POL S 334 A: Topics In American Politics

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
BAG 154
Mark Smith
Mark Alan Smith
Seeking Truth in an Age of Misinformation, Cynicism, and Political Polarization

Syllabus Description:

Smith's grading scale here

Zoom link to Jennifer Driscoll's office hours, Thursdays 12:30-2:30

Zoom link to Nicolas Wittstock's office hours, Mondays 10:30-12:30

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

You can find the full syllabus here

Section syllabus for AA and AB (Jennifer Driscoll) here

Section syllabus for AC and AD (Nicolas Wittstock) here


Thursday, September 30  Introduction to the class (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

Arnold Kling, Signs That We Face an Epistemological Crisis:  Book Titles, 2021, read

Stephen Colbert, The Word—Truthiness (just the first segment lasting 2:40, not the whole episode), watch

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

Kathryn Schulz, On Being Wrong, watch

The Economist, Jonathan Rauch Defends “The Constitution of Knowledge”, read

Heterodox Academy, The HxA Way, read

Van Jones, Safe Spaces on College Campuses, watch

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

Caroline Sutton, ‘We Know Who You Are’:  Group Threatens Doctors, Others Wearing Masks Outside Williamson Co. School Board Meeting, read


Friday, October 1  Introduction to your Friday sections


Tuesday, October 5  Premodern approaches to truth (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

Augustine of Hippo, letter 93 to Vincentius, chapter 2, paragraphs 6 and 8; and chapter 6, paragraph 20, read

Martin Luther, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, read

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 Pope Pius IX  is condemning, read

Answers in Genesis, Can We Prove the Bible is True?, read

Catholic Answers, Papal Infallibility, read

Wikipedia entry on film version of Fiddler on the Roof, read

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, lyrics and music to Tradition, watch


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Albert Mohler, Postmodernism and Society, watch

Thomas Aquinas, The Sin of Blasphemy, read


Thursday, October 7  Modern approaches to truth (slides)

Response memo #1 due


Read/listen/watch (required):

Skeptic Presents, What Is a Skeptic?, watch

Scott Lilienfeld, Intellectual Humility:  A Guiding Principle for the Skeptical Movement?, read

Steven Pinker, Reason Is Not Negotiable, read

New York Times, It Is Every American’s Right to Curse the President, read

Logan Chipkin, Dogma Is Not Confined to the Cathedral, read

Irshad Manji, Rethinking Life on the Left, watch

Ravi Kudesia, Diversity Is Not Enough:  Why Collective Intelligence Requires Both Diversity and Disagreement, read


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Julia Galef, How to Think, interviewed by Coleman Hughes, watch

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, read


Friday, October 8  Premodern and modern approaches to truth



Tuesday, October 12  Postmodern approaches to truth (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author, read

Reza Aslan, interview on The Daily Show, watch

Jesse Singal, Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong about Islam, read

Then & Now, Understanding Derrida, Deconstruction, and Of Grammatology, watch

Ross Douthat, How Michel Foucault Lost the Left and Won the Right, read

Nick Gillespie, Libertarian Postmodernism, watch


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Lindsay Beyerstein, On Bullshit:  Harry Frankfurt, Donald Trump, and Indifference to Truth, watch

Michel Foucault, The Subject and Power, read


Thursday, October 14  Premodern, modern, and postmodern approaches to truth (slides)

Response memo #2 due


Read/listen/watch (required):

Helen Pluckrose, The Evolution of Postmodern Thought, watch

Contrapoints (Natalie Wynn), on Jordan Peterson, watch

The Economist, Echoes of the Confessional State, read (the article is slow to load on Canvas; you can either wait for it, or download it for faster access)

Suzanna Danuta Walters, Why Can’t We Hate Men?, read

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


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

An Evening with Steven Pinker and Jonathan Rauch, on The Constitution of Knowledge, watch

Ben Shapiro, Religious Belief and the Enlightenment, interviewed by Jordan Peterson, watch


Friday, October 15  Comparing the approaches to truth


Tuesday, October 19  Fallacies and biases that undermine reasoning (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know before Getting into a Debate, read

Carol Tavris, Why We Believe—Long After We Shouldn’t, watch

David Robson, The Intelligence Trap, interviewed on The Middle Way Society, watch

Michael Patrick Lynch, Teaching Humility in an Age of Arrogance, (could be slow to load--click download for faster access), read


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Carl Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, read

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

Tom Chivers, So You Think You’re Open-Minded, read


Thursday, October 21  Flaws in intuition (slides)

Response memo #3 due


Read/listen/watch (required):

Laurie Santos, How Monkeys Mirror Human Irrationality, watch

Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing, watch

Andrew Shtulman, Scienceblind, interviewed by Michael Shermer on Science Salon, watch or listen


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Annie Duke, Thinking in Bets, interviewed by Julia Galef on Rationally Speaking, listen

Informed Choice Radio Personal Finance Podcast, David Hand on The Improbability Principle, listen


Friday, October 22  The search for rationality in forming beliefs and making decisions


Tuesday, October 26  Flaws in perception and memory (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

Daniel Simons, Seeing the World As It Isn’t, watch

Steven Novella, Body Snatchers, Phantom Limbs, and Alien Hands, read

Elizabeth Loftus, How Reliable Is Your Memory, watch

Julian Sanchez, Don’t Do Your Own Research, listen (you'll find it easier to concentrate on the audio recording if you listen while you're doing something else, such as walking, working out, doing the dishes, etc.)


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Hidden Brain, The Double Standard, interview with psychologist Emily Pronin, listen

Kelsey Piper, How to Reason about Covid, and Other Hard Things, interviewed by Julia Galef on Rationally Speaking, listen


Thursday, October 28  Midterm exam


Friday, October 29  No class today.  We'll pick up with new material on Tuesday.


Tuesday, November 2  Origins and effects of political polarization

Read/listen/watch (required):

Shadi Hamid, America Without God, read from The Atlantic's site, or here if you have trouble accessing it

Thomas Edsall, America, We Have a Problem:  The Rise of ‘Political Sectarianism’ Is Putting Us All in Danger, read  from NYT site, or here if you have trouble accessing it

Yascha Mounk, The Perils of 180ism, read

Saturday Night Live, Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks, watch

David Horsey, Local Politics Has Gone National, read (make sure to read both the political cartoon and the accompanying article)

Lilliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement, interviewed by Russ Roberts on Econtalk, listen (you'll find it easier to concentrate on the audio recording if you listen while you're doing something else, such as walking, working out, doing the dishes, etc.)


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Douglas Ahler, Something Democrats and Republicans Have in Common, read

Nat Brown, Reopening the American Mind, read

Hidden Brain, Not at the Dinner Table, interview with Yanna Krupnikov, listen


Thursday, November 4  Tribalism and truth (slides)

Response memo #4 due


Read/listen/watch (required):

Tom Jacobs, Why We Engage in Tribalism, Nationalism, and Scapegoating, read

David French, The Descent of the Partisan Mind, read

Jerry Taylor, The Alternative to Ideology, read

Ezra Klein, How Politics Makes Us Stupid, read

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


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Andrew Sullivan, America Wasn’t Built for Humans, read

Nicholas Phillips, What My Fellow Conservatives Can Learn from the Left, read

Behind the Curve, documentary, available with a Netflix subscription, or by payment at Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play


Friday, November 5  Polarization and tribalism


Tuesday, November 9  The limits of individual rationality (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

Rebecca Saxe, How We Read Each Other’s Minds, watch

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

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

Edge, The Argumentative Theory, A Conversation with Hugo Mercier, read


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Timothy Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves, APS Award Address, watch

Adrian Bardon, Humans Are Hardwired to Dismiss Facts That Don’t Fit their Worldview, read


Thursday, November 11  (Veterans’ Day)

Response memo #5 due


Friday, November 12  Individual rationality


Tuesday, November 16  Experts and expertise (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise, talk at Politics and Prose bookstore, watch

Steven Novella, Scientific Consensus, read

Ross Douthat on the Trouble with Experts, interviewed by Yascha Mounk, listen (you'll find it easier to concentrate on the audio recording if you listen while you're doing something else, such as walking, working out, doing the dishes, etc.)

Kerrington Powell and Vinay Prasad, The Noble Lies of Covid-19, read

Ryan Long, When an Expert Disagrees with the Experts, watch


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Brian Gallagher, Wikipedia and the Wisdom of Polarized Crowds, read

Suhan Kacholia, Expertise, Trust, and Partisanship, read


Thursday, November 18  Universities and truth (slides)

Response memo #6 due (Note:  this week's memo is OPTIONAL)


Read/listen/watch (required):

University of Chicago, Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, read

American Association of University Professors, Statement on Professional Ethics, read

Musa al-Gharbi, On the Relationship between Ideological and Demographic Diversity, read

Musa al-Gharbi, Difference and Repetition in the Viewpoint Diversity Space, read

Heterodox Academy, Understanding the Campus Expression Climate, read

Lara Schwartz, False Equivalence, interviewed by Chris Martin on Half Hour of Heterodoxy, listen (you'll find it easier to concentrate on the audio recording if you listen while you're doing something else, such as walking, working out, doing the dishes, etc.)


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Jacalyn Kelly, Tara Sadeghieh, and Khosrow Adeli, Peer Review in Scientific Publications, read

Bonnie Kristian, I Worked at a Website that Rated Professors for Political Bias, read


Friday, November 19  Experts, universities, and truth


Monday, November 22  Paper due


Tuesday, November 23  Science and truth (slides)

Read/listen/watch (required):

Lee McIntyre, The Case for Science, watch

Naomi Oreskes, Why Trust Science?, watch

Stuart Ritchie, Science Fictions:  How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth, interviewed by Michael Shermer on Science Salon, watch or listen


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Ed Yong, A Waste of 1000 Research Papers, read

Arthur Lupia, What’s the Value of Social Science?, read

Diego Reinero and Jan Van Vavel, Researchers’ Politics Don’t Undermine their Scientific Results, read


Thursday, November 25  (no class—Thanksgiving break)


Friday, November 26  (no class—Thanksgiving break)


Tuesday, November 30  Science denial on the left and right

Read/listen/watch (required):

Luana Maroja, Self-Censorship on Campus is Bad for Science, read

Oren Cass, No, Not that Evidence, read

Jerry Taylor, A Paid Climate Change Skeptic Switches Sides, interviewed by Indre Viskontas on Inquiring Minds, listen (you'll find it easier to concentrate on the audio recording if you listen while you're doing something else, such as walking, working out, doing the dishes, etc.)

Marty Makary, Lose the Mask! Eat the Turkey! And Other Sane Advice for Thanksgiving, interviewed by Bari Weiss, listen (you'll find it easier to concentrate on the audio recording if you listen while you're doing something else, such as walking, working out, doing the dishes, etc.)



Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Alice Dreger, Galileo’s Middle Finger, interviewed by Gad Saad, watch


Thursday, December 2  Does (or can) the news media uncover truth?

Response memo #7 due


Read/listen/watch (required):

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

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

Associated Press, Statement of News Values and Principles, read

American Press Institute, The Lost Meaning of ‘Objectivity’, read

Brent Cunningham, Re-thinking Objectivity, read

Wesley Lowery, A Reckoning over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists, read

Louise Perry, An Untrue Claim in the New Yorker Speaks Volumes, read


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Margaret Sullivan, The Disinformation System that Trump Unleashed Will Outlast Him, read

Bret Stephens, Media Groupthink and the Lab-Leak Theory, read


Friday, December 3  Science, the media, and truth


Tuesday, December 7  Objectivity and subjectivity in the news media; moral truths

Read/listen/watch (required):

Danah Boyd, Did Media Literacy Backfire?, read

The Onion, CNN Holds Morning Meeting to Decide What Viewers Should Panic about for Rest of Day, read

Carolyn Hax, Everything Is on Fire, read

Kate Starbird, Disinformation Campaigns Are Murky Blends of Truth, Lies and Sincere Beliefs: Lessons from the Pandemic, read

The Economist, From Congo to the Capitol, Conspiracy Theories Are Surging, read


Read/listen/watch (extra/optional):

Ruth Reader, Is the Explosion of COVID-19 Conspiracies Changing People’s Real World Behavior?, read

Nina Schick, Deepfakes and the Infocalypse, interviewed on Intelligence Squared, watch or listen

Ezra Klein, The Media Divide Beyond Left-Right, read


Thursday, December 9  Courts as venues for truth-seeking

Read/listen/watch (required):

Going to Court in Ancient Rome—What Was It Like?, watch

LawShelf, The Rule of Relevance and Admissibility of Character Evidence, watch

LawShelf, Opinion Testimony of Laypeople and Experts, watch

LawShelf, Evidence in Civil and Criminal Cases: The Best Evidence (Original Documents) Rule, watch


Friday, December 10  Course review


Thursday, December 16  Final exam from 4:30-6:20

Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
Last updated: 
June 2, 2021 - 6:58am