Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
PHL 195
Course Title:
Science, Skepticism, & the Unknown
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Introduces scientific method, assessment criteria for scientific observations and explanations and the difference between genuine and pseudoscience. Prerequisites: WR 115, RD 115 and MTH 20 or equivalent placement test scores. Audit available.

Addendum to Course Description

Many students beginning college today have little formal training in the sciences and, thus, know little of what scientists do or of the criteria by which scientific observations and explanations are assessed.  As a  result, few students know how to evaluate the kind of scientific  information they daily read about and hear.  For example, few are capable of assessing the information provided in newspapers and magazines about the discovery of a causal connection between some form of cancer and some previously unsuspected chemical agent.
This lack of familiarity with science is all the more unfortunate since students are confronted with a seemingly endless list of pseudo-scientific claims - claims which purport to be the result of serious scientific investigation but which are nothing more than a clever combination of
fiction and fact couched in scientific sounding jargon.  Many students do not possess the skills necessary to notice that there is a difference between genuine and bogus scientific claims.
The purpose of this course is to teach the student what scientific method is and how genuine scientific research (e.g., that of the psychologist or the astronomer) differs from pseudo-scientific charlatanism (e.g., the observations and explanations of the psychic or the astrologer).

Intended Outcomes for the course

Upon completion of the course should be able to: 

  • Distinguish and understand the basic ideas at the heart of science (theory, hypothesis, explanation, cause, correlation) in order to critically assess scientific claims as they are presented in contemporary society.
  • Recognize the differences between applied and theoretical science in order to evaluate the practical effects of scientific discoveries.
  • Understand the significance of statistical concepts as they apply to scientific studies in order to evaluate for potential bias.
  • Distinguish natural science from social science and their degrees of applied scientific rigor in order to evaluate truth claims made by people in our society.
  • Design a well controlled scientific experiment in order to test scientific hypotheses.


Course Activities and Design

The course will be conducted in the standard classroom setting.  It will involve lectures, discussions, tests and papers.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Grades will be based on regular quizzes, homework, and other written material.  Any other requirements will be discussed the first week of classes.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)