Soci 10: American Society (2018)

University of California, San Diego
Winter 2017-18
Tu Th 8:00-9:20, CSB 004

Lane Kenworthy
Office hours: M 12-1, Tu 9:30-10:30, SSB 472

This course explores key issues in contemporary America and how social scientists, journalists, advocates, and policy makers approach them. We’ll examine questions such as: Why haven’t we made more progress in reducing poverty? Is income inequality harmful? Will marijuana legalization be good or bad? Why are more white Americans dying young? Are African Americans catching up with whites or falling farther behind? Why are our cities so expensive to live in? Does big government harm the economy? What, if anything, should we do about climate change? Should we pull back from military intervention around the world? Why haven’t Americans gotten happier in recent decades?


Jan 9 (Tu)
Course introduction

  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “America Is Exceptional … and Ordinary,” The Good Society. LINK

Jan 11 (Th)
How do we know?

  • Read before lecture: Lane Kenworthy, “How Do We Know?,” The Good Society. LINK
  • Watch before lecture: Michael Moore, Where to Invade Next, 2015, 120 minutes ($3). LINK

Jan 16 (Tu)

  • Watch before lecture: Frontline, “Poor Kids,” season 31, episode 5, PBS, 2012, 68 minutes ($2). LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “A Decent and Rising Income Floor,” The Good Society. LINK

Jan 18 (Th)
Life and death

  • Read before lecture: Andrew Cherlin, “Why Are White Death Rates Rising?,” New York Times, 2016. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Longevity,” The Good Society. LINK

Jan 23 (Tu)
Marijuana legalization

  • Read before lecture: Christopher Ingraham, “Why This ‘Horrible’ Idea for How to Legalize Pot Could Be Worth Voting For,” Washington Post: Wonkblog, 2016. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Marijuana Legalization,” The Good Society. LINK

Jan 25 (Th)
Income inequality

  • Watch before lecture: Robert Reich and Jacob Kornbluth, Inequality for All, 2013, 91 minutes ($3). LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Is Income Inequality Harmful?,” The Good Society. Read the introduction, the first four sections, and the last four sections. LINK

Jan 30 (Tu)

  • Read before lecture: Emily Badger, “What Happened to the American Boomtown?,” New York Times, 2017. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Edward Glaeser, “How Skyscrapers Can Save the City,” The Atlantic, 2011. LINK

Feb 1 (Th)

  • Watch before lecture: Andrew Rossi, Ivory Tower, 2014, 90 minutes ($3). LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “College Education,” The Good Society. LINK

Feb 6 (Tu)

  • Read before lecture: Rich Lowry, “The Bloody Lesson of Chicago’s 762 Murders,” RealClear Politics, 2017. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Safety,” The Good Society. LINK

Feb 8 (Th)

  • Watch before lecture: HBO Films and Institute of Medicine, The Weight of the Nation, Part 1: Consequences, 2012, 53 minutes (free). LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Weight Moderation,” The Good Society. LINK

Midterm exam: Tuesday, February 13, in class

Feb 15 (Th)

  • Read before lecture: N. Gregory Mankiw, “I Can Afford Higher Taxes, But They’ll Make Me Work Less,” New York Times, 2010. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Is Big Government Bad for the Economy?,” The Good Society. LINK

Essay 1 due: Tuesday, Feb 20, 8:00am

Feb 20 (Tu)

  • Read before lecture: Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira, “California Is the Future,” Medium, 2017. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Do Election Outcomes Matter?,” The Good Society. LINK

Feb 22 (Th)
Inclusion: African Americans

  • Watch before discussion section: Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Black America Since MLK, Episodes 1 and 2, PBS, 2016, 218 minutes (free: sign in with KPBS member email and password kpbs2018). LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Inclusion: African Americans,” The Good Society. LINK

Feb 27 (Tu)
Inclusion: women

  • Read before lecture: Hanna Rosin, “The End of Men,” The Atlantic, 2010. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Inclusion: Women,” The Good Society. LINK

March 1 (Th)
Inclusion: LGBTQs

  • Watch before lecture: Katie Couric, Gender Revolution, 2017, 92 minutes ($7). LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Inclusion: LBGTQs,” The Good Society. LINK

March 6 (Tu)
Climate change

  • Watch before lecture: Al Gore and David Guggenheim, An Inconvenient Truth, 2006, 96 minutes ($3). LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Climate Stability,” The Good Society. LINK

March 8 (Th)
US military intervention abroad

  • Read before lecture: Kenneth Pollack, “Fight or Flight: America’s Choice in the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs, 2016. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “US Military Intervention Abroad,” The Good Society. LINK

Essay 2 due: Tuesday, March 13, 8:00am

March 13 (Tu)
Social connections

  • Read before lecture: Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” The Atlantic, 2017. LINK
  • Read before discussion section: Lane Kenworthy, “Social Connections,” The Good Society. LINK

March 15 (Th)

  • Read before lecture: Charles Murray, “The Happiness of the People,” American Enterprise Institute, 2009. Read the first two sections (ending with “There is every reason to believe that when Americans embrace the European model, they begin to behave like Europeans”). LINK
  • Read before the final exam: Lane Kenworthy, “Happiness,” The Good Society. LINK

Final exam: Thursday, March 22, 8:00-11:00am


Here’s what you should get from this course:

Approaching issues scientifically. Many of the issues we’ll look at are front-and-center in popular discussion, journalistic coverage, and political debate. This discussion would be better, and more helpful to policy makers, if it were more informed by science. Approaching an issue scientifically means, among other things, considering empirical evidence rather than relying mainly on theory or ethical beliefs, looking for data rather than anecdote(s), looking for multiple sources of evidence (“If hypothesis A were true, what else would we expect to observe?”), and thinking about whether some types of evidence are more useful, and thus should be weighted more heavily, than others.

Asking important questions. For any issue or topic, there are multiple questions we might want to answer. Many are of interest, but some are more important than others.

Understanding argument and evidence. For each class day, you will do a reading or watch a video in advance. In class you’ll be quizzed on the information in the reading or video. Try to understand the question(s) the author is trying to answer, the answer(s) she gives, the key pieces of evidence, and the way the author reasons from the evidence and other considerations (laws, ethical views, etc) in reaching a conclusion.

Dealing with complexity. The substantive issues we’ll examine are big and complicated. Social scientists have struggled to understand the nature of the problem(s), to identify the main cause(s), and to figure out the most useful solution(s). The process is like detective work: seldom is the story simple and rarely do we have the exact evidence we’d need in order to be strongly confident about our conclusion, so we must ask an assortment of questions, use various types of data, and think systematically.

Comfort with quantitative data. A generation ago there was a scarcity of numerical data. Now we have an abundance: data are everywhere. That’s a good thing, because data are key to answering important questions about society. You will encounter lots of quantitative data in this course, often in graphical form. If you aren’t already comfortable interpreting such data and reasoning from them, by the end of the course you should be.

Verbal communication. The discussion section for this course is designed to foster conversation about the substantive issues we’ll cover. Your discussion section grade will be based entirely on your participation.

Written communication. You will write two essays. Both are short, so I expect the quality of writing to be very high. Good writing usually comes from extensive editing. Write a draft. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again.

Concision. Information and opinion are plentiful these days, so brevity is a valuable skill. The essays you will write are short, so you’ll need to focus on the information and argument that is most relevant or useful.

Independent research. The two essays are on topics not covered in the course. You’ll need to do some outside reading, decide on your proposal or position, and assess the degree to which evidence supports it.

Developing a good argument. The course materials and lectures are designed to expose you to ways of developing and conveying effective argument. Keys include focusing on a specific question, formulating a clear proposal or position, making use of relevant evidence, addressing potential objections and counterarguments, and communicating clearly.

Substantive knowledge. Last, but not least, the course aims to improve your understanding of the issues we cover.


The course readings and videos are available via the links in the schedule above. You’ll also need an iclicker, which you can purchase at the campus bookstore.


You aren’t allowed to use a laptop, tablet, or phone during lecture. The best available evidence suggests that college students learn more when not using these devices. If you want to take notes, you’ll need to do so with pen and paper.


Course grades will be determined as follows. See below for details.

  • 15%: discussion section attendance and participation
  • 15%: quizzes
  • 20%: essay 1
  • 20%: essay 2
  • 15%: midterm exam
  • 15%: final exam

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (discussion section attendance and participation grade x .15) + (quizzes average grade x .15) + (essay 1 grade x .2) + (essay 2 grade x .2) + (midterm exam grade x .15) + (final exam grade x .15).

Your letter grade for the course will be determined as follows:

  • 97 and above = A+
  • 93–96 = A
  • 90–92 = A–
  • 87–89 = B+
  • 83–86 = B
  • 80–82 = B–
  • 77–79 = C+
  • 73–76 = C
  • 70–72 = C–
  • 60–69 = D
  • below 60 = F

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


Doreen Hsu
Teaching Assistant
Section A01, W 3:00–3:50, SSB 101
Section A02, W 4:00–4:50, SSB 101
Office hours: Tu 10:30-12:30, SSB 423

Attendance and participation in discussion section is required. Your discussion section grade will be based on your participation. Attendance may also affect your grade. You’re allowed to miss one section meeting without penalty. If you miss two, your discussion section grade will be reduced by 5 points. If you miss three, it will be reduced by 15 points. If you miss four, it will be reduced by 25 points. If you miss more than four, your section grade will be zero.


Each day in class, beginning January 16, you will take a short quiz on the reading or video for that day. Each quiz will have five multiple choice or true/false questions. You will answer the questions using your iclicker. There will be 16 quizzes; only your highest 13 grades will count.

Quiz grading: If you answer at least four questions, you will get 50 points (even if you have no correct answers). You get ten additional points for each correct answer. So if you answer four or more questions, your grade is 60 with one correct answer, 70 with two correct answers, 80 with three, 90 with four, 100 with five.

You must register your iclicker with TritonEd. To do that, go to, log in, choose this course, and click on “Register iclicker” in the blue menu bar. If you get a new iclicker at any point during the quarter, register it immediately.

For technical support with iclicker registration and use, contact Educational Technology Services.

You can take a makeup if you have to miss a quiz for any of the following three reasons: (1) holidays or special events observed by organized religions (for students who show affiliation with that particular religion), (2) absences pre-approved by the UCSD Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee), (3) extended illness (this requires a doctor’s note). If you miss a quiz for one of these reasons, contact me no later than the day of the quiz to schedule a makeup. I will need written verification of the circumstances.

You cannot take a makeup if you miss a quiz for any other reason. This includes faulty iclicker registration, forgetting to bring your iclicker to class, stolen or lost iclicker, iclicker malfunction, dead iclicker battery, needing to arrive late to class or leave class early, oversleeping, minor illness, transportation problem, family or friend’s special occasion, family problems, family illness, needing to study for another course, etc.

Two pieces of advice regarding the quizzes: (1) Evidence is important, but don’t get overly bogged down in detail — exact numbers, precise dates, and so on. (2) Don’t overthink the quiz questions. Don’t assume I’m trying to trick you.


You will write two short essays. The assignments:

  • Essay 1: What’s the most useful improvement we could make to America’s immigration policy?
  • Essay 2: What’s the most useful improvement we could make to America’s gun laws?

Grading will be based on the following:

  • Answer the question.
  • Refer to relevant evidence. Opinion and logic are fine but insufficient.
  • Address potential objections to your position.
  • Write clearly.
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation (use of first person — “I” or “me” — and of contractions is fine), and adhere to the following length, formatting, and citation instructions. Length: Each essay should be 1,500 words (excluding footnotes), plus or minus no more than 100 words. Formatting: The essays must be typed single-space on 8½-by-11 paper with 1-inch margins on top and bottom and 2-inch margins on each side. Use 11-point or 12-point font size. Sources and citations: Consult at least five sources of your choosing. Use footnotes (not a reference list or bibliography) to give credit to anyone from whom you borrow evidence or argument. The footnotes aren’t included in the word count. I’m not picky about the formatting of the footnotes, but include the author(s), title, and year rather than simply listing an internet address.

If you need help with writing, consider seeking assistance from the UC San Diego Writing Center.

Due dates are listed above. An essay turned in late but within 48 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). An essay turned in more than 48 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Upload your essay on TritonEd. Go to, log in, choose this course, and click on “Upload essays” in the blue menu bar. Emailed or hard copy essays won’t be accepted.

Don’t plagiarize. If you aren’t sure what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the UC San Diego Library’s guide to preventing plagiarism.


The midterm will cover material from lecture, readings, and videos up to that point in the quarter. The final will cover material after the midterm.


Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, graded work must be the product of independent effort unless otherwise instructed. Students are expected to adhere to UC San Diego policy on academic integrity.


Students who need special accommodation or services should contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). You must register and request that the OSD send me official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please meet with me to discuss accommodations and how the course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.


Information here, other than the grade and attendance policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.