PSC404, Spring 2001
Assignment 1, due Friday 26 January 2001
Critical thinking

      1. In addition to fact and prove, another common word that is often misused is control. In each of the sentences below, explain what control or its derivative means. (You will probably need to consult your dictionary.)

a. One of the main techniques of scientific research is controlled experiments.
b. I carefully controlled the conditions of my experiment.
c. He is the controller of the university.
d. Control your rage!
e. When arriving in Brussels, turn left as soon as you exit from Passport Control.

      2. “After deliberating for 16 hours spread over three days, the jury found the defendant guilty of embezzling $100,000 from the small post office where she worked.” What did the jury's verdict really mean? How does this relate to our thinking about the JFK assassination?

      3. Person 1: “The Mafia killed Kennedy.” Person 2: “You’re crazy. He had nothing to do with it.” What is the logical weakness(es) in this dialogue, and how could we alter it in order to bring meaning to it?

      4. Explain the act of believing in terms of probabilities. Why do humans believe things?

      5. Here are ten examples of evidence from the JFK case. For each, list whether it is testimonial or physical, direct or indirect (with respect to who killed JFK), and testable or untestable.

      a. “Earwitness” reports by nearly 100 persons in Dealey Plaza who heard shots fired from the grassy knoll.
b. Bullet fragments recovered from the scene that were traced ballistically to only one rifle.
c. The Mannlicher-Carcano rifle owned by Lee Harvey Oswald and allegedly fired by him.
d. The X-rays of Kennedy’s head, taken during the autopsy, that show lead fragments coning outward from the small hole in the back to the large hole in the right front, as evidence for hit from rear.
e. Howard Brennan’s report of seeing the final shot fired from the Texas School Book Depository, plus his description of the shooter.
f. Julia Mercer’s report of seeing a man carrying a rifle to the grassy knoll an hour before the assassination, as evidence for a shooter on the knoll.
g. The footprints found in the mud behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll by James L. Simmons, as evidence of shooter on the knoll.
h. The Cuban exiles’ anger over the failed Bay of Pigs invasion as reason for them to kill Kennedy.
i. Kennedy’s dual motions after the head shot, as shown by the Zapruder film, as evidence for direction of final shot.
j. Reports by the three men on the fifth floor of the Depository, who heard a rifle being fired directly above them.

      6. Here are ten characteristics of Dealey Plaza during and after the assassination. Explain how each would have affected the ability of eyewitnesses to perceive and record the events and later describe them.

      a. The shots came unexpectedly.
b. The shots came from a direction or directions that were difficult to determine because the plaza was ringed by tall buildings and other structures that created complex echoes.
c. The crowd in the plaza must have thought that it was being fired upon.
d. Panic ensued, and some witnesses dropped to the ground instinctively.
e. The whole thing was over in a matter of seconds and the motorcade sped away to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
f. The Dallas police immediately began searching the area and the nearby buildings.
g. The Dallas police began questioning people and taking statements within minutes.
h. People compared impressions and tried to determine what had just happened.
i. Everyone knew that their president, their governor, and/or their vice president had been fired upon.
j. The whole event was set against the backdrop of the height of the Cold War.

      7. (a) Why are working hypotheses so important to thinking critically about the JFK assassination? (b) Define falsifiability and explain how we use it to help us understand the JFK assassination.

      8. Define “Occam’s Razor” and tell why it is so important to understanding the JFK assassination.

      9. Describe the similarities and dissimilarities between the legal method and the critical (logical) method of evaluating evidence. What is the major message we derive from the table that compares the two?

      10. (a) Explain the differences between testable, reliable, and unreliable evidence. (b) Why is it so important to purge unreliable evidence from our thinking about the assassination?

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