Bullshit isn't what it used to be. Now, two science professors give us the tools to dismantle misinformation and think clearly in a world of fake news and bad data.
Misinformation, disinformation, and fake news abound and it's increasingly difficult to know what's true. Our media environment has become hyperpartisan. Science is conducted by press release. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. We are fairly well equipped to spot the sort of old-school bullshit that is based in fancy rhetoric and weasel words, but most of us don't feel qualified to challenge the avalanche of new-school bullshit presented in the language of math, science, or statistics. In Calling Bullshit, Professors Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West give us a set of powerful tools to cut through the most intimidating data.
You don't need a lot of technical expertise to call out problems with data. Are the numbers or results too good or too dramatic to be true? Is the claim comparing like with like? Is it confirming your personal bias? Drawing on a deep well of expertise in statistics and computational biology, Bergstrom and West exuberantly unpack examples of selection bias and muddled data visualization, distinguish between correlation and causation, and examine the susceptibility of science to modern bullshit.
We have always needed people who call bullshit when necessary, whether within a circle of friends, a community of scholars, or the citizenry of a nation. Now that bullshit has evolved, we need to relearn the art of skepticism.
Carl T. Bergstrom is an evolutionary biologist and professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Washington, where he studies how epidemics spread through populations and how information flows through biological and social systems at scales-from the intracellular control of gene expression to the spread of misinformation on social media.
Jevin D. West is an associate professor in the Information School at the University of Washington. He is the director of UW's Center for an Informed Public and co-director of its DataLab, where he studies the science of science and the impact of technology on society. He also coordinates data science education at UW's eScience Institute.