Science vs. Pseudoscience

Instructor: Dr. Charles M. Wynn, Sr.
Eastern Connecticut State University

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

The aim of this course is to enhance critical thinking skills by learning how to evaluate pseudoscientific ideas: ideas that claim to be scientific when they are not scientific, i.e., there is no scientific evidence to support them.

  1. Overview
    • Survey of class opinions
    • View and discuss Secrets of the Psychics (NOVA)
    • Assign poster paper topics and presentation dates
    • Discuss The Biggest Idea in Science assignment
    • Read the prologue and first six chapters in The Five Biggest Ideas in Science
  2. Scientific Methodology
    • Before class: read and be prepared to discuss chapters 1, 2 and 3 in Quantum Leaps
    • Presentation by instructor of a classic example of scientific methodology: Models of Atoms
  3. UFOs - I
    • Submit a 300-400 word paper supporting your candidate for the biggest of the five biggest ideas in science
    • Before class: read and be prepared to discuss Chapter 4 in Quantum Leaps
    • View and discuss UFO Files: Contact (Simitar) and UFOs: Are We Alone? The Truth Behind UFO Sightings (NOVA)
  4. UFOs - II
    • Submit a position paper on the UFO Hypothesis: "Alien spacecraft have traveled to Earth"
    • Bring an extra copy for reference during the discussion of this hypothesis
  5. Alien Abductions - I
    • View and discuss UFO Files: Abduction (Simitar) and Kidnapped by UFOs? The True Story of Alien Abductions (NOVA)
  6. Alien Abductions - II
    • Submit a position paper on The Alien Abduction Hypothesis: "Humans have been abducted by aliens
    • Bring an extra copy for reference during the discussion of this hypothesis
    • Guest Speaker: Dr. Luis Cordon, Professor of Psychology
  7. Ghosts & Poltergeists
    • Before class: read and be prepared to discuss chapter 5 of Quantum Leaps
    • View Secrets of the Unknown: English Ghosts (MPI Home Video)
    • Discuss out-of-body experiences and entities
    • Discussion of The Case of the Missing Poltergeist
    • View and discuss Crossing Over (with John Edwards) video
  8. Astrology
    • Before class: read and be prepared to discuss chapter 6 of Quantum Leaps
    • Submit a position paper on The Astrology Hypothesis: "The positions and movements of particular celestial bodies at the moment of a human being's birth predetermine that individual's personality and other characteristics"
    • Bring an extra copy for reference during the discussion of this hypothesis
    • Field trip to Planetarium for guest lecture by Dr. Zoran Pazameta, Professor of Astronomy
  9. Creationism
    • Before class: read and be prepared to discuss Chapter 7 of Quantum Leaps
    • Submit parts I and II of a position paper on your assigned topic
    • Discussion of The Creationism Hypothesis
  10. ESP - I
    • Before class: read and be prepared to discuss Chapter 8 of Quantum Leaps
    • Discussion of ESP testing and evaluation
    • Guest Speaker: Dr. Luis Cordon, Professor of Psychology
  11. ESP - II
    • Submit a position paper on The ESP Hypothesis: "Some people have telepathic ability: they are able to gain psychic knowledge of someone else's thoughts or feelings"
    • Bring an extra copy for reference during the discussion of this hypothesis
  12. Presentations - I
    • Read chapter 9, Epilogue, and Glossary in Quantum Leaps
    • Twenty-minute presentations and discussions of first five scheduled topics, including demonstrations if applicable
    • Bring enough copies of your position paper for entire class and instructor
    • Informal critiques by the class and instructor
  13. Presentations - II
    • Twenty-minute presentations and discussions of second five scheduled topics, including demonstrations if applicable
    • Bring enough copies of your position paper for entire class and instructor
    • Informal critiques by the class and instructor
  14. Presentations - III
    • Twenty-minute presentations and discussions of third five scheduled topics, including demonstrations if applicable
    • Bring enough copies of your position paper for entire class and instructor
    • Informal critiques by the class and instructor
  15. Final Exam
    • Submit a position paper on your chosen topic
    • Display poster version (mounted) of your paper
    • Honors Council members and others will read and discuss poster papers individually with presenters

  • Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Reality Ends...and Illusion Begins
    Charles M. Wynn and Arthur W. Wiggins, Joseph Henry Press, 2001.
  • The Five Biggest Ideas in Science
    Charles M. Wynn and Arthur W. Wiggins, John Wiley & Sons, 1997.
Why Write Position Papers?
Excerpted from The Thinker's Way, J. Chaffee (Little, Brown and Company, 1998.)
 

Writing is a vehicle for creating and communicating your ideas, a catalyst for your intellectual development. The process of writing stimulates your mind, helps shape your thinking, and enlarges your understanding of the world. Just as significantly, writing creates a permanent record - a "snapshot" - of your thinking at a specific point in time. You can return to your thinking snapshot as often as you wish, evaluate its logic and coherence, and use it as a foundation upon which to build a more insightful understanding.

Include all boldfaced words below. Limit position papers to four pages.

Your Name
HON 360
Title
(Position paper topic)

I. Brief description of alleged phenomenon
(not including why the belief is held)
 
Some people believe that...
II. Statement of alleged phenomenon in hypothesis form
 

The following hypothesis is an expression of this belief:

III. Statement of whether you agree of disagree with the hypothesis
 

I believe this hypothesis is correct.
Defend your opinion using the observation / hypothesis / prediction / experiment / recycling format outlined in Chapter 1. Begin your analysis with an answer to the question, "What, if anything, really happened?" followed by an answer to the question, "If something really happened, how can it be explained?" Then, consider how the explanation has been or could be tested (what does it predict?, etc.).

or

I believe this hypothesis is incorrect.
Defend your opinion by pointing out observation / hypothesis / prediction / experiment / recycling flaws. Cite flaws listed in Chapter 3. Be sure to give relevant examples to support inclusion of each flaw. Begin your analysis with an answer to the question, "What, if anything, really happened?" followed by an answer to the question, "If something really happened, how can it be explained?" Then, consider how the explanation has been or could be tested (what does it predict?, etc.).

IV. Additional comments about your opinion and/or the alleged phenomenon
[This section is optional. It might include any doubts you have about your opinion.]