Thursday, March 31, 2011

Exploring the Scientific Method

It's out! It's real. My textbook on the history and philosophy of science has been published by the University of Chicago Press.

It has a completely different pedagogical approach from the usual in that it uses a “track-based” approach that allows the students’ own interests to help motivate their thinking and to provide more of a sense of the history of science than one usually can present in an introduction to philosophy of science course.

In the early weeks of the semester, every student selects one of the following sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry, genetics, evolutionary biology, geology, psychology, sociology, economics. As the class works through canonical readings on scientific methodology, grouped into six sections, students are helped to develop particular case studies in their science of interest in order to see whether the picture of the scientific method coming out of, say, Mill, Kuhn, or Feyerabend is applicable to the episode they are considering. By the end of the semester, each student will have traced the historical trajectory of their science from classical roots to contemporary issues and considered not only the growth of knowledge in the field, but the way in which practitioners have come to acquire that knowledge. I’ve taught it this way several times and it worked so well, that I turned it into a textbook.

I’ve included the table of contents below and the case studies. If you are interested in an exam copy, there is a tab on the book's page at the University of Chicago Press' website.

Table of Contents

Syntactic View of Theories
Aristotle from Posterior Analytics, Physics
René Descartes from Discourse on Method

Francis Bacon from Novum Organum
Isaac Newton from Principia
John Stuart Mill from System of Logic

William Whewell from Novum Organum Renovatum
Rudolf Carnap “Theoretical Procedures in Science”
R. B. Braithwaite from Scientific Explanation

Paradoxes of Evidence

David Hume from Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
Nelson Goodman from Fact, Fiction, and Forecast
Carl Hempel from “Studies in the Logic of Confirmation”

Karl Popper from Logic of Scientific Discovery

Holistic View of Theories
Pierre Duhem from Aim and Structure of Physical Theory
Thomas Kuhn from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Imre Lakatos “Methodology of Research Programmes”

Semantic View of Theories
Marshall Spector “Models and Theories”
Max Black “Models and Archetypes”
Ronald Giere from Explaining Science

Critical Views of Scientific Theories
Paul Feyerabend from Against Method
Ruth Hubbard “Science, Facts, and Feminism”
Bruno Latour “The Science Wars”

Case Studies
Aristotle on the Motion of the Heavens
Ptolemy on the Motion of the Planets
Galileo’s Arguments for Heliocentrism
Kepler, Newton and the Shapes of Orbits
Einstein and the Perihelion of Mercury
The Demotion of Pluto

Epicurean Atomism
Maxwell’s Kinetic Theory of Heat
Rutherford and the Discovery of the Nucleus
The Bohr Model
The Standard Model and the Discovery of the Top Quark
Lee Smolin and String Theory

Paracelsus’ Alchemy
Boyles’ Law
Priestly, Phlogiston, and Oxygen
Dalton, Proportions, and Atomic Theory
Kekulé and Stereochemistry
The Discovery and Retraction of Elements 116 and 118

Aristotle’s Germ Theory
Mendel’s Peas
Morgan, Fruit Flies, and Genes
Crick, Watson, and the Discovery of the Structure of DNA
The Human Genome Project
Public and Corporate Genomic Research

Evolutionary Biology
Aristotle’s Species
Linnaeus and the Taxonomy of Life
Lamarck’s Acquired Characteristics
Darwin’s Natural Selection
Punctuated Equilibrium
Intelligent Design and Science Curricula

Woodward’s Catastrophism
Hutton’s Plutonism
Lyell’s Uniformitarianism
Wegener’s Plate Tectonics
GIS and Models
The Grand Canyon, Politics, and the Age of the Earth


Hippocrates, Humours, and Mental Illness
Weber’s Measurement of Perception
Pavlov and Conditioned Reflexes
Freud and the Rat Man
Harlow’s Maternal Bonding and Animal Models
The Changed DSM Classification of Homosexuality

Hobbes’ Laws of Nature
Durkheim, Social Facts, and Suicide
Weber, Religion, and Wealth
Sorokin, the Ideational, and the Sensate
Parson’s AGIL Model
Burawoy and Public Sociology


Aristotle and Currency
Quesnay, Famers, and Taxation
Smith and Natural Prices
Marx’s Dialectical Materialism
Keynes’ Demand-Determined Equilibrium
The World Bank, the IMF, and the Politics of Macroeconomics