"Calling Bullshit" Is the College Course for Our Times - Here's How You Can Take It Online

A college course on how to recognize "bullshit" addresses fake news, memes, clickbaiting and misleading advertising. 

Taking a course with the word "bullshit" in its title is a cynical student's dream that University of Washington professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West are making a reality. Their 10-week seminar, enticingly titled "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data" begins in March.


The course is a perfect match for our fact-challenged times, where charges of "fake news" and "alternative facts" have become part of common public discourse. If you can't take the course in person, you can follow it online, as its syllabus, readings and recordings of lectures will be available to the general public.

The synopsis of the course is listed succinctly as "Our world is saturated with bullshit. Learn to detect and defuse it."

The course looks to teach students key skills for judging information. The specific ways in which those taking the course will benefit are outlined in the syllabus:

Remain vigilant for bullshit contaminating your information diet.

Recognize said bullshit whenever and wherever you encounter it.

Figure out for yourself precisely why a particular bit of bullshit is bullshit.

Provide a statistician or fellow scientist with a technical explanation of why a claim is bullshit.

Provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit.


It's hard not to agree with such objectives. 

The course will consider a number of case studies that range from a story on food stamp fraud by Fox News to viral social media memes, clickbaiting and misleading advertising.

The inspiration for the course came to the Professors from reviewing scientific articles over a number of years. They noticed a trend of statistics better suited for smaller data sets being used for big data sets of millions or billions of examples. This could result in forcing correlations that aren't necessarily there.

Another disturbing trend noticed by Professor West was in seeing the "overfitting" of data by machine learning algorithms which were too perfectly matched to particular data sets instead of being more general.

The course is not geared towards a particular political ideology.

"We simply want to help people of all political perspectives resist bullshit, because we are confident that together all of us can make better collective decisions if we know how to evaluate the information that comes our way," explain the authors on the course's website.

You can access the course's materials here.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

10 science photos that made history and changed minds

These photos of scientific heroes and accomplishments inspire awe and curiosity.

Surprising Science
  • Science has given humanity an incalculable boost over the recent centuries, changing our lives in ways both awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • Fortunately, photography, a scientific feat in and of itself, has recorded some of the most important events, people and discoveries in science, allowing us unprecedented insight and expanding our view of the world.
  • Here are some of the most important scientific photos of history:
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less