A potential college course on detecting and combating bullshit in all its forms

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/01/12/a-potential-college-course-on.html


While I can appreciate the merits of this effort it’s not the educated knowing how to use a BS meter that’s useful it’s the low information masses that need additional metering skills. However, Today’s NYT has an article relaying that Trump voters in Iowa don’t give a crap about the BS. They see it as a means to an end. They know BS when they see it already.

Perhaps a more pertinent imaginary course would be in regards to understanding Trumpian moral compasses or lack thereof and how they determine regional ethics.

How’s that BS meter working?


So this article is about a course on bullshit that doesn’t actually exist?

Needs a meta tag.


This is a good idea, but Bergstrom and West would do America a real service by creating a similar course at the secondary level. Teenagers would make a course with that name a de facto graduation requirement.


One of my favorite classes at community college was a philosophy course called “Logic”. It was pretty helpful for learning to detect bullshit arguments.


Looks like a fairly standard course on basics of data analysis to me, but rebranded with the “combating bullshit” to make it look sexier. Most of the syllabus is already widely taught in universities everywhere, although many don’t do a good enough job at applying it to the ecology of bullshit on social media. The bigger problem is that this stuff never reaches the people who really need it, because, due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, they don’t think they need such a course.



The course website is basically a piece of design fiction: the course doesn’t exist

Bullshitting their way into a course about bullshit! Nice!


Looking forward to my tenure as Dean of the College of Administration Dismantling.


We had courses in Civics (how the US government works) that one had to pass to graduate middle school and then high school. We also had a Home Economics-ish life skills course that we had to pass to graduate high school, but this could be tested out of. The bullshit unit would make an excellent addition to the life skills course, especially regarding media literacy and statistical literacy. We also had a unit in middle school where we learned how (and why) to read a newspaper. That unit is obsolete, but the bullshit unit can easily replace it.


Here’s some useful background reading.

Citation from Project Muse, journal: Theory & Event, v.14 iss.4, 2011:


From the course objectives…

[quote]Provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit.
{emphasis added}[/quote]

That part about persuasive…

I’m calling bullshit :wink:

The main problem for most low-information types is not ignorance or lack of data.

Rather, it’s a wanton disregard for evidence and a stubborn insistence that feelings tRump facts.


Agreed. The problem is that American K-12 schools don’t make civics and practical life skills courses graduation requirements anymore. I don’t think it’s all due to underfunding, either – for example, imagine what would happen to the consumer credit industry if every high school student in America had to pass a one-semester course in basic personal finance.


Yes. The first step to dealing with BS is wanting to do so.


Sounds like bullshit.


Perhaps where “Common Sense” replaces education where there is none is part of the problem. I’ve seen where having good “Common Sense” raises an individual to equal that of an educated person in the community.

“Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things that is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without need for debate” -Wikipedia

I’d argue that “Common Sense” is more emotional and lends itself to perceiving feelings rather than facts.

Perhaps another idea for a potential course on the community level would be “How to Recognize BS Using Common Sense” or “Common Sense Evaluation”. Less threatening titles to those who would most benefit.

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Weird; in my day ‘bullshit detection’ courses were called “Critical Thinking.


I’m afraid that this will just further enrage your average post-truther. These are people who, instead of feeling rage at their oppressors, feel a sick sort of pride for suffering at the hand of the robber baron. Loretta Lynn built her small country music empire around being a coal miner’s daughter. In rural Kentucky, you will see “This Family is a COAL FAMILY” and “Powered by COAL” bumper stickers, while their loved ones get sent to Greenville for black lung treatment.

It’s not an accident that they also tend to not have access to decent education. This is a country where adults tell their children that hard work and the sweat of your brow is worth more than a high-falootin’ college degree, scoff at the educated for their smarmy elitism, and sing the praises of the coal mine (see: Loretta Lynn) or the foxhole (literally any country song about America made after 9/11). No one is taught about the shoe rooms in the Appalachian coal towns, no one is taught the names of the children who were crushed when the mines inevitably collapsed on them.

It’s a complicated problem, and the solution is painful.

(Sorry for the rant. I come from a hole in the wall town and if I didn’t have a kickass mom around to dispel the lies I was told at my hodunk elementary school, I’d be just like them.)


I was part of a great course at UT on dealing with BS archaeology. My advisor was teaching it, I was TA, and it was wonderful and perspective shifting.

Carl Sagan devoted a chapter to it in one of his books.