Preparation Questions

Before each class I will post here a list of questions from the readings. These are designed to prepare you for each new discussion topic. Please bring to class a short written answer (1-3 sentences) for each question, and be ready to read it in class.

November 30 – December 11 —

No more preparation questions as we enter the Student Presentation stage of the course. Be sure to read for each day the links provided on our home page by the student presenters.

November 23 (Monday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. Today we will discuss your conclusions for Why People Believe Weird Things. We’ll use as an example the growing nonsense about the Paris shootings of 11/13 as a hoax: 10 Ways it Looks Like a Hallmark False Flag Op. There will only be more of this. As if the actual situation is not complicated enough …

November 20 (Friday) —

You did very well on Wednesday with our discussion of the 11/13 Paris attacks and the development of conspiracy theories around the world. We continue this work into Friday:

1. From the mainstream and “alternative” media in various parts of the world: United States perspectives (Andrew and James), European perspectives (Zach and Kass), and Chinese perspectives (Mierkamil). Start with what at least passes for the establishment media, and then look at blogs, videos or other accounts from those on the fringes. Our goal is to see how conspiracy theories are established in the first few days after an event, and why people subscribe to them.

November 18 (Wednesday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. Today you present what you’ve learned about the 11/13 Paris massacre from the mainstream and “alternative” media in various parts of the world. The assignments we made on Monday are: Who is ISIS? (Will and Harrison), Russian perspectives (Matt and Aditi), Iranian perspectives (Isaac and Ellie), Israeli perspectives (Eva and Kenzie), Korean and Japanese perspectives (Amy and Leah), United States perspectives (Andrew and James), European perspectives (Zach and Kass), and Chinese perspectives (Mierkamil). Start with what at least passes for the establishment media, and then look at blogs, videos or other accounts from those on the fringes. Our goal is to see how conspiracy theories are established in the first few days after an event, and why people subscribe to them.

November 16 (Monday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. Peer Review of your Short Paper #4, followed by a discussion of your arguments. Here is the Peer Review assignment.

November 13 (Friday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. Out of the hundreds of videos of 9/11 conspiracy theory nonsense, I’ve chosen this “no planes” version for you to watch before Friday’s class. It is only 40 minutes long. Pay attention to the arguments, of course, but also to the style, music, editing, etc.

November 11 (Wednesday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. Today we discuss motives, both real and supposed, behind the events of 9/11. First, what were the motives of the hijackers and their controllers? What sources of information do you have for these insights?

3. Second, in conspiratorial theories, what motives could the US government have for either allowing the attacks or actually perpetrating them? Where do these ideas come from?

4. Finally, what motives could third parties have for encouraging, instigating, or actually conducting these attacks? How did you find these?

November 9 (Monday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. To begin our 9/11 conspiracies section, we’ll start today with you outlining the events of that day as we best know them. I suggest writing for yourselves a brief timeline of what happened and when. (See our home page links for this week.) Later, then, we can move into the conspiracy theories.

November 6 (Friday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. I have something to keep you occupied while I’m away: a crazy documentary: Dulce Base, THE TRUTH YOU SEEK! Oh it has it all: Underground bases, aliens, the New World Order, assassinations, reptilians, hybrids, and brave citizens willing to speak out. Please watch this video before Friday, keeping track of the characters and overlapping conspiracies.

October 30 (Friday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. As we discussed at the end of Wednesday’s class, we will analyze the bogus MJ-12 documents and their use in conspiracy theories.

3. Be prepared to talk about David Icke and the Reptilians in detail. This was Matt’s short paper topic, so he can’t do all the talking. Check out Icke’s own website, and then views of him and his ideas.

October 28 (Wednesday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. From Monday: How does the phenomenon of pareidolia affect UFO sightings? Please come up with a real example using your excellent Google skills.

3. The last part of Barkun’s chapter 5 details a critical part of UFO conspiracy literature: the MJ-12 documents and their use by John Lear and William Cooper. Read this section carefully and be prepared to critically analyze the narrative.

October 26 (Monday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. Unidentified Flying Objects! One of my favorite topics. Please read through the Wikipedia page linked here for general background.

3. How does the phenomenon of pareidolia affect UFO sightings? Please come up with a real example using your excellent Google skills.

October 23 (Friday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day. Friday’s news is reserved for Isaac!

2. Here is a link again to the paper by Newheiser et al. 2011. We will examine in detail the hypotheses, methods, results and conclusions. Make sure you’re also up on Da Vinci Code conspiracies! (You received this article in paper on Monday, October 5).

3. In his chapter 4, Barkun has this observation: “In any case, enough individuals believe they have undergone such experiences to constitute themselves a community of victims, complete with the apparatus of self-help groups and hypnotic regression that is evident in other victim populations.” What sort of victims of conspiracies organize themselves into groups? Please have examples and reasons for this phenomenon.

October 21 (Wednesday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day.

2. This morning we will talk in depth about your Short Paper #3 revisions. Come with questions. The revised paper is due to me as a Word document by email attachment before 8:00 a.m. on Friday.

3. Here is a link again to the paper by Newheiser et al. 2011. This time I’d like you to read it for content, including hypothesis, methods and conclusion. (You received this article in paper on Monday, October 5).

October 19 (Monday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day. Each of you will have a chance at this — I have a list!

2. Today’s class material is again devoted to brief oral presentations of your Short Paper #3 topics. I’ll call on you randomly.

October 9 (Friday) —

1. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day. You can’t just read it off your computer screen — you have to know it. Each of you will have a chance at this — I have a list!

2. Today’s class material is devoted to your brief oral presentations of your Short Paper #3 topics. I’ll call on you randomly.

October 7 (Wednesday) —

1. We have a new class activity. Each class session will start with one of you simply giving us a prominent news story of the day. You can’t just read it off your computer screen — you have to know it. Each of you will have a chance at this — I have a list! The purpose of this exercise is to keep you informed of the world around you, thereby giving you an improved context for our course material. This item will be repeated now in each set of preparation questions.

2. Here is a link to the Newheiser et al. (2011) article I’d like you to read for form and style by Wednesday’s class. You received it in paper on Monday. We’ll have a further assignment later.

3. One of Barkun’s most interesting categories is that of “stigmatized knowledge”. This includes: Forgotten Knowledge, Superseded Knowledge; Ignored Knowledge; Rejected Knowledge; and Suppressed Knowledge. Another classification! You know what to do. (And we may start by defining “knowledge“.)

October 5 (Monday) —

1. Break through the bubble: check the news right now. (A message from your local First-Year advisor.)

2. Since we dealt exclusively with the Umpqua Community College shootings on Friday, we’ll repeat the conspiracy classification topic from Jesse Walker in Friday’s questions.

3. What is the “improvisational millenarian style”?

October 2 (Friday) —

In his book The United States of Paranoia (2013), author Jesse Walker examines the role of conspiracy theories in American culture and politics. He has his own classification of conspiracy theories (text from Wikipedia):

The “Enemy Outside” is based on devilish figures mobilizing outside the community and scheming against it.

The “Enemy Within” finds the conspirators lurking inside the nation, indistinguishable from ordinary citizens.

The “Enemy Above” involves powerful people manipulating the system for their own gain.

The “Enemy Below” features the lower classes ready to break through their constraints and overturn the social order.

The “Benevolent Conspiracies” are angelic forces that work behind the scenes to improve the world and help people.

Be prepared on Friday to discuss each of these categories with (as you expected) examples of each. If it helps, here’s a long list of conspiracy theories.

September 30 (Wednesday) —

1. To understand the term millenialism, we need to also understand the basic elements of apocalyptic thinking. Please be ready to define such terms as Armageddon, AntiChrist and the Rapture. You’ll be amazed. Check out this hour-long video on Armageddon — not what you may expect! This Armageddon film is more predictable.

2. Repeat: Barkun has a classification system for conspiracy theories. Please be ready with examples of his event conspiracies, systemic conspiracies and superconspiracies. Your examples cannot be the examples he uses!

3. How is the term paranoid used in the study of conspiracy theories? Why does Barkun say it can be a “double-edged sword” in this use?

September 28 (Monday) —

1. The Barkun book has a different style and approach to the material than Schick & Vaughn. It is highly analytical and uses a significant amount of social theory. To get us started on this road, please define a common term he uses: millenialism.

2. Barkun has a classification system for conspiracy theories. Please be ready with examples of his event conspiracies, systemic conspiracies and superconspiracies. Your examples cannot be the examples he uses!

September 25 (Friday) —

1. Repeat question: Ghosts! Read again pages 268-276 in Schick & Vaughn. What are the supposed theories behind the occurrence of ghosts? What are the attributes of a typical “haunted house”?

2. Reality is our final topic from Schick & Vaughn. Along with the readings, explore sites like this one on creating your own reality. Be ready to explain the arguments used to support these New Age concepts — and the consequences of believing them.

September 21 (Monday) —

1. We will continue our discussion of “communication with the dead” by critically assessing the “Life After Death” medium reading video we saw on Friday. You can review it on our class material page.

2. Repeat question: Ghosts! Read again pages 268-276 in Schick & Vaughn. What are the supposed theories behind the occurrence of ghosts? What are the attributes of a typical “haunted house”?

September 18 (Friday) —

1. We will finish our discussion of homeopathy by assessing the style of arguments against it, and then why adherents cling to belief in its efficacy. Check out these homeopathic products available at Walgreens.

2. Communication with the dead! Your primary topic choice. Please thoroughly read pages 248-253. Be ready to explain a “cold reading”, with examples. Go beyond the textbook to find famous cases or practitioners of cold readings.

3. Ghosts! Read again pages 268-276. What are the supposed theories behind the occurrence of ghosts? What are the attributes of a typical “haunted house”?

September 16 (Wednesday) —

1. Homeopathy continues as a topic. Please read the appropriate sections of our book, follow the links on our homepage, and watch the three short videos on our class material page.

September 14 (Monday) —

1. We had a good start Friday on the incredibly complicated issues within the evolution-creation battle. On Monday we will assess the style of arguments used by the many sides here. We certainly aren’t going to solve anything, but we will at least know the terms of the debate. Maybe I’ll tell you my Ken Ham story.

2. We’ll get started on homeopathy on Monday, so please read the links on our homepage.

September 11 (Friday) —

Excellent work on Wednesday. I look forward to seeing your first papers next week.

1. Repeat from Wednesday: Today is our opportunity to discuss “creationism” and evolutionary theory. I’m not going to give you a particular question here. Please review the links in this week’s homepage and be ready to discuss the role creationism plays in American politics and society. (And Korean society as well, Amy and Leah. How about in Chinese culture, Mirkamil?)

September 9 (Wednesday) —

1. Repeating the first three questions from Monday: What is scientism? What are the suggested “remedies” for it? What do Schick and Vaughn think of the concept?

2. What is “blind testing”? What is a “double-blind test”? Please be ready with examples, real or imagined.

3. What is Occam’s Razor”? How can it be useful in addressing scientific questions?

4. Today is our opportunity to discuss “creationism” and evolutionary theory. I’m not going to give you a particular question here. Please review the links in this week’s homepage and be ready to discuss the role creationism plays in American politics and society. (And Korean society as well, Amy and Leah. How about in Chinese culture, Mirkamil?)

September 7 (Monday) —

1. What is scientism? What are the suggested “remedies” for it? What do Schick and Vaughn think of the concept?

2. What is “blind testing”? What is a “double-blind test”? Please be ready with examples, real or imagined.

3. What is Occam’s Razor”? How can it be useful in addressing scientific questions?

4. From class on Friday: Read the five statements on our course materials page and be prepared to discuss what sort of arguments are made (if any!).

September 4 (Friday) —

1. Logical fallacies review! These are the top six  logical fallacies I find most relevant to our course material:

Begging the question (easily the most misunderstood of the list)
False dilemma (they may not be giving you all the alternatives)
ad hominem (I’ve given and taken plenty of these)
Appeal to authority (but always trust me)
Appeal to ignorance (what we don’t know can hurt us)
Straw man (our best opponents can be the ones we create)

Examples, examples — bring them for these and other logical fallacies. From now on I will assume you can identify typical logical fallacies in arguments.

2. On page 78 we have a brief description of the mind virus concept promoted by Richard Dawkins. (These are sometimes called memes.) What do you think of this idea that thoughts can be contagious and dangerous like viruses?

 

August 31 (Monday) —

1. Simple enough, this one. What is an argument in the formal sense? Please be ready to give the class an argument complete with premises and a conclusion. How can an argument be valid with false premises?

2. What are the differences between inductive and deductive arguments?

3. Understanding logical fallacies is key to what we do in this class, and in your scholarly life beyond it. Let’s start with two: strawman and ad hominem. Be prepared to explain these with examples of your own devising (not those in the book or online).

 

August 28 (Friday) —

No preparation questions for today. I want you instead to thoughtfully complete your first assignment, which is due Friday morning on paper: Research Paper Topics form 2015

 

August 26 (Wednesday) —

1. A fundamental question as we begin the course: Why does it matter what people believe? We hear all the time statements like “Well that may be true for you but not for me”, or “You have your reality and I have mine”. Is there a problem with this sort of relativism about the reality we share? Please support your answer with examples.

2. Time for the tools of logical analysis. Be prepared to discuss the logics section beginning on page 16 of the Schick and Vaughn book. I’ll expect you to be able to define (without notes!) the “laws” like noncontradiction, identity and the excluded middle.

3. We will occasionally use the discussion questions in the Schick and Vaughn book (like those on page 30), so be sure to consider them carefully. I like #3. Be ready to tell me the difference between God-caused miracles and alien-caused miracles. (We don’t hold back in this course!)