POL S 334 A: Topics in American Politics

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
MGH 389
Mark Smith
Mark Alan Smith

Syllabus Description:

You can find the paper assignment here

You can find the grading rubric for the paper here

Guidelines for writing the paper here

Grade appeals policy here

Information on grading of the first exam here

You can find Smith's grading scale here

You can find the full syllabus here

Guidelines for writing exam questions here

For each of the reading questions below, Exam means it is eligible for the exam, No means it is not eligible, and a blank means there was no question in the first place


Thursday, September 26 Introduction to the class (slides) (lecture recording)


Stephen Colbert, The Word—Truthiness, just the first segment, not the whole episode (watch)

Kendra Cherry, The Benefits of Being Open-Minded (read)

Skeptic Presents, What Is a Skeptic?  (watch)

Kathryn Schulz, On Being Wrong  (watch)

Van Jones, Safe Spaces on College Campuses  (watch)

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

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


Tuesday, October 1 Premodern approaches to truth (slides) (lecture recording part 1) (lecture recording part 2)


No Augustine of Hippo, letter 93 to Vincentius, chapter 2, paragraphs 6 and 8; and chapter 6, paragraph 20 (questions) (read)

No Thomas Aquinas, The Sin of Blasphemy (questions) (read)

No Martin Luther, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (questions) (read)

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

Wikipedia entry on film version of Fiddler on the Roof (no questions) (read just the plot summary) 

No Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, lyrics and music to Tradition (questions)  (watch)


Thursday, October 3 Modern approaches to truth (slides) (lecture recording--missing the first 35 minutes)


No Steven Pinker, Reason Is Not Negotiable (questions) (read)

Exam Logan Chipkin, Dogma Is Not Confined to the Cathedral (questions) (read)

Exam Charles Cooke, Do We Still Want Free Speech? (questions) (read)

Exam Michael Shermer, interviewed by Jacob Mchangama on Clear and Present Danger (questions) (listen)

Exam Erik Gilbert, Liberal Orthodoxy and the New Heresy (questions) (read)

No Twisted Sister, lyrics and music to We’re Not Gonna Take It (questions) (read the lyrics and watch the video)


Tuesday, October 8 Postmodern approaches to truth (slides) (lecture recording)


Exam Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author (questions) (read)

No Helen Pluckrose, How French “Intellectuals” Ruined the West (questions) (read)

Exam Albert Mohler, Postmodernism and Society (questions) (listen) or (watch)

No Suzanna Danuta Walters, Why Can’t We Hate Men? (questions) (read)

Exam Reza Aslan, interview on The Daily Show (questions combined with the reading below) (watch)

Exam Jesse Singal, Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong about Islam (questions including the interview above) (read)

No Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyrics and music to Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story (questions) (read lyrics) (listen)


Thursday, October 10 Comparing premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches to truth, part I (slides) (recording)


Exam Lee McIntyre, Post-Truth, interviewed by Agah Bahari on Neohuman (questions) (listen)

No Sarah Haider, Dissent and Free Speech, interviewed by Julia Galef on Rationally Speaking (questions) (listen)

Exam Musa Al-Gharbi, Viewpoint Diversity Is About More than Politics (questions) (read)

Exam Lara Schwartz, False Equivalence, interviewed by Chris Martin on Half Hour of Heterodoxy (questions) (listen)

No Jerry Taylor, The Alternative to Ideology (questions) (read)


Tuesday, October 15  Comparing premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches to truth, part II (slides) (lecture recording)


Encyclopedia Britannica, Tomás de Torquemada (no questions) (read)

Keri Blakinger, Spheres of Influence:  Houston Woman Shares Her Flat Earth Gospel Via YouTube (no questions) (read)

VICE on HBO, How Truth Lost its Meaning in Trump’s America (only the first 8:10, on Mike Cernovich) (no questions) (watch)

No Helen Pluckrose, interviewed by Yascha Mounk on The Good Fight (questions) (listen)

Exam Ben Shapiro, Religious Belief and the Enlightenment, interviewed by Jordan Peterson (questions) (listen)

No Stephen Clouse, More Heat Than Light:  Ben Shapiro's The Right Side of History (questions) (read)


Thursday, October 17 Fallacies and biases that undermine reasoning (slides) (recording)


Exam David Ferrer, 15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know before Getting into a Debate (questions) (read)

Exam Carol Tavris, Stop Self-Deception, interviewed by Amy Alkon on HumanLab (questions) (listen)

Exam Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection (questions) (read)

Exam David Robson, The Intelligence Trap, Moral Algebra, and Disrationalia, interviewed by Adam Conover on Factually! (questions) (listen)


Tuesday, October 22 Flaws in intuition (slides) (lecture recording)


No Andrew Shtulman, Scienceblind, interviewed by Michael Shermer on Science Salon (questions) (listen)

No Lisa Belkin, The Odds of That (questions) (read)

Exam Annie Duke, Thinking in Bets, interviewed by Julia Galef on Rationally Speaking (questions) (listen)

Exam Steven Novella, How to Think Like a Skeptical Neurologist (questions) (watch)

No Laurie Santos, The Happiness Lab, interviewed by David McRaney on You Are Not So Smart (questions) (listen)


Thursday, October 24 Flaws in perception and memory (slides) (lecture recording)


No Daniel Simons, Seeing the World As It Isn’t (questions) (watch)

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

Exam Elizabeth Loftus, The Malleability of Memory, interviewed by Adam Conover on Adam Ruins Everything (questions) (listen)

Regina Rini, Deepfakes Are Coming (no questions) (read)

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


Tuesday, October 29  First exam


Thursday, October 31 Origins and effects of political polarization (slides) (lecture recording)


EXAM Lilliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement, interviewed by Russ Roberts on Econtalk (questions) (listen) (transcript)

EXAM Zeynep Tufekci, Why Online Politics Get So Extreme So Fast, interviewed by Ezra Klein on The Ezra Klein Show (questions) (listen) (transcript)

NO Musa al-Gharbi, interviewed by B. Duncan Mönch on Keeping It Civil (questions) (listen) (transcript)

EXAM Ezra Klein, How Politics Makes You Stupid (questions) (read)


Tuesday, November 5 Tribalism and truth (slides) (lecture recording)


NO Tom Jacobs, Why We Engage in Tribalism, Nationalism, and Scapegoating (questions) (read)

EXAM Amy Chua, Political Tribes, interviewed by Doug Fabrizio on RadioWest (questions) (listen) (transcript)

EXAM Andrew Sullivan, America Wasn't Built for Humans (questions) (read)

Paul Bloom, The Psychology of Tribalism, interviewed by Robert Wright on The Wright Show (no questions) (listen) (transcript)


Thursday, November 7 Does (or can) the news media uncover truth? (slides) (lecture recording)


American Press Institute, The Lost Meaning of ‘Objectivity’ (questions combined below) (read)

Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics, 1926 version (questions combined below) (read)

NO Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics, 2014 version (questions) (read)

EXAM Brent Cunningham, Re-thinking Objectivity (questions) (read)

Elizabeth Guo and Amanda Su, Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement (no questions) (read)

Act on a Dream at Harvard College, Harvard Crimson:  Stop Calling ICE for Comment (no questions) (read)

Angela Fu and Kristine Guillaume, A Note to Readers (no questions) (read)

The Economist, The New Censors (no questions) (read)

The Onion, CNN Holds Morning Meeting to Decide What Viewers Should Panic about for Rest of Day (questions combined below) (read)

NO Carolyn Hax, Everything Is on Fire (questions) (read)


Tuesday, November 12 Traditional media, new media, and social media (slides) (lecture recording part 1) (lecture recording part 2)


Shankar Vedantam/Hidden Brain, Fake News:  An Origin Story (no questions) (listen) (transcript)

EXAM Kate Starbird, Beyond “Bots and Trolls”:  Understanding Disinformation as Collaborative Work (questions) (watch)

Beckie Supiano, Students Fall for Misinformation Online.  Is Teaching Them to Read Like Fact

Checkers the Solution? (no questions) (read)

EXAM Danah Boyd, Did Media Literacy Backfire? (questions) (read)

Nicholas Phillips, What My Fellow Conservatives Can Learn from the Left (no questions) (read)

NO Meghan Daum, Nuance:  A Love Story (questions) (read)


Thursday, November 14 Political ideology and science denial (slides) (lecture recording)


EXAM Lee McIntyre, The Scientific Attitude, interviewed by Michael Shermer on Science Salon (questions) (listen) (transcript)

Steven Novella, Scientific Consensus (questions combined with Luana Majoja below) (read)

NO Luana Maroja, Self-Censorship on Campus is Bad for Science (questions) (read)

Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise, talk at Politics and Prose bookstore (no questions) (listen) (transcript)


Tuesday, November 19 What can go wrong in the conduct or communication of science (slides) (lecture recording)


NO Ed Yong, A Waste of 1000 Research Papers (questions) (read)

EXAM Oren Cass, No, Not that Evidence (questions) (read)

NO Jerry Taylor, A Paid Climate Change Skeptic Switches Sides, interviewed by Indre Viskontas on Inquiring Minds (questions) (listen) (transcript)

documentary Merchants of Doubt (no questions) (watch on reserve at Odegaard Library or on YouTube)


Tuesday, November 21 Universities and truth (slides) (lecture recording)


Katherine Mangan, Have Campuses Become Ideological Echo Chambers?  Not Necessarily (no questions) (read)

EXAM Musa al-Gharbi, A Lack of Ideological Diversity is Killing Social Research (questions) (read)

Jeffrey Sachs, Do Universities Have a Self-Censorship Problem? (questions combined with Katie Herzog below) (read)

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

Glenn Loury and John McWhorter, It’s Hard to be an Individual (no questions) (watch)

Robin DiAngelo on white fragility, interviewed on We Talk Different (no questions) (listen)


Tuesday, November 26 Are there moral truths? (slides) (lecture recording)

Jacob Hess, The Beauty at the Heart of the Academy Worth Fighting For (questions combined with Irshad Manji below) (read)

EXAM Irshad Manji, interviewed by Jonathan Kay on Quillette Podcast (questions) (listen) (transcript)

EXAM William Barr, speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School on October 21, 2019--you can skip the introductions and get to Barr's speech at 8:30 (questions)(watch) (transcript)


Thursday, November 28  No class (Thanksgiving)


Tuesday, December 3  Conspiracy theories (slides) (lecture recording)


NO documentary Behind the Curve (questions) (watch on Netflix or YouTube)

Mark Horowitz, Inherent Bias in Academia and Politics, interviewed by Chris Shelton on Sensibly Speaking (no questions) (listen) (transcript)

Sacha Baron Cohen, speech at the Anti-Defamation League (no questions) (watch)



Thursday, December 5  Second exam


Wednesday, December 11  Paper due


Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
Last updated: 
September 25, 2019 - 9:05pm