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Written by Brian Regal
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 09:00
The following is a contribution to the JREF’s ongoing blog series on skepticism and education. If you are an educator and would like to contribute to this series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Having spent the previous three years at Kean University assembling a core curriculum in the history of science, technology, and medicine I thought a philosophy of science course would round out the program nicely. I did some assessment in the form of asking faculty, students, and colleagues from other institutions what they thought of this idea. The response was a collective pointing of fingers into mouths with the accompanying “aaahhkkk” of distaste and boredom. Rethinking my position, I proposed a course on the history of pseudoscience instead. The gagging stopped, replaced by smiles and nods of affirmation and many suggestions on case studies, text books and papers to read. I went right to work.
A course on the history of pseudoscience solves several pedagogical problems. A course involving ghosts, UFOs, spirit mediums, and monster hunters draws in students who otherwise would never go anywhere near a philosophy of science class. It teaches them how to tell the difference between what science is and what it is not, it teaches them to think skeptically and critically, and it does this within an historical context. It also allows me to spend time in the classroom on my specific research. I work on the fringe aspects of scientific thought focusing on the relationship between amateur practitioners and professional scientists, particularly surrounding questions of biological evolution and its impact upon culture, religion and politics. Drawn in by ghosts and monsters, students learn the tenants of the philosophy of science almost without realizing it. They learn how fascinating and useful philosophical, skeptical, and critical thought can be to the everyday experience.
My course proposal was sent to the university curriculum committee and once accepted and
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