You are here

POL S 380 A: Seeking Truth in an Age of Misinformation, Cynicism, and Political Polarization

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
AND 223
Mark Alan Smith
Mark Alan Smith

Syllabus Description:

Information about the final exam here

Smith's grading scale here

You can find the full syllabus here

Section syllabus for AA and AB (Anna Nguyen) here

Section syllabus for AC and AD (Christianna Parr) here

Link for Professor Smith's Wednesday office hours (4:00-5:00) by Zoom here

Professor Smith's Tuesday office hours (2:00-3:00) are in Gowen 29

Anna Nguyen's office hours are on Thursdays, 1:00-3:00 in Gowen 24

Christianna Parr's office hours are on Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30 in Gowen 24

Titles of podcasts here, in case you want to go to their original sources and download them there

Information about the midterm exam here


Thursday, September 29  Introduction to the class (slides)


Stephen Colbert, The Word—Truthiness, 2005 (just the first segment lasting 2:40, not the whole episode), watch (Links to an external site.)

Kendra Cherry, How to Be Open-Minded, 2022, read (Links to an external site.)

Kathryn Schulz, On Being Wrong, 2011, watch (Links to an external site.)

Van Jones, Safe Spaces on College Campuses, 2017, watch (Links to an external site.)

Robert George and Cornel West, Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression, 2017, read (Links to an external site.)

The Economist, From Congo to the Capitol, Conspiracy Theories Are Surging, 2021, read, or here if you hit the paywall


Friday, September 30  Introduction to your Friday sections


Part I:  Premodern, Modern, and Postmodern Approaches to Truth


Tuesday, October 4  Premodern approaches to truth (slides)


Thomas Aquinas, The Sin of Blasphemy, 1269 (approximately), read (Links to an external site.)

Pope Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors, 1864.  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 (Links to an external site.)

Answers in Genesis, Can We Prove the Bible is True?, 2011, read (Links to an external site.)

Catholic Answers, Papal Infallibility, 2004, read (Links to an external site.)

Albert Mohler, Postmodernism and Society, 2015, watch (Links to an external site.) or listen


Wednesday, October 5

Acknowledgment of course policies due


Thursday, October 6  Modern approaches to truth (slides)

Response memo #1 due


Skeptics Society, What Is A Skeptic?, 2013, watch

Lee McIntyre, The Case for Science, 2019, watch (Links to an external site.)

Melanie Trecek-King, A Life Preserver for Staying Afloat in a Sea of Misinformation, 2022, read

Frederick Douglas, Plea for Freedom of Speech in Boston, 1860, read

Jonathan Zimmerman, Why Free Speech?, 2021, read

Julia Galef, Why ‘Scout Mindset’ Is Crucial to Good Judgment, 2016, watch

Irshad Manji, Rethinking Life on the Left, 2019, watch (Links to an external site.)


Friday, October 7  Premodern and modern approaches to truth


Tuesday, October 11  Postmodern approaches to truth (slides)


Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author, 1967, read (Links to an external site.)

Reza Aslan, interview on The Daily Show, 2015, watch (Links to an external site.)

Jesse Singal, Reza Aslan on What the New Atheists Get Wrong about Islam, 2014, read (Links to an external site.)

Ross Douthat, How Michel Foucault Lost the Left and Won the Right, 2021, read (Links to an external site.), or here if you hit the paywall

Helen Pluckrose, The Evolution of Postmodern Thought, 2020, watch (Links to an external site.)


Part II:  How Individuals Pursue Truth and the Ways They Can Fail


Thursday, October 13  Fallacies and biases that undermine reasoning (slides)

Response memo #2 due


Evan Thompson, 10 Logical Fallacies You Should Know before Getting into a Debate, 2022, read (Links to an external site.)

Carol Tavris, Why We Believe—Long After We Shouldn’t, 2017, watch (Links to an external site.)

David Robson, The Intelligence Trap, interviewed on The Middle Way Society, 2019, watch (Links to an external site.) or listen

Scott Lilienfeld, Intellectual Humility:  A Guiding Principle for the Skeptical Movement?, 2020, read (Links to an external site.)


Friday, October 14  Postmodern approaches to truth; fallacies and biases


Tuesday, October 18  Flaws in intuition (slides)


Laurie Santos, How Monkeys Mirror Human Irrationality, 2010, watch (Links to an external site.)

Annie Duke, Thinking in Bets, interviewed by Julia Galef on Rationally Speaking, 2018, listen (Links to an external site.)

Emily Pronin, The Double Standard, interviewed on Hidden Brain, 2021, listen


Thursday, October 20  Flaws in perception and memory (slides)

Response memo #3 due


Daniel Simons, Seeing the World As It Isn’t, 2011, watch (Links to an external site.)

Elizabeth Loftus, How Reliable Is Your Memory, 2013, watch (Links to an external site.)

Jennifer Sey, Doctor's Orders, 2022, read

Julian Sanchez, Don’t Do Your Own Research, 2021, listen (Links to an external site.)


Friday, October 21  Intuition, perception, and memory in the search for truth


Tuesday, October 25  Origins and effects of political polarization (slides)


Cass Sunstein, The Polarization of Extremes, 2007, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Thomas Edsall, America, We Have a Problem:  The Rise of ‘Political Sectarianism’ Is Putting Us All in Danger, read  (Links to an external site.), or here if you hit the paywall

Yascha Mounk, The Perils of 180ism, read (Links to an external site.)

Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan, The Real Divide in America Is between Political Junkies and Everyone Else, 2020, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Lilliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement, interviewed by Russ Roberts on Econtalk, listen (Links to an external site.)



Thursday, October 27  Tribalism and truth (slides)

No response memo due this week


Tom Jacobs, Why We Engage in Tribalism, Nationalism, and Scapegoating, 2018, read (Links to an external site.)

Ezra Klein, How Politics Makes Us Stupid, read (Links to an external site.)

Christine Emba, Joe Biden Working While Covid-Sick Was Not ‘White Supremacy,’ 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Jerry Taylor, The Alternative to Ideology, read (Links to an external site.)

Hyrum Lewis, Our Big Fight Over Nothing:  The Political Spectrum Does Not Exist, read (Links to an external site.)

Verlan Lewis and Hyrum Lewis, The Myth of Ideological Polarization, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall


Friday, October 28  Polarization, tribalism, and truth; midterm exam review.


Tuesday, November 1  Midterm exam


Thursday, November 3  The limits of individual rationality (slides)

Response memo #4 due


Robert Kurzban, Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite, talk at The Amazing Meeting 2014, watch (Links to an external site.)

Edge, The Argumentative Theory, A Conversation with Hugo Mercier, 2011, read (Links to an external site.)

Kat Rosenfield, Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Isaac Stanley-Becker, Elon Musk, Right-Wing Figures Push Misinformation about Pelosi Attack, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Bonnie Kristien and Jonathan Rauch, On the Knowledge Crisis, 2022, listen


Friday, November 4  Individual rationality; reflections on the course so far


Part III:  Truth-Seeking Institutions and Their Limitations


Tuesday, November 8  Experts and science (slides)


Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise, talk at Politics and Prose bookstore, 2017, watch (Links to an external site.) or listen

Naomi Oreskes, Why Trust Science?, 2021, watch

Jeffrey Singer, Against Scientific Gatekeeping, 2022, read


Thursday, November 10  Science denial on the left and right (slides)

Response memo #5 due


Luana Maroja, Self-Censorship on Campus is Bad for Science, 2019, read (Links to an external site.)

Jerry Taylor, A Paid Climate Change Skeptic Switches Sides, interviewed by Indre Viskontas on Inquiring Minds, 2017, listen  (Links to an external site.)

Barbara Hofer and Gale Sinatra, Science Denial:  Why It Happens and What to Do about It, 2022, watch


Friday, November 11  No class (Veterans' Day)


Tuesday, November 15  Limitations of scientific institutions and practices (slides part 1) (slides part 2)


Jonathan Rauch, The Danger of Politicizing Science, 2022, read

Vinay Prasad, Science Editor in Chief Holden Thorpe Condemns DeSantis and Ladapo, 2022, watch or listen

Stuart Ritchie, When Science Goes Wrong, 2022, watch


Thursday, November 17  Universities and truth (slides part 1 Links to an external site.) (slides part 2 Links to an external site.)

Response memo #6 due


University of Chicago, Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, 2014, read (Links to an external site.)

MIT Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom, 2022, read

American Association of University Professors, Statement on Professional Ethics, 2009, read (Links to an external site.)

Musa al-Gharbi, On the Relationship between Ideological and Demographic Diversity, 2019, read (Links to an external site.)

Jonathan Marks, The Right-Wing Outrage Machine Is Doing Campus Conservatives No Favors, 2022, read

Heterodox Academy, Understanding the Campus Expression Climate, Three-Year Report, 2022, read

Lara Schwartz, False Equivalence, interviewed by Chris Martin on Half Hour of Heterodoxy, listen (Links to an external site.)


Friday, November 18  Universities, science, and science denial


Monday, November 21  Paper due


Tuesday, November 22  Does (or can) the news media uncover truth? (slides)


Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics (1926 version), read (Links to an external site.)

Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics (2014 version), read (Links to an external site.)

Associated Press, Statement of News Values and Principles, 2018, read (Links to an external site.)

American Press Institute, The Lost Meaning of ‘Objectivity’, 2022, read (Links to an external site.)

Brent Cunningham, Re-thinking Objectivity, 2003, read (Links to an external site.)

Wesley Lowery, A Reckoning over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists, 2020, read, or , here(Links to an external site.)  if you hit the paywall

Jesse Singal, How the Media Fell for a Racism Sham, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall


Thursday, November 24  (no class—Thanksgiving break)


Friday, November 25  (no class—Thanksgiving break)


Tuesday, November 29  Objectivity and subjectivity in the news media; moral truths (slides)


Danah Boyd, Did Media Literacy Backfire?, read (Links to an external site.)

The Onion, CNN Holds Morning Meeting to Decide What Viewers Should Panic about for Rest of Day, read (Links to an external site.)

Carolyn Hax, Learning to Cope in a Chaotic World, read (Links to an external site.)

Russ Shafer-Landau, Metaethics and Moral Realism, 2022, watch or listen


Thursday, December 1  Courts as venues for truth-seeking (slides)

Response memo #7 due


Thomas Harper, On Pleasurable Beliefs, 2021, read (you have to become a subscriber, for free), or here if you don't want to become a subscriber

Lindsay Beyerstein, On Bullshit:  Harry Frankfurt, Donald Trump, and Indifference to Truth, 2016, watch (Links to an external site.)


Friday, December 2  The media and courts 


Tuesday, December 6  Polarization and truth-seeking during the Covid pandemic (slides)


Faye Flam, The Biggest Mistake of the Pandemic Is Still Haunting Us, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Kerrington Powell and Vinay Prasad, The Noble Lies of Covid-19, 2021, read

Soumya Karlamangla, Once Known for Vaccine Skeptics, Marin Now Tells Them ‘You’re Not Welcome’, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Joss Fong, How American Conservatives Turned Against the Vaccine, 2022, watch

Olivia Goldhill, Pushed by Right-Wing Doctor Groups, Desperate Patients Turn to Ivermectin for Long Covid, 2022, read

Kay Lazar, Prominent Doctor Faces Backlash Amid ‘Fight Over the Heart of Public Health’, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall



Thursday, December 8  Individual and institutional means of truth-seeking amid misinformation (slides)

No response memo due this week


Shira Ovide, YouTube’s Ban on Misinformation, 2021, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Sarah McQuate and Jackson Holtz, It’s Not Just Social Media—Misinformation Can Spread in Scientific Communication Too, 2021, read

Faye Flam, Fact-Checking Covid-19 Posts Isn’t Working, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Isaac Saul, Misinformation Is Here to Stay (And That’s OK), 2022, read

Nico Grant and Tiffany Hsu, Google Finds ‘Inoculating’ People against Misinformation Helps Blunt its Power, 2022, read, or here if you hit the paywall

Zubin Damania, California’s Covid Medical Misinformation Bill, 2022, watch or listen

Ryan Long, I Joined the Disinformation Governance Board, 2022, watch


Friday, December 9  Course review


Thursday, December 15  Final exam (covering only material since the midterm exam) from 4:30-6:20

Catalog Description: 
Covers limits of individual reasoning owing to fallacies, biases, and errors in intuition, perception, and memory. How political identities guide and distort the ways people form and defend their beliefs. Misinformation, conspiracy theories, science denial, and universities as sites of knowledge discovery and dissemination.
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated: 
May 4, 2022 - 10:04pm