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University of Washington could offer course in 'BS'

Critical thinking is one of the most valuable skills students can learn, but starting next quarter, the University of Washington will offer a course on it, but with a much less academic name: Calling Bulls**t. (KOMO)

SEATTLE (KOMO) - A new course that could be offered at the University of Washington this spring is turning some heads - mostly for its name, but also for the skills it teaches.

Critical thinking is one of the most valuable skills students can learn, but starting next quarter, the UW will offer a course on it, but with a much less academic name: Calling Bulls**t.

"It's something you can use in any circumstance," said Dr. Jevin West. "You tend to find a lot of BS, I don't know if we can call it the other version on camera, so we'll just call it 'bad science.'"

West and his colleague Carl Bergstrom have been thinking about the course for years, but in this age, with so much information swirling around us.

West works in the university's data lab and said the course will mainly revolve around numbers and how data can be manipulated.

"The ability to identify BS, sift through the BS, to be able to respond to BS," said West.

But he said students will certainly be able to apply these lessons to their social media accounts - not only how to identify BS, but how to call it out.

"Being careful not to attack people's character," said West.

They hope to offer the course this upcoming spring quarter, but make it available to everyone.

They've posted a full syllabus online, complete with studies and suggested readings, so we can all improve these skills.

"We released it last week, and within a few days, we had over 100,000 users on our site," said West.

The name is provocative.

"Wow, that actually seems pretty interesting," said one student.

"We figured if we called it Critical Reasoning and Statistical Inference, the students would gloss over that in their course catalog," said West.

But, for a course about calling it like it is, perhaps it's best to start with the title.

"This kind of skill can be used anywhere and everywhere, and in a world that's so information rich nowadays, we need this skill more than ever," said West.

He said they're also looking for people to reach out with examples of good or bad BS to use in their class.

You can follow them on Twitter at @callin_bull, and they say a Facebook page will be up next week.

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