Unit 1: Defining Science


People often think of science as a static body of knowledge describing natural phenomena, the human body, and the technologies that improve our standard of living and help us discover new things about our world. But scientists themselves recognize that the word “science” means far more than the natural and social phenomena that they study. While “science” describes categories of knowledge and specific methods for determining fact from fiction, the term also plays a normative role in language and culture as the process secular society uses to determine what beliefs about the world are epistemically warranted.

All the selections in this unit address fundamental questions about how we define science, what counts as scientific knowledge, and how these distinctions are made. The four readings included here raise important questions within the culture of science such as:

  1. How do scientists draw the boundaries between science and pseudoscience?
  2. How do politics and science influence one another?
  3. What role should science and scientists play in society?
  4. What role does non-science play in scientific success?
  5. Is the scientific method our best way of achieving new knowledge?
  6. Should Western science be valued over other forms of knowledge?
  7. Should students be taught to question accepted scientific principles?
  8. Do you value objective knowledge more than subjective experience?
  9. How do you determine truth?


“Science and Pseudo-Science”

Hansson, Sven Ove. “Science and Pseudo-Science.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Originally Published in 2008; updated in 2021, edited by Edward N. Zalta.

What beliefs about the world can be justified as scientific knowledge? This encyclopedia article examines the demarcation between science and pseudoscience in order to answer this question.

“Weaving Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Biological Education: A Call to Action”

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. “Weaving Traditional Ecological Knowledge into Biological Education: A Call to Action.” BioScience, vol. 52, no. 5, May 2002, pp. 432-438.

Should Western science be valued over other forms of knowledge? In this peer-reviewed scientific article, plant ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer explores why the traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples should be recognized as “complementary and equivalent” to scientific knowledge and included in university science curricula.

Must be logged into UO library account to access article.

“Yes, Science is Political”

Lopato, Elizabeth. “Yes, Science is Political.” The Verge, 21 April 2017.

In this 2017 article and video essay, The Verge deputy editor Elizabeth Lopato considers the role of politics in science and science in politics as Trump enters the White House. The Verge is a multimedia online news magazine exploring “how technology will change life in the future for a massive mainstream audience.”

From Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge

Feyerabend, Paul. From Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, first edition 1975. Marxists Internet Archive.

In his 1975 book, philosopher Paul Feyerabend argues that logic, reason, and the scientific method are not the processes by which scientific knowledge actually develops. Rather, when one looks closely at the events leading up to key scientific discoveries, one may conclude that “anything goes”—in other words, epistemological anarchism is how scientific progress actually occurs. Web page includes the book’s analytical table of contents and concluding chapter.


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