Physics 459, Spring 2010 Section 2: Honors seminar: Pseudoscience

Physics 459, Spring 2010
Section 2: Honors seminar: Pseudoscience
Prof. Suzanne Willis, Department of Physics, 753-6481
Texts: Counterknowledge: How we surrendered to conspiracy theories, quack medicine, bogus
science, and fake history, Damian Thompson
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time,
Michael Shermer
Will the world really end in 2012, as the Mayan calendar predicts?
How could commercial airliners destroy modern skyscrapers without some kind of extra explosives?
Isn’t there some truth to astrology?
Isn’t the theory of evolution contradicted by the second law of thermodynamics?
Why won’t the automakers build higher-mileage cars?
Aren’t some people really psychic?
We will discuss the differences between science and pseudoscience; emerging science vs. fringe science,
and how to identify whether something is pseudoscience, developing science, or not yet proven. What is
plausible, and what is nonsense?
In addition to the two texts, we will look at contemporary issues from the popular press and current
The class will include reading, writing, and class discussion, culminating in a research paper on a topic of
the student’s choice.