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The “Calling Bullshit” university course

As we’ve seen in a number of RealKM Magazine articles, we live in a world where knowledge is significantly influenced by fake news, alternative facts, and hyped science.

STAT reports that two professors at the University of Washington, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, became so frustrated with this flood of “bullshit” knowledge that they created the new course “Calling Bullshit In the Age of Big Data.”

They define “bullshit” as “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.”

As well as tackling a critically important issue, Bergstrom and West are also demonstrating a very commendable commitment to open information. They’ve made the course materials freely available online, including the lecture notes with readings and videos of the lectures. They’re very happy for other institutions to adapt the materials for their own courses, and provide advice in this regard in their FAQ.

The first course, convened at the University of Washington earlier this year, was for one credit with a once-a-week lecture over 10 weeks. The lectures covered the following topics:

  1. Introduction to bullshit
  2. Spotting bullshit
  3. The natural ecology of bullshit
  4. Causality
  5. Statistical traps
  6. Visualization
  7. Big data
  8. Publication bias
  9. Predatory publishing and scientific misconduct
  10. The ethics of calling bullshit
  11. Fake news
  12. Refuting bullshit

Bergstrom and West intend to shortly expand the class to a full three-credit course.


Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes (www.bruceboyes.info) is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (www.realkm.com) and currently also teaches in the University of NSW (UNSW) Foundation Studies program in China. He has expertise and experience in a wide range of areas including knowledge management (KM), environmental management, program and project management, writing and editing, stakeholder engagement, communications, and research. Bruce holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction and a Certificate of Technology (Electronics). With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource for knowledge managers, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee the implementation of an award-winning $77.4 million river recovery program in western Sydney on time and under budget, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support communities to sustainably manage landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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