* Course requirements *
Criteria for the final assignment are described in this google doc, please read it.
Location: room 131, FF UK, Nám. J. Palacha 2
Time: Thursday 5:30 – 7:05 PM
Course catalogue link: AFSV00295
The aim of the course is to provide students with essential thinking tools for detecting various kinds of bullshit, including pseudoscience, fake news, data misinterpretation, or invalid arguments. We will cover both the formal aspect (why something is false and how to recognize it) and the psychological aspect (why we tend to form false beliefs and how to avoid it).
- Teach students the most common fallacies of reasoning,
- introduce students to the scientific method and Bayesian thinking as the gold standard of arriving at knowledge of facts (justified probable beliefs),
- teach students the basics of psychology of reasoning – what the most important psychological mechanisms of belief formation are and when they go wrong,
- teach student the basics of group thinking and psychology of attitude change so that they understand how persuasion works,
- teach students how to search for information effectively,
- introduce students to the basics of interpreting data and quantitative information.
Course organization and grading
Weekly lectures. Weekly reading assignments. Bring your laptops to class (it’s ok if you don’t have one, though). As the final assignment, students will be asked to make a case study of a popularly held false belief in their area of expertise. The case study should 1) analyse a belief many people tend to believe, 2) analyse a belief which can be shown to be false with a high degree of certainty, 3) suggest why the belief is popular despite being false, 4) try to make a concise and convincing argument debunking the belief.
- What is critical thinking? A general critical thinking vs domain-specific skill. Brandolini’s bullshit asymmetry principle. Knowledge as justified true belief. Intro to argumentation, justification and logical inference.
- Inference and arguments Common formal and informal fallacies of reasoning. Separating normative and factual questions. Argument maps. Theory of communication: speech acts, burden of proof, pragmatics.
- Psychology of reasoning: system 1 and 2, biases and heuristics. What is intuition and when to use it. Confirmation bias, Forer effect, magical thinking etc.
- Data interpretation. Common ways of lying with data. Proportional ink principle. Intro to inferential statistics. Problem of structurally missing data. Problem of quantification and operationalization. Bayesian thinking.
- Scientific method. Falsificationism, experimental method, pseudoscience, skepticism, relativism. Caveats of scientific research: file-drawer problem, p-hacking, HARKing, WEIRD samples etc. Corroborated theory -> meta-analysis -> single study.
- Media and information. Finding and assessing sources of information, types of credible sources, fact-checking. Wikipedia as an exercise in critical thinking.
- Psychology of persuasion and attitude change: Intro to debunking. Group thinking, conformity, in-group and out-group effects. Dunning-Kruger effect. Cognitive dissonance. Backfire effect and the art of being wrong.