Course code:

ES1070

Level:

I - Introductory

Class size limit:

20

Meets the following requirements:

  • QR - Quantitative Reasoning

Typically offered:

Upon occasion

Charlatans and hucksters have always been with us. But the age of computers and big data has increased the quantity of information that is thrown at us and it is increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. While fake news has been a focus of recent debate, it is easy to refute outright lies. However, there are more insidious ways of influencing debates that mix truth with sloppy reasoning. In this course, we will study common, and often subtle, methods of bullshit used by people who wish to influence our thinking and behavior. We will begin with a taxonomy of bullshit and will learn to spot common techniques such as using logical fallacies, misrepresenting numerical data, and presenting partial truths. We will discuss the difference between anecdotes and data in supporting policy decisions. We will also cover how to clearly and quantitatively explain which parts of each example are nonsense, deceptive, or simply bullshit. We will also survey current news and events to identify and analyze examples of bullshit in the wild. We will focus on examples of bullshit that relate to questions of public health and environmental, economic, and racial justice. Students interested in becoming critical consumers and producers of information will benefit from this course. Students who complete this course will be able to identify bullshit, determine what is false or deceptive about the bullshit and offer a clear and persuasive refutation of the bullshit. As part of this process, students will learn to seek out relevant data, calculate and interpret averages, ratios and variances, and make simple graphics to examine the relationship between variables. Students with both technical and non- technical backgrounds will be valuable members of the class; the most important prerequisite is a desire to think critically. Evaluation will be through class participation, problem sets, and several short projects in which students will detect, dissect, and refute bullshit.

Prerequisites:

None

Always visit the Registrar's Office for the official course catalog and schedules.