Scientific Reasoning

The participants in this course are expected to actively engage in the kinds of reasoning and decision making that scientists use in testing hypotheses. Much of the active engagement will be through online exercises and demonstrations. Our goal will be to understand the logical and statistical principles by which scientific claims are formulated and evaluated. We will attempt to develop a critical appreciation for the methods by which knowledge is acquired in science. You should leave this course with an improved ability to distinguish good from bad reasoning and decision making in science and in everyday life.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc will be made available as they will be used in class.

Coding sheet for the time-log project:

Study guide for the midterm and final exams:

Paper prompts:

Information concerning plagiarism and guides on how to write a smashing philosophy paper can be found in the sidebar of the top page of the teaching section. The leaflet concerning plagiarism is absolutely mandatory reading.

The following materials are mandatory for this course:

  • All course materials can be found on the inquiry web site at, developed by Bill Bechtel, Adele Abrahamsen, Carl Craver, and Peter Bradley. Login direction and initial login codes are included in the course reader, which is available at the Price Center bookstore.
  • You will also need to purchase an i>clicker, the student response system used in this class. These 'clickers' are also available at the Price Center bookstore. In order to receive credit, students must register their clickers at the i>clickers website within the first week of class. For more information, visit the media services information page.

Additional resources (students are not responsible for this content in exams and assignments):

Grading Comments

The mean of the midterm exam was 71.6, with a standard deviation of 12.7. Here are some comments from Nate Rockwood, who graded the exams:

  • People tended to do worse on the logic questions, especially in sections 1.1 (on average only 59% correct) and 1.2 (on average only 65%). Everyone except for one student, for example, got 1.1 question 6 wrong. Lots of people got 1.1 question 3 wrong as well.
  • In section 1.4 question 2, there was a surprising number of people who thought the argument was invalid (it is in fact Modus Tollens).
  • The students tended to well on the last section.

Paper 1: The class mean was 6.75, with a standard deviation of 1.51, and with scores ranging from 5 to 9. Students tended to struggle with explaining what the statistical significance is measuring. Several, for example, claimed that the low statistical significance showed that there was not a strong correlation between the variables. But it is quite possible to have a strong correlation and a relatively low statistical significance.

On the positive side, many students argued that there may be other, more causally relevant, variables that are more reliable predictors of future success than college writing. This is a good argumentative strategy, so long as it is clearly explained why the boss should not put too much trust in the study being cited.

Comments on individual papers can be viewed through, where you will also find your grade. Highlighted text is purple to indicate that a good point is being made, and yellow for a problematic statement.

Paper 2: Students did better on average on the 2nd paper, which is encouraging. The class mean was 7.25, with a standard deviation of 0.95, and with scores ranging from 6 to 8.5.

Many students were not clear about what kind of study they were proposing. Students should explain clearly whether they are proposing an experimental or observational study. And if they propose an observational study, they should be clear about whether it is a prospective or retrospective study. For example, if I were proposing a retrospective observational study, then I would explain what the structure of a retrospective observational study is, how I would apply it in this case, and why I think this is the most appropriate kind of study for this scenario.

Final exam: the mean was 48.9 points, with a standard deviation of 10.6. You should get your final grades for the class very soon.