The bullshit asymmetry principle

Jordan Anaya writes, “We talk about this concept a lot, I didn’t realize there was a name for it.” From the wikipedia entry:

Publicly formulated the first time in January 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer, the bullshit asymmetry principle (also known as Brandolini’s law) states that:

The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

It became especially popular after a picture of a presentation by Brandolini at XP2014 on May 30, 2014, was posted on Twitter. Brandolini was inspired by reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow right before watching an Italian political talk show with journalist Marco Travaglio and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attacking each other. A similar concept, the “mountain of shit theory”, was formulated by the Italian blogger Uriel Fanelli in 2010, roughly stating the same sentence.

Brandolini’s law emphasizes the difficulty of debunking bullshit. In contrast, the faster propagation of bullshit is an old proverb: “a lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on”.

Two questions then arise:

1. Is this principle true? Or, more specifically, when is it true and when is it not?

2. To the extent that the principle is true, where is it coming from? I can think of a couple theories:

a. Asymmetry in standards of evidence: it’s much easier to suggest that something might be true than to demonstrate conclusively that it’s not the case. For example, consider “cold fusion”: A single experiment with anomalous results got lots of attention, but it took a lot of effort to figure out what went wrong.

b. Ethical asymmetry: The kinds of people who bullshit are more likely to be the kinds of people who misrepresent evidence, avoid correcting their errors, and intimidate dissenters, so at some point the people who could shoot down the bullshit might decide it’s not worth the trouble: Why bother fight bullshit if the bullshitters are going to turn around and personally attack you? From this standpoint, once bullshit becomes “too big to fail,” it can stay around forever.