A spurious correlation, from the spurious correlation generator at


COURSE DESCRIPTION                                                                                     

We like to think that science is reliable. If it does not offer absolute truth about the natural world, then at least it provides a stable description of how we interact with it. Statistical reliability, however, cannot prevent wrong turns, blind alleys, fraud, and misconduct. This course examines what happens when science falls short of contemporary standards and how the problem of demarcating science from non-science, good science from bad, is negotiated in policy contexts. Standards of scientific practice have changed throughout history. Violating the norms of science is therefore not a transgression of absolute rules, but of community standards. Understanding how those community standards are established and policed is therefore essential to define the boundaries of science.

The first half of this course probes the boundaries of scientific legitimacy in historical contexts. With that historical foundation in place, the second half proceeds to more recent issues, and examines how similar boundary questions manifest themselves in today’s science and technology policy.



What I hope to do in this course:
• Prompt students to consider science and technology as a social and cultural institutions
• Familiarize students with a variety of the disciplinary approaches that comprise HPS
• Sharpen students’ critical thinking and writing skills

What you should be able to do by the end of the course:
• Reconstruct major issues concerning the role of science and technology in society
• Articulate well considered positions on contemporary and historical issues in HPS
• Analyze the relationships between science, technology, and society in new contexts



Available at the Bookstore
• Gould – The Mismeasure of Man
• Kevles – The Baltimore Case
• Lyons – Species, Serpents, Spirits, and Skulls,
Oreskes and Conway – Merchants of Doubt

Available Online
• Required and supplementary readings
• Assignment guidelines


ASSIGNMENTS AND GRADES                                                                             

Below you will find the breakdown of assignments and short descriptions of each. For more detailed descriptions see the Assignment Guidelines handout.

25%  -  Participation/Attendance
15%  -  Weekly Questions
15%  -  Reflection Paper 1
15%  -  Reflection Paper 2
5%    -  Letter First Draft
5%    -  Letter Second Draft
20%  -  Final Letter

Assignments will be graded on a 4.0 scale and your final grade will be rounded up to the nearest .5. The Assignment Guidelines document contains a detailed rubric. Assignments, unless otherwise indicated, should be submitted in hard copy in class on the due date.

Participation and Attendance
Your grade is 25% participation and attendance. Assessment is based on your presence in class and active, conscientious involvement in discussions and activities. Come to class with a copy of the week’s reading, prepared to discuss it. Your in-class contributions will be assessed based on whether they demonstrate critical engagement with the material.

Weekly Questions (Due dates: every Monday on D2L before class)
Each week, you should generate a question posed by that week’s reading. These questions should be open questions, suitable for discussion. They should be preceded by 100–200 words of exposition outlining the background of the question and explaining its importance. The questions will guide some in-class activities. They will be graded √, √+, or √- and cumulatively will account for 15% of your grade.

Reflection Papers (Due dates: March 2 and April 20)
You will complete two reflection papers of no more than 1500 words each during the term. Specific prompts for each paper will be distributed to less than two weeks before the due date.

Final Paper – Letter to a Policy Maker (Due date: May 8)
Your final assignment is a letter to a policy maker. The letter will not exceed 750 words and will address a matter of current science or technology policy, reflecting the themes we discuss in this course with an HPS-informed argument. You will complete and receive feedback on two drafts before the final paper is due.

Extra Credit
Exactly one opportunity is available for extra credit. You may attend a scholarly lecture on campus and produce a 500-word reaction to it. Make every effort to produce a reaction relevant to the course themes. Completion of this assignment will earn you no more than 1% (.04 pts.) extra credit. Submissions will be evaluated according to the same criteria as other written work. Please clear your choice of lectures with me before completing the assignment. I will bring pre-approved lectures to your attention as I become aware of them.


COURSE SCHEDULE                                     



Week 1
Rekdal – “Academic Urban Legends”
Adams – “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome”

Week 2
Buchwald and Feingold – Newton and the Origin of Civilization (excerpt)
Hansson – “Science and Pseudoscience”



Week 3
Lyons – Species, Serpents, Spirits, and Skulls, Chapters 1 & 2
Gould ­– The Mismeasure of Man, Chapter 1

Week 4
Gould ­– The Mismeasure of Man, Chapter 3
Lyons – Species, Serpents, Spirits, and Skulls, Chapter 6

Week 5
Oakley and Weiner – “Piltdown Man”
Walker – “National Socialism and German Physics” 

Week 6
Gould – The Mismeasure of Man, Chapter 5

Week 7
Gould – The Mismeasure of Man, Chapter 7
 Lyons – Species, Serpents, Spirits, and Skulls, Chapter 7
Thurs & Numbers – “Science, Pseudoscience, and Science Falsely So-Called”

Week 8
Sokal ­– “What the Social Text Affair Does and Does Not Prove”
Collins – “The Meaning of Hoaxes” 



Week 9
Oreskes & Conway – Merchants of Doubt, Chapters 1 & 2
Kevles – The Baltimore Case, Introduction through Chapter 3

Week 10
Kevles – The Baltimore Case, Chapters 4–6
Oreskes & Conway – Merchants of Doubt, Chapter 5

Week 11
Kevles – The Baltimore Case, Chapters 6–9
Elliott – “The Deadly Corruption of Clinical Trials”

Week 12
Kevles – The Baltimore Case, Chapters 10–13

Week 13
Kevles – The Baltimore Case, Chapter 14–17
Lewenstein – “From Fax to Facts: Communication in the Cold Fusion Saga”

Week 14
Oreskes & Conway – Merchants of Doubt, Chapter 6 & Conclusion



Week 15
Cleland & Brindell – “Science and the Messy, Uncontrollable World of Nature”