Part 1: What Is Science, and How Does It Work?
1-3 The Goals and Institutions of Natural Science

The Goals and Institutions of Natural Science

  • How does natural science differ from fine arts, mathematics or engineering and technology?
  • Varieties of science.
  • What is the character of the science you are pursuing?

Scientific Knowledge

  • Discovery or justification?
  • Science as a social process.
  • What is the goal of your thesis research?

Scientific Progress and Change

  • Is the history of science a steady progression or an occasional revolution?
  • Is there a change taking place in your field/discipline today?
  • Can you characterize the paradigm of your field? Of your thesis research?
4-8 The Process of Scientific Research

Theory and Observation

  • What are the roles of theory and observation in science?
  • Are decisive experiments possible?
  • Can experiment proceed and succeed in the absence of a comprehensive theory?

Elements of Scientific Method

  • What are the limitations characteristic of inductive and deductive methods?
  • Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying that scientific thinking is no more than good common sense. Is that true of you and your thesis research, or is something more required?
  • What logical scheme characterizes your thesis research?

The Practice of Scientific Method

  • When is a falsification (or a confirmation) interesting/important?
  • Is there a scientific method or not? Which of the common NSF proposal errors are related to scientific method?

Explanation in the Physical Sciences

  • What constitutes a useful scientific explanation?
  • When does (or must) explanation stop? What would you mean if you were to say that you understood a phenomenon?

Explanation in the Life Sciences

  • Is biology an autonomous science?
  • Can a teleological explanation ever be valid?
  • Explanation of complex events, with no clear laws.
9-10 Ethics of Scientific Research

Free and Open Communication?

  • What are the obligations of a scientist? To whom or to what do you owe your highest loyalty?
  • What constitutes intellectual property? When is it appropriate to withhold data and other information?

The Reward System in Science

  • What are society’s motives for sponsoring scientific research? Are these consistent with your personal motives for being a scientist? How do you expect to be rewarded for your efforts as a scientist?
  • On what basis do we choose or agree to become a coauthor?
  • Are science ethics undergoing a change?
Part 2: Communication
11 Scientific Publication

Scientific Publication

  • What is the role of written communication? What constitutes ‘scientific publication’?
  • How much should we publish and when is a research project at the right stage for publication?
  • How is a paper judged by referees and editors? What constitutes a conflict of interest and what should you do if you have one?
  • What makes a good scientific paper? What are your favorite scientific papers, and most of all, why?
12 Oral Communication

Oral Communication

  • What is the role of seminars? In what ways might the content of a seminar be different from that of a scientific paper?
  • How do you plan and prepare for a seminar?
  • What qualities make for a good seminar?
13-16 The Practice of Scientific Communication

In the remainder of the semester the participants will have a chance to give a short oral report of their thesis research (or of a paper they find interesting) to a critical but sympathetic audience, their classmates. Each class member will give the presenter a written evaluation.

Our goal in these short seminars is to emphasize the beginning and the end parts of the research story, while largely omitting the technical details of the middle (which are, of course, crucially important but you deal with that at length elsewhere). This seminar will have been successful if the participants find that they are even slightly more comfortable writing and talking about the goals, the logical structure and the interpretation of their research. Are the goals, as you write them down now, any different than at the time of the first class, Question 1(a)?