Science, Pseudoscience, and the Two Cultures
Division II; Writing-Intensive;
Cross-listed as LEAD336 / ASTR336 / HSCI336
This is not the current course catalog
A famous dichotomy between the sciences and the humanities, and public understanding of them, was laid down by C. P. Snow and has been widely discussed, with ignorance of the second law of thermodynamics compared with ignorance of Shakespeare. In this seminar, we will consider several aspects of science and scientific culture, including how scientific thinking challenges the claims of pseudoscience. We will consider C. P. Snow and his critics as well as the ideas about the Copernican Revolution and other paradigms invented by Thomas Kuhn. We will discuss the recent “Science Wars” over the validity of scientific ideas. We will consider the fundamental originators of modern science, including Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, viewing their original works in the Chapin Library of rare books and comparing their interests in science with what we now call pseudoscience, like alchemy. We will review the history and psychology of astrology and other pseudosciences. Building on the work of Martin Gardner in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and using such recent journals as The Skeptical Inquirer and The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, we consider from a scientific point of view what is now called complementary or alternative medicine, including both older versions such as chiropractic and newer nonscientific practices. We will discuss the current global-climate-change deniers and their effects on policy. We discuss vaccination policy. We consider such topics as GM (genetically modified) foods, the safety and regulation of dietary supplements, and the validity of government and other recommendations relevant to the roles of dietary salt, sugar, and fat in health. We consider the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and reports of UFO’s and aliens. We consider the possible effects that superstitious beliefs have on the general public’s cooperation in vaccination programs and other consequences of superstition. We will discuss conspiracy theories such as those about the Kennedy assassination, in view of the 2017 release of many documents from the time and the recent book by Alexandra Zapruder, the granddaughter of the person whose on-the-spot movie documented the fatal shot. We also consider a range of dramas that are based on scientific themes, such as Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: evaluation will be based on biweekly 5-page papers, participation in discussions, and a 15-page final paper
Enrollment Preference: juniors and seniors and to those with backgrounds in science, history of science, or philosophy.
Department Notes: non-major course; does not count toward ASPH, ASTR or PHYS major
Distributions: Division II; Writing-Intensive;
Distribution Notes: meets Division 3 requirement if registration is under ASTR; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under HSCI or LEAD
Attributes: SCST Elective Courses;