PHIL 125: Philosophy of Science syllabus (Fall 2013)
- Instructor: Scott
Merlino, Ph.D., email: email@example.com
- Office Hours: Tuesdays 11 to noon, and Fridays noon to 3 p.m. in 3026 Mendocino Hall, Department
- Web Assisted Course = requires Internet access. Approximately 80% in-class and 20% online activities, self-study, quizzes, videos
- This class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays in 1024 Mendocino Hall from 1:30 p.m. until 2:45 p.m.
PHIL 125. Philosophy of Science. Study of the philosophical problems
that arise in the sciences: the nature of scientific reasoning, the limits
and styles of explanation, identifying pseudoscience, values in science,
unity and diversity of the sciences, and science's impact on our world-view. Course satisfies Area B5 GE requirements. Units: 3.0
For General Education Area B5 Student Learning Outcomes, see the schedule below and the expanded description of objectives at the end of this syllabus
This is the login page for SacCT: www.csus.edu/sacct. If you have questions about SacCT or need technical help, click on "student resources" on that page for further information.
Required course materials:
- Online readings, handouts and links to videos available at www.csus.edu/sacct
Rulebook for Arguments (2009) by Anthony Weston,
4/e, appx. $8 at Amazon.com
- Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? (2010) by Daniel Dennett and Alvin Plantinga, appx. $11 at Amazon.com
Evolution, and Creationism (2008) free PDF available from
the National Academy
of Sciences and also in SacCT
- There is also a Blog for this course, find the link to it in SacCT
1. Why do people respect but distrust science? Why are most scientists and physicians so negative about alternative medicine? (weeks 1 - 3)
- Read handout 1 in SacCT under "Assigned Readings, etc."
- Find links to videos and their due dates in SacCT under "Study Questions"
- Video: The Alternative Fix
- Begin the Self-Study Assignment on Intelligent Design and Evolution in SacCT
- Nature of Science tutorial (UCB)
- Learning Outcome (LO) aims for these weeks: 1.3, 3.4, 5.1-5.3, 6.1-6.3
2. Isn't truth relative to one's perspective? What is scientific knowledge? (weeks 4 - 5)
- Read handout 2 in SacCT
- Read Chs. 1 - 6 in Weston text
- Video: The Vaccine War
- LO aims: 1.1, 1.2, 2.1-2.5, 3.4, 4.1-4.3
3. What is the difference between science and non-science? How does scientific reasoning work? (weeks 6 - 9)
- Read handout 3 in SacCT
- complete the online Self-Study Assignment
- Read Ayer, Popper, Hempel, Hume excerpts in SacCT under "Assigned Readings, etc."
- Video: The Witches Curse
- LO aims: 1.3, 2.2, 2.7, 3.4, 5.1 - 5.3
THE MIDTERM: Online quiz in SacCT
Opens: Monday 21 October 2013 at 11 am
Closes: Friday 25 October 2013 at 11 pm
4. Does science describe reality? (week 9)
- Read handout 4
- Video: Great Transformations
- LO aims: 1.3, 2.1, 2.5, 3.3, 3.5, 6.4, 6.5
5. How do scientific explanations work?(weeks 10 - 11)
- Read handout 5
- Video: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
- LO aims: 2.4, 3.1-3.5, 6.4
6. What makes a theory scientific and what makes a scientific theory good? (weeks 11 - 12)
- Read handout 6
- Video: Darwin's Dangerous Idea (excerpts)
- LO aims: 4.1-4.3, 5.1-5.3
7. Are science and religion compatible? (weeks 13 - 15)
- Read Chs. 1 - 6 in Dennett, Plantinga text
- LO aims: 1.3, 2.7, 3.1-3.5, 6.4, 6.5
THE FINAL: Online quiz in SacCT
Opens: Monday 16 Dec. 2013 at 11 am
Closes: Thursday 19 Dec. 2013 at 11 pm
Assignments, Grades and Attendance
6 Assignments: 4 unannounced in-class quizzes (12 pts. each) plus 2 online quizzes in SacCT (13 pts. each) = 74 possible points total
- in-class quizzes = 10 to 15 minutes each, written, short answer/essay quizzes based on reading or homework assigned for that week or in prior weeks. Your writing in this course must be accurate, precise, and demonstrate an understanding of course material by applying the concepts and skills learned. I use Philosophy Department Grading Standards available here.
- online SacCT quizzes = two of these, the first is the Midterm and the second is the Final. Both are scheduled on the syllabus. You will have 45 minutes to complete each. These are multiple-choice 13 question quizzes that open on Mondays at noon and close on Fridays at midnight. Each quiz tests your understanding of material presented from the first week of class up until the week that quiz opens. Find these in SacCT under "Assessments". You will only see these quizzes when they are available, so if you cannot see a quiz, then it is not yet due or you missed it.
- The Midterm and the Final are online quizzes and are available for a limited time, see the deadline for each on the schedule. You may have up to three attempts for each quiz but only when the quiz is open to all, and each attempt will be different. That is, you will not take the exact same quiz twice because every quiz attempt is drawn from a random set of questions. This is also why I cannot discuss quiz questions during class - everybody gets a different set of questions.
- For the Midterm, you may see which questions you answered incorrectly only after you submit each quiz attempt. You will only see the correct answers after the quiz deadline has passed, i.e., after the availability end date.
- Please take online quizzes on campus computers - personal laptops, pads, phones, and wireless connections are unreliable. All quizzes are scored, but only the highest score counts. Pay close attention to the directions preceding each assessment which tell you how to use SacCT successfully: Once you begin an attempt you may not quit and return later since the clock expires after the 45 minute limit for each attempt, regardless of whether you remain in the program or online. I design these so that students can take them from campus computers at least once before each deadline, but I cannot guarantee that you will be able to take any quiz more than once. Some people may be able to take these quizzes from home computers, however, I can't troubleshoot your system if you encounter a problem.
- Students cannot re-take or make-up any quiz, absolutely, no exceptions. There are plenty of points available so that one can miss a quiz and still do well in the course.
For each graded quiz or essay,
I will assign a numerical score which corresponds to a letter-grade
on my grade-scale. Notice that
to letter-grades NOT percentages. Here is the rough number to letter-grade conversion scale:
To get a rough idea about what any score means on a scale of 0 to 12, take your score and match it to its letter-grade equivalent. For
instance, if you score a 6 out of 12 on a quiz, that is equivalent
to a C. I use numbers to stand for letter-grades because
it simplifies bookkeeping. Notice that there isn't any D+ or D-. Anything below a 5 is unsatisfactory.
Please keep track of your own grades via SacCT - I can't discuss quizzes or grades via email adequately, so please visit me in my office. If you want to review any quiz with me, you may do so only in the weeks after it has closed, during office hours, where we can look at it together.
How do I determine your overall course grade? There are 74 total points available. I add the scores you earn on all of the quizzes, then assign the final letter-grade based on my grading scale (above). For instance, if one earns a total of 49 points, divide this
by 5, the result is 9.8 which corresponds to a B. Thus, one receives a B for the course. Since rounding introduces
error, I will not round scores up or down.
Laptops, iPads are permissible, but please refrain from using them in ways which distract fellow students. Please, no eating or texting during class meetings, if you distract us, then you will be dismissed.
Attendance is mandatory but not part of your overall grade. If you miss a meeting, then you will probably miss something important, such as an in-class quiz. Visit me in my office or meet with others in the class for what you missed. Also, try not to be late to class, but it is better to come to class late than not to come to class at all.
How does one succeed in this course? I recommend that you read assigned material, watch the videos, research answers to the study questions, don't skip class or quizzes, and never hesitate to ask me questions.
If you have a disability and require accommodations, you need to provide
me with your offical documentation from SSWD, which is in Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-6955. Please discuss accommodation needs with
me ASAP during my office hours or by appt. early in the semester so that we may make a plan to help you out.
Review all academic responsibilities, definitions, sanctions and rights
described herein. Students may work together on homework but each student must submit their own answers on each of their quizzes. Sharing or copying answers on quizzes is cheating, which is dishonest and violates campus codes of conduct.
1. Students will define basic theoretical terms used in science and philosophy. E.g.,
- Through the readings and discussions, students will understand the precise, technical senses of key terms such as 'hypothesis' and 'theory' in science, which depend upon clear definitions of 'truth' and 'justification' and 'knowledge' drawn from philosophy.
- Students will learn that the notion of "scientific proof" needs to be clarified in ordinary language, since it is either incoherent or self-contradictory. Loose, popular senses of these terms are vague and thus useless for making practical, mature decisions about whether to believe what scientists tell us.
- Also, in order to undertand the workings, goals, successes and limits of science, students must become familiar with one big scientific theory by interacting with the introductory, online Evolution 101 tutorial produced by the University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California. This tutorial and also videos and study questions posted online in this course constitute a learning module/self-study unit which all students must complete within the first half of the course. We discuss its content and implications throughout the course.
2. Students will distinguish various philosophical concepts, scientific theories and theoretical positions inn their essays and quizzes.
- E.g., students must understand the significance of relativism and absolutism about truth for science.
- We discuss philosophical resolutions to the problem of discerning science from non-science (the demarcation problem).
- Students learn how to distinguish accuracy from precision in measurement, they will be able to say whether a test is valid or invalid, reliable or unreliable. Students will judge hypotheses as credible vs. incredible, verifiable or falsifiable, and apply this understanding to actual claims and cases in the literature in each class meeting.
- Students will learn why exactly correlation is required for causation but that correlation is not sufficient for causation.
- Students compare and contrast realism and non-realism about the aims and outcomes of science.
- Students will learn how to separate good science from bad science, and also understand the difference between believing and accepting a hypothesis.
- Since science has more rigorous standards of evidence than do journalism and courts of law, students will become familiar with standard criteria that scientists want satisfied before accepting any specific claim or hypothesis or theory.
3. Students will analyse specific scientific arguments and explanations for consistency and credibility.
- Understanding the difference between arguments and explanations is a crucial but rare skill; students will learn how to tell the difference and how to evaluate each sort of rationale appropriately.
- Students will be able to construct and criticize justifications for specific claims that people make (scientists and non-scientists alike). They will do this this by using logical inference patterns (deduction and induction) and scientific methods (such as literature searches and the randomized, controlled trial).
- Students also learn how to assess explanations of phenomena using empirical data, statistics, testable predictions, and alternative hypotheses.
- In particular, students will examine arguments for and against opinions about current controversies concerning the safety of vaccines and genetically modified organisms, the causes of global climate change, and also causes of apparent design, complexity and diversity in nature.
- Students and the instructor juxtapose the virtues and limits of evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory throughout the course.
4. Students cite critical observations, underlying assumptions and limits to explain and apply important models in the physical and life sciences.
- Students learn how to frame testable hypotheses about observable events in such a way that logical reasoning and controlled observations help us to accept tentatively that explanation which explains best.
- Throughout the course, students will be compelled to examine published research in peer-reviewed journals describing phenomena ranging from the efficacy and safety of herbal supplements to the unifying/explanatory power of evolutionary biology.
- Students will understand that the systematic lack of certainty in science, the use of probabilistic reasoning, the vulnerability of a null hypothesis to refutation, and the simplicity of theories that do not rely upon unobservables or supernatural forces are all strengths rather than weaknesses.
5. Students recognize evidence-based conclusions and form reasoned opinions about science-related matters of personal, public and ethical concern. E.g.,
- Students review actual experimental studies about the effectiveness of alternative medicine and learn why cohort studies are better than case reports and that both are inferior to systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
- Students will learn about the hierarchy of evidence in the life sciences and in particular learn about the significance of blinding and randomized controlled trials in biomedical science.
- Students will apply these evidence-standards to novel claims found in popular and scientific media and judge their quality.
6. Students will enage in cogent and respectful discussion about historical and philosophical perspectives pertaining to the practice of science and medicine.
- Students learn how ancient and medieval philosophers asked basic questions about what the world was made of and how the cosmos worked but were not content with the answers of previous generations and cultures, and so set about finding out for themselves. We review and apply early methods of logical reasoning such as the Square of Opposition. The earliest thinkers spent much of their time examining, describing and explaining physical phenomena to whomever would listen and up until about 200 years ago anyone who did so with some success (that is, got others to agree with them) was called a natural philosopher. Science, as a product and process, is the intellectual progeny of philosophy. Modern scientists are empirical philosophers. In short, students understand that science as a public source of knowledge requires collective, controlled observations.
- Students understand why science is simultaneously respected and distrusted given that its findings are inconsistent with common-sense and traditonal beliefs.
- We discuss how ancient humoral theory of disease influenced the medieval idea of the four temperaments (choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic) and also popular chemical imbalance theories of behavior and the five-factor model of personality in modern psychology.
- Students examine and debate the persistent tension between religious and scientific perspectives on world-views and public policies. E.g., students learn why most scientists and philosophers believe that evidence-based reasoning and faith-based reasoning are incompatible: the former method requires a questioning, skeptical attitude (i.e. doubt) but the latter eschews it.
- Students will be able explain why religion is not science and why science is not a religion, and also contrast the merits and problems of incorporating non-science into science curricula.