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Unit of study_

HPSC1001: What is this Thing Called Science?

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.


Academic unit History and Philosophy of Science Academic Operations
Unit code HPSC1001
Unit name What is this Thing Called Science?
Session, year
Intensive February, 2023
Attendance mode Block mode
Location Remote
Credit points 6

Enrolment rules

HPSC2101 or HPSC2901 or HPSC1901
Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff and contact details

Coordinator Anson Fehross,
Guest lecturer(s) Patrick Dawson ,
Lecturer(s) Anson Fehross ,
Tutor(s) Caitrin Donovan ,
Angelica Breviario,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment hurdle task Critical exegesis
20% Week 03
Due date: 05 Feb 2023 at 23:59

Closing date: 15 Feb 2023
700-800 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Assignment hurdle task Essay plan
Outline of essay
15% Week 04
Due date: 12 Feb 2023 at 23:59

Closing date: 22 Feb 2023
500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Assignment hurdle task Essay
Research essay
35% Week 06
Due date: 25 Feb 2023 at 23:59

Closing date: 07 Mar 2023
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: LO3 LO1 LO2
hurdle task = hurdle task ?

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

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.

Special consideration

If you experience short-term circumstances beyond your control, such as illness, injury or misadventure or if you have essential commitments which impact your preparation or performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website provides information on academic honesty, academic dishonesty, 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 dishonesty or plagiarism seriously.

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

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1.1. Introduction to Course and What is Philosophy of Science? Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
1.2. Tools and concepts Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
1.3. Empiricism/Rationalism/Inductivism Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content Week 1 Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 02 2.1. How to Write a Philosophy Paper Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
2.2. Problems of confirmation Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
2.3. Karl Popper's falsificationism Lecture (2 hr)  
2.4. Responses: Alternative views on Demarcation: Lakatos and Thagard Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO3
Content week 2 Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 03 3.1. Thomas Kuhn's revolution Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
3.2. Responses to Kuhn Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
3.3. Rationality and Theory Change Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content week 3 Tutorial (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 04 4.1. Sociology of scientific knowledge Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
4.2. Values, Objectivity, and Social Critiques of Science Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
4.3. Ethics and Science Block teaching (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content week 4 Tutorial (2 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 (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Week 06 6.1. Laws of nature Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
6.2. Case Studies Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
6.3. TBD Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3
Content week 6 Tutorial (2 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).

  • 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.


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.

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
- Greater clarity on expectations for participation marks has been provided, including a scale. - An essay marking rubric is being used, and provided to students.

A note on intensive classes

Each lecture block is 3 hours long (including breaks) corresponding to a week of class during normal semester. These lectures are not mandatory. Having said this, it is highly recommended that you either attend in person or watch the lecture as it goes out live 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 is packed into only a few weeks. I impress upon you: at least watch the lectures. It’s very easy to get lost early on otherwise.

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 convenor.

Student email

It is your responsibility to regularly check your University of Sydney email account or establish a forwarding address on the Sydney system, because this is the primary means of contact for us with you and more generally for the University about your unit of study. If something goes wrong for you because you have not accessed your university email account you will not be excused. Ensure that all replies are sent from your USYD email address.

Also be sure to check into the discussion board regularly for class announcements.

Discussion board

The course discussion board is where you should first post whatever questions you may have about the course (whether about content or administration) before emailing the coordinator. In addition the Canvas site will contain answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the course, as well as tips regarding assignments, etc. 

It is important that you understand that 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:

Tips for surviving intensive classes

  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 frequently. As noted above, the coordinator will be posting on there relatively regularly, and check it several dozen times per day. If you have any questions or thoughts about the course content or administration, this is where you should place it rather than emailing your tutor etc. It is a valuable resource that you should address.
  3. Ensure that you do all the required readings before class, and consider reading recommend 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. Engage with the course, and spend time doing extra reading. As noted below, there will be supplementary readings available, and we suggest that you read beyond these. To do well in this course you should be reading as much as possible!
  5. 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 may not 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 attempt all assessment tasks set in this class. You cannot do only a few of the assignments and expect to pass—all assessment tasks (essays/exegesis and participation) 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 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 Anson Fehross. Please see the HPS Canvas portal for details of the HPS remarking policy and follow them carefully. Bear in mind that all remarking is done ‘blind’ (i.e. the person doing the remarking does not know the original mark nor the name of the student). This means you could end up with a lower mark than the one you began with.

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, the BBC, Wikipedia, Hansard and Senate inquiries, the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia, and so on) 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.

Of course, some exceptions exist.

First, you can go to news websites to find real-life examples of cases that may help illustrate your points. E.g. you might look up recent advances in AI science to help illustrate a point.

Second, if your argument relies upon empirical premises, you are well advised to find some evidence that supports your claim, which may be in the media or other sites. You still should be sure that the statistics or evidence you cite are reliable, as you will have to provide some evidence as to why we should take the evidence the way you suggest. For example, if you make a claim that scientists do not exhibit dogmatic beliefs about their methodologies, you should have some sort of study that actually demonstrates that finding.


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.


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