Course Syllabus: CORS 236, Spring 2020

This syllabus describes the scheduling of and procedural details for CORS 236. This information is subject to change, as described below.  The website for the class, (in the short term), which displays this syllabus, the book, homework assignments, and old exams is

Lecture locations and times

Now Online    MWF 10:30-11:30 (#74518)

Spring calendar (important dates only; class meets every scheduled MWF)



January 15 (Wednesday)

First Lecture (first day of class)

January 20 (Monday)

MLK Day (no class)

February 17 (Monday)

President’s Day (no class)

February 10 (Monday)

First Homework Due

February 12 (Wednesday)

First Exam (during class)

March 4 (Wednesday)

Second Exam (during class)

March 9 (Monday)

Second Homework Due (new deadline)

March 14-22

Spring Break

April 8 (Wednesday)

Third Exam (during class time)

April 13 (Monday)

Third Homework Due (new deadline)

May 1 (Friday)

Fourth Exam (during class time)

May 8 (Friday)

Fourth Homework due

May 8 (Friday)

Last class day

No final exam  (see below for potential use of the final exam period).




In the event that circumstances outside our control prevent an exam being administered at the times given in the calendar (e.g., due to campus closures and evacuations, fire alarms, …), the exam will be rescheduled.  When possible, such rescheduling will take advantage of the times already allocated by the Registrar for CORS236, including perhaps the final exam period.  Thus, any (advance) plans you make to miss a scheduled class time or final exam period is done with the understanding that those times may be used as a backup for an exam that needs to be rescheduled.

Course Materials

1)  Class website (for book, syllabus, homework templates, old exams)    

2) Class email

3)  In-class participation (details given in class 1st and 2nd class day; use not required)

4) Videos of lecture (links on BbLearn). 

6) Bblearn

For personal matters and emergency issues, you may email Jim Bull at (don’t use this email for questions about class material and other routine matters); always use “236” in the subject line


Calendar of lectures

The lectures follow the on-line book (Scientific decision-making).  However, the dates of specific lecture topics are subject to change based on current events, class progress, and guest lectures.  Furthermore, lectures are interactive and involve student input and feedback (with ‘clickers’ provided free, in class).  The pace of most lectures depends on how well the ideas are being understood, so a rigid schedule of topics for each day of the semester is not given here because it does not fit the type of comprehension-based progress used in the class.  More or less, the four exams will cover the chapters listed below (a more specific coverage will be given shortly before each exam).  Furthermore, the lectures tend to go in order of chapter number, but exceptions are sometimes made.  The book is not a complete substitute for lecture, however, as lectures contain examples and demonstrations not included in the book. 

Exam number

Chapters (approximate)





Scientific Method and Models

12 Feb (Wed)



Data Quality

4 March (Wed)



Interpretation and Conclusions

8 April (Wed)



Impediments, Conflict, Bias and Fake News

1 May (Fri)


Weekly topics (see the book for more exact contents):

Week spanning

Topics covered

15-17 January

Introduction to CORS236, Scientific Method

22-24 January

Scientific Method

27-31 January

Models (general and specific topics)

3-7 February

Models (specific topics)

10-14 February

review, Homework 1 due, Exam 1, start Data & Evidence

19-21 February

Data and Ideal Data (general)

24-28 February

Data (forensics)

2-6 March

finish Data, Homework 2 due, Exam 2, begin Evaluation

9-13 March

Correlation vs. Causation

23– 27 March

Controls, Experiments

30 March – 3 April

Experiments, start Impediments

6-10 April

Homework 3 due, Exam 3, Impediments

13-17 April

Conflict, bias, fake news

20-24 April

Conflict, bias, fake news, circular reporting

27 April – 1 May

Avoding the problems; Homework 4 due, Exam 4

4-8 May

Current Topics (applying the knowledge)



Optional Help Sections: times and locations (not in catalog; you do not register for these and there is no University credit associated with these)

Meet only online and only when announced











office location

office hours


Jim Bull

LSS 266B

by appt; all meetings are online

With the covid-19 epidemic, there are no longer in-person meetings of the classroom, office hours, or help sessions.


Course content

This class teaches an evidence-based method of making decisions: how to evaluate evidence, what alternatives to consider, and what to trust. The main ideas are taken from the scientific method, but the emphasis is on applying that style of decision-making to all sorts of normal problems in daily life. You should learn how to evaluate a newspaper article about some new claim or discovery, what kinds of limitations underlie any study (and thus how to look for weaknesses), and how to improve almost any goal-oriented procedure. The course content consists of lectures and demonstrations (plus a few short videos) in class.  Your course grade is determined by your performance on the exams, written homework assignments, a few on-line quizzes and an on-line survey. 

As noted above, lectures mostly follow the order and content in the class book (Scientific Decision-Making) written by Pease and Bull (modified by Chis Warnock and Konrad Prus in 2012), although lectures also augment the material in the book.  In addition, a few lectures may not be in the book, and lectures will often describe and discuss current events that are not in this book.  So whether you come to lecture or not, you should know what was covered in class for the exams.


Syllabus (this document)

The syllabus describes the procedures, materials and events/schedules for CORS236.  It is not only useful at the beginning of the semester, but it is also relevant throughout the course, as it tells you how to challenge exam questions, whether late homework is accepted, and many other things.

Updates.  If it is necessary to make changes during the semester in exam dates, homework due dates or other aspects of the course syllabus and conduct, we will announce these changes in lecture and post a new syllabus and post a notice on the class web site. You are responsible for all announced changes, whether or not you attend lecture.  Indeed, I cannot guarantee that all lectures will be recorded, and relying on videos in lieu of attending lecture is done at your own risk.

Course book

We do not use a standard text for this course. We lecture from our own material and from various publications in the scientific literature, news, and other sources. We have written a book (Scientific Decision-Making) that contains most of the class material. It is available for free on the class web site .  Students enrolled in CORS236 may make a personal photocopy or download an electronic copy of the book for use in this course for free. One way or another, you are likely to want access to it, but don’t feel that you need to spend any money to get it. Furthermore, although the book contains most of the material for this class, the lectures include current events and a few new topics each semester that are not in the book.


Downloading the book, sample problems, and homework

The class website ( has the on-line class material.   Note that you may access everything without going through Canvas and that no password is required (homework assignments do need to be uploaded to Canvas). 

The syllabus, book and homework assignments may be modified during the semester.  You will be notified of any changes, but you should be aware that any downloads of material done at the beginning of the semester will not have those updates.

Help sessions (times and rooms given during the second week of class):

Help Sessions are offered with this course. They are optional, in that your attendance at them does not affect your grade, and they were not part of your registration. They will not meet every week – they meet only during the times announced in class. They are intended as help and practice sessions. They will be used (i) for help with homework, and (ii) to go over practice exams. Students are not assigned to particular sessions; instead, you go to any one you want (or can). If you cannot make at least one time (and in a class of 400, there will be several such cases), you can make other arrangements with the TAs or Bull.

Practice exams. Exams and keys from previous years are posted on the class website.  You are encouraged to study them as ‘practice’ exams, but there is no credit given for doing so.



You will be given timely access to your exam scores and homework scores throughout the semester.  There is a standard 1-week period after you are given access to scores in which you may report mistakes so that we may correct them. This 1-week window applies to any opportunities for points that you are provided in class – exams, homework, surveys or other means of awarding points.  If you have an extended absence, then you should document your excuse within a week of returning to class.  The goal here is to get these matters addressed during the semester rather than at the end.

There are 4 exams and 4 homework assignments, due on the dates given in the calendar above.

There will be at least 11 on-line quizzes/surveys, dates to be determined (all but one administered through Canvas).  There will be an opportunity to substitute electronic, in-class participation for some of the on-line quizzes (see below). 

All 4 homework assignments are described on the class web site and in the book, and will also be discussed in lecture.  The Canvas quizzes will be announced during the semester as they become relevant and due. 

Only your 3 highest exam scores will count towards your final grade (If you take all four exams, your lowest exam will be dropped. Or you may choose to not take one exam). Similarly, only your 3 highest homework scores will count towards your final grade.  And you can get credit for at most 8 Canvas quizzes or equivalents.  Each exam will be worth 100 points, each homework will be worth 34 points, and each Canvas quiz (or alternative) will be worth 6 points.  Your final grade will be determined from the sum of your

+3 highest exam scores (100 pts each)

+3 highest homework scores (34 pts each)

+8 highest Canvas quizzes (6 pts each)


compared to a threshold. There are 3*(100)+3*(34) +8*(6) = 450 points possible in the semester. We will use the following grade thresholds.  Note that a ‘+’ will be assigned grades in the top 25% of the intervals (except for A).


A         (405 and above)            (90% or more of 450 points)


B+, B        (404-360)                      (80%)


C+, C      (359-315)                      (70%)


D+, D        (314-270)                    (60%)


F                         269 and below



I may change these thresholds to make them more lenient -- that is, to benefit you; we will not make them more stringent (but there is no assurance that the thresholds will be changed).  Furthermore, any opportunities for additional points will merely be added to your total and thus make it easier to get a higher grade – we will not rescale your points if there is an opportunity to make more than 450 total points.

We advise against using the "best 3 of 4" policy as an excuse to miss any of the first three exams. The first exam is typically the easiest, and you may later regret not taking it. Likewise, if you miss one of the first three exams for an unexcused reason and then miss another with a valid reason, you will get a zero for one of your three top scores.  Importantly, you are not allowed to make up an exam unless you present documented, timely excuses for each exam missed (see the details below for what constitutes "timely"). So missing one exam without a legitimate excuse means that you will get a zero as one of your top 3 exams if you miss a second exam, regardless of whether you have a legitimate excuse for the second missed exam.  And the makeup is given at end of semester, is written answers and is comprehensive over the entire course.

Exams (67% of possible points)

All exam materials (answer sheet, exam hard copy) will be provided at the exam.  Bring a photo I.D. to all exams; it may not be checked, but you should have it regardless.

Exams use scantron forms.  Exams and keys from previous years will be made available on the web in advance of each exam so that you may familiarize yourself with the types of questions likely to be asked.  If you accidentally bubble on the scantron form one or more different answers than you intended (and do not catch it), there is unfortunately little that can be done.  If your answers were systematically shifted on the scantron form (e.g., you omitted your answer to #16 so everything after question 15 was shifted by one), you may present your case for consideration; decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.  However, your answers will need to be marked clearly on the exam form with the questions (not just the scantron), and there will be a penalty for any corrections made.


Correcting and challenging exam grading:  a 1-week window

All matters concerning your score on an exam must be presented within a week of posting the exam and your score. 

Copies of the exams and keys are posted within hours of the exam so that you can see how the exam was graded.  The complicated nature of many questions leads some students to ask about or even object to the way that questions were graded.  You may ask how questions were graded in person or over email, but there is also a formal procedure for challenging the grading of answers; if successful, these challenges could result in a more favorable grading of your answer.  These formal challenges to the grading of exams must be presented by email to the class email account or in writing to Jim Bull within 1 week of the date the exam results are posted.  Challenges relating to the amount of partial credit given for incorrect answers are never successful - don't bother explaining that you think you should get some credit for getting two of 10 grouped questions correct.  Likewise, you may not challenge an exam on the grounds that you were misled when you asked a question during the exam; if a question was genuinely misleading, then that should be the basis of the challenge, not the fact that you were not told the answer. Some grouped questions don't give any partial credit. The assignment of points and partial credit depends on many factors, such as how difficult the question is, whether you had access to that question in the sample problems, and how serious a misunderstanding is implied by a wrong answer.

Challenges may cost you points.  If your challenge to a question indicates that you do not understand the issues, you can lose 1 point on that question.  This penalty may never be used and is not intended to dissuade you from challenging a question.  Rather, it is intended to ensure that you understand the question and answers before offering a challenge.  You will not lose points by indicating that you interpreted the question differently than it was intended, but you could lose points if your challenge indicates that, after getting your exam back, you still don’t understand the issues needed to answer it. 

You may challenge a maximum of two questions per exam.  If you think that more than two questions had problems, use the best two cases for your challenges and get someone else to challenge the others.  If a question has fundamental problems, then it will be regraded for the entire class, so you can benefit by someone else’s challenge.  Probably at least half the challenges that are accepted lead to regrading of the entire class (done in such a way that no one’s score goes down).

The format for challenges to the key, whether on paper or email must do the following:

1) Give your exam version (keycode)


2) Paste or write the exam question and its preamble and into your document – so that all the information used to answer the question is there.


3) Indicate the answer you chose, the answer on the key, and why you think your answer should be credited.


If your challenge deviates from this format so much that we cannot understand it or cannot evaluate it without going back to your version of the exam or your answer sheet, there is a good chance that your challenge will be dismissed regardless of its content. Class size is large and we need your cooperation in expediting challenges.  Furthermore, we do not engage in a dialogue about challenges or send email responses back.  We will evaluate those that are submitted and regrade where appropriate, but you will not be notified of the outcome except via changes to your exam score.

Make-up exam policy – no make-ups for those who miss just one exam.

I do not give make-up exams to students who miss only one of the four scheduled exams (unless the University mandates it). If you miss two or more exams, you get a makeup exam only if you present me with a documented, compelling excuse for all exams you missed. Furthermore, when you miss an exam for a documented, compelling reason, you must give us your documentation within one week of the exam date (or your return-to-school date, if your documented excuse indicates that you were unable to attend classes for some time after the exam). For example, we would not give a make-up exam to a student who missed the first and second exams, but who did not provide us with the documentation for missing the first exam until after the second exam. We would give this student a make-up for the second exam only if they gave us a documented excuse for missing the first exam within one week of the first exam, and a documented excuse for missing the second exam within one week of the second exam.  So if you miss an exam (unless it is the last) let Bull know why pronto, so that you don’t get a bad grade by missing a second exam.  If you oversleep but can still get to the exam during the exam period, do so to see if we can accommodate you.

Note that, if a makeup exam is given, its format may be very different (e.g., require written answers) than the format of the exam given in class.  A makeup given at end of semester will likely be comprehensive.

Homework assignments (22% of possible points)

There are 4 assigned homeworks, each worth 34 points.  We will count only the best 3 toward your grade.  Each assignment requires you to find an article (newspaper, magazine, web, or other) and fill out a template that relates the information in the article to material presented in class. The CORS236 home page ( provides a link to the details about these assignments.  The deadlines are given in the calendar above; unless advertised otherwise, there is a 2-day period in which an assignment may be turned in with a 10% penalty.

Homework grading may be challenged, just as exam grading may be challenged. The deadline for a homework challenge is one week from the time its grading is first posted. Like exam challenges, a homework challenge must be presented in the form of an explanation for which part of the grading you are challenging and why you think an error has been made. In addition, homework challenges will entail a blind regrading of the entire assignment, and your score could go down. So be confident that your challenge has merit AND that other parts were graded correctly before turning it back to us (you can ask about it before you challenge). Also, we will do any regrading as blindly as possible. So please don't indicate that you need "x more points" to get an A at the end of the semester.


On-line quizzes and class participation alternatives (11% of possible points)

At least 11 on-line quizzes (or other activities) will be provided during the semester, but we will count only the best 8 scores (at 6 points each, for 48 total possible points).  The times each is available will be announced in class and posted on the website.  Most of them require that you read one or two articles, then answer 3-6 questions.  All but one will be administered through BbLearn.  All are expected to be done outside of class.  (We may also experiment with partial-quiz formats that assign less than 6 points at a time but combine to equal 6 points across different quiz dates.)

Attendance and Participation.  For those who wish to attend class, there will be an electronic participation option in which you can respond to questions presented during lecture.  If you answer enough of those questions correctly on a class day, and you do so on enough class days during the semester, you will be able to substitute class participation for an on-line quiz.  Details will be given in class, but it should be possible to substitute participation for up to 2 on-line quizzes throughout the semester.

Note that there is no ‘penalty’ for failing to participate in class – all students have the same total possible number of points that can be attained.  Class participation can be used to replace one or more on-line quizzes (if it is to your advantage) but cannot be used to get extra possible points.


No End-of-Semester Special Options

Students slightly below a grade threshold often look for ways to get the few extra points at the end of the semester. The options at the end of semester are the same as they are during the semester:

i)                 challenge the exam 4 grading

ii)                challenge HW4 grading (your score could go down)

There is simply no other work that is allowed to get such points – no reports, no redoing homeworks or retaking exams.  The only way to get points for the class is with the four exams and four homeworks, regardless of the grade a student receives, whether passing or failing.

Professor accountability for errors in electronic files and Student responsibility for keeping hard copies and reporting recording errors in a timely fashion.

Keep your records until the end of the semester.

In handling electronic files for large classes, it is easy for the staff to make mistakes -- both big and little ones. For example, a student may forget to fill in an EID number on an exam, and the instructor may accidentally insert the number of another student in attempting to fix the problem. Or, the professor's manipulation of the class Excel file may inadvertently shuffle some columns but not others so that the posted scores do not correspond to the actual recorded scores for any of the students. Mistakes such as these and others will be corrected whenever detected, and the instructors are under no obligation to honor such errors whenever the student has, in due time, access to information that would reveal the error. Exam keys are posted, so that any incorrect grading may be identified by the student, and any erroneous recording may likewise be recognized. If we post an incorrect score and then discover our error, don’t expect that the previous score should apply if access to the files and records would have revealed the error. Additionally, any challenges to class records must be supported with any emails or files to which you have access (do not delete them until the final grades have been posted).


You are not penalized for failing to attend lecture (although you may replace an on-line quiz with a certain level of participation).  Nonetheless, you are responsible for material presented in class, regardless of whether you attend. And you must attend to take the exams and must complete on-line quizzes and assignments on time (which does not require attendance).  In the past, one student suggested that we should grade their exam more leniently because they missed lecture because of a dentist appointment. That request was denied -- it is your responsibility for making up the missed material, regardless of how legitimate your excuse for missing class. In the event you have missed class, you may wish to consult someone who did attend to determine what was covered.


Lost assignments; internet downtime, and other factors preventing on-time completion/submission

There is a host of problems that can delay submitting an assignment that you have completed or interfere with taking an on-line quiz.  In general, don’t wait until the last minute to submit an assignment or take a quiz, since there are times of high activity that slow internet traffic on campus, and you may be affected by software incompatibilities.  I will honor major, campus-wide interruptions that last more than a couple hours but not individual cases of internet interruptions, computer loss and hardware/software malfunction specific to your computer.  In any case, late homework submissions are allowed for 48 hours with a small penalty.  And we can make adjustments for interrupted quiz completion and for other problems arising during quiz attempts on-line, but only if we are notified before the answers are published.  


Other Matters


CORS 236 will count toward the Idaho STEM requirement.


Students with disabilities

Any student with a documented disability (physical or cognitive) who requires academic accommodations should contact the Services for Students with Disabilities office as soon as possible to request an official letter outlining authorized accommodations.

Student grievances, complaints, dishonesty, and other matters

If you have a problem with the conduct of the course (e.g., you take issue with teaching methods, feel that the classroom environment is not conducive to proper education, or another matter), please first discuss the matter with Jim Bull. If you are not satisfied, you may take the matter higher up.

Religious Holidays.  By UI policy, you must notify me of your pending absence at least fourteen days prior to the date of observance of a religious holy day.  If you must miss a class, an examination, a work assignment, or a project in order to observe a religious holy day, you will be given an opportunity to complete the missed work within a reasonable time after the absence.


A request from me to you

The coordination of a large class with considerable electronic software faces various logistical problems. In the past, we have had such difficulties as rooms accidentally scheduled for two classes at the same time, classrooms reassigned after they had been published in the Course Catalogue, and a bomb threat for the building in which we were lecturing (which we avoided interpreting as a reflection of student attitudes toward our course). It is difficult for us to anticipate and apprehend all that might go wrong with the administration of peripheral aspects of a large class such as this one, and we solicit your help in identifying problems when they arise. If something is wrong with the class, please contact Jim Bull ( pronto.