POL S 334 A: Topics in American Politics

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
SMI 105
Mark Smith
Mark Alan Smith

Syllabus Description:

Click here for the full version of the syllabus


Wednesday, September 26  Introduction to the class (recording) (slides)


Stephen Colbert (video), The Word—Truthiness

The Economist (text), Art of the Lie

Kathryn Schulz (video), On Being Wrong

Van Jones (video), Safe Spaces on College Campuses

Robert George and Cornel West (text), Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and


Katie Herzog (text), Twitter, Trans Kids, Call-Out Culture, and a $10,000 Blunt


Monday, October 1  Premodern approaches to truth (recording) (slides)


Augustine of Hippo (text), letter 93 to Vincentius (questions).  Much of the letter isn't relevant to our purposes.  Just read chapter 2, paragraphs 6 and 8; and chapter 6, paragraph 20.

Thomas Aquinas (text), The Sin of Blasphemy (questions)

Martin Luther (text), Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (questions)

Pope Pius IX (text), Syllabus of Errors (questions).  Focus on #s 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 21, 55, 77, 78, and 80.

Wikipedia entry on film version (text) of Fiddler on the Roof (questions)

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (video), Tradition (questions)


Wednesday, October 3  Modern approaches to truth, part 1 (recording) (slides)


Steven Pinker (text), Reason Is Not Negotiable (questions)

Steven Pinker (audio) or (video), Enlightenment Now (questions)

Bret Stephens (text), The Dying Art of Disagreement (questions)

Skeptic Presents (video), What Is a Skeptic? (questions)

Claire Lehmann (audio) or (video), Free Thought, Outrage, and the Alt Right (questions) Note:  the most important parts for our course are the first third of the discussion.


Monday, October 8  Modern approaches to truth, part 2.  Guest lecture from Cornell Clayton, Thomas R. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government, Washington State University (recording) (slides part 1) (slides part 2)


Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, chapter 1

John Stuart Mill (text), All Minus One, from On Liberty (questions).  Focus especially on pp. 6-7, 20-23, and 32-33.


Wednesday, October 10  Postmodern approaches to truth (recording) (slides)


Albert Mohler (audio) or (video), Postmodernism and Society (questions)

Roland Barthes (text), The Death of the Author (questions)

Lee McIntyre (audio), Post-Truth (questions)

Reza Aslan (video), interview on The Daily Show (use the same questions below, for Aslan's interview by Jesse Singal)

Jesse Singal (text), Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong about Islam (questions)

Lin-Manuel Miranda (text), lyrics of Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story (questions)

Lin-Manuel Miranda (video), music of Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story (no additional questions)


Monday, October 15  Premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches to morality (recording) (slides)


Mark Alan Smith (text), Discovering Morality through Inclusive Deliberation (questions)


Wednesday, October 17  Discovering truths through science (recording) (slides)


Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, chapters 9 and 10

Lindsay Beyerstein (video), On Bullshit:  Harry Frankfurt, Donald Trump, and Indifference to Truth (questions)


Monday, October 22  Origins and effects of political polarization (recording) (slides)


Scott Alexander (text), I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup (questions)

Lilliana Mason (audio), Uncivil Agreement (questions)

Zeynep Tufekci (audio), Why Online Politics Get So Extreme So Fast (questions)

Hidden Tribes, Take the Quiz (text)

Hidden Tribes, Summary (text) (questions)


Wednesday, October 24  Tribalism and truth (recording) (slides)


Tom Jacobs (text), Why We Engage in Tribalism, Nationalism, and Scapegoating (questions)

Jonathan Haidt (text), When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism (questions)

Shankar Vedantam (audio), Voting with a Middle Finger (questions)

Amy Chua (audio), Political Tribes (questions)

Andrew Sullivan (text), Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism? (questions)


Monday, October 29  First exam


Wednesday, October 31  Traditional media, alternative media, social media, and truth (recording) (no slides today)


Danah Boyd (text), Did Media Literacy Backfire? (questions)

VICE on HBO (video), How Truth Lost Its Meaning in Trump’s America (questions)

wikipedia entry (text) on Mike Cernovich (no questions; read the entry as a supplement to the VICE story above)

Meghan Daum (text), Nuance:  A Love Story (questions)

Ezra Klein (text), The Rise of YouTube’s Reactionary Right (questions)

Caitlin Flanagan (text), Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson (questions)

ContraPoints (video), Jordan Peterson (questions)


Monday, November 5  Universities and truth (recording) (no slides today)


Musa al-Gharbi (text), A Lack of Ideological Diversity is Killing Social Research (see Kristof below for questions)

Nicholas Kristof (text), A Confession of Liberal Intolerance (questions)

Victor Ray (text), Diversity of Thought (see Freiman below for questions)

Christopher Freiman (text), In Defense of Viewpoint Diversity (questions)

John Carlson (text), Saving Free Speech at the UW (questions)

Ben Gose (text), Don't Stop Inviting Controversial Speakers, Just Prepare Prudently (questions)

Brian Rosenberg (text), Most Republicans Still Aren't Crazy about Higher Ed.  And That's OK. (questions)

April Kelly-Woessner (audio), On Whether Millennials are Tolerant (questions)


Wednesday, November 7  Fallacies and biases that undermine reasoning (recording) (slides)


Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, chapters 2 and 5


Monday, November 12  No class (Veterans’ Day)


Wednesday, November 14  Why facts alone rarely persuade.  Guest lecture from Brendan Nyhan, Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan (recording) (slides)


Maria Konnikova (text), I Don’t Want to be Right (questions)

Julia Galef (video), Why You Think You’re Right—Even If You’re Wrong (questions)

Inquiring Minds (audio), A Paid Climate Change Skeptic Switches Sides (questions)

Oren Cass (text), No, Not That Evidence (questions)

Rachel Cohen (text), The Libertarian Who Helped Make the Case for Regulation (questions)

Clay Routledge (text), Social Justice in the Shadows (questions)

Rational Wiki (text), motte and bailey (questions)


Monday, November 19  Flaws in intuition (recording) (slides)


Andrew Shtulman (audio) or (video), Scienceblind (questions)

Lisa Belkin (text), The Odds of That (questions)

Annie Duke (audio), Thinking in Bets (questions)

Jerry Taylor (text), The Alternative to Ideology (questions)

Amy Binder and Jeffrey Kidder (text), If You Think Campus Speech Is All Angry Confrontation,
You’re Looking in the Wrong Places (questions)


Wednesday, November 21  No class (Thanksgiving break)


Monday, November 26  Flaws in perception and memory (recording: You'll hear some unusual things starting about 5 minutes into the class.  Don't worry, it was all staged and will make sense by about 30 minutes in.) (slides)


Daniel Simons (video), Seeing the World As It Isn’t (questions)

Steven Novella (text), Body Snatchers, Phantom Limbs, and Alien Hands (questions)

Ann Marsh and Greta Lorge (text), How the Truth Gets Twisted (questions)

Hidden Brain (audio), Fake News:  An Origin Story (questions)

Ezra Klein (text), How Politics Makes You Stupid (questions)

Reckonings (audio part 1) (audio part 2), Two-part interview of Glenn Loury (questions)


Wednesday, November 28  Experts and expertise (recording) (slides)


Lewis Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, chapter 4

Steven Novella (text), Scientific Consensus (questions)

Tom Nichols (audio), The Death of Expertise (questions)


Monday, December 3  Conspiracy theories (recording) (slides)


William Saletan (text), Conspiracy Theorists Aren’t Really Skeptics (questions)

Katie Herzog (text), Yes, There's a Free Speech Crisis, and No, I Won't Shut Up About It (questions)


Wednesday, December 5  Second exam

Wednesday, December 12  Paper due

Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm