Module and Programme Catalogue

Search site

Find information on

2024/25 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHIL2605 Why Trust Science? Topics in Philosophy of Science

20 creditsClass Size: 100

Module manager: Alastair Wilson

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2024/25

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Should we treat scientific experts as authorities? In what way? Who should construct scientific policy? How might social forces bolster or undermine scientific authority? This module will draw on philosophy of science, social epistemology and feminist studies to explore such questions in the context of recent controversies about the role of science in society, such as the covid 19 pandemic, the global climate crisis, and more. Students will gain the tools they need to be sophisticated consumers of science.


We live in an era in which science is highly visible as an institution with the power to keep us safe and improve our lives. But its authority is also invoked in asking us to make sacrifices, to accept changes to our way of life. Conspiracy theories, fake news and alternative facts encourage us to view science as corrupt, and scientific theories as just opinions. This module explores socially impactful scientific controversies by unpicking and evaluating the particular scientific methodologies that purport to underpin the trustworthiness of a particular theory, finding or piece of policy. The module will equip students with the tools for evaluating controversies about the status of scientific theories and about whether or not we should trust scientific experts. Students will learn about some specific scientific controversies, their social impacts and the methodological issue behind them, but they’ll also develop argumentative skills so they can defend a particular position on the question of why/when/how far it makes sense to trust science.

Each session will open with lecture-style information giving and challenge-setting, followed by flipped-classroom discussion and activities.

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of the module students will have demonstrated the following learning outcomes relevant to the subject:

1. Accurately identify and explain some contemporary controversies in the philosophy of science;

2. Critically analyse arguments central to the philosophy of science;

3. Coherently develop and defend your own position on issues in the philosophy of science.

Skills Learning Outcomes

4. Communicate ideas and understanding clearly and concisely, using appropriate academic language (Academic and Work Ready skill)

5. Critically analyse source material and demonstrate independence of thought (Academic and Work Ready skill)

6. Search for appropriate material to support knowledge and analysis of topics (Academic, Work Ready, Digital and Sustainability skill)

7. Conform to standards of academic integrity including when and how to appropriately acknowledge someone else’s work (Academic and Work Ready skill)


The module will look at scientific controversies such as:
* the response to the covid pandemic
* the health risks of tobacco
* race-based medicine
* climate change science and its critics
* the replication crisis in psychology
* genetically modified crops
* stem cell research
* Black swan economic crashes
* Rewilding in conservation practice
* Animal experimentation and welfare issues

and it will use those examples to explore methodological issues such as:

* the role of social values in science
* feminist perspectives on science
* inductive risk
* the structure of scientific communities
* science and democracy
* the peer review system
* the role of scientific models
* the limits of science
* underdetermination problems
* social epistemology
* colonialism in science

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

For each seminar the students will be required to complete a structured activity, which builds in complexity as the semester advances, to scaffold their essay. In early weeks they will be required to write a short report summarising the facts about the specific controversy. Later they will be required to identify the argumentative structure of some paper defending a position on the controversy. Ultimately, they will be developing independent responses to problems.

The students will be invited to submit one of these pieces of written work (of their choice) to the module leader for written feedback.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3,000 word essay100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The essay will require students to display knowledge of at least one scientific controversy, and the ability to arbitrate the controversy using the philosophical theories taught, by presenting an argument structured into exposition and objections followed by response.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 01/05/2024 14:13:03


Browse Other Catalogues

Errors, omissions, failed links etc should be notified to the Catalogue Team.PROD

© Copyright Leeds 2019