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We are often told modern science rests on two central pillars – observation and theory. But science involves more than just observing and theorizing. It encompasses a host of other activities, from drawing diagrams to building models to running computer simulations. Moreover, observation itself is a complex and messy business, which often involves a certain amount of theorizing and technical skill and varies greatly across different fields. The astronomer who makes telescopic observations of the night sky practices a very different craft to the ecologist who studies the behavior of primates in their natural habitat. A molecular biologist who studies a new strain of virus using an electron microscope engages in a different form of observation to an archaeologist who inspects an excavation site to find clues to a lost civilization. In this subject, we go beyond simple labels such as ‘observation’ and ‘theory’ in exploring the recent “turn to practice” in the history and philosophy of science. By reframing traditional questions in terms of ‘what scientists do’ rather than ‘what scientists believe’, students will gain a deeper understanding of how different forms of inquiry involving the hand, the mind and the eye actually generate scientific knowledge.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- become familiar with a range of different historical, philosophical, and sociological approaches to understanding the process of scientific inquiry;
- develop an appreciation of the social, historical and cultural contexts which shape the construction of scientific knowledge;
- develop the ability to engage in critical analysis of texts, through synthesizing and distinguishing between, a variety of arguments and ideas;
- gain the necessary critical acumen and relevant knowledge to be able to engage confidently and intelligently in contemporary debates in the history and philosophy of science;
- develop an ability to conduct independent critical research at third year level.
Last updated: 17 February 2020