PHI 031: Appraising Scientific Reasoning      

Lecture Materials

Select lecture materials will be posted here, though usually in bare-bones form. In other words, this information is no substitute for doing the reading, coming to class, and participating in discussions.

Week 1: What Is Science?

August 1

Key Ideas

  1. There is more than one scientific method. Some methods are appropriate in certain contexts, but not necessarily others. Appraising science requires seeing these differences, lest we hold science to the wrong standard in a given case. E.g., high-energy physics and biomedical sciences (often) have different standards for what counts as discovery.
  2. Science is a human activity---like art---in addition to being a body of knowledge. Studying the activity helps us understand the product or output.
  3. The character of philosophy isn't a settled matter, either. Here is a diagram showing various options.

Mentioned in Class (optional, i.e., you don't have to read these)

August 2

  • Download lecture notes here
  • Video from class

August 3

Theories, Hypotheses, and Laws

From Oxford Dictionary of Science

  • Law: A descriptive principle of nature that holds in all circumstances covered by the wording of the law. There are no loopholes in the laws of nature and any exceptional event that did not comply with the law would require the existing law to be discarded or would have to be described as a miracle.
  • Theory: A description of nature that encompasses more than one law but has not achieved the uncontrovertible status of a law.
  • Hypothesis: A theory or law that retains the suggestion that it may not be universally true. However, some hypotheses about which no doubt still lingers have remained hypotheses (e.g., Avogadro's hypothesis), for no clear reason.
  • The Lesson: Clearly there is a degree of overlap between the three concepts.

Mentioned in class (optional, i.e., you don't have to read these)

August 4

Mentioned in Class (optional, i.e., you don't have to watch this)

  • A reading of Karl Popper's "Conjectures and Refutations."

Week 2: Deduction, Induction, Statistics, and Probability

August 8

Mentioned in Class (optional, i.e., you don't have to read these)

August 9

Mentioned in Class (optional, i.e., you don't have to read these)

August 11

Week 3: Hypotheses & Laws

August 15

August 16

Mentioned in Class (optional, i.e., you don't have to read these)

August 17

Note: The grade breakdown for my last class that took a test similar to this was:

  • A/A- = 28%
  • B+/B/B- = 9%
  • C or lower = 63%

The moral of the story is that if you know material emphasized on this study guide, you will likely do very well. If you don't, it's hard to get even a decent grade. Good luck!

August 18

Week 4: Laws and Truth

August 22

August 23

August 25

Cracking a safe with a stethoscope

Riddle of Black Holes

Week 5: Science and Values

August 29

August 30

    Reading from class: A Black Hole Mystery Wrapped in a Firewall Paradox by Dennis Overbye, Aug. 12, 2013, New York Times (required)
    • The following definitions might be helpful for understanding the article.
      • Quantum Mechanics: Fundamental theory of matter and energy that explains facts that previous physical theories were unable to account for, in particular the fact that energy is absorbed and released in small, discrete quantities, and that all matter displays both wavelike and particlelike properties, especially when viewed at atomic and subatomic scales. Quantum mechanics suggests that the behavior of matter and energy is inherently probabilistic.
      • Quantum Field Theory: The application of quantum mechanics to physical systems described by fields, such as electromagnetic fields. It is inconsistent with Special Relativity.
      • General Relativity: A geometrical theory of gravity developed by Einstein in which gravity’s effects are a consequence of the curvature of four-dimensional space-time. According to this theory, the energy and momentum of all matter and radiation cause curvature in space-time, in a way similar to the creation of electric and magnetic fields.
      • Special Relativity: Theory of space and time developed by Einstein based on the postulates that all the laws of physics are equally valid in all reference frames moving at a constant speed relative to each other.
  • Course flowchart
  • Example of Ceteris Paribus finding in String Theory (optional)
  • Paper by Savas Dimopoulos (from Particle Fever (optional)

August 31

September 1

Week 6

September 6

September 7

Thumbnail Sketch of analysis portion of the Group Project

Article 1: Study shows one way that scientific progress is broken (


Article 2: Do rebuttals affect future science? (


Analysis: Ask; does Article 1 accurately represent the findings of Article 2? Is Article 1 about more than Article 2? That is, is Article 2 just a small part of Article 1? If so, what role does it play? How is it part of the overall argument or story of Article 1?

Article 3: One in four citations in marine biology papers is inappropriate (


Analysis: Article 2 cites Article 3 to support the claim that we should not "rely too heavily on citation numbers alone when evaluating a particular paper, researcher, or journal." [Now say *how* it does so]


Article 4: Citing Practices in Ecology: Can We Believe Our Own Words? (

Analysis: Article 3 cites Article 4 by stating that "Todd et al. (2007) were the first to measure citation misconduct in another branch of biology: ecology." This helps bolster the claim from Article 3 that citation practices should be studied -- and are, in fact, understudied -- because when we do look at them, citation practices aren't what they should be.