through so much bullshit to find any of it.


There's one thing here that I don't really get here. Take a look at this paragraph, on page 18:

> There are two primary threats to the validity of our interpretation of the results above. [...] A second possibility is that young people’s responses are reflecting social desirability bias; that they are providing responses that they believe will be viewed as positively by others (e.g. that they know various mathematics concepts, that they work hard at school etc). Both of these possibilities could lead to a spurious correlation between our bullshit index and the various other psychological traits investigated in the previous sub-section.

Huh?? What on earth does "bullshit" mean if not, y'know, giving socially-desirable answers rather than correct ones? (I mean, that's basically roughly how Frankfurt defined it.) Social desirability bias isn't a separate thing interfering with your measurement of bullshit; social desirability bias is bullshit (or rather, a cause of it).

I am quite confused as to how the authors are conceptualizing "bullshit" if their notion of it apparently excludes social desirability bias as a separate thing. That seems to me to be quite different from what anyone else means. I think some explanation is really required here.


> Huh?? What on earth does "bullshit" mean if not, y'know, giving socially-desirable answers rather than correct ones?

They are saying that social desirability bias in responding to the questions that are used to measure correlates of the bullshit scale could distort the correlations, not that social desirability bias on the questions used to measure the bullshit scale distorts the bullshit measurements.

Loosely, they are explaining a reason for concern that bullshitters might tend to bullshit more than other people, in a systematic direction, about traits with which the study is trying to assess the relationship to bullshitting, which might make the results bullshit.


Am I reading the data right? It has Canada as the top BS avg? Any ideas as to why this would be?


There is one point in the article - that "teenage boys are bigger bullshitters than teenage girls" - which I have independently verified. When conducting surveys using Google Surveys (surveys.google.com) on fact-based questions (such as asking what country is Aleppo in), men are ALWAYS more likely to select a random option, and women are almost always more likely to select "I don't know".


I think there are different kinds of BSer that people meet and that in a lot of cases they are just bundled together to facilitate our understanding of why they exist.

In reality, a lot of BSers are a byproduct of the environment society has created. In my opinion, two main factors come into play: information asymmetry and base expectation. I'll exemplify a single test case with multiple potential outcomes:

Consultant demos a solution and he believes he can deliver X item by Y date.

- He may truly believe that, even though he may not be accounting for factors that are outside his control

- Teams and society have always found a need to have someone(s) take the lead. Since folks have limited intel while having the need to guide others, they will sometimes wing it

- He may wing it because if he doesn't and says he is not certain, it becomes unacceptable to the other party

- He may bs because nobody has raised his lie before and if they did, the individual still found value in acting that way in the long run.

Sometimes we may not realize, but our actions or lack there of can have a direct impact on how others are incentivized to act


I think there's something missing in this discussion.

Do you know everything before you start $JOB? Do you have absolutely every last skill required to get the job done?

I can only speak for myself here. I know I haven't.

There have been cases where I only checked half the boxes for a job I was interviewing for.

I'm certainly not the only one that's been in such a scenario.

Impostor syndrome runs strong and screams loud in my ears. I own it. I live with it.

If I (or anyone else for that matter) were to only apply to jobs or pick up tasks where I knew everything required, I suspect I and a lot of other people wouldn't be doing much.

Does that make me a bullshitter? Where does one cross the line from authentic to bullshitter?

I'm not going to stop doing hard things, things I don't know everything about, just because I'm afraid of what someone will think of me. I don't recommend anyone take that approach.

Do hard things. Sell yourself. Be confident. And I'm speaking to myself, as well as to anyone else who cares to listen.


Why do all Ted Talks and KickStarter Promos sound the same to me? Do I have Bullshit Agnosia?

It's like there's this certain style of Archetypal Motivational Making The World A Better Place Inspiration Porn Bullshit that they're all striving for, and they all use the exact same music and slogans and rhythm and inflection.


Your comment reminded me of this clip (Silicon Valley): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-GVd_HLlps


The society rewards those “fake it until you make it” con. Sometimes it makes me wonder if the truth still matter anymore.


The worst part is when your bullshit detector is screaming, but other people (especially managers lacking the technical background) just can't see it. The bullshitter will often seek to have meetings with mgmt without any other technical people around, or only the most docile who feel reluctant to call out bullshit.

A common experience is that the bullshitter will behave semi-reasonably until they have stuffed up, and will then seek to cover up what happened, including by pathologically lying. If you are forced to work in a flat org structure with such a person you need to find another job, because otherwise their bullshit will come back to haunt you.


It seems like "bullshit", in the way that it is measured in this paper, is an analog to confidence and risk taking. The groups that were most likely to bullshit (high socio-economic status, male, immigrant, North American) are generally groups who have been exposed to strategic risk taking that has paid off. "Bullshitters", in the context of this paper, seem to be the ones who are willing to put their hands up and have the confidence to explore ideas and concepts that are at the fringes of their skill and knowledge sets. This is very different than the colloquial idea of a bullshitter.


This thread is totally surreal and meta enough to be n-gate's wet dream.


I'm not sure if this is helping anyone except making people who are not bullshitters more paranoid and the bullshitters be-hated. The bullshitters in the startup world don't get big because nobody realizes that they are talking a lot of bullshit but because those who collaborate with them are at least as greedy as they are. (I was also drinking the kool aid for some time.)

So the core problem is greed and not bullshit, and this is also what makes it toxic. FWIW even the most credible and knowledgeable people are able to fan out bullshit, everybody does this every now and then.


Bullshitting is really a booming business. Regardless of what your views are on him, when you juxtapose what the US president says and what is real, he's a bullshitter.


I've seen a class of people who are so insecure with their choice of technology that they have to put down rivals technology. I'm fine with objective contrast but I think the generalizations and lack of data with opinion pass as fact is a terrible behavior to have in this industry.

It creates tribalism and it doesn't do anything remotely constructive but to put other people who chose different technology down.


In this paper, did the bullshitters actually turn out to be smarter than the non-bullshitters?

Is this in the PDF? I didn’t read it thoroughly.


I think the word bullshitting is a harmfully imprecise way to describe what is actually several problems:

Naive over-confidence: People who lack the experience necessary to update their beliefs to more reasonable ones. I'd argue that this is both a good thing and a bad thing. When it works out well (Tesla) there are still people who are angry that it happened and call bullshit on it. Most examples of truly uncommon vision will be characterized as this sort of bullshit by skeptics, who are sometimes (in hindsight) wrong and sometimes right.

"Alpha" culture: Companies/teams where leadership is confused with stereotypical alpha behavior such as dominance, brashness, and artificial confidence/decisiveness. This one is predominantly negative, as it shuts down important thought and enquiry. To make matters worse, it creates a filter where the culture is blind to leadership that is not couched in stereotypical alpha behaviors. This is often referred to as bro culture.

Lying: Some people lie strategically about things that are important to a business or team. They do this often to serve their own goals at the expense of company goals. When looking at this one we must ask what incentives allow it to seem like a winning strategy for anyone? In my opinion it occurs when there is not a culture of trust to begin with.

Intimidation: This is similar to bro/alpha culture, but is more sinister, and has more to do with problem individuals behaving in antisocial ways and trying to opportunistically use pecking order, law of the jungle approaches to get what they want out of the situation. This resembles "bullshit" because it is a form of tactical speech that is not based in truth and is meant to create a desirable outcome for the person doing it. It is always harmful to a group dynamic and is often hard to detect because sometimes someone observing the situation will think that the person who is tactically intimidating others is more of a natural leader, or will interpret the successfully intimidated peoples' behavior as timid or un-leader-like.

Company-wide lies: All companies have an origin story, and some are more true than others. But when there is a big lie that starts at the top, it creates many opportunities for people in the organization to exploit information asymmetries to their own benefit. Since it is based on a lie, the information asymmetries exist due to politics and are not based on truth, so being observant and truth-oriented is not helpful in understanding when someone is trying to act opportunistically. This one is really bad, and the consequences are very broad and include everything from hiring or firing people based on dishonest metrics to leading to resumé inaccuracies, fudged metrics, and (worst of all) major strategic blind spots.


Nice Analysis.

I think you may find the book; "Management: A Political Activity by Ted Stephenson" useful. Everything plays out in the realm of "Politics" (in the broad sense of the term) in pursuit of Power, Prestige and Wealth.


The notion of bullshitters needs to be brought to the front of our industry's consciousness. Our industry is one where the impostor complex is rife and anyone who sounds confident must know what they're talking about, since even the PhD's aren't half as confident in their field of expertise as a bullshitter is at anything.

The tech industry is increasingly inundated with these types of people who manage to get placed high in management hierarchies despite knowing nothing about the technologies they claim to be experts in.

They're are the 'Agile coaches' who have never done actual scrum. The 'enterprise architects' who couldn't write fizzbuzz if their life depended on it. The 'thought leaders' who read a couple blogs about blockchain.

They are a cancer to the entire industry. I don't expect C level leadership to be savvy enough to call them out for another 5-10 years, but something needs to be done about these types of people. They actively cause damage to the course of any business by setting unrealistic expectations about what technology can do, how much it costs, and how long it takes.


>The notion of bullshitters needs to be brought to the front of our industry's consciousness

The industry (tech, startups, VC money) do bring bullshit to the front of the industry consciousness. I’ve never seen another industry push and promote “fake it till you make it” so hard.

Democratizing this...disrupting that...we respect your privacy and data...DAO/code is law...Self driving cars...uber is creating good jobs...Fyre fest...VR/AR...Theranos

From top down the industry promotes bullshitters.


A colleague of mine put the problem more succinctly “what other industry is there where the top decision-makers have never done the basic work of the company?” Most executives in finance have done some form of financial analysis and reporting, construction company owners have almost always done a hard day’s worth of labor, and a lot of directors have had to do some acting / camera work and whatnot. In tech (especially enterprise business verticals) your typical CEO outside Silicon Valley hasn’t ever written a line of code or had to deliver a software project of substantial size. Many are salesmen, marketers, consultants, politicians, etc. and the technology and how it works is just an afterthought. It’s as if executing on the technology is a complete afterthought to investors and frankly they may be right - the barrier to succeed in most enterprise software is probably not your technology as much as how entrenched you already are in the industry you’re working in. This oftentimes bleeds over into supposed tech companies like IBM and HP - your customer base and partners infects your company culture from the top down and drives out engineers. Engineers are far too often excluded because “they’re too pessimistic” and yet every other time I hear about dismissing engineers’ concerns I also hear about tanked projects where it’s a complete mess or situations like the 737 Max. The thing is that the other half is a pretty good gamble.


> “what other industry is there where the top decision-makers have never done the basic work of the company?”

Isn't the answer... most industries? My understanding is that large companies in all domains are heavily populated with executives and managers who came straight out of business school and into a leadership position.

There are those who rise through the rank and file up to the executive position too. I don't know the relative fractions are. But all of those kids who get business and management degrees end up somewhere, right?


Pre-experience business school (BSc) doesn't launch you straight into leadership positions.

Post-experience business school (MBA) can do that (that's usually leadership of 1-2 kids straight out of school), however to get an MBA you need work experience ... which means yeah, you have done the entry work somewhere

Note: I am not saying that they have done "basic" work (as in: developing code, flipping burgers etc.). But they definitely are not launched into leadership position without ever having done anything.


> which means yeah, you have done the entry work somewhere

Even if so, that somewhere doesn't have to be the same industry you go with your first (usually not top-level) leadership position, and neither of those may be the industry in which you end up moving into a top-level leadership position.


The vast majority of managers I've had, whether product or program managers, had very little understanding or experience with the job of programming.

In fact, i suspect more than half of them basically failed upwards. I can't be sure about this, because in many cases I could only see the piss-poor job they were currently doing, but I've experienced the incompetent junior-to-senior manager pipeline up close often enough that I wouldn't be surprised these senior managers were previously incompetent junior managers.


>Isn't the answer... most industries? My understanding is that large companies in all domains are heavily populated with executives and managers who came straight out of business school and into a leadership position.

That's really not true. No one goes from MBA to a CxO leadership position at a large corporation. To pick 3 random examples:

CEO of McDonalds managed one back in 1993 and was the CEO of two other fast food restaurants

CEO of Caterpillar started in 1980 out of college at a company Caterpillar eventually bought.

CEO of CVS started out as a pharmacist at a drug store in that was acquired by CVS in 1990.

Someone in a leadership position typically will have spent decades serving in roles with increasing responsibility in their industry.


Yes a prime example is the NHS. Much management will have no experience attending to patients.


To be fair on the NHS, there aren't enough Doctors or Nurses as it is.. it would be even worse if we started wasting their time managing budgets and KPIs


> A colleague of mine put the problem more succinctly “what other industry is there where the top decision-makers have never done the basic work of the company?”

In pretty much any industry where the “basic work” isn't white collar professional work, executives tend to have very little if any experience with the basic work. Where the basic work is white collar professional work, that's somewhat less common, but it is still not unheard of to have executives with general management experience but not experience with the basic work of the industry (EDIT: Or even industry-specific management: recruiting executives whose qualifying experience is in a similar executive role in a different industry isn't uncommon; a CxO chosen who was formerly a CxO with the same value of x in a different industry is common.)


> “what other industry is there where the top decision-makers have never done the basic work of the company?”

Most? Sorry for the blunt answer, but I really don't know how this can even be a question. The "I worked the assembly line and now I'm the CEO" is Hollywood fiction or outright lies in 99% of the cases.


> The "I worked the assembly line and now I'm the CEO" is Hollywood fiction or outright lies in 99% of the cases.

Do you have a citation for 99% or are you... bullshitting?


[flagged]


considering that it spells leet 69 42 boobies 2006 foo, I doubt it


That isn't a working link.

Is it somewhere online?


Wasn't the previous CEO of intel exactly that person.


>“what other industry is there where the top decision-makers have never done the basic work of the company?”

Not to belabour a point sibling comments have already made but I think it's the other way around, actually. Much more common to have a CEO in tech who has been in the trenches than in other industries.

Compare the likelihood of a tech CEO having some software engineering/programming experience to the likelihood of an oil and gas executive having worked as a roustabout or a welder, or a healthcare industry exec having done rounds as a doctor or nurse.


Depends on what you mean by "basic work" - most of oil and gas leadership comes from the engineering and geoscience side of the house.

Jeff Miller of Halliburton was a field manager.

Mike Wirth at Chevron is a chemical engineer and Chevron lifer.

Ben can Beurden of Shell is a chemical engineer and a Shell lifer.

Clay Williams at NOV is a petroleum in engineer.

Bob Dudley at BP is a chemical engineer and a BP lifer.

Paal Kibsgaard at Schlumberger is a petroleum engineer.

Ryan Lance at ConocoPhillips is a petroleum engineer.

I could go on, you get the idea. These CEOs have definitely been in the trenches.


I would disagree; most tech CEOs are sales & marketing people at their core. Especially once you grow beyond the startup phase.

Margins are fat enough in most tech verticals that operational efficiency often takes a back seat to driving the top-line. And once your growth starts to plateau, in comes a bean-counter CEO with a finance background.


I don't think the bullshitter problem is at all limited to the tech industry. In the financial industry there was Madoff, and not just him, but the surprising number of people who were ostensibly running their own funds who just put all the money into Madoff's hands and then took fees off the top. And having someone with a technical or engineering background at the top is no panacea against bullshit. IIRC, the top leadership of VW all started as engineers, but that didn't stop them from perpetrating the diesel fraud.


Hmm... The premise is interesting, but c-suites haven't touched the assembly line in many decades, regardless of industry. I have anecdotes of plenty of CEOs from all sorts of industries - ones that never flipped burgers, never played a video game, never pushed steel through a furnace, etc.


I'd say this is pretty common outside of small business. Watch the show "Undercover Boss." You see the CEO's of major companies working the bottom rungs of their companies. They are often very, very out of touch, so far that they get "fired" by their own employees...


me: 'it's a really bad idea to be developing new functionality on Flash in 2018'

management: 'that's not a helpful attitude right now'


Well, so far software has largely been tasked with non-life or death purposes, and as such the larger tech industry has been able to get away with a bit too much cowboy development, with structures where it is apparently needed least and overpaid rockstar developers burning themselves at a few too many companies. This is not sustainable, and can not continue once a largely automated society is attempted. At that point, software is no longer playing games, and will be pipelines of interconnected systems which must cooperate in a continual life or death scenario for everything to just work. The industry is going to have to get much more formal and transparent about the quality of the products we provide, or giant automated catastrophes will force regulations nobody will be happy about.


So long as human labor is structured under Capital's impetus, we'll have such structures of idiocy because the VC is apodicticly talentless in the domain of his investment.


>apodicticly .. first time I'm encountering this word. Really cool.

From wiki, "Apodictic" or "apodeictic" (Ancient Greek: ἀποδεικτικός, "capable of demonstration") is an adjectival expression from Aristotelean logic that refers to propositions that are demonstrably, necessarily or self-evidently the case.


Apodicticly... harsh bro!


That’s a bit shallow isn’t it? Did Elon fly rockets before creating space-x?


Didn't he at least finance it with a big portion of his own money, though? I'm more inclined to trust those than the Elizabeth Holmes Stanford dropout know nothing types


I feel like there's a joke about getting high that could be made here.


Some thoughts on why this is. With VC the customer is actually future investors, and the true product is a pitch deck. Everything else is a prop. At first this seems crazy, but when you consider wealth inequality it becomes clear that the really money is made convincing very rich people to deploy their capital, not in providing valuable goods or services to workers.


> really money is made convincing very rich people to deploy their capital

The industry could use more literature on the "court politics" of this process, including what happens socially if you lose the capital of those rich people, have a disagreement on strategic direction, or partner with rich people who themselves disagree on direction.


I always interpreted 'fake it till you make it' as 'promise what you could do with sufficient resources'.

That is fundamentally different from people who just make up random shit that sounds good to whoever has money, without any idea or plans to materialise it or whether it's even possible.

You do raise a good point with Uber/theranos/dao.


I'm sure that's what every person who deploys that phrase tells themselves (and everyone else) that this is what they means.

The problem is that when "making it" is a huge long-shot (most tech ideas) and "faking it" is really easy (most tech ideas) then you end up with a whole lot of fakes that never make and a bunch of people who either need to come to grips with the fact that they are basically frauds or who will simply spin it as a "learning experience" and use their failure to promote themselves as having "made it", since who has ever made it without making a few mistakes, right?

Accountability is the big problem, but I also think that the superficiality of relationships is another big contributor. It's the same as accountability, really, just on a different scale and it's done before the "fraud".

I once went through an LGA (large group awareness) program where a part of it was about having small teams and buddies keeping each other accountable to their personal goals. There was a phrase that came out of that when people who were supposed to be holding each others accountable would both fail in their goals because neither wanted to call the other person out for fear of being called out themselves, or out of a sense of hypocrisy for giving someone shit when they had not finishing their own goals.

This was called "Cosigning each others bullshit" and I think it's what happens more often than not in high level business/political dealings. We'd have a lot less high-profile fraud/incompetence cases if more people had the courage to keep other people honest before it got to that point.


it's very socially and economically costly to keep other people accountable, so most people lack the fortitude to do so.

this is why we have so many hero myths/stories, to valorize those few people brave enough to pay those costs for the rest of us. that esteem bestowed is one of the few ways we can repay the costs (if only incompletely) that "heroes" incur for us.


An uncomfortable truth about our society is that if you get rich by faking it, then you really have made it.


"Fake it till you make it" means, sound like you're way more confident about what you're saying than you actually are, until you become the sort of person you're presenting yourself as. It's not people making up random shit, it's people making up totally plausible sounding shit.


If the ones that are buying that shit don't know enough about how it works, it's not that difficult for a bullshitter to make the implausible sound plausible.


"Fake it tll you make it" was also a saying to counteract the impostor syndrome telling themselves that 'theyre worthless, cant do anything, know nothing, etc'

Bullshitters never really followed this. It's the Trump game. Keep talking, making stuff up, while moving faster in the direction you want. And it's too hard to keep up, so implicitly people believe portions of it.


It's a very blurry line between "insufficient resources" and "making stuff up." Everything is easy when you're not the one doing the work.


I interpret it as in hang on, keep on doing what you're doing and some patterns will emerge, you'll cut through the noise, etc.


"Fake it till you make it" is often about jumping at a market opportunity on borrowed time, money, or experience. Like Bill Gates licensing MS Basic before he had written it.


> Like Bill Gates licensing MS Basic before he had written it.

That's actually an interesting case because, although he didn't have MS BASIC at that point, he knew he'd be able to deliver it by the time he needed it. So, was he really faking it?


I just looked this up. According to Wikipedia, Gates called MITS and offered to demonstrate an implementation of Altair BASIC in roughly 8 weeks. He used those 8 weeks to implement it. So I was wrong - he didn't license it, but merely scheduled a demo, before it existed.


Or like Bill Gates selling MSDOS (based on CP/M) to IBM


>> push and promote “fake it till you make it”

Causality then render a situation where bullshitters have now gotten so good at faking it that buyers of tech are simply herrings among hungry dolphins. Bullshitters in our industry have united and made it impossible for buyers (herrings) to see any other choice but to become swallowed as a meal. So they try their best to choose the very best dolphin to be swallowed by. And then they are swallowed.

Because:

- founders (who are bullshitters) will hire other bullshitters - the world is saturated with flawed, illogical messages and we have become used to it

Solution:

- stand the F up on every meeting where you hear BS, and call "shenanigans"!.


>> Solution:

>> - stand the F up on every meeting where you hear BS, and call "shenanigans"!.

Great way to get yourself sidelined in the near future, and not being able to intervene when it will be your job to implement a fantasy...

The problem with being honest in a situation like this is, that it will disrupt everyone in that meeting, not just the bullshitter. You'll be perceived as a fire starter and the next meeting will likely take place without you -- organizations at a certain size can be very flexible this way. Or worse: They retaliate. Bullshitters are usually good at manipulating peoples perceptions. Once they feel threatened, they are likely to respond (in a way, you'll probably lose, since they can dictate the turf and the weapons).

A way I found to deal with a situation like this is: Try to gouge the impressions of the other participants of the meeting -- cigarette breaks are perfect for this kind of "talk in private". Try to figure out if they also found this or that aspect of the meeting a bit odd. If it is so (and it very likely is) call out the BS for what it is, but don't be too bold about it and focus on one - two key aspects, not more.

You are usually not alone in your perception of bullshittery and others are probably aware of it in one way or another. It can be a real eye-opener to them that they are not alone in thinking that, was was talked about before was a bit... exaggerated. Once they are aware they might percieve this notion in other aspects of the work of said bullshitter and it gets harder for them to get away with it.

I have to say, I have only limited experience with roles in higher management. Usally the higher up the food-chain, the better the bullshitters and the better the strategies and tactics of them -- it might not work that way when you are up against a hierarchy of self-proclaimed experts. But in smaller organizations and "everyday"-meeting that are somewhere "near production", this is a valid tactic, that has never failed me thus far.

-----

Gosh how I hate this form of office-politics...


>> You'll be perceived as a fire starter >> cigarette breaks are perfect

@maze-le, realize, your fingers are going to get burnt, either way. Just do the right thing. For your kids. Because they are going to ask themselves: "why did daddy work so hard toward X, when X is so bad for humanity?"

Don't fucking do X, man, is all I'm saying. You know what X is.


I empathize, it's hard realizing that bureaucracy is stronger than you are, even tho you're so much smarter and ethically stronger than all of it's constituents (and that your plan is dead simple `do what's right, no qa'). Burn'em office buildings up is what i say. And become some kind of handcraftsman (farmer, construction, mechanics, convenience X). I'm no joke :) The core of the problem here is "management" not "industry".


>The problem with being honest in a situation like this is, that it will disrupt everyone in that meeting, not just the bullshitter. You'll be perceived as a fire starter and the next meeting will likely take place without you -- organizations at a certain size can be very flexible this way. Or worse: They retaliate. Bullshitters are usually good at manipulating peoples perceptions. Once they feel threatened, they are likely to respond (in a way, you'll probably lose, since they can dictate the turf and the weapons).

I can relate to this to a 'T'. The worst is when they are sociopaths on top of everything else


"If you see fraud and do not say fraud, then you are a fraud." - NNT

Still something I'm trying to live up to and it's much easier said than done... likely there is a selection mechanism in these organizations where anyone with the courage to do that is recognized and passed over early, or else is removed as soon as they do this.


>> likely there is a selection mechanism in these organizations

There is definitely such a thing as a "selection mechanism" and it lives within every organisation.

In the best of worlds people would be selected for X. X is not:

- feeding the "growth economy" - attribute to "the growth of the market" - "become a unicorn" - destroying wealth, and by wealth I mean "nature" - delegating responsibility not to yourself and your peers but to your offspring

I have no idea what X is and you know what, who cares? Who are we to strive for being the "best of worlds"? We haven't even gotten past the notion of being the "best of nations".


Not only promotes, favours, enables and prefer them.


How tf is Fyre Fest on the tech industry, that was 100% entertainment and hospitality.


Completely fueled by Instagram tho. It's on the tech industry the same way Trump election is on Facebook.


The tech industry is also responsible for ISIS, since they use social media a lot.


Dude I struggle with this everyday. When I first started off in my career I was so nervous to express any technical ideas or questions in front of other people because I thought I was stupid- as I started progressing in my career I learned that a lot of the people I encountered at work who were ultra confident (and probably attributed to my tech self-consciousness) actually knew way less than I thought. I still don’t consider myself to be good at what I do, but I do know what I do know, and more importantly I know what I do not know.


The realization that I came to was that by speaking up I was usually asking a question that many people were not asking; by providing a strong opinion it would help to catalyze deliberate action. If you stay silent we'll never get anything really done.


Yeah, but I find I usually take a social hit by asking the question. A good 80% of those listening will think that you simply don't understand something. The other 20% are either indifferent or actively threatened by the observation. It doesn't pay to speak up about anything, you just get talked down to by those who are bullshitting.


I once stood up, as an intermediate level software engineer, in a meeting with executives and senior managers and senior engineering leadership, and identified multiple areas where a consultancy, who we were entering into a partnership with, was utterly full of shit. Isolating not only where the technical solutions wouldn't meet the technical challenge, but also in areas of outright legal / regulatory violation.

You know what I got for it? I was asked not to return to the meeting that afternoon. They went forward and everyone was happy and confident that everything would be perfect. I didn't get a promotion that year, and I do believe it was in no small part because of the fact that I called out specific instances of bullshit, and I earned a reputation that persisted there as a person who torpedoes progress.

Well... ~3 years after that meeting, and having watched many millions of dollars evaporate, we're in litigation with that consultancy. Yet, the people who made those original decisions had gone from manager to Director or VP. They go on to make other insanely stupid fucking decisions, without consequence, and with an even wider reach because of their shiny new titles. Wasting more and more resources and causing pain for the folks under them.

There's no justice here. The bullshitters have won.


Theranos was a poster child for what you describe, all the engineers/lab analysts who complained were systematically gotten rid of and threatened. People who invested in or made deals with the company did zero due diligence. They are either disconnected from reality, or they think it's one big game. Reading the book "Bad Blood" is so unnerving. And yes, you are absolutely right!


Sometimes I wonder if Bad Blood will be used as a blueprint, instead of a cautionary tale, in the coming years. Much the same way that I've seen the shenanigans of Office Space applied over the last 2 decades. Except that that's a much more frightening prospect than the comparatively benign bullshit in Office Space spreading through the industry.


I was kind of the same, very shy to ask questions and "look like a fool".

That was until I got my PhD. I still realize that I don't know jack shit, but for some reason now I don't care, I now feel I don't have anything to prove to anyone. So, if I don't know something I just ask. Do you think I am stupid? that's your problem, not mine.

Hopefully you don't need a PhD to realize that like I did.


I am in a similar situation. I once explained to my dad that having a Phd has allowed me to proudly proclaim that I don't know something without any pressure whatsoever. Not that you need a PhD to say I don't know but it helps.


Oh, I'm not shy. Far from it. I just am politically savvy enough to know that saying anything outside of what is expected just opens you up to attack. It's an impossible game to win.


Not sure I agree with that. When you ask a question, you may be speaking for most of the room. It's just that you're the only one bold enough to say it. And if you are speaking for most of the room, you won't take a social hit for the question. Quite the opposite.

(Of course, it can be that you just weren't paying attention. For questions that come out of that situation, you may in fact take a social hit, and perhaps appropriately. If you just don't understand something, you probably shouldn't take a hit, but you may do so in more toxic environments.)


> most of the room

Careful, there's an important distinction between "the majority of participants" and "those who have the most power and the most to lose."

In fact, that reminds me of a Terry Pratchett quote which I think is particularly appropriate to this subject:

___

> Supposing an emperor was persuaded to wear a new suit of clothes whose material was so fine that, to the common eye, the clothes weren't there. And suppose a little boy pointed out this fact in a loud, clear voice...

> Then you have The Story of the Emperor Who Had No Clothes.

> But if you knew a bit more, it would be The Story of the Boy Who Got a Well-Deserved Thrashing from His Dad for Being Rude to Royalty, and Was Locked Up.

> Or The Story of the Whole Crowd Who Were Rounded Up by the Guards and Told 'This Didn't Happen, OK? Does Anyone Want to Argue?'

> Or it could be a story of how a whole kingdom suddenly saw the benefit of the 'new clothes', and developed an enthusiasm for healthy sports in a lively and refreshing atmosphere which got many new adherents every year, and led to a recession caused by the collapse of the conventional clothing industry.


Sure. But that's a political price rather than a social one. (You'd better be prepared to pay it, though.)

I have, in my career, "spoken for the room" maybe three to five times. In two of them, I was already on my way out the door, so I wasn't very worried about the consequences. In no case was I ostracized or belittled by the non-management in the room. I received a few, very quiet, thanks.


I'm familiar with this scenario. It took a while to find the right approach and build the confidence to challenge a room of people with this mindset. It is definitely possible to stand up to this mentality and succeed in a workplace, but it is a constant challenge.

After a long time fighting these battles I realised I had gained a lot of skills in dealing with narcissists and sociopaths in the mission to simply be good at what I do, to the point where doing so was a large portion of my "job". This was taking a lot out of me personally, it detracted from advancing my desired skill set, I did not enjoy the type of person I was becoming, I hated going into meetings where I knew so and so would be there, despite knowing I could win over the room. Over time the general anxiety and fatigue bled into my personal life and outlook to the point where I basically had a mental breakdown (though I was pretty good at hiding it).

The best thing I did was to get the hell out of there and learn how to identify companies like this ASAP, preferably during the interview itself. Better to have something else lined up first, but I have endured long months of no income rather than place myself in such a toxic environment again and am all the happier for it, my marriage and relationship with my kids improved immeasurably once I took my hand out of the fire so to speak.

There are many great companies, from startups to global enterprise who value an open and inclusive culture, newer companies especially are wising up to the damage bullshitting narcissists inflict on their reputation and bottom line.

A really great company to work for gives everyone in the room a voice, and they definitely exist. Although finding the right fit can take some time and a fair amount of pain along the way, it is worth it in the end if you value your sanity and wish to avoid burnout.


Thanks for sharing your story. What screening methods would you recommend for identifying those great companies / micro-societies?


I like the thread so I’ll pitch in my ¢2. :)

If you end up looking for it you do so because you’ve learnt what you need.

“Different people, different needs”, to quote the great leader David Brent.

If you end up here eventually — interview the hiring manager and members of the team. You are the one looking!

For me personally I’ve realized that a company being listed or near IPO is usually a problem.

I’ve recently turned down a couple of interesting offers due to looming IPO. Some might think this is odd, but the track record of my “career” is all I have to go by.

The best places I’ve worked at is where the CEO was the founder and company not listed.

This could indicate that there’s proper heart involved and in my experience usually a lot less politics, hence less bullshit.

No truths here, just my own path.


Spot on, there's no "find good company" algorithm because the type of company I might like working for could be totally different to the type of company you or anyone else wants to work for.

It comes down to knowing yourself and what you're worth, and going into interviews with an eye to interviewing them too.

You get to a point where you don't mind anymore if you don't get that call back, because that's a mutual bullet dodged. You probably do have to have built up an industry reputation first, so there is that initiation to go through, after which people should be telling you why you have to work for them and not the other way around.

I have anecdotes of working for CEOs, unlisted, who were absolute sociopaths, which I think is a great demonstration that there's no single rule or method other than investing more time in understanding ourselves first, so we're appropriately armed when deciding whether or not we want to work for a company.

Turning down an offer or saying no to an interview is often the best thing for both parties, which is an odd concept when everyone is supposed to be grateful and enthusiastic to be employed.


I don't have a "who is a good company" algorithm, it's pretty complex and outward seeming behaviours don't always reflect what's going on inside , and our own interpretive judgements from past negative experiences can colour our approach to new opportunities, like if a founder doesn't call you back, or plays hardball on contract terms, might trigger something personal that doesn't reflect the true nature of the business - as I say it's too complex to codify.

For me personally the logical starting point is identifying what is important to ourselves. I won't say a "wolfpack" organisation that tears shit up and thinks about consequences later is any less valid than a more open and considered organisation. So any method, to me, starts with identifying our own values and goals.

I made a spreadsheet (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18frXcsVnPoa8tIxdVCqf...) to help identify my value "pillars", quantify their meaning to me in terms of fulfilment, then guide the process of satisfying those values. I try to explain it here https://medium.com/@aparker/spreadsheets-for-the-mind-de1c19...

Whatever method is used, figuring out what you actually desire is the hardest part, I find. Maybe I'd be happier herding cattle in northern Australia? I wouldn't know if I didn't take the time to lay it out.

I think once you know what it is you actually want, then it's much easier to answer your question, because until you know yourself, you're just bouncing from one situation to the next without full agency.

Assuming you know your goals, desires, pillars etc, then a lot of it comes down to experience. Investigate the history of the company you're interviewing for - do they align? Ask questions in the interview that put them on the spot regarding your values, they probably won't call back but that's a bullet dodged. Talk to people who have worked there before.

Do your research, search for local meetups, startup companies, be active in the community, stay in touch with colleagues and friends and always be ready to meet with someone new for a coffee. Hard to do between the 9-5, there's no instant formula, but chip away at it and build up a network of people you trust and respect, and who trust and respect you.

It has taken me the best part of 40 years to get to this point though, sometimes you just have to swing it but knowing yourself is the first step I think, as you're no longer walking into interviews as the "candidate", instead you're walking into interviews as the guy who they need (and if they don't need you, that's fine, everyone dodges a bullet).


>> A good 80% of those listening

those listening probably comprise only 25% of the people in the meeting, 5% if it is a standup.


There are even bullshit questions, ones that give the appearance that one has an idea or an insight when in fact they end up convolution the path to a solution that eventually emerges naturally...


The best bullshit question is always to ask developers if they are sure their solution is foolproof. This has two nice side effects if you are looking to suck up to management. 1)It shows you are concerned about the project/product/company. 2) Should something go wrong even if it is the tiniest thing you like you had a point. You get all this while not taking the risk of doing the implementation. That is bullshit 101.



There are also questions that are only designed to humiliate the one being questioned. They are performative acts, not genuine questions.


When you are young, you think adults have it all figured out. When you become an adult yourself, you realize a good chunk of people are straight winging it and, in many cases, entire companies are winging it all together without fully realizing it.


Reminds me of this Calvin and Hobbes: https://i.redd.it/5k0uft6n3bcz.jpg


I would like to add something to this:

If a person or a company is lucky in some way, they will credit it to their own competence, thinking they figured it out. I know I have done this several times in the past.


Also, you can start at a company where things are figured out and watch the "growth phases" introduce layer upon layer of smooth-talking, overly-confident bullshitters, and, before you know it, the entire company has gone from knowing what they're doing to entirely winging it. This is what frightens me the most, because it seems to be systemic and almost everyone that I talk to these days in tech is suffering through some phase of this problem.


it's all fine and dandy until the sysadmin you're talking with pronounces "mail queue" as "mail kway". with a straight face. then you start to realize they may know less than you do.


This is a crazy naive take and Id argue almost the opposite. Id say if you want to cut down anti-intellectualism, that might be more of a founded hot take.

Start-ups are foundationaly bullshit. It's almost always some person with some type of observation and a relative level of blind faith for an idea or system that MAY work. Worse than that, almost every major breakthrough or improvement ends up looking completely different than the original hypothesis immediately rendering the original confidence as bullshit. We just apply genius historically.

In the end startups seem to be a confidence game where a group or person basically need to survive long enough for a point on their series of experiments to work and their bullshit to be "prescient."

My observation on tech and engineering is the disdain for bullshit is a clumsy hatred for the uncertain nature of social exchange amongst people. The rules are very different than the absolute predictability of systems like math and logic and that makes people uncomfortable and angry.


Gotta say, you just dropped a lot of insight in that post


If bullshitters rise to the top with very little work or knowledge, then perhaps being a bullshitter is the smart choice for people of a certain disposition.


You're right that bullshit sells well. From OP, something about it runs in the family:

>socio-economically advantaged teenagers are more likely to be bullshitters than their disadvantaged peers.

I had the misfortune of seeing this up close in consulting in tech. Your customers are idiots, that's why they hired "experts." They don't know how to judge expertise (otherwise they wouldn't be hiring you). They hire based on emotions, recommendations and epaulettes because that's the best they can do.

All three of those are completely subjected to cronyism, in my observation.

My experience here made me a firm believer that institutions and businesses really need to be allowed to fail. The most epic stupidity (and toxic politics) always comes from the ones that were furthest from that principle.

And I'm never doing that again. There is nothing I can buy with paychecks from interacting with that toxic, idiotic side of humanity that makes it worth it.


> They don't know how to judge expertise (otherwise they wouldn't be hiring you).

I've had this realization many times that, in most cases, I likely sound exactly the same as the 5 BS artists that came before me, and there's very little I can do to distinguish myself outside of long-term relationship building and delivery.

Others before me have said the exact same things, just not delivered (or hosed up a project beyond belief). Me saying something may sound exactly the same as the previous X times - they've heard it all before.

I've got a few clients I've worked with for years - they trust me implicitly because I've delivered (and when I haven't, I've made good, pushed through, fixed stuff that needed fixing, etc). After years of experience, there's deep trust. When I say "XYZ", they have a high degree of confidence in my ability to deliver. Outside of spending years developing those relationships, I'm not sure how else you can get a level of confidence even close to that.


"Consulting doesn't work because you can't sell consulting to a competent organization and you can't deliver consulting to an incompetent one."

Hale's Law*

*i.e. me.


Perhaps for them in a narrow sense, but considering the damage they do, I'm to the point where I'd be willing to have companies pay them their inflated salaries just to stay home and not interfere.


You need to find the right balance between bullshitting and delivering . Elon Musk or Steve Jobs are first class bullshitters but they also back it up quite often (not always though).


Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are and were highly intelligent people. For them it is less about bullshitting but more about their dreams and goals.

I do not believe Elon Musk is bullshitting when giving timeframes, he knows what is possible technically, but fails to predict how long it takes to deliver


I don’t think there is any inverse relationship between intelligence and a tendency to bullshit. There are smart bullshitters and stupid ones. The stupid ones tend to be obvious. The very smart ones end up running countries and corporations.


and sometimes people just think you're bullshitting because they have no idea that you can actually deliver (or that anyone can deliver) but you know that you can (and perhaps even have done so).


Yes, that would be the problem.

Parent poster is saying we need to stop letting it be that easy for them.


Smart for the individual. Bad for the whole.

IMO people should think more of the whole, more often.


It's not that simple.

There certainly are those who confidently sell something without having any actual real-life experience with the matter at hand.

However, another harmful pattern is rampant in the tech industry as well: The one that assumes that technical knowledge is the only thing that's valuable and everything else (sales, marketing, business stuff in general, you name it ...) is just bullshit.

This widespread attitude not only tends to relegate those who exhibit it to positions of - well-paid - grunts, who have no say in a product's or company's direction even if they're the ones who create most of the value.

It also is the cause of an equally widespread resentment towards less technically inclined people, who from that point of view reap most of the rewards while providing little benefit.


It's not even THAT simple.

There's a difference between thinking sales and marketing is all bullshit, and thinking that the sales and marketing people you're working with are bullshit.

A previous company of mine hired a product manager. I definitely don't think product management and direction is bullshit. But this guy just wrote "synergy" on white boards all day, made us start sizing our tasks, and never gave anyone good ideas or direction.

Hearing me complain about this, you might assume that i'm just another engineer that thinks anything but engineering is bullshit.


Hear, hear!

For the love of Jesus Christ, the bullshitting in our industry must stop! This is my main gripe with our industry and the reason I've been contemplating getting the fuck out of Dodge on, holy shit, so, so many occasions. I've been in it for 25 years+. But,

people who are full of shit need to shut the fuckz up.

It takes a significant amount of civil courage to take tone in a meeting full of bosses. But if you don't then who do you expect will take tone, stand up and call out bullshit? Are you delegating that responsibility to someone else? Your kids perhaps? Are they the ones who aren't supposed to just ride on the wave of absolute crap that is our ancestors idea of "economy"? Or are you?

People who have guts as well as brains, take tone and make a scene.

Edit: spellng


ESL here. What is "take tone"?


To take a certain tone with someone means to speak in a certain way -- as in, use a particular tone of voice.


ESL as well. I think it might have to do with tuning (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_tuning) which is usually done before a concert. So it'd be: ready yourself to make a scene.


Sing!

Edit: in case anyone thinks I'm trying to sing the gospel of The Christ, then you are wrong. I'm not a Christian. I'm much more in favor of rationality. I'm using the name of The Lord as a kind of "click-bait" if you will. But you didn't realize I as being doubly-sarcastic, so I realize now why I'm being down-voted.

Shame on me for trying to be witty.


This can be done one action at a time. Every time someone claimed expertise in something I know, I ask about it. If someone uses a buzzword I don’t know, I ask them to explain it in plain English. And I ask again if they define one buzzword with another. And if they namedrop a mutual friend, I ask the connection their opinion.

BS is a cancer. Unless you’re drinking with friends, in which case it’s entertainment.


The problem is not the bullshitters.

They are usually a sign of deeper problems that no one more competent wants to deal with. Does Bill Gates want to be President? Nope. What a hassle, too busy, other interests etc etc etc.

The higher up you climb no issue is black and white. And the more ambiguous things get in terms of cost to self and everyone else, the less the number of people willing to stick their neck out.

Thats when you locate a master bullshitter and invite him into the room with all the best and the brightest present and hand him all power. It shakes everyone up. And sooner or later someone will step up. The older you get the more you play these kind of games to 'nudge' people into taking on thankless responsibilities.


"Thats when you locate a master bullshitter and invite him into the room with all the best and the brightest present and hand him all power. It shakes everyone up. And sooner or later someone will step up"

Could you explain the social reason for why this is? Is it because everyone else think they're better off sharing on the upside created by the Bullshitter, while not being as exposed to the downside? Do they think they can control the BS artist instead of the other way around?


Yup it's very much a tradeoff. Things break down all the time.

> Is it because everyone else think they're better off sharing on the upside created by the Bullshitter, while not being as exposed to the downside?

Some within any group will think this way (and help in propping up and supporting). Some just don't want the job, don't want to deal with more shit, want to work on other things etc etc.

All this creates a space for the bullshitter to exist.

Whether the bullshitter gets there by his own enterprise or someone puts him there, it creates a tension within the group. Good managers try to channel that towards positive outcomes. It's why they get paid what they do.


Your are the bullshitter in somebody else's story.

I mean nobody is 100% bullshitter 100% of the time. How do you know when and about what they are.

(I am genuinely interested in knowing)


I have always thought that the hierarchical system used for doctors here in Sweden could be applicable to tech.

Doctors here specialise in a field after some time of general practice and then some of them become "överläkare" (lit. superior physician), and have both deep expertise in their area but also some managerial responsibility for their department.

Of course there is hospital administration etc, but the senior doctors still provide domain expertise and experience. Their criticism/opinions about practices at the hospital etc are generally respected, while they still practice medicine and assist in the most complicated cases.


The actual physician-ing might be relatively hard to bullshit (but I wouldn't be 100% sure), but how can you be sure they aren't terrible managers? It might even be anti-selected (as it is with science professors)


The time it takes to build software is my biggest concern right now. I have nearly worked myself into severe states of mental health trying to meet unrealistic deadlines. Who sets these deadlines? I have no idea, but more and more of the engineers around me are leaving for better working environments and being replaced by fresh engineers who are lured in by the salary.

Needless to say, I’m eager to work in a healthier and realsitic culture.


How do you prove someone doesn't know something?

It's an impossible task if it's not their job to implement. So it borders on impossible to be an IC and a bullshitter.

However if you're a supervisor or manager which I would argue are the majority of bullshitters, and you aren't committing code (or other similar technical work), then how would you prove that they don't know what they are talking about, without getting fired, until it's too late? What happens when the bullshitter has top cover and can't be called out/fired?

The standard response to these is "that's a bad place to work so quit." Ok, maybe sometimes. However most people don't have the ability to do that. So they just double duty the work and get the job done.

So, I'm curious how do you call out bullshitters when you can't prove they don't know something? Honestly asking cause I'd love to do this a lot but don't know how.


Preach Brother! This has become ubiquitous and the Norm in the Software Industry. People's mindset and expectations have been so programmed that nobody calls out BS; they just accept it and move on using the excuse "everybody does it". Every Engineer in the industry has to play this "game", how much ever he may find it distasteful, if he wants to get ahead in his career. You can see the results everywhere; job ads asking the impossible, resumes filled with skyhigh exaggerations, completely mystifying product presentations, companies with claims which have no bearing to reality etc. It is a vicious cycle and i can see no end in sight.


As a software engineer with a degree in non-CS STEM, I constantly ask myself if I am just a bullshitter. I can pass technical interviews for the most part and I code for fun, but I can't help but think "the people who work at Google are probably better than me".


That is called imposter-syndrome, and it basically is the opposite of bullshittery. All of us have insecurities about what they do -- our field is concerned with very abstract concepts and at the end of the day you have produced something of value (lines of code, a build system integration, maintenance on a legacy system), but you cannot touch it, feel it or have any relationship to it other than intellectual satisfaction.

This can lead to a valuation problem, where we find it hard to put a value on the work we actually do. We suddenly begin to doubt the whole process and our role in it. Its not unusual in tech, really many of us have the exactly same thoughts.

>> "the people who work at [X] are probably better than me"

Yes, some of them probably are. And some others are incompetent idiots. But most of them are neither here nor there and good percentage of them are asking themself the very same question (with X = {microsoft, apple, nasa, you name it...}).

The fact, that you are able to reflect on yourself, "can pass technical interviews" and "code for fun" is a good sign that you are probably not a bullshitter.


No more apparent than in the Bay Area. The confidence rattles you, and then you see these guys getting promoted and moving up. Charlatans all of them!


The 'Product Managers' who don't know what the product does and the 'Business Analysts' that have no idea about the marketplace and who solipsitically shuffle Jira tickets endlessly...


It could be said that I dumped my last four (four!) jobs due to the extreme bullshit artistry that agile/scrum methodologies engender.

That could be said, but it wouldn't be 100% The Truth.

Still, it almost feels right to say that. Because I started to feel truly dehumanized each time I found myself deeply mired in a process that revolved around a daily stand-up. I wanted to punch walls, strangle people, rip my hair out and scream in people's faces for all the polite stupidity and phoney baloney lip service we waded through every morning.

It was like, hey, let's start the day with complete fiction, and then try to build real progress on that foundation of laffy taffy and silly putty! YAAAYYYYY!

Why did I have to stand in a circle and tell lies and listen to lies for 20 minutes? Why did we go around the circle, look each other in the eye, not wink, and then say things that weren't even close to true?

I lost respect for most of my co-workers that way. It felt like the worst descriptions of a certain cult, where as you level up, you must, with ever-more convincing conviction, claim to believe in science fiction fairy tales revealed by The Word of a 1950's sci-author.

Before agile/scrum, it was safe and reasonable to take two or three weeks to complete a long-running chunk of serious effort that mattered to the success of a project.

After agile/scrum, that was no longer true. Daily incremental progress had to be "proven" and if that were not possible... UH OHHHHHHHHHHHH! NOTHING HAPPENS. (but still, uh ohhhhhhhh)

And then the fucking beating a dead horse sessions. Running back-to-back meetings (yes, these are called meetings, folks) for planning AND retrospectives. Two hours chopped out of each Friday, having planning for next week, and a retrospective for this past week, or I don't even know what week. Really? Seriously?

Two hours locked in a room where nothing happens, even though we have to stand around in a circle and prove something happened yesterday, or justify why it did not.

And oh yeah! Backlog grooming. Another hour for that. Where the rubber meets the road on the bullshit artistry, accumulated backlog garbage fires, for all the actual daily tasks like log scraping and urgent bug fixes that actually have to happen or a significant portion of real and necessary business falls flat on its face if neglected.

And oh yeah, multiple hours long actual design and planning sessions injected at random any given week, where we would be assembling the true-true goals that might ostensibly take shape next quarter or something. This is where you gain the realization of who the ghosts of Christmas past are. The dead, fired and quit employees who were responsible for all the backlog tickets, long long ago, before time immemorible, frolicking amid the primordial ooze with with prototypical vertebral boney plate exoskeletons and filter feeding mouth parts, must have experienced meeting like these... but where are they now?

I'm not going back. I won't work any such sort of job ever again. I won't interview for them. Apply to them. Talk to people. It doesn't matter. I never want to work again, if that's what work looks like now.


Filter out bullshitters from a company my making them take a small basic interview test from each level that they are supposedly leading. “Never heard of fizz buzz? Good bye...”


> but something needs to be done about these types of people

I've been thinking a lot about this. Why doesn't capitalism take care of this. what is the fundamental flaw in capitalism that allows this.


The problem is information asymmetry - see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Market_for_Lemons


Are the fizzbuzzers real? I feel like their existence is somewhat mythological.


Have read a few descriptions that seem first hand.

Have been greeted enthusiastically 10 years ago by the team I was joining because I was a shining example of the kind of candidate they wanted in a see of wannabees (we spoke briefly about design patterns in the interview and I solved a take home problem that included connecting to a database and querying it using JDBC.)

While not FizzBuzz the whole thing could be solved in less than an hour and I had a couple of days and could use any resource I wanted.

I guess that says something about the problems one can face.

That said: More often I've experienced doing good or even perfect interviews etc only to hear nothing back etc so this definitely goes both ways.


Yes indeedy, they are. 94% of people with software jobs can't fucking write code at all, no matter how many certifications they have cheated their way to.


A friend of a friend asked some highly confident guy how to do fizzbuzz in an interview and he failed. It does happen apparently


I'm probably not the friend of a friend you're talking about but I've asked confident, articulate people to solve fizzbuzz and similar toy problems many times, only for them to fail hard.

Nowadays I tend to use such problems as pre-screeners in a short telephone interview[1] before inviting candidates to attend a full face to face interview because it saves wasting everybody's time, including the candidate's.

Sad but true.

[1] We use codeshare.io or, if it's oversubscribed, Google Docs. Massively prefer the former because it includes syntax highlighting and support for many different languages, so it feels much more like a decent code editor. With Google Docs you're using a word processor which is far from ideal for many reasons, including that you feel like you're fighting autocorrect the whole time.


I've seen people fail fizz buzz firsthand.


There are two ways of “doing fizzbuzz” or any other small interview programming problem

1) in an editor, iteratively, until it works. This is the correct way. Every developer should manage to solve FizzBuzz in this setting.

2) By writing it on paper or a whiteboard without feedback. Even the greatest developer in the world would randomly fail this. It provides zero information about the capability of a developer and no one should ever subject anyone to that type of test.


meh. Fizzbuzz is short, and you should be able to read simple code and predict its output. If you botch, catch the error, and fix it, it's a good sign. If you can't find the mistake in five lines of your own code (say, because of overconfidence...) then it's a bad sign.

(I would argue that 'now, find a bug' is a good follow up question in most any coding interview, regardless of how perfect the first draft was...)


I think we need to take the right message from this. BS seems to be a necessary evil and instead of lamenting the fall of intellectualism, I would encourage techies to focus on their craft, writing and speaking in that order.

The other day I was reading https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312427581/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b... and the TL;DR was that most of the modern art movement was brewed out of a PR machine which did involve some artistic skill but was mostly lots of BS. So lesson to us programmers would be spend more time cultivating a brand on Twitter and Github.

Over longer timelines and repeated games the techies will have more influence than the BSers who just know how to write and speak.


No, if you are actually skilled, you take pride in what you do. I will not give up and join the bullshitters.


Isn't this exactly the problem we currently have?

Everyone is so focused on training their BS skills that nobody is real anymore?


Absolutely fascinating to me that this is voted up to the top of HN without anyone present talking about the elephant in the room on this particular issue of chronic bullshitters being more successful than they should be.


Extending other comments here about bullshitters being prevalent in management, I would love to see this research extended to the economic impact on bullshit, both positive and negative outcomes.


Overestimation, overplacement, overprecision.

Three new words to absorb, to help identify B.S.

Page 3


It would be precious if this entire study were prevaricated.


The article seems to be catching overconfidence (a human bias) as opposed to BS (a disregard for truth). Or am I missing it?


I mean, if you say you know a made up branch of math very well - isn't that BS? That's what the researchers tested (they asked students to rate themselves in 16 branches of mathematics, 3 were completely made up)


I have to admit I was wondering after the first couple pages if I was being bullshitted by reading it. Really good though.


I had the same feeling right around:

> They present experiment participants with “pseudo-profound bullshit” - vacuous statements constructed out of buzzwords - to ascertain when they can differentiate bullshit from meaningful statements and create a Bullshit Receptivity (BSR) scale.

Wouldn’t that be meta.


If you've never experienced it before, the first time you work with someone who is a pathological liar and bullshitter is a completely disorienting experience. Normal people just don't lie that brazenly and with so little remorse - so you walk out of meetings wondering if perhaps you just misunderstood because there's no way someone would straight up lie that way.

Interestingly, both of the worst bullshitters I've ever met were in academia - and the business world has been a breath of fresh air in comparison. When I used to work in computational biology, I met several senior professors who lead big labs who had absolutely no understanding of any of the methods used by the grad students in their group.


Sometimes a bullshitter consistently peddles untruths, but is unaware of it, and so isn't a liar, just mistaken. I grew up with an older brother like that. He regularly spouted pure bullshit that to him was Truth.

That became clear once when I was struggling with math homework. He looked at the problem, pronounced that he understood it and could solve it easily. So I handed him the pencil. He didn't know he was bullshitting so didn't make an excuse or acknowledge that I'd called a bluff. He took the pencil and sat down, then stared at the book and the problem for 20 minutes. Then shrugged, got up, and walked away. But he really thought he could do it so he did try.

Since then he's made a living in a retail construction trade and hasn't changed. He'll visit a homeowner who will explain the problem. He'll confidently and convincingly explain how he can solve it, and get the job. Then he'll utterly fail and ignore the resulting problems, and not understand why the customer gets upset. His last name, and so mine, is dirt in the city where he works, which he seems to be unaware of. But another sucker is born every minute so he moves on. As a tradesman he is crap but as a salesman he's golden, largely because he honestly believes in his own competence.

Growing up with that has inoculated me against this mode of bullshit so it's been a blessing. I suppose it's like the benefit of raising a kid in an environment that's not too clean.


I've previously encountered just this same sort personality. Being pretty paranoid, it took a long wrenching journey for me to discover that he wasn't being deceptive: he just didn't have a handle on the facts, or whether or not he was competent.


> Sometimes a bullshitter consistently peddles untruths, but is unaware of it, and so isn't a liar, just mistaken.

No, i don't buy this. The world has a way of forcing people to face realities. It is just that they willfully turn themselves away from the cold hard fact and rely on "enablers" in the society to look the other way and help them "save face". Social norms and Diplomacy also play into this. As long as it is contained and doesn't have major repercussions we can overlook it. But when it becomes chronic and leads to self-harm we should speak up.


Maybe it's just me but in work I often encounter these sorts of things. People "plan an effort" or ... and then "work" for 6 months/1/2 years, usually with little communication or confrontation (e.g. MVP it, or actually put some real work into 10% of the program, none of that), and then they'll "declare success". Have some sort of dashboard or so. And then it disappears.

But they'll have everything else. Great testing infrastructure. 100% coverage. Daily standups. KPIs. Extensive meetings detailing progress. Clear team structure. Team leader. Tech lead. Someone responsible for the build. Release schedule. And so on and so forth.

And then you'll find a little detail: a permission on the system that their program doesn't actually have access to the database it supposedly uses, and therefore CAN'T work. Utterly, factually impossible. You check the permission history and you find it hasn't been changed for at least a year, and importantly, those people themselves ALSO don't have access.

So not only does their program not work but they cannot EVER have tried to do this, or they would have noticed and changed it. Not once. Impossible. And yet everybody acquiesces to their claims, because it's a team and a manager.

I have made the huge mistake of calling people out on this. I have made that mistake once. Never again, because immediately you get a huge negative, threatening reaction. People have called my manager in panic, and reported me to HR for this. I don't understand. I mean, there's the cynical: everybody's invested in their lies and would have to admit their own mistakes to expose them, but ...

So not only did they not do anything, they are FULLY aware they were and are lying about it, and find taking personal actions to damage others' careers just perfectly acceptable to protect their lies. And the more you go up the ladder the more people are either complicit or "don't know don't wanna know".

And nobody ever does anything. I mean, there's the odd manager that softly tries to get rid of them. But no more.

This is the norm for projects where I work, despite this company having a very good reputation, and when I was a consultant it wasn't just the norm, that was the 99% case. And yet people really react negatively to me doing this and coming back "sorry, can't be reasonably done for X reason" after a week or two. That seems to sap people's trust in me.

My approach is often the opposite. I'll run a project by having a 10/20% version running with zero test coverage, no design beyond a dataflow doc (which does not follow any template), ad-hoc releasing, ... proving to myself it works/can work before starting with all the "quality" stuff.


Amen to that first paragraph.

> both of the worst bullshitters I've ever met were in academia - and the business world has been a breath of fresh air in comparison.

I've had the opposite experience. One example was a company with bicoastal research operations: A fairly high-level manager had the west-coast operations convinced that he was pretty consumed working the east-coast ops and could spend only a little time with the people in the west. In a parallel development, he had the east-coast operations convinced that he was pretty consumed working the west-coast ops and could spend only a little time with the people in the east.

The company pretty much melted down before specific action was taken against him.


This is quite visible in academia. I don't know if it's more common, but it's more obvious. I was advised for a while (until he jettisoned me as a student) by one of the most stupendous bullshitters I've ever met. In one-on-one meetings with him, he'd say things I didn't understand, and I'd say "____, I don't understand what you just said, could you expand on that?" This would go on for a while, and at first I thought it was because I was new to the field. Eventually after reading enough papers, I'd understand. But that's not what happened. Eventually I realized that he had no idea what he was talking about. It was a bit shocking. He's now at an Ivy League college.


I think academia is a special brooding ground for this kind of people. Everyone is worried about their own professional reputation since it sticks with them for a long time — unlike a regular job where you can jump around easier — so very few people are willing to put theirs on the line unless they have undeniable proof. There's also a big power dynamic at play where underlings don't want to question a senior professor because obviously the professor knows what they're doing.


>There's also a big power dynamic at play where underlings don't want to question a senior professor because obviously the professor knows what they're doing.

This exists much more directly in business. Questioning your boss can lead to you getting fired by that boss. A senior professor can't fire an adjunct. A dean can't arbitrarily fire a professor with tenure.


can confirm. It took me a long time to confront my own suspicion that the so called tenured faculty around me are not as technically inclined as you'd think. Most of the line work is done by the grad students. Meanwhile the faculty plays a different game, maintaining an image, keeping the money in the wheel, "staying in the game." The primary skill of a tenured faculty is salesmanship, the most valued trait of a grad student is docileness.


Do you believe a Phd student should risk questioning his supervisor? Which could likely end a planned career in science right there?


i cant imagine an academic group environment that toxic. Most groups ive interacted with in the sciences actively encourage everone to ask difficult questions of each other to further the collective understanding. One of the first things my advisor told me as a new student was to make sure i independently understood what was going on because he doesnt know everything. Now that im more experienced i also see the upside of having youger people around who are engaged and help catch my mistakes. Hearing horror stories about corporate power dynamics from people around me makes me never want to leave academia.

There are of course a few crazy/asshole PIs, but if you dont work for them they have no power over you.


You really should thank your advisor.

Most labs I've been in and seen are 180 the opposite. Due to Dilbert/Peter principal dynamics, most advisors at R1 universities aren't selected based on their management and teaching skill, but on their research publications. As such, they tend to be very lacking at many skills required to be 'good' at running a lab. In the hunt for tenure, they get very stressed out and tend to take it out on others, typically the students and staff as they are physically the closest people to them.

I may or may not have been around MeToo style situations, more germane management abuse and screaming, direct sabotage of students' work and presentations. On the light side were 6 hour long lab meetings, 2 am lab check-ins, requests to journals to reject student's papers, and complete mystification at why students and staff aren't sleeping in the lab (safety be damned).

That, in my limited US based experience, is the 'norm'.


I didn't go to grad school so I'm not super privy to this, but a bunch of my coworkers have and they even contrarily joked that once you start "managing up" and don't just blindly do what your advisor says it's time for you to graduate :)


That's a better point, but the student still couldn't be expelled, which is the workplace equivalent.


Academia works the other way. The default is that you're fired, when your PhD scholarship/postdoc/research grant runs out. To keep your job, you have to get rehired every few years.

Some people have tenure, but some people win lotteries too.

The hiring process appears objective, what have you published and so on, but in reality it's set up for the bosses to game. When there's a letter to Nature, for example, it's very much up to the boss as to which student gets to be first author.


This book was a very interesting read: https://content.psychopathcode.com/preface.html


The reverse is also true.

I had read about trust being crucial to innovation, teamwork, execution. But had never experienced it.

Then I got paired with a marketing manager who was fantastic. We truly had a trust-based relationship. Everyone joked that we acted like a married couple (in a good way).

That experience kinda ruined me. Once I learned what trust in a competent person feels like, I had a hard time suspending disbelief, and zero inclination to play the game with bullshitters.


Yep, the pattern I have seen is that the pathological lies are there to divert attention from their core agenda. It's a diversionary tactic so the more blatant and convoluted the story the better it serves to distract from the actual truth, which for whatever reason they are trying to hide.


I probably fall in a group of an occasional bs, big on estimation, get lost sometimes


This is explained in part by the Dunning-Kruger effect (which ties into the Impostor Syndrome).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome


Where are the tables?


I think this article maybe self referential.


Extra points for using a ftp in the URL.


if this 34 page paper ends in 'this paper is bullshit', ima gonna cry


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