Washington Post - April 26, 2019
Researchers embarked on a novel study intent on measuring what a Princeton philosophy professor contends is one of the most salient features of our culture — the ability to play the expert without being one.
Or, as the social scientists put it, to BS.
Research by John Jerram and Nikki Shure of the University College of London, and Phil Parker of Australian Catholic University attempted to measure the pervasiveness of this trait in society and identify its most ardent practitioners.
Study participants were asked to assess their knowledge of 16 math topics on a five-point scale ranging from “never heard of it” to “know it well, understand the concept.” Crucially, three of those topics were complete fabrications: “proper numbers,” “subjunctive scaling” and “declarative fractions.” Those who said they were knowledgeable about the fictitious topics were categorized as BSers.
Using a data set spanning nine predominantly English-speaking countries, researchers delineated a number of key findings. First, men are much more likely than women to master the art of hyperbole, as are the wealthy relative to the poor or middle class. North Americans, meanwhile, tend to slip into this behavior more readily than English speakers in other parts of the globe. And if there were a world championship, as a true devotee might appreciate, the title would go to Canada, data show.
The study drew from the Program for International Student Assessment, which is administered to tens of thousands of 15-year-olds worldwide. The test included a background questionnaire that captures demographic information, along with students’ attitudes toward the subjects they study in school. That section of the test included the questions about math knowledge.
The data revealed that boys across all nine countries were significantly more likely than girls to pretend expertise, with the difference between the two working out to nearly half a standard deviation in some countries — a big gap, statistically speaking. ...
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