Friday, April 28, 2017

That's Bullshit

Now that I've listened to all seven episodes of Shit Town, I'm seeking new auditory distraction for my workouts. In the course of my searching, I came across the college course that we all dreamed of taking, one that seems perfectly matched to our stupid fucking era.

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.
We will be astonished if these skills do not turn out to be among the most useful and most broadly applicable of those that you acquire during the course of your college education.

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.

This course should be required for every American before he or she is eligible to vote, paired with Clay Johnson's 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.


Danimal said...

As my dad always used to say when I'd try to slide one by him..."Don't ever bullshit a bullshitter."

zman said...

I've said it here before and I'll say it here again ... US politics has devolved into sports. People pick a side and root for whoever suits up for their team.

Squeaky said...

Agreed Zman. Check Your Head was 25 years old this week. Damn we are getting old.

Whitney said...

This next one is the first song on our new... album...

Catpell said...

i was telling some story today to my students from high school and i said "thirty years ago . . ."


kids today today have never listened to "paul's boutique" or " check your head," but they have all seen "the breakfast club."