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What is science? When is an idea or a theory scientific? These seemingly abstract questions often generate controversy when applied to contentious topics: whether climate change can be attributed to human activities, whether vaccinces can cause autism, or whether astrology works. In these controversies questions of scientific authority become associated with discussions on how much trust we should place on scientific evidence.
The subject will study the debate about the demarcation of science from pseudoscience and from other forms of knowledge. It will also look at the way science is demarcated in practice - both within science and in the wider public. We will do so by looking at various case studies, ranging from Darwinian evolution and string theory to acupuncture, creationism and climate change skepticism. The subject will introduce students to current approaches both in philosophy and in sociology of science.
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;
- have developed an understanding of the role the demarcation problem has in modern society;
- be able to analyse and assess arguments made in the scholarly literature;
- create well reasoned arguments about the scientific status of a field of knowledge;
- have developed high level research skills, including the ability to extend their knowledge-base beyond subject materials using web-based research tools;
- have developed effective communication and presentation skills (written and oral), and the ability to collaborate constructively within the classroom;
- have developed critical reading skills.
Last updated: 26 March 2020