POL S 334 A: Topics in American Politics

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

Syllabus Description:

How we'll convert the weekly discussion questions (your % completed) to a 4.0 scale


Zoom link to Tuesday and Thursday lectures, 3:30-5:20

Zoom link to Friday section AA, 10:30-11:20

Zoom link to Friday section AB, 9:30-10:20

Zoom link to Friday section AC, 11:30-12:20

Zoom link to Friday section AF, 12:30-1:20


Zoom link to Professor Smith's office hours, Mondays and Wednesdays, 5:00-6:00

Zoom link to Ryan Goehrung's office hours, Thursdays 2:00-3:00

Zoom link to Ryan Goehrung's office hours, Fridays 11:30-12:30

Zoom link to Tao Lin's's office hours, Tuesdays 10:00-12:00


You can find the full syllabus here


Thursday, October 1 Introduction to the class (slides) (video recording)


1.  Stephen Colbert, The Word—Truthiness, just the first segment, not the whole episode (watch) (Links to an external site.)

2.  Kendra Cherry, The Benefits of Being Open-Minded (read) (Links to an external site.)

3.  Kathryn Schulz, On Being Wrong (watch)

4.  Heterodox Academy, The HxA Way (read)

5.  Van Jones, Safe Spaces on College Campuses (watch)

6.  Robert George and Cornel West, Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression (read) (Links to an external site.)

7.  Danny Westneat, America's Culture War Arrives on Tiny, Mostly White Lopez Island (read)


Part I of the course:  Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern Approaches to Truth

Tuesday, October 6 Premodern approaches to truth (slides) (video recording)


1.  Augustine of Hippo, letter 93 to Vincentius, chapter 2, paragraphs 6 and 8; and chapter 6,

paragraph 20 (read)

2.  Thomas Aquinas, The Sin of Blasphemy (read)

3.  Martin Luther, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (read)

4.  Pope Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors.  Focus on #s 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 21, 55, 77, 78, and 80, and remember that these are propositions the Pope is condemning (read)

5.  Answers in Genesis, Can We Prove the Bible is True? (read)

6.  Catholic Answers, Papal Infallibility (read)

7.  Wikipedia entry on film version of Fiddler on the Roof (read)

8.  Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, lyrics and music to Tradition (watch)


Thursday, October 8 Modern approaches to truth (slides) (video recording)


1.  Skeptic Presents, What Is a Skeptic? (watch)

2.  Scott Lilienfeld, Intellectual Humility:  A Guiding Principle for the Skeptical Movement? (read)

3.  Steven Pinker, Reason Is Not Negotiable (read)

4.  Logan Chipkin, Dogma Is Not Confined to the Cathedral (read)

5.  Irshad Manji, Rethinking Life on the Left (watch)

6.  Erik Gilbert, Liberal Orthodoxy and the New Heresy (read)

7.  George Orwell, Politics and the English Language (read)


Tuesday, October 13 Postmodern approaches to truth, part I (slides) (video recording)


1.  Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author (read)

2.  Reza Aslan, interview on The Daily Show (watch)

3.  Jesse Singal, Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong about Islam  (read)

4.  Suzanna Danuta Walters, Why Can’t We Hate Men? (read)

5.  Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Aspects &

Assumptions of Whiteness & White Culture in the United States (read part 1) (read part 2)

6.  Michel Foucault, The Subject and Power (read)


Thursday, October 15 Postmodern approaches to truth, part II (slides) (video recording)


1.  Helen Pluckrose, The Evolution of Postmodern Thought (watch)

2.  Albert Mohler, Postmodernism and Society (watch)

3.  Lee McIntyre, Post-Truth, interviewed by Agah Bahari on Neohuman (listen)


Tuesday, October 20 How the premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches to truth can each go awry (slides) (video recording)


1.  Ben Shapiro, Religious Belief and the Enlightenment, interviewed by Jordan Peterson (watch) or (listen)

2.  Michael Shermer, What Is Truth, Anyway? (watch)

3.  Then & Now, Understanding Derrida, Deconstruction, and Of Grammatology (watch)



Part II of the course:  How Individuals Make Systematic Mistakes in Seeking Truth

Thursday, October 22 Fallacies and biases that undermine reasoning (slides) (video recording)


1.  15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know before Getting into a Debate (read)

2.  Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection (read)

3.  David Robson, The Intelligence Trap, interviewed on The Middle Way Society (watch)

4.  Musa al-Gharbi, There’s No Reason to be Smug about the Partisan Diploma Divide (read)

5.  Carol Tavris, Why We Believe—Long After We Shouldn’t (watch)


Tuesday, October 27 Flaws in intuition (slides) (video recording)


1.  Laurie Santos, How Monkeys Mirror Human Irrationality (watch)

2.  Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing (watch)

3.  Lisa Belkin, The Odds of That (read)

4.  Andrew Shtulman, Scienceblind, interviewed by Michael Shermer on Science Salon (watch) or (listen)


Wednesday, October 28 First paper due


Thursday, October 29 Flaws in perception and memory (slides) (video recording)


1.  Daniel Simons, Seeing the World As It Isn’t (watch)

2.  Steven Novella, Body Snatchers, Phantom Limbs, and Alien Hands (read)

3.  Elizabeth Loftus, How Reliable Is Your Memory (watch)

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

5.  Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise, talk at Politics and Prose bookstore (watch) or (listen)


Tuesday, November 3 Origins and effects of political polarization (slides) (video recording)


1.  Lilliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement, interviewed by Russ Roberts on Econtalk (listen)

2.  Douglas Ahler, Something Democrats and Republicans Have in Common (read)

3.  Hidden Brain, Not at the Dinner Table, interview with Yanna Krupnikov (listen)

4.  Saturday Night Live, Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks (watch)

5.  Jerry Taylor, The Alternative to Ideology (read)


Thursday, November 5 Tribalism and truth (slides) (video recording)


1.  Tom Jacobs, Why We Engage in Tribalism, Nationalism, and Scapegoating  (read)

2.  Andrew Sullivan, America Wasn’t Built for Humans (read)

3.  Ezra Klein, How Politics Makes Us Stupid (read)

4.  Hyrum Lewis, Our Big Fight Over Nothing:  The Political Spectrum Does Not Exist (read)

5.  Mark Horowitz, Inherent Bias in Academia and Politics (watch) or (listen)


Tuesday, November 10  Truth, cynicism, misinformation, and tribalism in the 2020 election  results (slides) (video recording)

Read/listen/watch:  nothing for today


Thursday, November 12  The limits of individual rationality (slides) (video recording)


1.  Rebecca Saxe, How We Read Each Other’s Minds (watch)

2.  Robert Kurzban, Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite, talk at The Amazing Meeting 2014 (watch)

3.  Edge, The Argumentative Theory, A Conversation with Hugo Mercier (read)

4.  Jonathan Haidt, The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Responsibility (watch only the first 17:55) 



Part III of the course:  Can Our Collective Institutions Help Us Overcome the Limitations of Individuals as Truth Seekers?

Tuesday, November 17  Universities and truth (slides) (video recording)


1.  Jacalyn Kelly, Tara Sadeghieh, and Khosrow Adeli, Peer Review in Scientific Publications (read)

2.  University of Chicago, Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression (read)

3.  American Association of University Professors, Statement on Professional Ethics (read)

4.  Musa al-Gharbi, On Heterodox Academy and Effective Advocacy (read)

5.  Heterodox Academy, Understanding the Campus Expression Climate (read)

6.  Bonnie Kristian, I Worked at a Website that Rated Professors for Political Bias (read)

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


Wednesday, November 18  Second paper due


Thursday, November 19  Science and truth (slides) (we lost the video for part I of class but still have the audio; also, don't be alarmed if something seems unusual, because it will all make sense by the end of class) (video recording for part II of class)


1.  Lee McIntyre, The Case for Science (watch)

2.  Steven Novella, Scientific Consensus (read)

3.  Ed Yong, A Waste of 1000 Research Papers (read)

4.  Stuart Ritchie, Science Fictions:  How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search

for Truth (watch) or (listen)

5.  Brian Gallagher, Wikipedia and the Wisdom of Polarized Crowds (read)


Monday, November 23  optional writing workshop with Carolyn Dapper, Director of the Writing Center for Pol S/LSJ/JSIS/GWSS (video recording)


Tuesday, November 24  Science denial on the left and right (slides) (video recording)


1.  Arthur Lupia, What’s the Value of Social Science? (read)

2.  Luana Maroja, Self-Censorship on Campus is Bad for Science (read)

3.  Oren Cass, No, Not that Evidence (read)

4.  Jerry Taylor, A Paid Climate Change Skeptic Switches Sides, interviewed by Indre Viskontas on

Inquiring Minds (listen)

5.  Naomi Oreskes, Why Trust Science? (watch)


Thursday, November 26 (no class—Thanksgiving break)


Tuesday, December 1  Does (or can) the news media uncover truth? (slides) (video recording)


1.  American Press Institute, The Lost Meaning of ‘Objectivity’ (read)

2.  Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics (1926 version) (read)

3.  Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics (2014 version) (read)

4.  Brent Cunningham, Re-thinking Objectivity (read)

5.  Wesley Lowery, A Reckoning over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists (read)

6.  Louise Perry, An Untrue Claim in the New Yorker Speaks Volumes (read)

7.  Margaret Sullivan, The Disinformation System that Trump Unleashed Will Outlast Him (read)

8.  Charles Cooke, Biden’s Media Campaign (read)


Thursday, December 3  Objectivity and subjectivity in the news media (slides) (video recording)


1.  Danah Boyd, Did Media Literacy Backfire? (read)

2.  The Onion, CNN Holds Morning Meeting to Decide What Viewers Should Panic about for Rest

of Day (read)

3.  Carolyn Hax, Everything Is on Fire (read)

4.  Ezra Klein, The Media Divide Beyond Left-Right (read)


Tuesday, December 8  Misinformation and disinformation (slides) (video recording)


1.  Kate Starbird, Disinformation Campaigns Are Murky Blends of Truth, Lies and Sincere Beliefs: 

Lessons from the Pandemic (read)

2.  Ruth Reader, Is the Explosion of COVID-19 Conspiracies Changing People’s Real World

Behavior? (read)

3.  Nina Schick, Deepfakes and the Infocalypse, interviewed on Intelligence Squared (watch)

or (listen)

4.  Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge (read)


Thursday, December 10  Are there moral truths? (slides) (video recording)

1.  William Lane Craig vs. Shelly Kagan, Is God Necessary for Morality? (watch) or (listen)

2.  William Barr, speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School on October 21, 2019 (watch) or (listen)


Tuesday, December 15  Final paper due

Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
Last updated: 
July 15, 2020 - 2:01am