Those who are familiar with UK comedian Karl Pilkington and his series An Idiot Abroad, might remember the heartening episode where Karl's buddies, Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant, question him about a preferred superpower.
Instead of going with the typical ones like teleportation, flying, mind control or invisibility, Karl, the typical weird but genius self that he is, said he'd like to be the Bullshit Man: "There are so many meetings going on where you know people are bullshitting. I would just like to walk in – I don't need a special costume – I'd fly in, I'd go, 'Bullshit! You're talking bullshit!'"
Well, his dream of becoming one might be closer to reality than ever thanks to two University of Washington professors who created the Calling Bullshit In the Age of Big Data college course.
Carl Bergstrom, Professor at the Department of Biology, and Jevin West, Assistant Professor in the Information School at the UW, drafted the potential college seminar because, in their own words, "the world is awash with bullshit":
"Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. [...]
We're sick of it. It's time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people."
The syllabus is comprised of eleven lectures ranging from "Introduction to bullshit" to "The natural ecology of bullshit," "The ethics of calling bullshit," and, of course, a crash course on "Fake news." The literature for these lectures is even better with actual publications such as Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit and G. A. Cohen's Deeper into Bullshit.
According to Bergstrom and West, the ultimate goal of their course is to "help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument."
The course couldn't come at a better time, what with all the "fake news" and "alternative facts" bullshit floating around us. According to its creators, they have proposed this course for future inclusion in the course catalog at the University of Washington.
For now, it is not an official course and only exists in the form of the Callingbullshit.org website. Head over to it to learn more about Bergstrom and West's reasoning for this initiative, as well as other handy resources such as the official definition of bullshit or tools and tricks to effectively call bullshit:
"Bullshit is 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."