Critical Thinking About Science (PHIL 245)

Critical Thinking about Science

Philosophy 245 Syllabus

No one can be an expert on all the facets of the science and technology research that impact our everyday lives, and our political and policy decisions. Even if a person earns an undergraduate degree in a particular science, they will find themselves faced with dilemmas from outside of their area of expertise, and with advances in knowledge that go beyond their formal education. As a result, in order for students to be comfortable in a science and technology dense society, and to be responsible citizens, they need to feel justifiably confident in their ability to learn, evaluate and use new scientific and technological information and to assess the credibility of experts on whom they must rely.

This course is designed to enable students to learn these skills and attitudes and empower them to put these skills and attitudes to work in their daily lives.

We will engage philosophical literature and scientific, government and media representations of the controversy surrounding the link between childhood vaccination and autism.

Course Outcomes

The intent of this course is that students will improve in their ability in the following areas.

  • Discover relationships between philosophical theory and a science and technology case study.
  • Gather and understand scientific and technological research and information, in the future.
  • Evaluate scientific and technological research and information.
  • Use and communicate scientific and technological research and information.
  • Develop an attitude of confidence about your ability to learn, evaluate and use/communicate scientific and technological research and information.

Course work

 Assignment Product %
Initial position paper 2 pages 4
Mid-semester reflection paper 1 3 pages 7
Mid-semester reflection paper 2 3 pages 7
Mid-semester reflection paper 3 3 pages 7
Final synthesis reflection paper 5 pages 15
Twice a month out of class group meetings Discuss and write short assignment during meeting 18
Mid-semester group presentation Hand in PowerPoint and text, and deliver 30 minute presentation 21
Final group project Hand in educational materials and do presentation activity 21
100

Detailed descriptions of assignments

Initial Position Paper

Goal: create a record of where you stand regarding the course outcomes at the beginning of the class in order to help you assess what you have learned over the semester.

Activity: Recall or imagine a situation in which you need to use a new piece or area of scientific and technological research and information, in order to make an important life decision (for example deciding on treatment for a loved one’s illness, or voting on a policy issue such as funding for stem cell research, or military research,…). Document how comfortable, or able, you feel yourself to be, in terms of the five course outcomes, to address this situation.

Mid-semester reflection papers

Goals:

  • Document what you have learned in one section of the course.
  • Reflect on whether or not, and if so how, the activities and content of this section of the course have helped you achieve the course objectives. Pay particular attention to ways that your thinking about scientific and technological research and information in relation to the course outcomes, has changed.

Activities:

  • You will have an opportunity to discuss this paper with your classmates during an out of class group meeting.
  • You will individually write a maximum three page paper (double spaced) designed to meet goals one and two.
Final synthesis paper

Goals:

  • Reflect on how your skills and attitudes regarding the course outcomes have changed over the semester
  • Explore how you could transfer what you have learned from the activities and content of this course to other socially relevant scientific and/or technological cases and contexts.

Activities:

  • Review your Initial Position Paper, and your Mid-semester Reflection

Papers for evidence of how your attitudes and skills relevant to the course outcomes have changed over the semester

  • Discuss your paper with your out-of-class discussion group.
  • Individually write a maximum five page paper that meets the goals of this assignment.
Out of Class Group Meetings

Goals:

  • Create a community of peers to help you meet course outcomes and complete course assignments.
  • Practice self-guided learning.

Activities:

  • Create meeting schedule and hand it in. You must meet 6 times over the semester (twice a month and at least 1 week apart).
  • Meet in the Philosophy Department Learning Commons (335 HH) according to your schedule.
Mid-semester Group Presentation

Goals:

  1. Advance all five course outcomes, especially:
    1. Use and communicate scientific and technological research and information.
    2. Develop an attitude of confidence about your ability to learn, evaluate and use/communicate scientific and technological research and information.

Activities:

  1. Gather and learn relevant information about the vaccination/autism case study. (We will work on this as a class.)
  2. Use philosophical theory to explain and evaluate relevant information about the vaccination/autism case study. (We will work on this as a class.)
  3. You will be assigned to a group that will develop and deliver a presentation to teach one aspect of what you have learned in the relevant section of the course to your peers. As a group you will:
    1. develop a PowerPoint presentation
    2. create a handout that explains that content of the presentation
    3. check the handout and PowerPoint
    4. deliver the presentation and handout to the rest of the class
Final Group Product

Goal: Doing something with what we have learned.

Activities:

  • Review the Mid-semester Presentations.
  • Create a product to teach one aspect of what you have learned over the semester to a relevant group of people.
  • As groups and as a class we will discuss what this product will be and how it will be assessed.
  • Possible products include:
    1. An online learning module that teaches your peers what you have learned
    2. A presentation to your peers outside of class
    3. A presentation, or educational material, for a group of which you are a member
    4. Something else that we come up with in class

Readings

Will be available online

Flow of the semester

Introduction
  1. Turn in Initial Position Paper
  2. Discuss the goals and structure of the course, develop rubric for assessing effective group work.
  3. View The Nature of Things documentary, The Autism Enigma.
Section 1: Basic philosophy of science
  1. Bootcamp: Lectures on Popper, Kuhn, and Quine
  2. Group work:
    1. Analyze two scientific papers on the link between childhood vaccination and autism using the material that we covered in Bootcamp.
    2. Construct and give presentation
  3. Meet with Out of Class group
  4. Write Mid-semester Reflection Paper One
Section 2: Situated knowledge and science institutions
  1. Bootcamp: Lectures on Wynne and Scheman
  2. Group work:
    1. Research and analyze internet resources from anti-vaccination groups, and educational strategies of medical institutions, such as the AMA using the material we covered in Bootcamp.
    2. Construct and give presentation
  3. Meet with Out of Class group
  4. Write Mid-semester Reflection Paper Two
  5. Bootcamp: Lectures on Clarke, Cunningham, and Ryan
  6. Group work:
    1. Research and analyze celebrity activism regarding vaccinations and autism and the science journalism of Brian Deer using the material we covered in Bootcamp.
    2. Construct and give presentation
  7. Meet with Out of Class group
  8. Write Mid-semester Reflection Paper Three
  9. As a class decide if there are other theoretical resources that would be useful in this case.
  10. Review past Bootcamps and presentations
  11. Construct and deliver final product
  12. Meet with Out of Class group
  13. Write Final Synthesis Paper
Section 3: Science in the media
Conclusion: What do we do with what we know?