Two University of Washington professors are calling out "fake news" and "alternative facts" in defense of the scientific community with their new course "Calling Bullshit In The Age of Big Data." Students, as well as the general public will have the opportunity to learn how to "detect and defuse" bullshit.
Biologist Carl Bergstrom, and his partner Jevin West, an assistant professor in UW's Information School, concocted the idea after much griping about the misinformation and misinterpretation of scientific data, algorithms and research seen in popular press, grant applications and scientific papers. After reviewing scientific articles for years, they decided 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." The apolitical course also gives insight to the unease felt by scholars who are devoted to the empirical scientific method, which is not as embraced as frequently as are the "outright scams."
The professors will examine case studies, or what they refer to as "bullshit in the wild" - to show how scientific data is "manipulated to mislead the public." Students will learn key skills for judging information, such as how to "remain vigilant for bullshit contaminating your information diet" or "recognize said bullshit whenever and wherever you encounter it."
While the course will be held on UW's campus, with a max of 160 students, the materials are available online to the general public for free. Other institutions, high schools, and middle schools have requested to borrow their material to create their own similar course and the two professors have eagerly agreed; "No copyright. No trademark. Use it. Run with it," West stated.
West and Bergstrom are also set on the term "bullshit" as they claim "there are few synonyms that can match the thump it has." University officials have strongly supported this, and it even appears in the school's new course catalog.