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Understanding Science

Philosophy 218, Spring 2013 M W F 1:40–2:35 in SS 116

Professor: P.D. Magnus

E-mail: pmagnus<at>

Office: HU-258B Office hours: M 2:40–3:30, Tu 11:00–noon, and by appointment

TA: Marius Pascale E-mail: mapascale<at>

Office: HU-255 Office hours: Th 2:30–3:30, F 12:30–1:30

Texts: All course readings will be available on E-Reserves.

I strongly encourage you to print the readings, to read actively, and to mark them up.

You might consider using Rapid Copy. They will print readings double-sided for just 4 1/2 cents per page. They are in Business Administration B26, (518) 442-3245,

Requirements and grading:

12%reading response papers
8% short papers
25%first midterm exam
25%second midterm exam
30%final exam

Class participation: Participation in class discussion is required. Exemplary participation will add to your grade, up to two-thirds of a letter grade. For example, a B could become an A–.

Reading response papers: Students will be responsible for writing five reading response papers during the term. Each should be about one typed page, stating the central thesis of the reading and explaining briefly what the author is trying to do. They should not mention everything from the reading, but should instead identify the key issue.

These may be written for any five readings, but must be turned in before we have discussed the readings in class.

Short papers: Students will be responsible for writing two short papers (about 3 pages) on assigned topics. These will be due Feb. 25 and Apr. 8.

Exams: There will be three exams. The final exam will be cumulative.

Academic honesty: Cheating will not be tolerated.

Absences: Students who will need to miss exam or due dates for foreseeable reasons should discuss them with the professor at the beginning of the term. If an emergency results in absence, the student should contact the professor as soon as possible.

Schedule of topics

This is a provisional schedule. Specific readings may take more or less time than indicated, but exam dates and due dates will not change.

Week 1 jan 23, 35


How should you decide what to believe? [read Peirce]

Week 2 jan 28, 30, feb 1

Peirce, continued

Kinds of inference [read notes on inference]

Week 3 feb 4, 6, 8

Demarcation [read Popper]

Week 4 feb 11, 13, 15

More on demarcation [read Churchland]

Observation and experiment [read Pinch]

Week 5 feb 18, 20 ,22

The placebo effect [read Collins&Pinch, Placebo]


Week 6 feb 25, 27, mar 1


The analogy between theories and maps [no reading]

Scientific expertise [read Collins&Pinch, AIDS]

Week 7 mar 4, 6

How to figure out the community opinion [read Magnus]

Science and policy [read Douglas, ch. 7]

— no class mar 8 —

Week 8 mar 11, 13, 15

Scientific significance [read Kitcher, ch. 6]

Should there be limits on enquiry [read Mill]

— spring break mar 11–15 —

Week 9 mar 25, 27, 29

Limits, continued

An argument for limits [read Kitcher, ch. 8]

Week 10 apr 1, 3, 5

Limits, continued


Week 11 apr 8, 10, 12


Case study: genetics and IQ [read Gould, ch. 5 pages 176–213]

IQ, continued [read pages 218–263]

Week 12 apr 15, 17, 19

IQ, continued [read Gould, ch 6. pages 286–302, 351–353, 365–366]

Gender, values, and science [read Longino]

Week 13 apr 2, 24, 26

Values and objectivity [read Douglas, ch. 6]

Role models and stereotype threat [read Brush, read Miyake]

Week 14 apr 29, may 1, 3

Science and heroism [read Oreskes]

Natural and social science [read Steel]

Week 15 may 6, 8

Natural and social science, continued


Final Exam Friday, May 17, 1:00–3;00