INFO 198/BIOL 106B is being offered this quarter at The University of Washington, taught by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West. You'll know it by its title, 'Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data'. You'll appreciate the synopsis, "Our world is saturated with bullshit. Learn to detect and defuse it." And once you've read the Learning Objectives, you'll find yourself trying to figure out how to audit the course online:
Our learning objectives are straightforward. After taking the course, you should be able to:
- 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.
The course just entered its seventh week, the focus shifting from a baseline understanding of forms of bullshit to more straightforward academic treatment of big data and statistical analysis. You can find the course lectures online here.
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption and Tom Nichols' The Death of Expertise. (The latter's op-ed this week in USA Today, headlined, 'Are Trump Voters Ruining America for the All of Us', set off a gloriously amusing shitstorm on his Twitter feed. That he's a public conservative intellectual didn't stop Pepe and the Nazis from pulling out the 'libtard Hillary-lover' card.)
Bergstrom and West are serious academics, and take pains in the course FAQ to explain that, despite the catchy name, this course isn't a joke. In it, they note,
"As we explain on our home page, we feel that the world has become over-saturated with bullshit and we're sick of it. However modest, this course is our attempt to fight back.
We have a civic motivation as well. It's not a matter of left- or right-wing ideology; both sides of the aisle have proven themselves facile at creating and spreading bullshit. Rather (and at the risk of grandiose language) adequate bullshit detection strikes us as essential to the survival of liberal democracy. Democracy has always relied on a critically-thinking electorate, but never has this been more important than in the current age of false news and international interference in the electoral process via propaganda disseminated over social media."
We here at G:TB are facile at creating and spreading dipshittery, but our unique brand of bullshit isn't dangerous. Much appreciation to the good professors for doing their part to stop that which is.