Occasional Courses


Conformity and Dissent

Human beings are social animals, and one of the aspects of their sociality is the relationship between their own, and others’, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and conduct. How do the beliefs (for example) of a person affect the beliefs of others, and how are the former affected by the latter? Under what conditions do people align their beliefs with those of others? And under what conditions do they dissent from those beliefs? What are the consequences of conformity and dissent for individuals, social groups, and societies?

Human Nature (with Elizabeth Sherman)

Recent developments in several fields (evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology among them) have reinvigorated fundamental questions about humans, their conduct, and the cultures and societies they reproduce. In this course, we will examine several of these questions: what is the nature of altruism? of aggression? of conflict? of reconciliation? What can be learned about human manifestations of these processes from examining them in non-human animals? What constraints does our evolutionary history place on current and future development, on individual persons and the societies they inhabit? What are the advantages, and what are the risks, in posing these questions?

Spaces, Places, and Identities

          “Spaces” have geographical coordinates, “places” are territories of meaning, and “identities” are the senses we have of ourselves and of        others, both as individuals and collectivities. We will examine the links among these three fundamental aspects of social life. At times, we’ll focus on individual persons, b ut more often we’ll examine how these factors affect social interaction among individuals and collectivities. This means tat the questions we address are likely to be complex. One purpose of the course will be to hone these questions so that they re clear, specific, and amenable to detailed analytic thinking and writing.


We encounter claims every day which purport to describe the (in)effectiveness of products, policies, and programs. Such claims often rest on the systematic collection and analysis of data gathered from individual persons, groups, communities, organizations, and states. How can one assess the validity of these claims, whether they are made by scientists, social scientists, public health authorities, government departments, political candidates, advertisers, or others? This intermediate/advanced course will examine fundamental statistical reasoning and analysis; it will focus on the use of statistics as a tool both for conducting and evaluating research. We will include several topics in descriptive statistics–describing a set of scores: the nature of variables; measurement; distributions; measures of central tendency and variability (especially mean, variance, and standard deviation); introduction to the concepts of validity and reliability; and an introduction to correlation and regression. We will also include several issues in inferential statistics–that is, drawing conclusions about a broader group of people or scores than those available: basic concepts and logic of probability; binomial probabilities; chi-square tests; sampling distributions; the normal distribution; procedures for estimating population variability on the basis of sample variability; various t-tests; and the analysis of variance. Students will work with appropriate statistical software.