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Unit of study_

HPSC1001: What is this Thing Called Science?

Intensive February, 2022 [Block mode] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This Unit of Study explores the very nature of science and how it is practised. Using contemporary and historical scientific examples, the unit looks into whether a sharp line can be drawn between science and non-science, and what criteria can be used to distinguish science from pseudoscience. Various tools of science will be examined philosophically and historically, including theories, models, explanations, data analysis and concepts. The unit also looks into the ways in which science is a social process, with an emphasis on values, biases, and the institutionalized organization of science. To complete this broad overview, topics such as science denialism (not accepting various bodies of scientific knowledge) and scientism (valuing science above all other knowledge systems) will also be addressed.

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) Anson Fehross,
Patrick Dawson,
Lecturer(s) Caitrin Donovan,
Tutor(s) Angelica Breviario,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment hurdle task Critical exegesis
20% Week 03
Due date: 04 Feb 2022 at 17:00

Closing date: 14 Feb 2022
700-800 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Assignment hurdle task Essay plan
Outline of essay
15% Week 04
Due date: 11 Feb 2022 at 17:00

Closing date: 21 Feb 2022
500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Assignment hurdle task Essay
Research essay
35% Week 06
Due date: 25 Feb 2022 at 17:00

Closing date: 07 Mar 2022
1800-2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Participation hurdle task Tutorial participation
80% attendance required
10% Weekly 1 hour
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3
Assignment hurdle task Weekly Online Exercise
Minimum of 5 posts out of 6 must be completed.
20% Weekly 150-250 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
hurdle task = hurdle task ?

Assessment summary

Detailed information for each assessement can be found on Canvas, along with rubrics for both written work and participation.

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.

Please note that a grading rubric for submitted assessments and a grading rubric for participation are provided on Canvas.

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.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

The Assessment Procedures 2011 stipulate that any written work submitted after 11:59pm on the due date will be penalised by 5% of the maximum awardable mark for each calendar day after the due date. If the assessment is submitted more than ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded. However, a unit of study may prohibit late submission or waive late penalties only if expressly stated below.

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) LO1 LO3
1.3. Empiricism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content Week 1 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 02 2.1. Logical Positivism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
2.2. Problems of confirmation Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
2.3. Karl Popper's falsificationism Lecture (2 hr)  
Content week 2 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 03 3.1. Thomas Kuhn's revolution Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
3.3. Responses to Kuhn Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
3.3. A guide to philosophical writing Lecture (2 hr) LO2
Content week 3 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 04 4.1. Sociology of scientific knowledge Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
4.3. Values and objectivity Lecture (2 hr)  
4.3. Philosophy of AI and Technology Block teaching (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content week 4 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 05 5.1. Relativism and anti-realism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
5.2. Realism and experiment Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
5.3. Scientific Explanation Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content week 5 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 06 6.1. Laws of nature Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
6.2. Bayesian approaches to evidence and confirmation Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
6.3. Modern problems and final reflections Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content week 6 Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO3

Attendance and class requirements


  • Attending at least 80% of tutorials is mandatory (note: in practice, this means students can miss a maximum of one tutorial).

  • If students cannot attend their tutorial, they have the option of posting on the discussion board for that week, which will be open until 5pm each Friday (see: “Discussion Board” below for more details).


  • 10% of the assessment for this unit of study is based on participation.

  • Participation is based upon individual contributions to tutorial discussions and activities, and/or contributions made to each weekly discussion board.

Tutorials (in person and Zoom):

To accrue marks in tutorials you must participate. In brief, you are expected to:

  • Discuss the readings having read them before class;

  • Discuss the themes from the week’s lectures having attended them, or watched the recordings;

  • Show a willingness to respectfully participate with discussions;

  • Attend the set tutorial on time;

  • Stay for the entire tutorial.

This does not mean students are expected to ‘get’ all of the readings, as tutorials are a place to ask questions about things they have found difficult, hard to follow, unconvincing and so on. The tutor is there to guide learning. Having said this, students should not expect the class to be run like a miniature lecture. The tutorials are only be as good as the discussions they involve, and the quality of discussions strongly depends on how willing students are to actively contribute.

A rubric for participation grading is available on Canvas.

Discussion Board

  • The discussion board is open to all students. Posting is not mandatory, but students are encouraged to engage in discussions relevant to the course material to enhance their learning.

  • As noted above, the discussion board is also a way for a student to make up for a missed tutorial. Students who wish to do this must do so by Friday 5pm of the week of the missed tutorial. Their posts must reflect familiarity and critical engagement with both the weekly reading material and lectures.

  • The discussion board is a great place for asking questions about the course content as well as the running of the course. If you have an admin question that isn’t addressed in the unit outline, on the Canvas page or in unit announcements, check the discussion board. If it isn’t addressed on the board, make a post. This way, other students can see and benefit from the answers the teaching staff provide.


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 are available on the Canvas site. No textbook is required.

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.


There are 3 weekly lectures and each is 2 hours long (including breaks). Notwithstanding any unforeseen changes that affect the mode of delivery, they will be held both in person and live over Zoom simultaneously, as well as recorded. This gives means students can:

  • attend the lectures in person if you are enrolled on-campus 

  • attend the lectures live via Zoom if you are remotely enrolled

  • watch each lecture recording when it is posted on Canvas.

Attending lectures is not mandatory. Having said this, it is highly recommended that you attend (in person or over Zoom) as this is your opportunity to ask questions, engage in the discussion, and so on. This is especially important in intensive classes, as the course content is packed into only a few weeks.

At minimum, we strongly recommend watching the lecture recordings soon after they are posted. It’s very easy to get lost early on otherwise.

Student email and correspondence

It is your responsibility to regularly check your University of Sydney email account. This is the primary means of contact for us and the University to contact you about your unit of study. If something goes wrong for you because you have missed an announcement or email, failure to check your account will not be an excusing condition.

Please note that teaching staff are not obligated to respond to any correspondance outside of work hours.

How to ask questions about the course

The course discussion board is where you should first post any questions you may have about the course (whether about content or administration) before emailing the coordinator or your tutor. The board will be checked each working day during the course. Before you post, check whether your question has already been asked and answered on the board.


Tips for surviving intensive classes

It is important that you understand that the February Intensive is actually quite intense (as the name implies!), and you should be ready for a lot of information to be packed into not very much time. So, we suggest that you pay attention to the following:

1. Watch or attend each and every lecture and be prepared to ask questions. We are covering a lot of ground very quickly, which carries the risk that you could get lost just as quickly. If you are unsure of something, or confused by an argument/topic, ask when it occurs to you rather than waiting to ask later.

2. Use the discussion board If you have any general questions or thoughts about the course content or administration, this is where you should place them first rather than emailing your tutor etc. 

3. Ensure that you do all the required readings before class, and consider reading recommended sources should you have the time. We know that there is a lot of content to cover, and this can seem daunting, but keep in mind that intensive courses cover the same amount of material as ordinary courses—they are just run in a shorter timeframe. The University expects that every course worth 6 credit points should require the same amount of work, regardless of the length of the semester. Furthermore, there is a good chance you won’t be able to understand the lectures without having done the readings.

4. Don’t fall behind! The danger with intensive classes is that if you fall behind early you will remain behind the whole time. Keep on top of the readings, lectures and tutorials and you should do just fine.

A note on absent fails

Something you must be aware of is the University policy regarding Absent Fails (AFs). Despite the name, this rule does not apply only in those cases where you do not attend the requisite classes for the course. To be clear, the rules apply to you under the following circumstances (as drawn from University policy):

Students will be graded an Absent Fail (AF) on their academic record if they fail to:

  • submit a formal request to withdraw or discontinue – not to count as failure (DC) by the relevant census date.

  • complete an exam or submit an assessment task by the prescribed due date.

  • satisfactorily attempt all assessment tasks set out in their units of study

  • meet the minimum class attendance requirement.

The following is worth reiterating: you must satisfactorily attempt all assessment tasks set in this class. You cannot do only a few of the assignments and expect to pass—all assessment tasks must be honestly attempted before the cut-off date. If you do not attempt all assessment tasks in this class you will receive an absent fail.

Also note that it is not the job of the coordinator or your tutor to chase you up and let you know that you are risking an AF. It is your responsibility.

Problems with grading

If you believe that your work has been graded unfairly or otherwise improperly, you should in the first instance contact Caitrin Donovan, the course coordinator. Please see the HPS Canvas portal for details of the HPS re-marking policy and follow them carefully.

The marking (and re-marking) of all submitted work is done anonymously (i.e. the person doing the marking does not know the name of the student or the grade their paper was first assigned). Whatever grade your second marker gives your paper will be your new mark. Please be prepared for the possibility that this grade is lower than your first.

If you want to appeal your mark after this process, please see:

A note on websites

Note that you are expected to use scholarly sources for your assignments. More specifically, you must use peer-reviewed sources. It is for this reason that the only website you go to is the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy ( This is a genuinely peer reviewed resource, and is very useful for getting an in-depth analysis of issues in philosophy, as well as finding articles/books that relate to the topics in class.

All other websites (up to, and including Wikipedia and even the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy) do not qualify as academic sources for this class. This is because they do not exhibit the standards of academic rigour exemplified by the peer review process.

Prescribed readings

All readings and suggested readings will be posted to their respective sections on the unit webpage at Canvas. The reading for each week should be done in advance of your tutorial, and ideally lecture, in order to allow you to participate fully in discussions and exercises.


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.