Science, knowledge & society
These first weeks we will discuss the basic assumptions of the scientific method, how science differs from other forms of "knowledge" such as political or religious belief, intuition, or authoritarian belief systems. Click for Introductory Lecture notes (in PowerPoint format).
Lecture notes are given for the week they will be used. Print them and bring them to class to annotate during the lecture. See the home page for the best way to print the lecture notes.Attend lectures!
Much of the course content is lecture only. Students who skip lectures reliably do a lot worse!
Exam material is primarily from the lectures; use the PowerPoint lecture notes I provide each week to study for it. During each lecture I will announce specific topics that will show up on the exam.
For lecture: read a short article on Science v. Pseudo science and chapter 1 of the Ray text (or, the equivalent of "What is Science" in whatever text you are using.
For discussion group (and lecture): Anti-evolution thought is a prime example of attempts to infuse science with religion. Click the "Dover" image below to watch an excellent Nova documentary on a bitter conflict between Christian activists and local parents & teachers over the inclusion of "intelligent design" in Dover Pa. High School biology classes.
Discussion group Assignment
Politics and Science
Click the image to watch the Nova video, then answer the following, taking one typed page or so. This is primarily a thought exercise, so worry less about writing down the "correct" answer than about being thoughtful or creative. Hand this in during your week 1 discussion group on Friday.
Why does it seem difficult to reconcile scientific and religious views on a question such as the origin or evolution of life? Are these fields addressing the same topic(s)? Should they be?
What does it mean for there to be "evidence" for (or against...) a theory? How was evidence used in the Dover evolution trial?
Can you think of other areas or issues where science conflicts with politics or religion? Find a newspaper or magazine article that concerns social policy or human behavior. Examples may include gun violence, national security or terrorism, education, the environment, or health care. Clip or copy the article, and submit it with answers to the following:
- What core question or issue about human behavior that underlies the topic of the article?
- What are non-scientific ways that topic has been addressed, that is, how have people relied on intuition, authority, political thought, or religious belief in decision making?
- What would be a more scientific research approach to the question or issue?
Note: you will have an assignment each discussion group. These are due in group – late assignments do not get credit.