Science and Pseudoscience

Is there a good way to decide what is science and what is not? This is a central problem for the philosophy of science, which opens up many other questions.

Acupuncture chart with a series of points indicated on the figure of a standing Chinese man.What kind of evidence should we trust? What kind of research should we fund? Should knowledge that doesn’t meet scientific standards always be discarded as ‘pseudoscience’? Are there instances in the history of science where pseudoscience was useful, or became science?

Science and Pseudoscience offers the chance to explore these questions, using a variety of contemporary case studies drawn from various fields, including astrology, acupuncture, evolutionary theory, string theory, forensic science and climate change scepticism. No scientific or philosophical background knowledge is necessary for this subject.

The subject is taught through two lectures a week, and one tutorial. The lecture and the readings provide the foundations and set the issues on the agenda, and in the tutorial we will grapple with and debate these ideas together.

At the beginning of the semester you may think that the difference between science and pseudoscience is clear and obvious – but by the end of the semester you may not be so sure that it is clear-cut. You will be able to reflect on the role of scientific research in the wider community, on the differences and similarities between scientific knowledge and other ways of knowing, and on whether scientific knowledge is the only reliable knowledge.

Come and engage in lively and informed philosophical debate about the inner workings of scientific inquiry. For more information please visit the University Handbook.

Science and Pseudoscience (HPSC10002) Handbook entry