Honors 100: The Nature and Practice of Science
The goal of this FYS will be to try to achieve an understanding of how
science works and how scientists work. We will approach this through
four essential methods:
The goal is to introduce you to the way science is actually done and to
the nature of science. Questions of truth, methods of investigation,
and why science seems to have more of a claim to correctness than other
disciplines - and whether it should have.
- We will look at problems in science for which a definitive
solution has not yet been reached. We will read about the proposed
solutions, the evidence in favor of those solutions, and talk about how
scientists resolve such differences.
- We will study the philosophical underpinnings of science.
- We will spend some time actually doing some problems in a
- We will read about the lives and works of
However, do not forget that this is a
First Year Seminar! The purpose of FYS is to teach you the
necessary skills to be successful college students. No matter what
discipline you are studying, you will find that you will need the
skills we cover in this course.
We also want to make it clear that although we are not faculty from the
English department, we can help you improve the FYS skills. Not only
did we have to do a lot of writing, discussion, and research as
undergraduates, we also had to do the much more difficult task of
producing original research to get our PhD's and, as part of that,
write an extensive thesis and, then, defend it before a group of other
specialists who made absolutely certain we could express our ideas well
both in that thesis and in our presentation of the work. Further, like
all academics, our professional careers require that we keep up with
the literature in our fields and serve as reviewers of the work of
other scientists (critical reading),
papers for publication in journals (writing),
present our results at
professional conferences (oral
presentation), and take part in panels, workshops, and
other discussion groups involved in evaluating current scientific
Part of the reason the science faculty at CSB/SJU
approve so highly of FYS and volunteer to teach it, is that they
recognize the importance of the goals of the courrse to the process of
scientific inquiry. In this course you should learn:
- Discussion Skills: How to
take part in both small group (3-4 person) and large group (the entire
class) discussions. We will learn how to discuss controversial
in a group in such a way that everyone will feel free to take part
without fear of being "put down". We will emphasize cooperative
learning techniques to learn how to lead a discussion, encourage others
to take part, keep focused on the task at hand, etc. It is important
that we emphasize very strongly that in
discussion, every person's ideas are important.
It should be clear to anyone that human beings are so diverse and so
complex that on any given issue everyone's input will be different.
Individuals will each have different perspectives, different
understandings of what is involved in the problem at hand, and
important ideas which might be the critical pieces necessary to solve a
problem. Contrary to the view of science in old science fiction movies
where both the good and bad scientist work on their own in their
private hideaway laboratories, science is an intensely cooperative
human activity which thrives on the exchange of ideas and debate about
every facet of the science as it is currently understood.
- Critical Reading Skills: How to read complex texts in a
critical way. You should learn how to
read a piece of text with notes, counterexamples, and general
criticism. Ideally, you will end up with the skill necessary to avoid
being lulled by incomplete arguments, jumps in logic, and all the other
pitfalls that await you when reading texts that deal with difficult
problems. Our discussions will generally be about the class readings so
it is important that you develop the necessary skills in
in order to intelligently read those texts.
- Speaking Skills: How to
give both individual and group presentations before an audience.
emphasis will be on presenting ideas, not on appearance. In this class
we will be most concerned with the content of your speech - that is,
you present interesting material in such a way that you conveyed that
material (and your enthusiasm) to the class. You should find this to be
a very nonthreatening experience as you become familiar with and
comfortable with the other members of your symposium class (and, of
course, the faculty members teaching the class).
- Writing Skills: How to
present ideas and concepts in writing. Again, the emphasis in
symposium is on information, not on style. A beautifully written essay
with marvelous style that says nothing will receive a lower grade than
a grammatically flawed paper that presents interesting views of
important ideas. This is not to suggest that grammatical correctness is
not necessary, but only that it is not of primary importance. Writing
assignments will be a very regular part of this class with an average
of about 1 paper every two cycles. Most papers will require preliminary
drafts which will be also be turned in. Some parts of our class will be
spent on reading and evaluating each other's papers in small groups.
In these small group evaluations we must emphasize two points. First,
criticism of parts of your papers should never be thought of as
threatening. Instead, you should view criticism as a positive attempt
to help you improve not only the paper being criticized but your skill
at writing down your ideas in general. Second, when you criticize part
of someone else's paper you should do so with exactly those ideas in
mind. The person you are criticizing should be viewed as a friend and
colleague and your purpose in pointing out possible flaws is to help
improve that person's writing.
- Information Literacy: How
to use both paper and electronic resources to find information on any
topic. This will involve extensive use of both the physical and
electronic resources of our library and of the greater "library cloud"
provided by the state of Minnesota which allows us to access resources
from most of the college and university libraries in the state. This
involves a whole lot more than googleing.
discuss the important topic of judging sources - i.e.,
determining if a given source is trustworthy and accurate. Again, this
involves two seemingly opposing ideas. First of all, many types of
sources - like professional journals and books from reputable
publishers - work under a system of review by expert peers that ensure
some level of accuracty. Conversely, the fact that something is in one
of these "trustworthy" sources is no guarantee that it is both
trustworthy and accurate. This takes us back to the idea of critical
reading. All sources should be examined carefully to determine whether
what they say is correct.
All of these skills will be developed both by doing and by evaluating.
Most of the
papers and drafts will be read in class by other students who will give
positive suggestions for improvement as well as suggestions about
possible problem areas. In some sense, every paper will be at least in
part a group activity. Similarly, speeches and group presentations will
"previewed" by other members of the class with the same idea - that is,
to improve the quality through positive criticism.
Occasionally, you will bring a draft of your paper to the office of one
of the instructors, read the paper aloud to that instructor, and you
and the instructor will then discuss what improvements should be made
and what is both positive and negative about the essay. Using the
criticism you receive from your instructor together with that of your
classmates, you will then produce the final draft which will receive a
Virtually every class will be mostly dedicated to discussion.
Occasionally, the instructors will also spend time talking about the
skills necessary to take part in a discussion - skills like leading the
discussion, helping "quiet" students take part, making certain that you
do not dominate the discussion, etc. Some discussions will be
individually graded - usually on a subset of the skills - and the final
discussion grade will be based on a combination of those individual
graded discussions and the overall evaluation of your part in
discussions throughout the term.
We will spend several sessions at the library including at least one
session where the librarians describe the library facilities and how to
access them. There will also be library exercises as part of
those sessions. Finally, the final paper of the semester will be a
small research paper which will require you to hone those information
There will also be a few times during the semester where you will take
part in group or individual presentations to improve your skill at
speaking before a group.