Author Topic: New university class: Calling Bullshit  (Read 378 times)

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Offline fuzzyMarmot

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New university class: Calling Bullshit
« on: January 12, 2017, 02:02:35 AM »
This course looks like a skeptic's dream come true:
http://callingbullshit.org

It is being offered at the University of Washington. One of the professors is Carl Bergstrom, a renowned ecologist.

This seems like a good step toward teaching critical thinking skills at the university level. I like that it is so interdisciplinary (like the SGU itself).

Offline fuzzyMarmot

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2017, 06:04:38 PM »
Let me append a question to this: should specific courses in skepticism be taught at the university level? That is, should we teach skepticism as a distinct skill (the way we teach calculus or English history?). Or should skepticism and critical thinking be taught in the context of existing subjects (e.g., teach skepticism about historical claims in history class, skepticism about fake news in journalism class, etc.)?

Offline Jeremy's Sea

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2017, 07:21:41 PM »
I think an applied critical thinking class as general ed would be amazing. OF course it SHOULD be present in every class, but in my experience it really wasn't, and monitoring that would be near impossible.
It would be nice to see it as a requirement, or least offered to fulfill a requirement and not just a general elective as it will most likely become self selecting for enrollment. Before I was ever a skeptic though I got some of this in philosophy classes. Logic was more or less math with letters, and some general "how do we know what we know" through historical philosophy figures, but I was also a Philosophy minor so I was exposed to it.
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Offline Zed

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2017, 01:29:00 PM »
This course looks like a skeptic's dream come true:
http://callingbullshit.org

It is being offered at the University of Washington. One of the professors is Carl Bergstrom, a renowned ecologist.

This seems like a good step toward teaching critical thinking skills at the university level. I like that it is so interdisciplinary (like the SGU itself).

Unfortunately, the site says this in the syllabus section: "Disclaimer: We have developed this seminar to meet what we see as a major need in higher education nationwide and we have proposed to teach it at the University of Washington in the near future. At present, however, Calling Bullshit is not an official course, nor is it otherwise endorsed by the University of Washington."


Offline Colonel Panic

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2017, 03:19:50 PM »
All I can say is, a class like this is bound to piss off a lot of people in the Humanities departments.

Offline Zed

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2017, 05:21:05 PM »
One of my criticisms of some skepticism is that we tend to focus a lot on calling out bullshit. I know skeptics are forced to call bullshit since we are obligated to do it when bullshit gets popularized. But it tends to make it like we think everything is bullshit...which can potentially be counter-productive since the general public may think we're just looking to piss on someone's parade. That's one reason I like the SGU, they call out bullshit but they also discuss good science and discuss limitations of studies.

Having taught college courses before, I know firsthand that students can sometimes take home the wrong message. Hopefully students will not come away thinking "Those science studies are bullshit...that means my faith healing that scientists deny is real!" or "The news is all fake...that means my politically extreme news blog that the mainstream news criticizes is real!"


Offline fuzzyMarmot

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2017, 06:01:25 PM »
Yeah, the course is not on the books yet. I think that if they generate enough student interest and show that they have a strong curriculum, they will get to pilot it soon.

To Zed's point, I think that the course will be aimed toward using critical reasoning to establish fact, not just to discredit stuff. Approaching statistics with care and skepticism can lead students to trust good statistics more, rather than undermine their faith in all statistics.

Offline Billzbub

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2017, 01:41:16 PM »
I shared this class on my Facebook page, and my dad replied that such a course already exists.  It is called the Rush Limbaugh Show.

Offline Andrew Clunn

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2017, 01:47:29 PM »
I shared this class on my Facebook page, and my dad replied that such a course already exists.  It is called the Rush Limbaugh Show.

Well he does have a point.  You can listen to Rush Limbaugh and then (at least twice an episode) there'll be a good place to call out, "Bullshit!"
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Offline Ah.hell

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2017, 01:59:58 PM »
Just twice?

Online Sawyer

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2017, 03:24:42 PM »
I'm guess I'm going to be the Negative Nancy here and say my initial reaction to having courses like this isn't great.

My perpetual concern with the skeptical community as a whole is that we present skeptical inquiry and critical thinking as unique talents, and that people who engage in these tasks are doing something fundamentally different from how the average person approaches science, medicine, religion, politics, etc.  I get even more concerned when these divisions are being actively encouraged by the world of academia.  If a chemistry class is not teaching students how to properly vet experimental evidence, and those students then decide 10 years later that detox therapy is a great idea, the issue is not that the university didn't offer a course on skepticism.  It's that the students didn't learn chemistry.  I'd much rather have a few 15 minute lectures within typical university courses on how to evaluate evidence, how to be aware of common biases and logical fallacies, and how to find trustworthy news sources rather than shoving all of these ideas into a separate course. 

I realize there are thousands of imbeciles with college degrees that serve as counter evidence to my argument, but I have a hard time believing that you can take Physics 101, Journalism 101, and Stats 200 at a decent university and not come away with a significantly refined skeptical worldview.  If those classes are not already integrating critical thinking into their curricula, I doubt a class on bullshit is going to do anything more than serve as a band aid.

I am still pissed off that I never took a basic "History of Science" class, despite 6 years studying mechanical engineering.  I'd favor more courses like that over a class tailored to calling bs.

Offline Colonel Panic

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #11 on: January 17, 2017, 02:08:29 AM »
Everybody in college is not getting a degree in science.

But in the Internet Age, everybody in college ought to be taught the basics of epistemology, critical thinking, and ethics. At the very least it ought to be a required course. An even better idea would be to teach it in the 3rd and 4th year of high school.

Offline fuzzyMarmot

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #12 on: January 17, 2017, 02:27:05 AM »
Sawyer- I definitely see your point on this. I go back and forth on whether I think have courses specifically devoted to critical thinking is a good idea.

Ideally, I think that university students should learn critical thinking skills in the context of a traditional class (e.g., physics, history, etc.). And university requirements should make sure that students are exposed to a wide variety of subjects (so, for example, a physics student would be exposed to critical thinking in the context of a journalism class, or a communications student would be exposed to critical thinking in the context of a statistics class).

In practice, though, many students mentally silo off the subject material from different classes. A student might take physics 101, but not realize the computational skills they learned can be applied to assessing claims in a news story about economics. A course specifically devoted to critical thinking emphasizes the general, cross-disciplinary utility of these skills.

Topics like publication bias and p-hacking don't typically come up in traditional intro courses. And many disciplines don't teach their own flaws well. I doubt many students emerge from psych 101 with an appreciation for the shortcomings of fMRI studies.

Offline Jeremy's Sea

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2017, 11:09:30 AM »
I was a lib arts major and took Astronomy 101 and Ecology for my general ed requirements. As interested as I am in science now, I had no interest back then and avoided it. The only touches of critical thinking I got was through my interest in Philosophy. Maybe a general course on scientific method and critical thinking for non-science majors would be helpful? The reason I got so interested in science and skepticism is because I wanted answers and I'm a curious person, I used to think science was memorizing facts and doing equations. Well I mean that's what it is to anyone trying to get through requirements. Instead of having to memorize star types, periodic tables, and physics equations we should be teaching the skills that stick. Hell if I remember anything they taught me in science classes, I've learned more science from the SGU podcast than I did in school.
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Offline Ah.hell

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Re: New university class: Calling Bullshit
« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2017, 11:18:25 AM »
I was a lib arts major and took Astronomy 101 and Ecology for my general ed requirements. As interested as I am in science now, I had no interest back then and avoided it. The only touches of critical thinking I got was through my interest in Philosophy. Maybe a general course on scientific method and critical thinking for non-science majors would be helpful? The reason I got so interested in science and skepticism is because I wanted answers and I'm a curious person, I used to think science was memorizing facts and doing equations. Well I mean that's what it is to anyone trying to get through requirements. Instead of having to memorize star types, periodic tables, and physics equations we should be teaching the skills that stick. Hell if I remember anything they taught me in science classes, I've learned more science from the SGU podcast than I did in school.
A general course on the scientific method and critical thinking would be a good first year class for every major, especially the TEM in STEM. 

 

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