University of Washington teaching a course on bullshit

❝ Two University of Washington professors are teaching a course to help students “think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences,” according to the introduction to the course.

The 160-seat seminar, titled “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data,” begins in late March and continues for roughly 10 weeks. Members of the general public can follow the course syllabus, including readings and recordings of lectures, at the course’s website.

❝ At the end of the course, students should be able to “provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit,” according to the syllabus.

❝ The syllabus went viral after it was posted last month…the instructors’ email inboxes were overflowing, and some book offers were even made. The course reportedly filled all open seats within the first minute of online registration at UW.

❝ Jevin West told Recode that he and Bergstrom started to notice a trend in the last few years: More bullshit in the articles they were reviewing…One area of big problems: Big data…He said he noticed methods of statistics meant for smaller data sets being applied to “big” data sets with millions or billions of examples, where it’s easy to force a correlation that isn’t necessarily accurate.

He also observed situations where machine learning algorithms were “overfitting” data. Basically, you can have an algorithm that so specifically matches a particular data set, meaning it reflects even errors or noise, it fails when applied to another data set where you would otherwise expect it to work. You would normally want an algorithm that is sufficiently general to fit more than one data set.

In addition to big data and machine learning issues, the course addresses fake news.

Just in case you worried that our so-called president was left out.

Thanks, Helen

Feds join suit against UnitedHealth Group for overcharging Medicare million$

❝ The U.S. Justice Department has joined a whistleblower lawsuit against UnitedHealth Group Inc that claims the country’s largest health insurer and its units and affiliates overcharged Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars, a law firm representing the whistleblower said on Thursday…

❝ The lawsuit, filed in 2011 and unsealed on Thursday, alleges UnitedHealth Group overcharged Medicare by claiming the federal health insurance program’s members nationwide were sicker than they were, according to the law firm Constantine Cannon LLP.

The Justice Department has also joined in allegations against WellMed Medical Management Inc, a Texas-based healthcare company UnitedHealth bought in 2011…plus several more affiliates who say they can’t imagine why they’re accused of being co-conspirators.

❝ The lawsuit by whistleblower Benjamin Poehling, a former UnitedHealth executive, has been kept under seal in federal court in Los Angeles while the Justice Department investigated the claims for the past five years.

The wheels of justice in America grind exceedingly slow in those rare circumstances when they’re set upon corporate theft and fraud.

The 75th anniversary of Japanese internment in America sounds awfully familiar


Click to enlarge

Gravestone in the cemetery at Manzanar internment camp

❝ History does not stand still. Sometimes, it repeats itself subtly and incrementally. Other times, the patterns are sudden yet plain for the world to see.

This Sunday, Feb 19, is the 75th anniversary of the Day of Remembrance, marking the authorization of Executive Order 9066 in 1942. The order—which set in motion a mass internment of Japanese Americans—was signed and justified in the name of national security. The order wreaked havoc in the Japanese American community, eventually leading to the incarceration of more than 120,000 citizens in our country.

In 1988, after years of determined advocacy by the Japanese American community, the Civil Liberties Act was signed into law by US president Ronald Reagan. It officially recognized this grave wrong that had been committed by our nation. The legislation, which provided redress and a formal apology to the victims of Japanese internment, received support from members of both political parties in Congress. Its enactment was truly a testament to the greatness of our country, and formally demonstrated that we had learned from our imperfect past…

❝ …As we witnessed 75 years ago, and then again just a few weeks ago, fear-based rhetoric can spiral into devastating injustice. On this Day of Remembrance, we are reminded of the need to treat this day not just as a memorial of the past, but a reminder to stay vigilant in the present.

RTFA for a brief recounting of what Doris Matsui’s family suffered through our government’s bigotry, our nation’s fear. Reflect upon the clown show occupying the White House from the decision of a minority of voters in our last election. Not even the soundness of FDR’s control over our government meant anything to the bigotry of 1942.

I’m confident the citizens of the United States have made strides forward against bigotry and cowardice. Our government? Not so much.