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Indiana University Bloomington

LAMP L216 Sophomore Seminar

LAMP-L216  Sophomore Seminar:  Business and Humanities (3 credits)

LAMP-L216 is a topical seminar that introduces students to fundamental issues in the relationship between business and society.  Topics vary with the instructor and year and include advertising in American culture and big business in American society.

LAMP-L216 fulfills the College of Arts and Sciences Intensive Writing requirement, and it is approved by the Hutton Honors College to count toward the General Honors Notation.

Science, Politics and Evolution, Professor Jose Bonner

Offered Spring 2012

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle triggered the creation of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA.  Charged with protecting consumers from poisonous, contaminated, or otherwise dangerous products that they might eat, inject, or slather onto their skin, the FDA has moved back and forth over the years from lax oversight to implementing overly-burdensome regulations.  Who writes these regulations, and who determines the precise phrasing?  Who determines if regulations are too lax, or too burdensome?  Protecting public health requires a complex dance between science, economics, and politics, to determine the best balance between a low cost, high risk extreme on one end, and a high cost, low risk extreme on the other.  The role of science is to provide the best interpretation of the available information, objectively and dispassionately, so that policy-makers can strive for the best protections.  Economics determines the cost, measured in dollars (but how can we quantify the "quality of life?").  Politics does the rest; on the floor of the Senate, in the Oval Office, and in board rooms and back rooms around the country.  Final decisions factor in the arguments from multiple constituents with differing goals, and with differing access and influence.  What is the public perception of all of this?  Half a century ago, public trust favored science and scientists; things have changed since then.  Most remarkable is the blossoming of the perception that personal testimony is of greater validity than information derived through scientific investigation.  It is all the more remarkable that this holds true even when the "testimony" is fictitious.  Is this a cultural shift, or is it a part of human nature?  Perhaps we are by our very nature programmed to believe the snake oil salesman, even against our better judgment, because he looks and sounds convincing.  These are complex issues. They have the potential to change our future dramatically—for better or for worse, depending on what we do from this point onward.  How far have we actually come since The Jungle?

In this seminar, we will read articles and reports at various levels of technical expertise, along with excerpts from longer works.  We will discuss the significance of the readings, and try to develop an understanding of what has occurred at the interface of science and politics.  We will do much of our reasoning in writing, sharing thoughts and alternative explanations about why things have transpired as they have.  Human nature—genetically coded, inborn behavior—has undoubtedly played a major role; if we can articulate this role, perhaps we can develop strategies to avoid pitfalls that have snared us in the past. The seminar is open to all majors and assumes no particular scientific expertise.

Rationality and Cognition, Professor Leah Savion

Offered Spring 2012

The assumption that people are rational is embedded in our educational system, the judicial system, economic models that inform governments' decisions, traffic laws, and human relations. Alas, the traditional conception of rationality came crushing down recently with relevant empirical findings in sociology, economy, logic, and psychology, leaving us yearning for an explanation of how the magnificent, high achieving, "noble in reasoning" human race is also engaged extensively in dismal decision making, magical beliefs, unwarranted fears, and predictable self-deception. In this course we will develop a framework to illuminating the sources of our apparent irrational reasoning and behavior, focused on prevalent economic and legal fallacies. We'll investigate the reasons for biases such as sunk cost, framing effect, risk aversion, endowment effect, or impact bias, and why people confess falsely, fail to be credible eye witnesses, and fall prey to mob mentality. Utilizing the latest findings from cognitive science on the mind's operations, these irrational behaviors may turn up to be unavoidable byproducts of a normally functioning mental system, governed by highly effective principles and "quick and dirty" shortcuts employed to meet adaptive goals under cognitive, social, and physical constraints.