We impose strong social sanctions on liars. If you get caught in a serious lie, you may lose a friend. You may get punched in the nose. You may get sued in a court of law. Perhaps worst of all, your duplicity may become the subject of gossip among your friends and acquaintances. You may find yourself no longer a trusted partner in friendship, love, or business.
With all of these potential penalties, it’s often better to mislead without lying outright. This is called paltering. If I deliberately lead you to draw the wrong conclusions by saying things that are technically not untrue, I am paltering. Perhaps the classic example in recent history is Bill Clinton’s famous claim to Jim Lehrer on Newshour that “there is no sexual relationship [with Monica Lewinsky].” When further details came to light, Clinton’s defense was that his statement was true: He used the present-tense verb “is,” indicating no ongoing relationship. Sure, there had been one, but his original statement hadn’t addressed that issue one way or the other.
Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin D. West