The “Calling Bullshit” university course

As we’ve seen in a number of RealKM Magazine articles, we live in a world where knowledge is significantly influenced by fake news, alternative facts, and hyped science.

STAT reports that two professors at the University of Washington, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, became so frustrated with this flood of “bullshit” knowledge that they created the new course “Calling Bullshit In the Age of Big Data.”

They define “bullshit” as “language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.”

As well as tackling a critically important issue, Bergstrom and West are also demonstrating a very commendable commitment to open information. They’ve made the course materials freely available online, including the lecture notes with readings and videos of the lectures. They’re very happy for other institutions to adapt the materials for their own courses, and provide advice in this regard in their FAQ.

The first course, convened at the University of Washington earlier this year, was for one credit with a once-a-week lecture over 10 weeks. The lectures covered the following topics:

  1. Introduction to bullshit
  2. Spotting bullshit
  3. The natural ecology of bullshit
  4. Causality
  5. Statistical traps
  6. Visualization
  7. Big data
  8. Publication bias
  9. Predatory publishing and scientific misconduct
  10. The ethics of calling bullshit
  11. Fake news
  12. Refuting bullshit

Bergstrom and West intend to shortly expand the class to a full three-credit course.


Originally published at RealKM.

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