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Unit of study_

HPSC1001: What is this Thing Called Science?

Intensive February, 2021 [Block mode] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

What distinguishes creationism from evolutionary theory, or astrology from astronomy? Can we have good reason to believe that our current scientific theories represent the world "as it really is"? This course critically examines the most important attempts to describe the scientific method, to draw a line dividing science from non-science, and to justify the high status generally accorded to scientific knowledge. Views studied include Karl Popper's idea that scientific theories are falsifiable in principle, Thomas Kuhn's proposal that science consists of a series of paradigms separated by abrupt scientific revolutions, and various claims that science cannot really be distinguished from other approaches to knowledge. This unit of study also explores contemporary theories of evidence and explanation, the role of values in science, sociological approaches to understanding science, feminist perspectives on science, and the nature of scientific consensus.

Unit details and rules

Unit code HPSC1001
Academic unit History and Philosophy of Science Academic Operations
Credit points 6
HPSC2101 or HPSC2901 or HPSC1901
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Caitrin Donovan,
Guest lecturer(s) Patrick Dawson,
Tutor(s) Alexander Pereira,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Participation hurdle task Tutorial participation
80% attendance required
10% Ongoing 1 hour
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO1
Assignment Precis
20% Week -03
Due date: 05 Feb 2021 at 23:00

Closing date: 05 Feb 2021
750-1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Assignment Essay plan
Outline of essay
15% Week -04
Due date: 12 Feb 2021 at 23:00

Closing date: 12 Feb 2021
500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Assignment Essay
Research essay
35% Week 06
Due date: 28 Feb 2021 at 23:00

Closing date: 28 Feb 2021
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Online task hurdle task Online quiz
Short answer + multiple choice questions
20% Weekly 1 hour
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
hurdle task = hurdle task ?

Assessment summary

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at an exceptional standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


75 - 84

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at a very high standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


65 - 74

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at a good standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


50 - 64

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at an acceptable standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1.1. Introduction Lecture (2 hr)  
1.2. Tools and concepts Lecture (2 hr)  
1.3. Empiricism Lecture (2 hr)  
Content Week 1 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 02 2.1. Logical Positivism Lecture (2 hr)  
2.2. Problems of confirmation Lecture (2 hr)  
2.3. Karl Popper's falsificationism Lecture (2 hr)  
Content week 2 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 03 3.1. The problem of demarcation and the case of creation science Lecture (2 hr)  
3.2. Thomas Kuhn's revolution Lecture (2 hr)  
3.3. Responses to Kuhn Lecture (2 hr)  
Content week 3 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 04 4.1. A guide to philosophical writing Lecture (2 hr) LO2
4.2. Sociology of scientific knowledge Lecture (2 hr)  
4.3. Values, objectivity and social critiques of science Lecture (2 hr)  
Content week 4 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 05 5.1. Relativism and anti-realism Lecture (2 hr)  
5.2. Realism and experiment Lecture (2 hr)  
5.3. Scientific Explanation Lecture (2 hr)  
Content week 5 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 06 6.1. Laws of nature Lecture (2 hr)  
6.2. Bayesian approaches to evidence and confirmation Lecture (2 hr)  
6.3. Modern problems and final reflections Lecture (2 hr)  
Content week 6 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: Students are assigned a tutorial during the registration process. Attending at least 80% of tutorials is mandatory.
  • Online exercises: Students must complete at least eight of the online exercises to pass the course.
  • Assignments: Students must complete all three essays to pass the course.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

All readings for this unit can be accessed through the Library eReserve, available on Canvas.

  • Required textbook: Philosophy of Science, the Central Issues, edited by Curd, Cover, and Pincock.
  • Required textbook: Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Peter Godfrey-Smith.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. understand philosophical and historical discussions of science and critically assess arguments in these areas
  • LO2. write clear and well-organized responses to philosophical and historical discussions of science, and develop your own views on these issues
  • LO3. relate general philosophical and historical ideas about science to particular examples of scientific work.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

- Greater clarity on expectations for participation marks has been provided, including a scale. - An essay marking rubric is being used, and provided to students. - 80% completion requirements for attendance and online assessment completion are stressed in the syllabus and throughout Canvas. - A head tutor has been employed, to encourage consistency across the teaching team.

Work, health and safety

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.