Course Coordinator: 
Gordon Arbuthnott
Controversies in Science

The course Controversies in Science aims to develop critical thinking and argument, essential skills for effective independent scientists. The course will be flexible in content and presentation. Invited lecturers will present topics of some controversy or recent interest in science and lead debates by the students. We will also look at some historical controversies in different fields such as neuroscience and genetics, in which we will assign students to take sides by reading only one side of a specific argument, and encourage them to discuss the issue and arrive at a resolution in class. 

This course aims to develop the argument and critical powers of scientists by examining the scientific process and its relation to knowledge, and looking at a wide range of topics of moral controversies in science.
Detailed Syllabus: 
  1. The Scientific Method, Ockham's Razor, Basic Philosophy of Science
  2. Boundaries of Science, L’Affaire Sokal, “Crackpots”
  3. Science & Racism in 1940s Germany and Japan
  4. Science and Capitalism: the pharmaceutical industry & biomedical science
  5. Science and Communism: Lysenko
  6. Scientific Misconduct I: Piltdown Man
  7. Scientific Misconduct II: Recent Cases
  8. Insights ahead of their time: Mendel and others
  9. Paradigm shifts: the reception of evolutionary biology
  10. Science and Religion: opposition to evolution
  11. Science and the media: the case of the autism-vaccination link, and others
  12. Science and the law: the suppression of psychedelics research
  13. Science and war: the making of the nuclear bomb
  14. The animal rights movement and science
  15. Conclusions: science as a social enterprise
Course Type: 
Participation and contribution to discussion and debate.
Text Book: 
Scientific Controversies: Case Studies in the Resolution and Closure of Disputes in Science and Technology, by Engelhardt and Caplan (1987) Cambridge University Press
Reference Book: 
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson, by JW Hecht (2004)