Science, non-science and pseudoscience

A freeware CAI program by Stephen K. Lower

Various surveys have indicated that a significant fraction of North American college students believe that astrology has some scientific basis, and that uncritical acceptance of the claims of psychics, UFO abductions, homeopathy, graphology, and other purveyors of the paranormal and pseudoscientific is widespread. All this in an age in which science is widely taught both in high school and in university!

Although descriptions of "the scientific method" can be found near the beginning of most introductory textbooks of natural science subjects, these tend to be too bland and generalized to have much of an impact on students, who are likely to regard them a just another instance of adults telling them how to think, knowing full well that few actually do think that way!

These lessons were developed in the hope that they might get students to engage themselves more actively in the subject by presenting it in a more systematic way that forces them to make decisions that require some thinking on their part, rather than simply reciting back a set of facts.

These lessons were originally developed in the mid-1980s for the students in my largely-CAI-based course in General Chemistry. Although a few specific references to Chemistry are made, the lessons are designed to be of general interest and should be useful as an adjunct to science classes at any level from high school through Elderhostel.

Contents: The material is divided into three parts which can be selected through a menu.

This is a very short sequence describing the emergence of science from speculative philosophy, and the dichotomy between cognitive and non-cognitive belief systems.
(This section is absent in the PC-DOS version).
"Natural" science based on experiment. Distinction between hypothesis, theory, and "scientific law". (The student is asked to make this distinction for several specific instances.)
Claims that cannot be verified or falsified fall outside the realm of science. Using the astronomy/astrology as examples, students are asked to decide which field is better described by a number of statements.

These lessons form part of the Chem1 Concept Builder set but these particular lessons have been placed in the public domain and may be copied and used freely. They are available in four versions; most of them come in the form of self-expanding archives which install automatically:

Macintosh : Download Macintosh version now (science.sea.hqx, 470K)

Windows Download Windows version now (science.exe, 940K)

Stephen K. Lower
Dept of Chemistry
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby BC Canada V5A 1S6