BS Detection 101 becomes actual University subject

Uni of Washington says the age of Big Data makes statistical literacy essential


How could El Reg ignore this? – two University of Washington professors have assembled a course to teach students to identify bullshit.

Biology professor Carl Bergstrom and assistant professor at the university's Information School Jevin West have devised the “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data” course as their small contribution to moving manure out of scholarly discourse.

Alas, they're not addressing politics, where they write the practice of promulgating poo and manhandling manure reaches its apogee, but they're swinging the shovel at a cause equally worthy: “more and more we see it presented instead in the guise of big data and fancy algorithms — and these quantitative, statistical, and computational forms of bullshit are those that we will be addressing in the present course.”

Tugging strongly on The Register's heart-strings, they call out some of the world's richest known sources of bullshit: “the TED talk you watched last night … the latest New York Times or Washington Post article fawning over some startup's big data analytics”.

We almost weep with joy to see them ask “Can you tell when a clinical trial … is trustworthy, and when it is just a veiled press release for some big pharma company?”

The syllabus will teach students how to spot the misuse of statistics, how visualisation can mislead audiences, the use and abuse of big data (with Weapons of Math Destruction as a supplementary reader, we note), publication bias in science, and the ethics of calling bullshit (the difference between “being a hard-minded skeptic and being a domineering jerk”).

If you're not a student at the University of Washington, take heart: once they've taught the single-credit course in the Spring 2017 quarter, they will post the lectures online. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • DigitalOcean tries to take sting out of price hike with $4 VM
    Cloud biz says it is reacting to customer mix largely shifting from lone devs to SMBs

    DigitalOcean attempted to lessen the sting of higher prices this week by announcing a cut-rate instance aimed at developers and hobbyists.

    The $4-a-month droplet — what the infrastructure-as-a-service outfit calls its virtual machines — pairs a single virtual CPU with 512 MB of memory, 10 GB of SSD storage, and 500 GB a month in network bandwidth.

    The launch comes as DigitalOcean plans a sweeping price hike across much of its product portfolio, effective July 1. On the low-end, most instances will see pricing increase between $1 and $16 a month, but on the high-end, some products will see increases of as much as $120 in the case of DigitalOceans’ top-tier storage-optimized virtual machines.

    Continue reading
  • GPL legal battle: Vizio told by judge it will have to answer breach-of-contract claims
    Fine-print crucially deemed contractual agreement as well as copyright license in smartTV source-code case

    The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) has won a significant legal victory in its ongoing effort to force Vizio to publish the source code of its SmartCast TV software, which is said to contain GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 copyleft-licensed components.

    SFC sued Vizio, claiming it was in breach of contract by failing to obey the terms of the GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 licenses that require source code to be made public when certain conditions are met, and sought declaratory relief on behalf of Vizio TV owners. SFC wanted its breach-of-contract arguments to be heard by the Orange County Superior Court in California, though Vizio kicked the matter up to the district court level in central California where it hoped to avoid the contract issue and defend its corner using just federal copyright law.

    On Friday, Federal District Judge Josephine Staton sided with SFC and granted its motion to send its lawsuit back to superior court. To do so, Judge Staton had to decide whether or not the federal Copyright Act preempted the SFC's breach-of-contract allegations; in the end, she decided it didn't.

    Continue reading
  • US brings first-of-its-kind criminal charges of Bitcoin-based sanctions-busting
    Citizen allegedly moved $10m-plus in BTC into banned nation

    US prosecutors have accused an American citizen of illegally funneling more than $10 million in Bitcoin into an economically sanctioned country.

    It's said the resulting criminal charges of sanctions busting through the use of cryptocurrency are the first of their kind to be brought in the US.

    Under the United States' International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEA), it is illegal for a citizen or institution within the US to transfer funds, directly or indirectly, to a sanctioned country, such as Iran, Cuba, North Korea, or Russia. If there is evidence the IEEA was willfully violated, a criminal case should follow. If an individual or financial exchange was unwittingly involved in evading sanctions, they may be subject to civil action. 

    Continue reading
  • Meta hires network chip guru from Intel: What does this mean for future silicon?
    Why be a customer when you can develop your own custom semiconductors

    Analysis Here's something that should raise eyebrows in the datacenter world: Facebook parent company Meta has hired a veteran networking chip engineer from Intel to lead silicon design efforts in the internet giant's infrastructure hardware engineering group.

    Jon Dama started as director of silicon in May for Meta's infrastructure hardware group, a role that has him "responsible for several design teams innovating the datacenter for scale," according to his LinkedIn profile. In a blurb, Dama indicated that a team is already in place at Meta, and he hopes to "scale the next several doublings of data processing" with them.

    Though we couldn't confirm it, we think it's likely that Dama is reporting to Alexis Bjorlin, Meta's vice president of infrastructure hardware who previously worked with Dama when she was general manager of Intel's Connectivity group before serving a two-year stint at Broadcom.

    Continue reading
  • Lithium production needs investment to keep pace with battery demand
    Report says $42b will need to be poured into industry over next decade

    Growing demand for lithium for batteries means the sector will need $42 billion of investment to meet the anticipated level of orders by the end of the decade, according to a report.

    Lithium is used in batteries that power smartphones and laptops, but there is also rising use in electric vehicles which is putting additional pressure on supplies.

    The report, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, predicts that demand will reach 2.4 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent by 2030, roughly four times the 600,000 tons of lithium forecast to be produced this year.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022