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The Vocabulary of Science: First Steps to Science Literacy

Learn to think more critically about science by mastering the language we use to talk about science
Instructor:
Kevin deLaplante
5,677 students enrolled
English [Auto]
Master the different ways that scientists use key terms like “theory”, “fact”, “law”, “hypothesis”, and “model”
Analyze arguments and fallacies about science that turn on the meaning of these concepts
Build a foundation for understanding science and debates about science
Recognize the most common confusions that people who write about science are prone to make

WHAT IS THIS COURSE ABOUT?

Is evolution a theory, a fact, or both? This question has been debated by critics and defenders of evolution for many years.

Some claim that evolution is a theory, not a fact. Others claim that evolution is a fact, not a theory. And still others say that evolution is both a theory and a fact.

What exactly is going on here?

One reason why the debate persists is that people disagree not only on the strength of the evidence for evolution, but also on the meanings of the key terms, “theory” and “fact”.

This course is designed to help you understand and think critically about debates like these, debates about the nature of science that turn on the meanings of scientific terms like “theory”, “fact”, “law”, “hypothesis” and “model”.

ABOUT YOUR INSTRUCTOR

I have 20 years of experience teaching the history and philosophy of science at the university level, but now I work as independent online educator. I have given lectures on the topic of science literacy to national and international audiences.

I have over 30,000 students on Udemy, where I also offer courses on critical thinking and argumentative essay writing.

WHO IS THIS COURSE FOR, AND WHAT WILL YOU LEARN?

This course is for anyone interested in learning more about how a philosopher of science thinks about science and scientific reasoning.

It will be of special interest to science students, science educators of all kinds, and people interested in debates about the nature of science.

In this course you’ll learn the various meanings of the key terms, “theory”, “fact”, “law”, “hypothesis” and “model”, as they’re used both within and outside science.

You’ll learn the most common confusions made by people who write about science.

And you’ll have an opportunity to test your understanding through quizzes and a video critique assignment.

Welcome to the Course!

1
Question: Is Evolution a Theory, a Fact, or Both?
2
Why Am I Qualified to Teach This Course?
3
Overview of the Course
4
Update: Additional Videos on Science Literacy and Science Education
5
Section 1

An Important Distinction for the Whole Course

1
An Important Distinction: Epistemically Loaded versus Neutral Language
2
Section 2

What is a Theory?

1
"It's Just a Theory": "Theory" as Down-Player
2
"Theories are the Pinnacles of Science": "Theory" as Up-Player
3
Why We Need a Neutral Definition of "Theory"
4
A Neutral Definition of "Theory": A Classical (But Incomplete) Story
5
A Neutral Definition of "Theory": A More Sophisticated Story
6
Section 3

What is a Fact?

1
"You Can't Deny the Facts": A Loaded Definition of "Fact"
2
"I Had the Facts Wrong": A Neutral Definition of "Fact"
3
Can There Be Theoretical Facts?
4
Section 4

What is a Law?

1
Loaded Definitions of "Law"
2
Examples of Laws in Biology and Psychology
3
Examples of Laws in Astronomy and Physics
4
Unpacking the Neutral Concept of "Law"
5
But Are There Any Laws?
6
A Quick Word: Are Laws Explanatory?
7
Section 5

What is a Hypothesis?

1
"That's Just a Hypothesis": A Loaded Definition of "Hypothesis"
2
A Neutral Definition of "Hypothesis"
3
Section 6

What is a Model?

1
Introduction: What is a Model?
2
Maps and Models
3
Models as Tools for Reasoning About the World
4
How Equations Can Be Models
5
Is There a Difference Between a Model and a Theory?
6
Section 7

Theories, Models, Truth and Reality

1
Introduction: Theories, Models, Truth and Reality
2
The Challenge of Interpreting Scientific Theories
3
Prediction and Truth: Lessons from Ptolemy
4
Prediction and Truth: Lessons from the Kinetic Theory of Gases
5
Section 8

Test Yourself: "Fact vs. Theory vs. Hypothesis vs. Law ... Explained!"

1
Assignment: Critique a 7 Minute Video on the Vocabulary of Science
2
Part 1: The Motivation for the Video
3
Part 2: "Scales of Truthiness"
4
Part 3: The Fundamental Error
5
Part 4: Problems With Defining Facts in Terms of Observations
6
Part 5: Problems With Defining Hypotheses as Starting Points for Inquiry
7
Part 6: Problems With Defining Theories as Well-Supported
8
Part 7: Problems with Defining Evolution as an Observable Fact
9
Part 8: Problems with Defining Laws in Terms of Observations
10
Part 9: Can Laws Explain, or Do They Just Describe? Kepler, Newton and Einstein
11
Part 10: Analyzing the Last Slide
12
Part 11: Who is to Blame?
13
Section 9

Why is Science Literacy Important, and How Should We Teach It?

1
Introduction to the Videos in This Section
2
Should We Expect Our Politicians To Be Science Literate?
3
Why Most People (Even Science Phds) are Scientifically Illiterate
4
A Curriculum For Teaching Genuine Science Literacy: Overview
5
The Logic of Science
6
The Methods of Science
7
The Landscape of Science
8
The Ethics of Science

Wrapping Up

1
What's Next?
2
Bonus Lecture: Coupon Codes and Other Resources
You can view and review the lecture materials indefinitely, like an on-demand channel.
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