the college class on how not to be duped by the news

James McWilliams:

To prepare themselves for future success in the American workforce, today’s college students are increasingly choosing courses in business, biomedical science, engineering, computer science, and various health-related disciplines.

These classes are bound to help undergraduates capitalize on the “college payoff”, but chances are good that none of them comes with a promise of this magnitude: “We will be astonished if these skills [learned in this course] do not turn out to be the most useful and most broadly applicable of those that you acquire during the course of your college education.”

Sound like bullshit? If so, there’s no better way to detect it than to consider the class that makes the claim. Calling Bullshit: Data Reasoning in a Digital World, designed and co-taught by the University of Washington professors Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom, begins with a premise so obvious we barely lend it the attention it deserves: “Our world is saturated with bullshit.” And so, every week for 12 weeks, the professors expose “one specific facet of bullshit”, doing so in the explicit spirit of resistance. “This is,” they explain, “our attempt to fight back.”

The problem of bullshit transcends political bounds, the class teaches. The proliferation of bullshit, according to West and Bergstrom, is “not a matter of left- or rightwing 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.” They make it a point to stress that they began to work on the syllabus for this class back in 2015 – it’s not, they clarify, “a swipe at the Trump administration”.

Related: Madison’s high school graduation rate data and “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”