Calling Bull

Website review by
Erin Brereton, Common Sense Media
Calling Bull Website Poster Image
Nice but limited attempt to teach how to debunk data misuse.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this website.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about verifying social, natural science research results to ensure they're accurate and aren't being misconstrued. They'll find out how to spot potentially off-base claims as well as issues with research methodologies, misleading models, study authors' interpretation of their results, questionable publication venues, and similar causes for concern. Older kids may have an easier time understanding some concepts, including math that's used, but site has made an effort to break down information in a relatable way, using conversational tone, real-world examples.

Positive Messages

Kids encouraged to think critically, analyze information, rather than make assumptions.

 

Violence
Sex
Language

Developed as sanitized alternative to a separate site, Calling Bulls--t, which contains essentially the same information. Calling Bull doesn't contain swear words, but some links lead to papers that use them, according to site authors.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Calling Bull is an analytical information-based site centering on issues that can cause social and natural science data to be misrepresented. This includes things such as scientific papers that have only undergone a peer review, for example, or graphs drawn in a way that makes research results look vastly different from what they actually are. Kids won't be exposed to inappropriate content, and unless they instead view a separate site from the authors called Calling Bulls--t, they also won't see bad language.

 

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What's it about?

CALLING BULL is a research website designed to help students learn about research. Frustrated with the way research results are sometimes reported, two professors from the University of Washington in Seattle created a course to help people think critically about social and natural science data and models. It's the swear-free version of the original companion site, Calling Bulls--t.  Paired with classic artwork depicting deceit, Calling Bull's content includes the course syllabus, case studies, class lecture videos housed on YouTube, and other tools to help users identify which claims are and aren't legitimate.

Is it any good?

Kids may not realize news articles and research publications can contain errors, but it can be hard to leave this site without a more skeptical approach to claims about scientific findings. Given the examples of skewed metrics and other items it contains, that's probably a good thing. The content focuses on several specific issues -- for example, the ways graphics can visually represent information inaccurately, such as a bar chart created with a measurement axis that doesn't go to zero. Kids won't find a massive list of items the site creators have disproved, or detailed instruction on how to gauge if things outside of the social and natural science realm are untrue. That said, the critical thinking skills they'll pick up can certainly translate into other areas.

The site's biggest drawback is that it primarily involves a lot of reading (it is, after all, meant to correspond to a college course). Adding more interactive elements would probably make the information more appealing to kids; including more frequently updated content might increase the chance they'd visit the site more than once or twice. Kids who are willing to wade through the examples, though, should be able to more effectively analyze how data is presented, even though it only focuses on natural and social sciences. Parents may want to go over the examples with younger kids to ensure they understand each concept. But depending on their interest and ability level, along with the informal tone and detailed examples that are provided, some may be able to grasp the logic fairly easily, and will be able to apply these skills to other research items.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difference between a reliable source and an unsubstantiated one. How can kids determine if a source is legitimate when looking up information?

  • Discuss a recent statement you've seen online or on TV and whether or not you know for sure it's true. Could a comment be inaccurate, even if the person making it is in a position of authority, and the statement is being shared by a news source? How can you tell?

  • Which storytelling method do you prefer: Learning about a topic by listening to a discussion about it, watching a video about the subject, or reading about it?

Website details

For kids who love facts

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