Smith College students held protests and counter-protests, wrote chalk slogans pro and con on campus walkways, and heaped personal criticism on the manager of dining services over rumors that the school was going vegetarian and would start buying only local produce.
No meat? No coffee?
It turns out it was all a hoax.
Two professors at the prestigious women's college in Northampton cooked up the prank as part of their introductory class in logic.
Nice hoax, of course.
But as reader Matt Pianalto points out, it's not obvious what the pedagogical value of a hoax like this is.
But what does the exercise above prove/teach? How bad the non-logic students at Smith College are at assessing arguments? How to be a sophist? Perhaps what the "lesson" is is one of the things the students are expected to reflect upon?
But what about the climate of campus trust? How long can a prank like this go on before it sets up a situation of reduced trust? What if the school does make a big, controversial change? Who can the students trust? I don't want to overreact, but I also think these are serious questions. If you think lying (and fooling others, etc.) is generally wrong, then can students learn to care about the truth by engaging in an activity where they deprive unwitting others of it? (Would something like this pass IRB? Does that matter?)
Matt raises legitimate questions, I think. What's the point here — to demonstrate human gullibility? To prove the need for critical thinking? It strikes me as encouraging student snarkiness: the knowing logic students pull one on the campus dupes. Your thoughts and reactions?