Candidate Analysis, due February 6, 2020
worth 20 points

Scandal TV show situation room

At the beginning of the semester, each student will be assigned one of the candidates in the 2020 presidential race. Monitor the news for stories about your assigned candidate, and keep notes on his or her statements, policy positions, and campaign. Then prepare a two page document to be turned in. On the first page, include an 8″ x 10″ photo of the candidate and his or her name in big letters that we can read from across the room. On the second page, indicate the candidate’s party affiliation and current job, and then also some bullet-pointed verbiage that identifies, first, the two most interesting examples of anti-intellectualism coming from your candidate and, second, the two most interesting examples of more reasoned, considered, carefully grounded statements or proposals coming from your candidate. Affix the second page to the bottom of the first page, so we can hang all of these documents up around the room on the assignment due date, like a bunch of “wanted” posters, a rogues’ gallery, if you will, and each of you will give a quick two minute review to the rest of the class about what you found regarding your candidate.


Implausible Conspiracy Papers, due March 5, 2020
worth 100 points

woman wearing a tin foil hat

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 excluding references, one inch margins, Times New Roman font. 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.

Do not choose as your subject QAnon, since we’re discussing that one extensively in class. 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, September 11 was an inside job, and the oil companies are suppressing technology that lets cars run on water.


Hoaxsters Analysis, due April 9, 2020
worth 100 points

photo of Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian

You have read Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossion’s (PLB’s) description of their 20 paper hoax. Write an analysis of the hoax and its aftermath (now generally called the “grievance studies affair”) that addresses the following specific questions.

  1. What is the purpose of the university, and of the liberal arts, in 2020? [What’s the role of academia these days? Should college professors be doing teaching and research, or advocating for social justice, or both, or what?]
  1. Given your answer to question 1 above, did the “grievance studies” hoax amount to an attack on the liberal arts or a defense of the liberal arts? [Were PLB being anti-intellectual in challenging a now mainstream branch of academia, or were they convincingly calling out academics guilty of low standards, or dilettantism, or sophistry?]
  1. What are the most important political considerations of this whole affair? [How does this affair map onto the red state/blue state culture wars? Does it matter that, in general, American conservatives are more hostile to the modern university than are liberals, but PLB are themselves liberals? Are critical studies of the type targeted by PLB part of an admirable egalitarian project of extending equal rights to all, or an unhelpful diversion of energy into group based, tribal special pleading? Are so called “grievance studies” liberal or illiberal?]
  1. When, if ever, is an academic “sting” operation ethically permissible or necessary? [Why was the grievance studies affair in bounds or out of bounds?]

Make the paper conform to these parameters:

  • Minimum 1000 words, excluding front and back matter like cover sheets and references.
  • Minimum eight citations from appropriate sources, cited in APA or ASA style. For this assignment, in addition to scholarly treatments of general ideas like anti-intellectualism, academic hoaxes, etc., you may also want to refer to established, nationally recognized news and analysis outlets like the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, The Atlantic for timely, specific coverage of this recent affair.
  • One inch margins, double spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font.


Video Plea for the Life of the Mind, due April 28, 2020
worth 100 points

Psy doing the horse riding move in video for Gangnam Style

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 28th.


“One More Thing…” due May 12, 2020, 11:00 a.m.
worth 80 points

presenter announcing one more thing

Answer the three prompts below and email your paper to me at no later than 11:00 a.m. on May 12th. 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 will lose an additional 20 percent for each subsequent day late. 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. (Worth 20 points.)