Science, knowledge & society
We will discuss the basic assumptions of the scientific method, and how science differs from other forms of "knowledge". Click here for Introductory Lecture notes (in PowerPoint).
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 given in lectures. Students who skip lectures reliably do a lot worse!
During each lecture I will announce specific topics that will show up on the exam.
- Read the introduction and go through the 'What is Science" pages at the Understanding Science web site from Museum of Paleontology of the University of California at Berkeley.
- Read two short articles from the New York Times. One on Science v. Pseudo-science, and one on the the effects of political polarization on science. Both these NYT pages have links to related articles.
- Read a short piece from the "Well' (Health) section of the New York Times on the anti-vaccine movement and recent measles outbreaks.
For discussion group (and lecture): Controversy over the importance or existence of evolution as a basic biological principle is an example of our cultural tendency to infuse science with politics or religion. Click the "Dover" image below to watch an excellent Nova documentary on the conflict between some Christians activists & parents vs. other local parents & science teachers over the inclusion of "intelligent design" in Dover Pa. High School biology classes.This video is about 2 hours long. The first hour or so addresses the issues I think are most important in the definition of science and its difference from religion, politics or other belief systems.
The second hour looks more closely at the theory of evolution, and gets into the actual trial. Watch at least the first hour, but watch the entire thing if you have time, it is a fascinating story not only about science, but about how (mostly) well-intended people struggle when science and closely held beliefs collide.
Recommended text: Read "What is Science" in whatever text you are using, typically chapter 1.
Discussion group Assignment
Politics and Science
Click the image to watch the Nova video, then answer the following, taking one or two typed page(s). This is a thought exercise: do not worry about writing the "correct" answer. Be thoughtful & 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?
- Several witnesses described scientific theory. What is a "theory"? How does it differ from a "fact"? ...from a simple "idea".
- 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, religion, or other beliefs? Briefly describe one or two.
We will discuss your take on the video during Discussion Group on Friday. The discussion group exercise is here. Look it over before Friday.
We will also have a reveiw at the end of discussion; your review sheet is here.
If you have trouble getting to the video by clicking the image, a YouTube version is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2xyrel-2vI
Note: you will have an assignment each discussion group. These are due in group – late assignments do not get credit.