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As you may know, Brandolini’s law states:

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

I am looking for a term that shows the asymmetry between just making a hypothesis or claim or allegation (which is easy to do) and providing a proof or evidence for the claim (which is hard and takes a lot of energy). If you use it strictly, Brandolini’s law is only applicable to bullshit or wrong claims but not for reasonable claims (that is, claims that may be right).

Is there a recognized term for this that covers both types of claims, meaning that they could be bullshit or really worth consideration but that the proof is always hard?

ChatGPT suggested asymmetry of proof and verification asymmetry, but neither of these is a popular or recognized term even though both make some sense. The closest thing I could find conceptually is burden of proof. I guess the burden of proof idea also comes from this asymmetry.

You can also see that making claims/hypotheses are easy from the proliferation of conspiracy theories and from the popularity of derogatory remarks like "empty theorizing". (Even though most of the time these turn out to be wrong sometimes they turn out to be true, but proving them true/false is still hard which is why I am looking for a term that is neutral, just so that the asymmetry should not be just related to nonsense claims).

Is this a recognized issue in general (so much so that it merits a term), meaning that hypotheses are cheap but proofs take work? If so, what words or concepts do philosophers, thinkers, or scientists use to address this issue?

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    I did ask the question on English Stack Exchange and someone suggested mud-sticks but what I am looking for is a term that would cover the general idea that the effort involved in putting out a random theory (anyone can conjure up a random theory) is way higher than validating your random theory (which is way hard). It's similar to the "Talk is Cheap" idea that it is easy to hypothesize but proving something is hard.
    – Tangent
    Commented Mar 31 at 18:02
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    This isn't an answer to your question, but one might be able to argue it's an instance of entropy. It takes more effort to maintain complex structures than it does for them to eventually fall apart - perhaps similar things are true about information amongst humans. I'm not certain there's something worthwhile in this idea, but it occurred to me now so I thought I'd share it.
    – TKoL
    Commented Mar 31 at 18:56
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    Beware of status quo bias though. When someone introduces a new idea, it's probably not completely random, even if it seems that way to you; they likely have some reasons for thinking it's worthwhile that you don't know until you listen to what they have to say.
    – causative
    Commented Mar 31 at 18:58
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    And every established idea was at one time new and untested. If we are interested in pursuing truth, we need to have an affinity for novelty. Even if 99% of novel ideas fail, we should not be discouraged, because it is only by sifting through these that we might identify the 1% of new ideas that are really good.
    – causative
    Commented Mar 31 at 19:14
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    @causative Totally agree with you, most of the time these hypotheses turn out to be false but sometimes they turn out to be true, but that doesn't make proving them true/false any different, it's still hard, which is exactly why I am looking for a term that is neutral, just so that the asymmetry should not be just related to nonsense claims but to all hypotheses right and wrong.
    – Tangent
    Commented Mar 31 at 19:52

2 Answers 2

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Bullshit is simply illogical; hardly any effort is needed to make a grammatically valid sentence if you don't care whether it makes sense. It's even easy to provide evidence of this; see choprawoo.

In contrast, refuting bullshit by definition implies giving some logical argument to refute a piece of bullshit. It ought to be obvious that it is far more difficult to come up with a logical argument than to come up with a grammatical sentence. If you pick a uniformly random grammatical sentence, the likelihood that it is a logical argument decreases exponentially with its length. This is true for any reasonable notion of "logical".

Furthermore, there is no systematic way to find a logical refutation of an arbitrary given bullshit. This can even be justified by the impossibility theorems (e.g. unsolvability of the halting problem, incompleteness theorems). For example, the bullshitter can easily make claims like "The Goldbach conjecture is false." or "There are infinitely many even numbers more than 2 that are each the sum of 2 primes in only one way.", and good luck to you on refuting them. XD

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  • Bullshit has to be at least ostensibly logical to be effective - it is not just grammatically correct sentences. Where it is wrong (and it isn't always wrong) is often due to factual errors rather than logic. It is also possible for bullshit to be true, in which case it can't be (correctly) refuted. Commented Apr 2 at 10:05
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    @DikranMarsupial: You know, I would have thought the same as you in your first sentence in your comment, until I saw choprawoo. Have you not seen how many millions of USD that that scammer has earned from pure bullshit that is nearly indistinguishable from stochastically generated grammatical sentences? The reason people get scammed is because they are trying to find meaning even when there is none.
    – user21820
    Commented Apr 2 at 10:30
  • yes, there is that aspect of it, I was thinking of a more mainstream form of bullshit, e.g. arguments on discussion forums, political interviews etc. I think the Sokal article was more or less playing the same game as choprawoo, and it does indeed rely on the readers generosity in interpretation. Perhaps that is why we now live in the bullshitocene era, and it may take a while for evolutionary pressure to overcome it! Commented Apr 2 at 10:42
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    @DikranMarsupial: I wish you will be right, but I'm very cynical right now...
    – user21820
    Commented Apr 2 at 14:01
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Bullshit is central to Brandolini’s law. Harry Frankfurt, in "On Bullshit", essentially defines bullshit as making arguments without caring whether they are true. If you don't care whether your argument is true, there is no need for you to make the effort to find the weaknesses in your argument, and you can shift that work over to your opponent.

According to Frankfurt's definition, "just making a hypothesis or claim or allegation (which is easy to do)" is bullshit (even if it is true) if that is all you have done.

In science, good scientists tend to be their own harshest reviewer (reviewer number #3? ;o), and they anticipate the peer-reviewers objections and strengthen their papers so the reviewer can't make them. I tell my PhD students to write papers they way a competent chess player plays chess - you don't play the strongest move you can see - you play the move for which your opponent's best reply is weakest. That is why writing a good paper takes a lot longer than bullshitting on a discussion forum.

If you care about truth, you don't bullshit and you check your arguments before making them.

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