Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World (Paperback)
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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.
“A modern classic . . . a straight-talking survival guide to the mean streets of a dying democracy and a global pandemic.”—Wired
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.
About the Author
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.
“A modern classic . . . Bergstrom and West leave the reader feeling a very particular kind of smarter: the empowered kind. . . . A straight-talking survival guide to the mean streets of a dying democracy and a global pandemic.”—Wired
“A passionate exposition of how the language of science can be weaponized to mislead both researchers and the public . . . landing just when it has never been more important to know how to navigate data.”—Nature
“The information landscape is strewn with quantitative cowflop; read this book if you want to know where not to step.”—Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to be Wrong
“If I could make this critical handbook’s contents required curriculum for every high school student (thus replacing trigonometry), then I would do so. I highly recommend Calling Bullshit for our modern existence in the age of misinformation, and regret only that I didn’t think of the title for my own book.”—Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction
“I laughed, I cried—to read Bergstrom and West’s great examples of ‘bullshit.’ This is a gripping read for anybody who cares about how we are fooled (and how not to be), and the connection to numeracy and science. But it’s also just great fun. This is a necessary book for our times.”—Saul Perlmutter, Nobel Laureate and professor of physics, University of California at Berkeley
“If you want to read what will surely be a classic, buy Calling Bullshit. It addresses the most important issue of our time: the decline in respect for Truth. It is also a literary masterpiece. Every page—indeed, every paragraph—is a new bit of fun.” —George Akerlof, 2001 Nobel Laureate in economics
“Each of us now swims through deception so pervasive that we no longer realize it’s there. Calling Bullshit presents a master class in how to spot it, how to resist it, and how to keep it from succeeding.”—Paul Romer, 2018 Nobel Laureate in economics
“Part playful polemic and part serious scientific treatise on a plague that ‘pollutes our world by misleading people about specific issues and . . . undermines our ability to trust information in general’ . . . a statistically challenging master class in the art of bullshit detection.”—Kirkus Reviews