Penn and Teller, those wonderful libertarian magicians, hosted a series called Bullshit! The Cat has also been on a mission to expose bullshit. But what of the word itself?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of the word ‘bull’ to describe nonsense dates from the 17th century. At that time ‘bull’ meant trivial, insincere, untruthful talk or writing, nonsense.
The OED states that T.S. Elliot’s The Triumph of Bullshit (circa 1910) was the first example of the word ‘bullshit’ being used in writing. Apparently the second, third and fourth recorded instances of the use of ‘bullshit’ are by Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and E. E. Cummings. Here is another discussion on the etymology of bullshit.
This is all a preface to my nomination for bullshit of the week.
This is the ‘cover story’ in the University of Melbourne’s Voice. Collaboration for a sustainable future must rank as one of the most vacuous examples of writing to emerge from a once great university.
You know that people have lost the plot when they ascribe emotion to inanimate objects. As for
The University of Melbourne has its attention firmly focused on bringing smart people together to collaborate on research, ideas and entrepreneurship to sustain our societies, and our planet
my first thought is of those Golgafrinchans put into B ark such as telephone sanitizers. At least the captain of B ark was a harmless guy who liked baths. Take this classic bullshit from the deputy vice-chancellor of the University, James McCluskey
The choices we make about building critical mass in a particular field can exert a strong ‘gravitational pull’ attracting the best researchers to join our academic community. [is this a physics lecture talking about a new subatomic particle researcher?]
They can attract complementary organisations, both from the public and private sector, and lead to clustered networks of specialised personnel with strong shared interests. [is this what used to be called discussion?]
With appropriate settings, these clusters can become ‘research precincts’ – a powerful means of harnessing collaborations and boosting overall effectiveness.
With sufficient scale, such research precincts can generate unexpected opportunities as close working relationships help to build trust, passion and insight. [what is this about? Isn't a University supposed to provide opportunities to work with other scholars?]
Precincts offer a way to reach across and beyond organisational boundaries to generate far greater impact on challenging problems than any of the players could achieve alone. [working with other organisations and people must be some novel concept.]
This all leads to the ultimate BS organisation the Carlton Connect Initiative.
The Carlton Connect Initiative is an ambitious strategy to unite the smartest people who share a desire to tackle some of our biggest sustainability and social resilience challenges and a passion for designing new ideas and technologies to help secure Australia’s prosperity.
Smart people. As in crafty, shrewd and slick? Perhaps. But possessing wisdom or self-awareness? Not at all.
Universities used to be about gaining knowledge and wisdom. Now they seem to be preparing people on the make. Where students are taught how to make clever or quibbling arguments that are fundamentally unsound. Where ho-hum research is repackaged as groundbreaking. Melbourne University is teaching sophistry in its pejorative sense.