Hunter Threadgill

Hunter Threadgill

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Florida State University

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History & Systems Research Paper

*Note: Before I go on to describe this assignment, I must give proper credit to Dean Keith Simonton (and his fantastic paper describing the assignment here) and Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. for providing a wealth of resources on their websites to aid in constructing this assignment. Much of the material presented here is inspired by their material or comes directly from their websites, and I want to make sure that proper credit is given from the beginning.

Critics of our discipline sometimes complain that psychology has yet to produce a scientific genius, such as Newton or Copernicus. For your paper, you must evaluate this claim's validity with respect to a single major figure in our discipline's history. Through a detailed study of your subject's life and career, you must determine whether he or she fits the profile typical of an eminent scientist.

In short, you are seeking to answer the question, "Is ________ a scientific genius?"

I am not looking for a simple yes/no answer, but, rather, I am expecting you to gather evidence, synthesize it, and formulate an argument about whether your chosen topic is a scientific genius.

Below, I have outlined a variety of things to keep in mind.


The purpose of this assignment is three-fold:

  1. For students to become knowledgeable about a famous psychologist
  2. For students to practice gathering evidence to answer a question (a skill all too often neglected)
  3. For students to practice crafting arguments for or against a given idea

Steps to successfully complete this assignment

Within this assignment, you are expected to do three things:

1. Read THIS definition of a genius. Specifically, focus on pages 143-145 (the section "Definition of Genius"). From this, you should be able to get a general understanding of what I mean by "scientific genius." Additionally, please refer to THIS handout to help guide you about what kind of information you should include in your paper to defend your premise about whether or not your chosen psychologist is a scientific genius. This is the kind of information about which I expect you to write. Note that you will not be able to write about all of this information, but it should help you in crafting an argument for whether or not your subject is a scientific genius.

2. Pick your subject of this evaluative essay. I have provided a couple of lists below the grading rubric that should spur some ideas about who to write about. I challenge you not to write about Freud (everyone and their mother [pun intended] wants to do that).

3. Write a persuasive essay convincing me that your subject is (or is not) a scientific genius. An example paper can be found HERE (thanks to Dean Keith Simonton for posting this online).


  • At least 5 pages (not including a title page or references), double-spaced, 12-point, Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins all around
  • References should be in APA-format
  • Turned in via Blackboard. Note that you are allowed to turn it in early to see a Turnitin plagiarism report and make edits if you plagiarize (make sure you don't plagiarize...). *Note: If you turn it in and aren't sure if something flagged is plagiarism, please feel free to contact me, and I will look at it. However, for me to have time to look over it for plagiarism, it needs to be submitted at least 2 business days before the due date.
  • The due date is XXXX, XXXX XXth, at 11:59PM!

Grading rubric

This paper is worth 120 points and will be graded as followed:

1. 10 points - How well do you state your thesis? Do you explicitly state whether or not your subject is a genius or not?

2. 10 points - Do you define what a genius is? Refer to the article mentioned above to actually define what a genius is.

2. 30 points - How much detail do you go into concerning their lives/careers/etc.? Use the handout above as a set of guidelines for what kind of information I am looking for.

3. 20 points - Do you weave together your definition of a genius with the information you have gathered to explain why your chosen subject is a genius, or are your conclusions merely added onto the paper at the end? I expect you to build a case for why your subject is a genius throughout your paper. Do not merely list a bunch of facts and then tack on a paragraph on the last page about why your subject is a genius. Remember, arguments require you to explicitly state your thesis, and then constantly refer to it as you build your case for your argument.

4. 30 points - Is your conclusion justified by what you have presented?

5. 10 points - Is your argument comprehensible to someone who has not taken the course? Would your roommate or grandma be able to be convinced by your argument for why your subject is a scientific genius?

6. 10 points - Do you have multiple good sources (not Wikipedia)? I won't put a set number required, but it should be more than just 1 or 2. Is it in APA-format?

*Note on grammar

As you can see above, grammar itself is not in the rubric. It has been my experience that when students can only be penalized a small number of points for poor grammar, they submit work with atrocious grammar that is barely readable. Thus, my policy on grammar is that, for every 5 grammar errors that someone makes, they lose a letter grade on their paper (i.e., in this case, 12 points will be deducted). Thus, if you turn in a paper that would receive full credit, but make 11 grammar errors, you will receive full credit minus 2 letter grades (120 - 24 = 96/120). I do not mess around when it comes to this. It takes an extraordinary amount of time to grade this many papers, and I do not have time to decipher what you meant to write because of poor grammar.

If you need help with your grammar, feel free to utilize the UA Writing Center (here's alink to their webpage). This is located in Lloyd Hall (by appointment) and in Java City in Gorgas Library (walk-in). You can make an appointment for meeting 1-on-1 on their website, which, in my experience, has helped students who struggle with their writing abilities. I would recommend making an appointment sooner rather than later (and make sure NOT to skip it). I do not know what their availability will be like the week the paper is due, but, given that term papers are generally due around this time, I could foresee all of the timeslots being filled up quickly. Note that that you do not get bonus points for meeting with someone there, but I wanted to make you aware of the option.

Another idea that could allow you to work on your grammar is to have a friend or family member read over your paper. When I create professional presentations, I always send it to my fiance to look over, because I know that she is good with PowerPoint (and presentations in general). Thus, I would suggest letting a friend or family member who knows how to write well to look over it. It could benefit your writing exponentially.


Please use a variety of references and document them (even if you don't quote directly, make sure you let me know where you got pieces of information). This can include (but not limited to) encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, biographies, autobiographies, anthologies, etc. Make sure they are professional resources (i.e., not Wikipedia or Bob's Conspiracy Blog). A good set of resources can be found here (scroll down to "History of Psychology Sources" and "History of Psychology Websites").

Resources for picking a topic

I have two sources for you. One is the list of individuals who have received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association. This list can be accessed HERE.

The second one is an article that lists the 190 people who were most frequently discussed in 24 history of psychology textbooks. That list can be accessed HERE.

Obviously, make sure they were a psychologist first and foremost (For example, Isaac Newton did a lot to help set the groundwork for psychological theories, but he was not primarily a psychologist). Additionally, individuals who are cited more often will likely have more information about them available.

You may have to do some scrounging for information on some subjects, but isn't that the point of the assignment? 😊 

Please let me know if you are having any trouble with any of this. Note that I'm not going to grade this assignment super hard; it's not meant to be a daunting and anxiety-provoking task. Rather, I'm just asking you to try and make a case for why your chosen subject is a scientific genius. When it comes to writing papers in which we argue for a certain position, the arguments we make are often not black and white; there often is a degree of ambiguity. What I am primarily looking for in this assignment is for you to demonstrate that you gave effort in writing this paper, and that you put forth the best argument you could muster for why someone is (or is not) a scientific genius.