Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Extended Schedule Posted

I've created a page (see above) that will sketch our extended schedule. This is to help you with forward planning and in case you wish to read ahead any. It's currently populated through Fall Break.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spotting Fake Smiles

I caught this on the BBC today: see if you can spot the fake smiles. I got 14/20. D'oh!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Tip About Accessing PDF Readings

I've noticed that if you're already logged in to Moodle, clicking on the links in this blog works fine. If, on the other hand, you're not logged in, Moodle kindly asks you to enter your username and password and then takes you to some general Moodle landing page . . . forgetting what you came there for. If that happens, it seems to work for me to just back up to the blog and try the reading link again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Apropos Meaghan's (I think) mention of using HIV to help fight leukemia (click to "enbiggen"):

XKCD is fantastic (for math/science/CS nerds like me, anyway). . . . Not just funny: many times educational. For instance, lots of my facebook friends reposted this one after that wacky earthquake yesterday:

I've added it to the list of Links & Resources.

Week 2 Reading & Questions: Creativity and Methodology

We’ll continue talking about scientific methodology next week, spending a bit more time on what French calls “the Romantic view” of scientific discovery and then talking in more detail about the context of justification. It seems fairly clear that French is a bit skeptical of this view. But as he makes clear, it really is a very common way for scientists to characterize what they do — and we need to take that seriously at least as a starting point. On Thursday, we will read a classic exhibition of the Hypothetico-Deductive model of scientific inquiry by Carl Hempel. Though very readable, there are several instances of logical argument schema like this (see p. 7):

If H is true, then so is I.
But (as the evidence shows) I is not true.
H is not true.
You may not be familiar with this notational convention. The line is indicating that this is an argument. The sentence that comes after the line is the conclusion; the sentences above the line are premises (that is, reasons or justifications for believing the conclusion). I’ll say a bit more on Tuesday about some of these logical concepts to get us ready to talk about the H-D model in detail. Here’s the reading assignment along with some questions/prompts to think about and write on. Remember: I’m asking you to respond to just one set each week — your choice which day, but I’d like the papers pertaining to a given day’s class before that class. Let me know if you have any questions. Feel free to leave a comment on the blog, if others might profit from hearing the answer.

Tuesday (8/30)
French, Science: Key Concepts in Philosophy, pp. 1–17 [In the future, I'll list this book as just 'French’.].

Questions: Respond to two of the following prompts in less than a page (e.g., a short paragraph or two/each should be plenty).
  1. French discusses in the Introduction a few ways for figuring out “how science works”: listening to the scientists and observing scientific practice (pp. 2–3). How do his comments on these two strategies relate to his remarks on the “Romantic view” of scientific discovery.
  2. Do you think creativity needs to be “irrational”? Must it be connected with genius?
  3. If French is cautious about the Romantic view of creativity, Feyerabend clearly hates it. Explain why French does not think Feyerabend’s argument against it is very good. (Can it be improved?)
  4. Consider French’s (apparent) suggestion that the Romantic view is “a bit of a myth” (15). What reasons does French offer for thinking this? Do they seem compelling to you? Why or why not?
Thursday (9/1)
Hempel, "Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test" [PDF]
Note: the PDF links should take you directly to the article, provided that you are logged into Moodle. If that doesn't work, you can simply find the articles on our Moodle page
French, pp. 17–23

Questions: (respond to two)
  1. Does Hempel’s discussion of Semmelweis’s discovery of the causes of puerperal fever fit naturally with the Romantic view of discovery? Does it suggest any modifications to Romanticism?
  2. Hempel makes the point that “the fact that a test implication inferred from a hypothesis is found to be true, does not prove the hypothesis to be true” (8). Compare this point with the discussion of the swans in French.
  3. Do you think that the Inductive Account of discovery offers a reasonable replacement for the Romantic view? Explain.
  4. Toward the end of Ch. 2, French considers an argument for the conclusion that “science proceeds by making observations and using induction” (21). But something worries him (even setting aside his claim about their being counter-examples). Explain this worry clearly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Schedule for Weeks 1–3

Here a sketch of what we'll be doing over the next few weeks. Detailed posts will follow with reading questions to address in your short writing assignments nearer the days in question. In general, when there are multiple readings, I'll list them in the order in which it makes most sense to me to read them (including the optional readings).

Week 1: 
Thursday 8/25:

  • French, Science: Key Concepts in Philosophy, Introduction (if you spot this in time — otherwise, just read it for Tuesday).

Week 2:
Tuesday 8/30:

  • French, Science: Key Concepts in Philosophy, pp. 1–17 [In the future, I'll list this book as just 'French'.]

Thursday 9/1:

  • Hempel, "Scientific Inquiry: Invention and Test" [PDF]
    • Note: the PDF links should take you directly to the article, provided that you are logged into Moodle. If that doesn't work, you can simply find the articles on our Moodle page.
  • French, pp. 17–23

Week 3: 

Tuesday 9/6:

  • French, Ch. 3

Thursday 9/8:

  • Project Work Day (no reading: details TBA)

Welcome to the Course!

Is anyone reading this thing? Well, you will be! <Yoda>You . . . will be.</Yoda>

This blog is going to be the main communication vehicle for the course. Yes, there's Moodle, but it's not nearly as simple to use. I will use Moodle to post PDF articles, accept assignments, and keep track of your grades. But that site will remain fairly minimalistic.

If you don't already, I recommend using an online RSS aggregator — such as Google Reader — to keep track of the blogs you read (including this one). You do read blogs, right? There are tons of great ones, particularly about science. I've listed a few in the Links/Resources page (see above) and set some current headlines to appear to the right.

I'll distribute paper copies of the syllabus in our first meeting tomorrow, but here's a PDF in the meanwhile. This information will be available on this blog, of course. If you would like to get started with the reading, your first assignment will be to read pp. 1–17 of Steven French's excellent book, Science: Key Concepts in Philosophy. Looking forward to meeting you!