Science and Pseudoscience

Subject HPSC10002 (2016)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2016.

Credit Points: 12.5
Level: 1 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2016:

Semester 1, Parkville - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period 29-Feb-2016 to 29-May-2016
Assessment Period End 24-Jun-2016
Last date to Self-Enrol 11-Mar-2016
Census Date 31-Mar-2016
Last date to Withdraw without fail 06-May-2016

Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 34 hours - 2 x 1-hour lectures each week and 1 x 1-hour tutorial for 11 weeks
Total Time Commitment:

170 hours

Prerequisites: None
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Student Support and Engagement Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Overview, Learning Outcomes, Assessment and Generic Skills sections of this entry.

It is University policy to take all reasonable steps to minimise the impact of disability upon academic study, and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the University's programs. Students who feel their disability may impact on meeting the requirements of this subject are encouraged to discuss this matter with a Faculty Student Adviser and Student Equity and Disability Support:


Dr Gerhard Wiesenfeldt



Subject Overview:

Is there a good way to decide which ideas, theories and practices belong to science and which do not? This so-called demarcation problem is a central issue in the philosophy of science. This issue is much more than an academic debate, as modern societies rely on science, in daily lives as well as in policy decisions: Which kind of evidence should we trust and which kind of research should we spend money on? Should we discard knowledge that does not fulfil the standards of science? Is it justified to call such knowledge fields 'pseudoscience'? Does a demarcation between scientific and non-scientific knowledge say anything about the truth of both kinds of knowledge? This subject will discuss which (if any) criteria we should use to distinguish between science and non-science. We will scrutinise the claims for a scientific basis of various ideas and fields of knowledge, among them acupuncture, Darwinian evolution, creationism, string theory, and climate change scepticism.

Learning Outcomes:

Students who have successfully completed the subject will:

  • demonstrate a deep understanding of the difference between scientific and non-scientific knowledge;
  • possess a good knowledge of central theories in philosophy and sociology of science;
  • develop and understanding of the role the demarcation problem has in modern society;
  • analyse and assess arguments made in the scholarly literature;
  • create well reasoned arguments about the scientific status of a field of knowledge;
  • develop high level research skills, including the ability to extend their knowledge-base beyond subject materials using web-based research tools;
  • develop effective communication and presentation skills (written and oral), and the ability to collaborate constructively within the classroom;
  • develop critical reading skills.
  • Two short written assignments total of 1600 words, to be submitted during the semester (40%)
  • Two take home tests 400 words each, due week 6 and week 11 (20%)
  • An essay of 1600 words, due in the end of semester examination period (40%)

Hurdle requirement:

  • Students must attend a minimum of 75% of tutorials in order to pass this subject.
  • All pieces of written work must be submitted in order to pass this subject.

Note: Assessment submitted late without an approved extension will be penalised at 10% per day. After five working days late assessment will not be marked. In-class tasks missed without approval will not be marked.
Regular participation in tutorials is required.

Prescribed Texts:

Subject readings will be available online

Recommended Texts:
  • Alan F. Chalmers, What Is this Thing Called Science? 3rd edition, St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1999.
  • Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: What You Should Know about Science. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Massimo Pigliucci, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Breadth Options:

This subject potentially can be taken as a breadth subject component for the following courses:

You should visit learn more about breadth subjects and read the breadth requirements for your degree, and should discuss your choice with your student adviser, before deciding on your subjects.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Links to further information:
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: Graduate Certificate in Arts - History and Philosophy of Science
Graduate Diploma in Arts - History and Philosophy of Science
History and Philosophy of Science
Knowledge and Learning
Related Breadth Track(s): Science, Technology and Society
Science and its Margins

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