Trump Team Analysis, due January 26, 2017
worth 20 points


Write an analysis about president-elect Trump, his transition team, and his presumptive cabinet appointees in light of ideas we are discussing in class. Specifically, turn in at least 500 words about the incoming White House administration in which you identify, first, the two most interesting examples of anti-intellectualism coming from those individuals and, second, the two most interesting examples of more reasoned, considered, carefully grounded statements or proposals coming from them. (Typed, double-spaced, sources cited properly in APA style, citations not part of 500 word count.)


Campaign Season Book Analysis, due February 21, 2017
worth 100 points


Choose one of these books:

Hofstadter, Richard. 1963. Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. New York: Vintage books.

Lim, Elvin. T. 2008. The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush. New York: Oxford University Press.

Otto, Shawn. 2016. The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It. Milkweed Editions.

Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine Books.

Shermer, Michael. 2015. The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People. Henry Holt and Co.

I might be willing to let you use another book, with my approval, if it is spot on relevant, and you promise you have not read it already.

Once you’ve read your book, you will write a really careful, 1250 word analysis (about five pages, double-spaced) in which you discuss the major themes, strengths, and weaknesses of the book with respect to the 2016 presidential election campaigns and the early days of the Trump White House and the ideas we’ve been discussing in class. Let me be very clear here: you will not pass this assignment if much of the content is not directly related to the presidential campaigns. A simple report of what the author said in the book is not sufficient. Grading-wise, 80 of the 100 points in this assignment will go to content, and the other 20 points will go to mechanics. The content portion of your grade covers your ideas and analysis. Is the paper well reasoned? Is the exposition clear? Are any references authoritative? The mechanics portion of your grade covers grammar, spelling, punctuation, and correct citation of references. Weird fonts and margins annoy your grader. Cite sources in the style of the American Sociological Association.


Implausible Conspiracy Papers, due March 28, 2017
worth 100 points


Analyze the discourse, epistemology, and politics surrounding some popular, implausible conspiracy as it relates to the question of anti-intellectualism. An “A” paper will, among other things,

  • have a clearly identifiable thesis,
  • make sophisticated use of the extant academic literature, and
  • NOT “go native” and adopt the scientifically untenable perspectives of the conspiracy theorists being studied.

Some of the references for this paper are likely going to be outside of the norm for academic writing. You may well be obliged to cite websites written by cranks to find out the specific claims and content of your chosen conspiracy theory. It’s fine to cite those sites as sources of the conspiracists’ claims. In other words, you may use such sites, which lack conventional markers for authority, as sources of raw data to tell you what the conspiracists are actually saying. Even here, of course, you want to be able to convince your reader that you have found the websites that articulate the characteristic version of the conspiracy.

Whether or not you include some sources of the type just described, you may have some conventional, mainstream journalistic sources that help to lay out the Who, What, and When. That’s fine. But the heavy lifting for a paper of this type comes from scholarly references, peer-reviewed academic journals, books from reputable publishers, and the like. Much of your paper should be an analysis of your chosen conspiracy theory in light of insights, models, and categories coming from the academic study of conspiracy theories. A quick route to an F grade for this assignment would be to paraphrase nonsense from nutty websites and leave it at that.

Type it up double-spaced, 1250 words. Weird fonts and margins annoy your grader. Cite sources in the style of the American Sociological Association or the American Psychological Association. The paper is worth 100 points. Eighty of those points will go to content, and the other 20 will go to mechanics. The content portion of your grade covers your ideas and analysis. Is the paper well reasoned? Is the exposition clear? Are the references authoritative? The mechanics portion of your grade covers grammar, spelling, punctuation, and correct citation of references. Students in my classes sometimes lose ALL of the mechanical points, because they refuse to proofread. Running the spell checker is not proofreading. For the love of all that is decent, proofread your paper, then have your roommate proofread it.

Examples of implausible conspiracies, just to get you started: Shape-shifting reptilian aliens control global politics, the Illuminati/Masons/Knights Templar control global politics, chemtrails from airplanes are controlling our minds, flouride in the water is controlling our minds, President Obama is bringing sharia law to America, Jade Helm is prelude to marshal law in America, September 11 was an inside job, and the oil companies are suppressing technology that lets cars run on water.


Video Plea for the Life of the Mind, due April 25, 2017
worth 100 points


By late in the semester, you should have a good sense of the pathologies of anti-intellectualism. Make a video that implores viewers to embrace the life of the mind, to celebrate considered judgment, to turn away from the siren song of the imbecile. You will be graded mostly on the transcript of the video, a printed copy of which you must turn in on the due date. In other words, production quality is not key (although it will be more fun to try to make it look as good as possible, even if you are just shooting it with a smart phone and your roommate is the actor or camera operator). I’ll be watching mostly for evidence of your mastery of ideas from this course. Having said that, videos that have plainly been thrown together minutes before class are not likely to impress. So, style and elaboration of concept count some. We will watch everyone’s videos in class on April 25th. Other graded parameters of this assignment:
– Your video must not be longer than two minutes.
– Your video must conform to YouTube’s rules for posting (think copyright).
– You must deliver electronic copies of the video and the transcript to me by April 25th.
– Your video must be screened in class on April 25th.


“One More Thing…” due May 9, 2017, 11:00 a.m.
worth 80 points


Answer the three prompts below and email your paper to me at no later than 11:00 a.m. on May 9th. Papers are one day late at 11:01 a.m. by the clock on my computer, and will lose 20 percent (16 points) at that time. Papers should be typed up double-spaced, and any references need to be cited fully. An A student should be able to write an A paper in a couple of hours. I suspect A papers will be a few pages long. Not one or two pages, but not 10 pages either. Note that the prompts have different point values. You may not collaborate on this assignment.

  1. Which two ideas in Jacoby’s book do you find most true and useful? With which one idea from that book do you most disagree? Defend your choices. (Worth 40 points.)
  1. Describe some new idea you now have in your head because of this class. Pick something you didn’t just discuss in the previous prompt. (Worth 20 points.)
  1. Are we doomed? Explain. Discuss the recent March for Science in your answer. (Worth 20 points.)