Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
"We're going to hunt
down as many purveyors of bull**** as we can."
Bull****! is an American, ½-hour television
series which debunks nonsense, hosted by comedian-magicians Penn Fraser
Jillette and Raymond Joseph Teller.
began in January
2003. It criticises and debunks:
Pseudoscience (e.g. ESP; alternative medicine;
Supernatural beliefs (e.g. ghosts; ouija boards;
Religion (e.g. Creationism; Mother Theresa; the
(e.g. bottled water; diets; self-empowerment)
Social issues (e.g. gun control; waste recycling;
Charlatans (e.g. Hypno-charlatans)
presentations are blunt, mocking and aggressive with
expletives such as bull****, ass**** and f*** regularly repeated. In
the show on anger management we're told, "The casual ass****, or just
plain dickhead, might do well in an anger management program…"
Nevertheless, Penn concludes that the "venting" technique for anger
management is actually "bull****" because venting increases
aggressiveness. Sometimes the show attributes ulterior motives (e.g.
easy money) to promoters of misconceptions.
the shows include
nudity. In one a group of naked people move
around in the background; another includes a waxing scene. Program 6
"Sex, Sex, Sex" examines enlargement products for breasts and penises,
concludes they don't work, and declares them "bull****!"
Bull****! achieved worldwide success in democratic
countries including five seasons in the USA. In Australia it aired
of the term "bull****" in the opening
If they called people frauds or liars they could be sued for
slander even if they have overwhelming evidence of chicanery. But
vulgar abuse is not legally slanderous — calling people "ass****" or
"motherf*****" expresses an opinion, not a fact, and is legally safer.
does all the talking
and Teller mimes and acts.
famous advocates of various beliefs. We saw
Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth (Program 4,
the World), and Duane Gish, anti-evolutionist (Program 8 Creationism).
Skeptics and critics also guest-star regularly including Michael
Shermer of Skeptic magazine (Program 19, The Bible: Fact or
and Christopher Hitchens author of God Is Not Great (Program
end up looking silly or deluded. They
apparently agree to be on TV, knowing they could be introduced as "Then
there's this ass****". Penn has confirmed that interviewees know what
program they'll be on. But whether they really "know" may sometimes
depend on how observant they are. In one episode the crew enters a
building with one member wearing a cap labelled Penn & Teller:
Bullshit! And that, apparently, is how the interviewees "knew"!
include brief scientific explanations of
how quacks deceive their subjects. In Episode 1 "Talking to the Dead"
they, for example, explain "cold reading" — which is the technique of
extracting information by asking questions, restating answers by using
other words, guessing, and making general statements.
conduct informal experiments. In the episode "Bottled Water" diners in
a restaurant sample various "bottled water
brands" and pick a favourite. Afterwards they find out that all the
bottles were filled from the garden hose outside the restaurant.
Teller fires a rifle at a melon wrapped in
fibreglass tape to demonstrate that a human head will, when shot, jerk
in the opposite direction to the bullet trajectory. This demonstration
aimed to discredit the conspiracy theory of a second gunman in the
President Kennedy killing which argues, from the way Kennedy fell, that
he was shot from in front. Penn concludes, "Second gunman, my aching
critics accuse Penn
and Teller of bias in debunking opponents'
arguments and of ignoring information unfavourable to the show's
position. In the episode "Family Values" Penn counters with, "We're
fair and we never take people out of context. We're biased as all f***.
But, we try to be honest."
skeptics. The show is neither inquiry journalism
nor fact-based debunking but one-sided by design. Subjects are rarely
confronted with counter-evidence. "Crackpots" are allowed to ramble on
while Penn's voiceover rejoinders win without debate.
Program 5 Penn and
Teller reject any connection between second-hand
smoke and cancer but have since admitted they were "very likely" wrong.
Talking to the Dead
4 End of
Hand Smoke /
Shui / Bottled
Boards / Near
The Business of
War on Drugs
The Bible: Fact
Yoga / Tantric
Fountain of Youth
Holier Than Thou
Signs From Heaven
The Death Penalty