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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“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
Ooh! I’m going to be recommending this course for a lot of folks, mostly the ones I ‘meet’ on Twitter who are so obviously easily duped.
Better hope the folks in Texas don’t hear about it. Remember that they tried to ban the teaching of critical thinking skills in their state education system. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-gop-rejects-critical-thinking-skills-really/2012/07/08/gJQAHNpFXW_blog.html?utm_term=.b8ec0ba45e60
Ha ha, it’s about time!