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Is there a good way to decide which ideas, theories and practices belong to science and which do not? This so-called demarcation problem is a central issue in the philosophy of science. This issue is much more than an academic debate, as modern societies rely on science, in daily lives as well as in policy decisions: Which kind of evidence should we trust and which kind of research should we spend money on? Should we discard knowledge that does not fulfil the standards of science? Is it justified to call such knowledge fields 'pseudoscience'? Does a demarcation between scientific and non-scientific knowledge say anything about the truth of both kinds of knowledge? This subject will discuss which (if any) criteria we should use to distinguish between science and non-science. We will scrutinise the claims for a scientific basis of various ideas and fields of knowledge, among them acupuncture, Darwinian evolution, creationism, string theory, and climate change scepticism.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who have successfully completed the subject will:
- demonstrate a deep understanding of the difference between scientific and non-scientific knowledge;
- possess a good knowledge of central theories in philosophy and sociology of science;
- develop and understanding of the role the demarcation problem has in modern society;
- analyse and assess arguments made in the scholarly literature;
- create well reasoned arguments about the scientific status of a field of knowledge;
- develop high level research skills, including the ability to extend their knowledge-base beyond subject materials using web-based research tools;
- develop effective communication and presentation skills (written and oral), and the ability to collaborate constructively within the classroom;
- develop critical reading skills.
Last updated: 30 July 2023