The Bovine Scatology (BS) Test
Often Bovine Scatology (BS) gets in the way of good information for personal and commercial business transactions. This is particularly significant where the personal interaction is helpful or influential in the decision making process.
This was written with personal business transactions in mind but is equally applicable to relationships.
The Purpose of this Page
Indications of BS
- A question or statement generates a non-responsive reply.
- This is a strong indication something is wrong. Fortunately this makes a good test for identifying BS. Particularly if there is an extended interaction, the potential for this exists. Then it is simply a matter of determining if the non-responsive reply is:
- intentional or inadvertent
- the non-responsive reply is culture
- It's still deceptive, but the purpose may be to follow the norm and not to deliberately deceive. Be especially polite when responding. (e.g., "Yes, but that wasn't my question.") After all, their decision (or non-decision) was to follow a norm. In some places and circumstances, a non-evasive answer is considered too abrupt to the extent of the direct answer being impolite.
- is a mere misuse of words
- This can be intentional or unintentional. One example is at bs_stories.html .
- the non-responsive reply is relevant to the transaction
- It may be that the reply is insignificant. "Insignificant" means not an indication that the non-responsive reply is representative of what the person is going to tell you about important aspects of the transaction. (For example, a person may exaggerate in fishing stories but be perfectly straightforward in business.)
- Intentional but not malicious
- If someone asks, "Do I look fat in this?" an almost-direct answer would be, "Well, if you have to ask...". This would offend most people who considered their weight to be a personal issue.
- A more appropriate answer would be non-responsive. "That outfit flatters you." (If you feel uncomfortable giving a non-responsive answer, you could simply state, "I feel uncomfortable answering that sort of question." or That outfit flatters you, but please don't ask me that sort of question because it makes me uncomfortable.)
- Partially supported claims
A related BS tactic is name dropping. Citing a credible authority may make sense sometimes, but in other instances the authority is either irrelevant or is unverifiable.
- Verbal claims totally unsupported by documentation
- If a product has a label, it's there for a reason.
- It requires a "conspiracy theory" for the explanation to work
- False presumption/Presumed understanding
- "Of course you know..." This is more of a method of intimidation than direct deception; the deception being the person is mislead that this is someone they should know.
- Requires impractical conditions to be met for the promise to come true.
- Includes a request that the person making the request knows will not be met.
- Example: "Please ask your employer to change their medical/dental plan." (link describing curious scam engaged in by some medical professionals)
- "Smoke and Mirrors" Alternatives
- This is common in politics; occasionally elsewhere. A glamorous sounding alternative is announced as "close to being achieved" and will almost-magically solve the problems addressed by the issue at hand.
1. We don't need fuel efficiency standards because we're developing hydrogen fuel cell technology.
2. We are expect there will be meaningful fuel efficiency standards. We are developing new technology and need more Government support for our research.
The first is an attempt to divert attempts to address an issue with implied promises of "things to come". The second is a sincere attempt to request help as a quid pro quo for the regulation.
It is noteworthy that the "We're developing hydrogen fuel cell technology" strategy worked well enough to drive General Motors into bankrupsy, requiring a government bailout. GM is no longer promoting their (non existent) fuel cell cars.
Recognize attempts to obfuscate an issue with vague promises.
- Innuendo requires that the person told the statement make conclusions based on facts which were not stated but only implied. If the implied facts can't be stated, there's a reason.
- Business "recommendations" for or against other businesses
- This is difficult to discern from personal recommendations shared by people in the business. If the recommendation is the opinion of the business, then there's a business reason. This could be something as complex as a marketing arrangement or as simple as a kickback (payment from one merchant to another for obtaining a customer).
- In a personal recommendation, an individual is rendering a personal opinion, but since recommendations are often presented as personal recommendations, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the two. Some clues:
- The recommendation is institutionalized or stated by someone who doesn't seem to have personal knowledge concerning the recommendation.
- The recommendation includes innuendo.
- There's an undisclosed business relationship between the recommending business and the business recommended.
- The recommendation includes time pressure which seems to be artificial.
There are cases where business recommendations are beneficial and should not be considered BS.
This is because the business recommendation is legitimately for the benefit of the person making the recommendation. This is most common with personal service contracts, where one business is used to working with another business. Usually this relationship is clearly set forth. Similarly, the business interest of the referring party may be expedited service or some other business function which benefits both the referring business and the customer. There are also cases in which the referring business has better knowledge as to which referred businesses are best able to handle a particular transaction.
A similar case exists where the referral is generally requested of the business. This is common, for example, with referrals for delivery services.
A penalty for not immediately purchasing (typically with "add on" items such as dealer sold "extended warranties")
- If there's a penalty, decline the offer. On the average, a penalty for delay means that you'll find a better purchase elsewhere. The penalty for delay generally means that the business would prefer you not think about the decision, even though the penalty means you won't make the purchase later.
One sales scam is to describe the delay as some sort of fee. i.e., more BS. (If you don't like their rules at the time of purchase, you won't like their rules later!)
- Priceless items - deliberately leaving out critical information (eg., price), based on the target being too embarrassed to ask.
The ploy includes positioning the patron where it is necessary to object, often in circumstances where it is impolite to do so. More at exercises.html .
- Ambiguous statements the statement has no real meaning.
- Usually these are low keyed comments, such as
"I hope to..."
An easy way to respond without challenging the person is to acknowledge the ambiguity:
"It will be right out."
"I never know what that means."
Note that in most of these cases, it's possible to resolve the issue by simply thinking out the issue in advance or if not, before making a decision. It's generally not possible to resolve these issues "on the spot" if you hadn't heard something similar before.
"Paper Coffee Filter" articles
"Paper Coffee Filter" articles or "Paper Coffee Filter" stories are sponsored articles or stealth submissions advancing a false or highly distorted commercial message, disguised as "sceintific" article.
Key to "Spin"
An almost certain indication of BS is if a published statement addresses a bogus issue, but completely ignores the real issues. Examples:
- Chemical food safety of plastics the "Dioxin" Issue.
- "Dioxin" is a bogus issue and has no relevance to food containers. Chemical food safety relates to the extent to which plasticizers leach out of plastic containers, for example in a microwave oven. This of course has nothing to do with dioxins. The plastics industry addresses the "Dioxin Issue" but fails to address the issues of several plasticizers released when using plastics in microwave cooking. Dioxin is a bogus issue which is easily refuted.
Sadly, the US Food and Drug Administration has joined the bandwagon of addressing the "Dioxin Issue".
- "Almost Achievable" Goals
- General Motors' promotion of fuel cell technology in lieu of meaningful fuel efficiency (e.g., 50 MPG / 4 liters/100 km).
While GM can claim that both are beyond reach, 4 liters/100 km is actually realistic. GM would rather promote fuel cells because by promoting fuel cells, both technologies will remain somewhere in the indeterminate future. (never mind that VW sells the 3L Lupo (78 MPG / 3 liters/100 km, hence "3L")) GM is selecting fuel cell technology because it will fail and they can keep producing obsolete junk getting 27 MPG / 9 liters/100 km.
Fluff and Illusory Quality
(Persistent BS State)
- Low Quality Products Sold as High Quality
- While most products are promoted as high quality, there are some instances where an inferior product masquerades as better quality. If it's the same or better, then the components will be the same or better. That's easy to identify in foodstuffs because of ingredient listings.
- Low Quality Goods used for Fundraisers
- Typically these are foods and similar items sold as part of a
fundraising campaign. The idea is that one would not mind paying a
premium price for quality goods, especially if the proceeds help some
cause. Presumably the fundraisers have selected high quality items for
It seems as often as not, the goods are of extremely low quality. This suggests that whomever is making the commercial arrangements really doesn't care. I figure if they don't care, neither should I.
The people selecting the product are showing contempt, or at best disregard for their contributors.
If "fundraiser" food items are offered, look at the ingredients. If there are no ingredients, there's a reason. I figure that I wouldn't buy such a product in a store, so why would I pay a premium for the privilege?
If asked, I say, "I couldn't find the ingredients," or just say outright, "I was disappointed in the quality. If I'm being asked to donate money, I expect that someone in the organization would take least the care in selection of the product that I would take when buying for my own family/for myself." Usually, it's just, "I tried, but couldn't find something I liked."
If the group or organization is expecting people to pay a premium price, they should have enough respect for their contributors to provide sufficient quality to make the premium price nominally worth it.
- Automotive Parts
- Auto parts designations sound like BS, but often are not. Auto parts are classified as:
I listed this here because of the difficulty in understanding what one is purchasing in repair parts. "Warranty" is generally meaningless in automotive parts because of the practicalities of replacement labor.
- OE (original equipment)
- sold by the car maker, with their logo.
- OEM (original equipment manufacturer)
- the people who actually make the part and supply it to the manufacturer. Some parts have multiple OEMs. It's what came with the car (or others like it).
- not what came with the car, but designed to fit. Some are good quality; others not. (Some "replacement" parts are referred to as "OEM" because the parts are high quality and used as OEM on similar vehicles.)
- This sometimes references Replacement parts which are in some way made better than original. Examples would be Silla radiators, or performance parts. If you're not looking for something different, there would be no advantage to purchasing "Aftermarket parts".
- Like Kind and Quality (LKQ)
- This term is generally only found on collision repairs, and refers to junkyard parts. "Like kind and quality" (LKQ) is supposed to mean the same as what was on the car. If the fender is replaced with a junkyard, part, the part is presumed to be OEM and is presumed to be approximately the vintage of the customer's car (otherwise it won't fit). It is not supposed to be significantl damaged or rusted. (This would also apply to rebuilt parts, but insist on those parts being OEM or factory rebuilds.)
In many cases, a LKQ parts will not be available and the shop will negotiate purchase of OEM parts with the insurance company.
LKQ are good, but if there is a possiblity of rust for parts in your part of the country, inspect the parts before they are prepped for installation. Or just to the shop about concerns with rust and the use of replacement parts before they accept the part.
- Brand names can be a good indication of quality, provided you have a baseline.
Perhaps the easiest approach is to read the ingredients, looking for such items as artificial ingredients and preservatives. (e.g., Godiva chocolates, promoted as premium uses artificial flavourings.) There are some companies that are fastidious about avoiding these.
Pay attention to the supermarket's pricing policies. Some chains artificially raise the price of brand name products to sell house brands, whereas others maintain competitive pricing of brand names, while selling their house brands at a genuine discount.
- "Select" (if used as a noun)
- The term is noteworthy because it is an example of "spin" in wording. "Select" is a verb describing an action. The term "selected" is clear but implies that someone made the selection.
If someone wants to avoid the word, "selected", then the non deceptive description would be "a selection".
The "Time Share" Test
A "time share condominium " is a type of real estate purchase, which often involves costs and assumptions which are unreasonable, resulting in negative equity value. There are a few instances where the purchaser finds value, but those instances are exceedingly rare.
If the financial arrangement involves too many contingencies, then the arrangement will only be beneficial if all or most of the contingencies are met. If an arrangement seems to be as problematic as a time share, it's probably best to avoid it.
- "What are your credentials for rendering your opinion?"
- Why not say, "You're too stupid to have an opinion on the subject"? There are some circumstances where credentials are important to a credible opinion, but these circumstances generally include the expertise as part of the opinion. Examples are market appraisals, medical treatments, repair estimates. Even in those cases, a lay person can determine if xe wishes to accept the appraisal or recommendation.
The credentials for a general opinion are the ability to engage in rational thought.
- It is true because you cannot prove it untrue.
- Not all things have direct proof. There are also things that have been shown to be true, but which involve complex scientific explanations. The details of the scientific explanations may not be common knowledge, but that does not make the explanation less valid.
- It is true because I had not cited a reference to disprove it.
- The fact that a listener has not memorized all sources of common knowledge does not disprove those sources.
- Recognize answers which "contradict" the question, or which are "non-responsive" in general.
- If an answer doesn't have a direct correspondence to the question, be ready to say so. Examples:
- "Yes, but that wasn't my question."
- "Yes, but [repeat question]. That is what I really want to know."
- "Oh, I'm afraid you misunderstood my question. (More likely the person pretended to misunderstand.) Do you understand what I asked?
- "I understand, but that's my question."
- "Yes, but that has nothing to do with my question."
- All-in-all, it's a fairly easy thing in some cases to make this kind of "Is it responsive?" analysis.
- This type of "Is it responsive?" analysis can also be used to confirm dishonest business dealings with sales people, agents, etc. If you receive a non responsive answer, 1) confirm that the non responsiveness was intentional, and 2) determine whether to terminate dealing with that person.
- Request that the issue be addressed first, before irrelevancies. ("...because otherwise it gets confusing.")
- "Cut and paste" quoting.
- This is mostly for text communications, where non responsive answers can be particularly exasperating. If the question doesn't get answered a first time, cut and paste the same question.
- Make it difficult to "ignore" the issues
- This also usually applies to a second written communication. Write it with the idea that someone doing a very quick review would immediately notice if the issue is ignored a second time around. Perhaps a very brief, but polite preface, such as "(same question...)".
- Refer to their notes.
- If you have any sort of account that the person is looking up, there are likely to be notes. Since they are obviously looking at that, don't be reluctant to say something like, "Please look at your notes. You'll see that..."
- Don't forget that the person on the other end of the line (the inbound telemarketer) is a human being doing a difficult job.
- They are often used by their employers to make excuses for poor service or illegal or unethical policies. They are the ones that hear from irate customers.
- Nevertheless, if they are supporting something that is unethical or otherwise unacceptable, don't be afraid to politely voice your objections. The business cannot act illegally without the assistance and consent of its employees.
One way to analyze a conspiracy theory is to determine if the extent of the conspiracy theory and number of conspirators makes sense.
- A classic conspiracy includes a few operatives who are able to execute the conspiracy without others discovering the conspiracy. Alternatively, the conspiracy may be discovered but not reach the level of outrage that would result in the conspiracy being stopped.
- Internet hoaxes are examples of this. One or perhaps a few people can advance an internet hoax and the hoax is often perpetuated without anyone stopping it.
- In some cases, outrageous conspiracy theories can be achieved with complacency.
- Examples include corporate consumer fraud schemes and schemes by limited groups of people within government.
- Once the conspiracy becomes clearly outrageous, the only way to keep it silent would be to absolutely prevent others from discovering the conspiracy.
For example, an activity to poison or murder fellow citizens in a country would fail as a conspiracy because once people with an ability to respond get an indication of the conspiracy, the conspiracy would be investigated and stopped.
If the alleged "conspiracy" is popularly known, then it would probably also be known to those people in power who would also be outraged. This is the basic fallacy of most widespread "government conspiracy" theories.
A real life example is "extraordinary rendition" by the US CIA of terrorism suspects. The activity was in fact leaked in a manner that showed credibility. The targets of the extraordinary renditions were terrorist suspects who were considered enemies (i.e., not ordinary citizens), and the only secret aspects of this activity were the specific details.
In order for an outrageous activity by the government to remain secret, the government must be totalitarian enough to silence its critics, such as, for example, Syria or Iran. For this to work, the average citizen must fear that the government will discover that xe is criticising the government and that the government will directly retaliate.
- The existence of an elaborate story does not make the conspiracy credible.
- Example "Truthers" ("Troothers") (People who claim that the 11 Sep 2001 terrorist attacks were perpetrated by the US Government
- The "Truthers" theories involves an elaborate explanation that involve a secret operation to create the attacks as fake attacks. The basic problem with that conspiracy, besides the pseudoscientific explanations and political theories, is that it presumes that no group within the government would consider such a plan to be wrongful. It just is not plausible.
What is plausible about the "truther" theory is that individual components of the theory can be plausible. For example, the reasons for a building to collapse can be debated because the principles of frame construction can be debated. That of course does not make the conspiracy itself plausible; only that it is plausible that a (different) building could react in different ways to a physical event.
- Example Bin Ladin was disposed of in a manner intended to reduce "martyrdom" (Osama Bin ;Ladin was shot during the raid. After obtaining forensic evidence, presumably to be sure that the person was really Bin Ladin, the body was dumped at sea. The burial was described as "in Islamic tradition".)
Probably True because it makes sense. (It is also not a typical popular "conspiracy theory".)
The means of disposal factually not traditional, but was intended to not be offensive (to people other than Bin Ladin). There was a bona fide reason to not offend Islamic tradition, because the purpose was to eliminate the person while limiting the effect of martyrdom.
The "conspiracy" would be that
Both are plausible because it is likely that all people in power in the US military and the US government would accept these actions. The only "secret" part about the above two actions is that the intentional nature of these two actions was not publicly admitted. Actually, there was some objection to the shooting as an assassination, but this was also not hidden from the public.
- 1. Bin Ladin was shot when it would have been possible to capture him, and
- 2. the dumping at sea was done to minimize martyrdom.
"Inspiration Porn" is a story or image showing someone who, despite obstacles, has achieved something. The achievement can be anything from an extraordinary accomplishment or mundane. Either way, it's BS, and generally patronizing or condescending to the class of people it describes.
I like reading this sort of thing when it is in reference to an animal, but "cute" does not readily apply to people dealing with ordinary life, even if the task is difficult for that person. People are "cute" because other people find them physically attractive; not because they have life skills.
Often, something is only inspirational if the disabled person has managed to do something extraordinary for them, but the only reason said disabled person has to is because nobody makes accommodations for them to do it easily. In other words, their accessibility is limited and they have to manage this amazing feat in order to do something that should be normal. The abled world sets disabled people up, unknowingly, to be their inspiration porn from not properly accommodating us.
'If a story is told, and it's inspirational, but the story would not "work" if the person in the story is not disabled, it's probably inspiration porn, even if it is a "nice" story. It might not be inspiration porn but it probably is.' - Paula Durban-Westby
not to be confused with homeless people.
Generally, a good, well thought out story is a dead giveaway of total BS. The better the story, the more likely it's BS.
Don't make excuses as to why you won't pay out. The easiest way to say, "No" is "No".
But if you wish to comment:
That said, I have nothing against giving homeless people food. These are people who generally do not have a scam, and are fairly easy to identify.
- "I'd like to, but every time I give money to one of you guys, I feel used and taken advantage of."
- "Sorry, I don't have any work for you."
- "Oh, now you're laughing at me for suggesting 'work'!"
- "That's a very convincing story. It's better than the version you told me two months ago."
- "You mean you'd take a quarter and buy food, when I could spend it on a good cheap bottle of wine?"
- "Bus fare.. You're in a train station. If you find a bus down here, you don't want to go on it."
- (Panhandlers in some cities will sometimes slip into train stations, but know that people are more likely to give them money for bus transportation, which is cheaper.)
- "You know, if you saved a LOT of money, and bought a ___ing shoe shine kit, you'd make a killing here."
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First posted 4-Feb-12. Last revised 8-Sep-19.
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