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UW professors in search of the truth or calling BS

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

How many times do we hear some statistic, only to hear it contradicted a week or a month or a year later? At the University of Washington, Assistant Professor Dr. Jevin West decided it’s gone too far.

“Calling bull@#$% is exhausting,” he said.

So he teamed up with his mentor, Professor Carl Bergstrom, to design a new 3-credit course for the fall quarter titled “Calling Bull@#$%: Data Reasoning for the Digital Age.”

“Really focusing in on graph manipulation, statistical mistakes, these kinds of things,” West said.

So when their students hear a claim like guns reduce crime or immigration creates jobs, they’ll have the tools to evaluate the data for themselves.

“We’re taking quite a broad view of what bull@#$% is,” he said.

“And this hardly ever gets talked about because, as you know, we’re not allowed to say bull@#$% on the radio,” West said.

“That’s bull@#$%, I think,” he added.

But what happens when – as we’ve been seeing lately – the truth itself is sometimes defined as bull@#$%?

“We’re not used to this,” West said. “We’re not used to somebody standing in the pouring rain and telling us that it’s sunny on national TV. I don’t know how a democracy deals with that.”

But one method he uses is to take his social media responsibilities seriously. So before he tweets or forwards an article, he actually studies it.

“I’m trying to train myself to verify any fact or any claim before I post it and send it forward because I think probably the most embarrassing thing to be called bull@#$% on is, of course, is calling bull@#$%.”

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