the Age of Big Data

Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data: Part Three
Carl T. Bergstrom, PhD and Jevin West, PhD
The following are modules with readings and accompanying videos continue and finish presenting the ideas involved
“calling bullshit.” Read, watch, think, and notice what is going on around you. How much BS do you see? How much
BS do you send out?
Your first objective is to get a sense of the concepts being presented. Then you will need to move beyond the concepts to
explore the world around and see how those concepts mesh with it.
Week 9. Predatory publishing and scientific misconduct. Predatory publishing. The list
formerly known as Beall’s. Publishing economics. Pathologies of publish-or-perish culture.
Pursuit of PR instead of progress. Data dredging, p-hacking, and similar malfeasance.
• Fake academe looking much like the real thing.
New York Times Dec. 29, 2016.
• Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (2016) Why fake data when you can fake a scientist?
Nautilus November 24.
• Tools and tricks: How can you know if a paper is legit?
Supplementary Reading
• J. P. Simmons et al. (2011) False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data
Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant. Psychological
Science 22:1359–1366
Week 10. The ethics of calling bullshit. Where is the line between deserved criticism and
targeted harassment? Is it, as one prominent scholar argued, “methodological terrorism” to call
bullshit on a colleague’s analysis? What if you use social media instead of a peer-reviewed
journal to do so? How about calling bullshit on a whole field that you know almost nothing
about? Pubpeer. Principles for the ethical calling of bullshit. The Dunning-Kruger effect.
Differences between being a hard-minded skeptic and being a domineering jerk.
• Alan Sokal (1996) A physicist experiments with cultural studies. Lingua Franca 6:62-64.
• Jennifer Ruark (2017) Anatomy of a hoax. Chronicle of Higher Education
• Robert Service (2014) Nano-Imaging Feud Sets Online Sites Sizzling. Science 343:358.
• Susan Fiske (2016) Mob Rule or Wisdom of Crowds? APS Observer preliminary draft.
Also read commentaries [1] and [2].
• Michael Blatt (2016) Vigilante Science. Plant Physiology 169:907-909.
Week 11. Fake news.. Fifteen years ago, nascent social media platforms offered the promise of
a more democratic press through decentralized broadcasting and a decoupling of publishing from
advertising revenue. Instead, we get sectarian echo chambers and, lately, a serious assault on the
very notion of fact. Not only did fake news play a substantive role in the November 2016 US
elections, but recently a fake news story actually provoked nuclear threats issued by twitter.
• Before ‘Fake News’ Came False Prophecy The Atlantic Monthly Dec. 27, 2016
• How to spot fake news
• Adrian Chen (2016) The Agency. New York Times Magazine
• Inside a fake news sausage-factory: ‘It’s all about income’
New York Times Nov. 25, 2016
• Donath, Judith (2016) Why fake news stories thrive online. CNN Opinion.
• Brian Feldman (2017) Google’s dangerous identity crisis. New York Magazine
9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.4, and 9.5
Week 12. Refuting bullshit. Refuting bullshit requires different approaches for different
audiences. What works for a quantitatively-skilled professional scientist won’t always convince
your casually racist uncle on facebook, and vice versa.
• John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky (2012) The Debunking Handbook.
• Craig Bennett et al. (2009) Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the
post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction
• Case study: Gender gap in 100 m times
10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5, and 10.6

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