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Unit of study_

HPSC1001: What is this Thing Called Science?

Semester 2, 2022 [Normal day] - 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 Maureen O'Malley,
Lecturer(s) Maureen O'Malley,
Tutor(s) Samantha Baker,
Lucia Cafarella,
Eamon Little,
Jules Rankin,
Angelica Breviario,
Eloise Watts,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment hurdle task Essay 3
Written essay
30% Formal exam period
Due date: 14 Nov 2022 at 23:59
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Online task hurdle task Online exercises
Short online tasks. 8/10 must be completed.
10% Multiple weeks Multiple weeks. ~1hr each to complete.
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Participation hurdle task Tutorial participation
Participation during in-class tutorials.
10% Ongoing Weekly. 80% attendance required.
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3
Assignment hurdle task Essay 1
Written essay
20% Week 05
Due date: 04 Sep 2022 at 23:59
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Assignment hurdle task Essay 2
Written essay
30% Week 09
Due date: 02 Oct 2022 at 23:59
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
hurdle task = hurdle task ?

Assessment summary

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

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.

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 Introduction; What is science? Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 02 Correlations and their interpretations Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 03 From correlation to causation Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 04 Evidence hierarchies Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 05 Explanations and inferences Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 06 Models and experiments Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 07 Data versus theory Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 08 Concepts and natural kinds Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 09 Science and social values Lecture and tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 10 Bias in science Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 11 Abuse of science Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 12 Science denial versus scientism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 13 Summary of course Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 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 (see: “Discussion Board” below for more details).

  • Lecture attendance is strongly recommended. It will be offered live, in person and recorded. It will be very difficult to do well in the course without close attention to some form of the lecture. Questions and comments from students are encouraged throughout the lecture.


  • 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. 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.

Tutors will discuss participation marks and how to accumulate them with students.


Discussion Board

  • The discussion board is open to all students. It is an option for students to make up for a missed tutorial. Discussion board posts must reflect familiarity and critical engagement with both the weekly reading material and lectures. Check with the Head Tutor for details.


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.

Essay marking rubric updated. Marking return dates fixed and students informed.


There is one weekly lecture that is 2 hours long (including a break). It will be held both in person and live over Zoom simultaneously, as well as recorded. This gives means as a student, you 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. However, 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.

Student email and correspondence

It is your responsibility to check your University of Sydney email account regularly. 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

  • Raise questions during the lecture (via chat or in person).
  • Bring up issues and questions in the tutorial.
  • Email your tutor. The tutor may suggest you contact the Head Tutor or the Lecturer.

A note on absent fails

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.

You must make a genuine attempt at all assessment tasks set in this class. You cannot do only a few of the assignments and expect to pass. If you do not attempt all assessment tasks in this class you will receive an absent fail.

Problems with marking

If you believe that your work has been marked unfairly or otherwise improperly, you should in the first instance contact your tutor or the Head Tutor.

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:

Prescribed readings

All required readings and suggested readings will be posted on Canvas. The reading for each week should be done in advance of your tutorial and 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.