“Calling Bullshit”: Watch Lectures for the College Course Designed to Combat the BS in our Information Age

This past Jan­u­ary, we high­light­ed a syl­labus for a ten­ta­tive course called “Call­ing Bull­shit,” designed by two pro­fes­sors at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West.

The course–also some­times called “Call­ing Bull­shit in the Age of Big Data”–ended up being offered this spring. And now you can see how it unfold­ed in the class­room. The 10 video lec­tures from the class are avail­able online. Watch them above, or at this YouTube playlist. Also find them housed in our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Accord­ing to The Seat­tle Times, the course “achieved the aca­d­e­m­ic ver­sion of a chart-top­ping pop sin­gle: At the UW [Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton], it reached its 160-stu­dent capac­i­ty short­ly after reg­is­tra­tion opened this spring.” And now col­leges “in Cana­da, France, Por­tu­gal, Eng­land and Aus­tralia have con­tact­ed the pro­fes­sors about teach­ing a ver­sion of the course this fall.”

The course itself was premised on this basic idea: “Bull­shit is every­where, and we’ve had enough. We want to teach peo­ple to detect and defuse bull­shit wher­ev­er it may arise.”

A longer overview of the course appears below. It was cit­ed in our orig­i­nal post. And it’s worth high­light­ing again:

The world is awash in bull­shit. Politi­cians are uncon­strained by facts. Sci­ence is con­duct­ed by press release. High­er edu­ca­tion rewards bull­shit over ana­lyt­ic thought. Start­up cul­ture ele­vates bull­shit to high art. Adver­tis­ers wink con­spir­a­to­ri­al­ly and invite us to join them in see­ing through all the bull­shit — and take advan­tage of our low­ered guard to bom­bard us with bull­shit of the sec­ond order. The major­i­ty of admin­is­tra­tive activ­i­ty, whether in pri­vate busi­ness or the pub­lic sphere, seems to be lit­tle more than a sophis­ti­cat­ed exer­cise in the com­bi­na­to­r­i­al reassem­bly of bull­shit.

We’re sick of it. It’s time to do some­thing, and as edu­ca­tors, one con­struc­tive thing we know how to do is to teach peo­ple. So, the aim of this course is to help stu­dents nav­i­gate the bull­shit-rich mod­ern envi­ron­ment by iden­ti­fy­ing bull­shit, see­ing through it, and com­bat­ing it with effec­tive analy­sis and argu­ment.

What do we mean, exact­ly, by the term bull­shit? As a first approx­i­ma­tion, bull­shit is 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.

While bull­shit may reach its apogee in the polit­i­cal domain, this is not a course on polit­i­cal bull­shit. Instead, we will focus on bull­shit that comes clad in the trap­pings of schol­ar­ly dis­course. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, such high­brow non­sense has come couched in big words and fan­cy rhetoric, but more and more we see it pre­sent­ed instead in the guise of big data and fan­cy algo­rithms — and these quan­ti­ta­tive, sta­tis­ti­cal, and com­pu­ta­tion­al forms of bull­shit are those that we will be address­ing in the present course….

Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think crit­i­cal­ly about the data and mod­els that con­sti­tute evi­dence in the social and nat­ur­al sci­ences.

If you’re inter­est­ed in watch­ing the course, get start­ed with Lec­ture 1: Intro­duc­tion to Bull­shit.

To learn more about the course, please vis­it this web­site.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Call­ing Bull­shit”: See the Syl­labus for a Col­lege Course Designed to Iden­ti­fy & Com­bat Bull­shit

How to Spot Bull­shit: A Primer by Prince­ton Philoso­pher Har­ry Frank­furt

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