Issue 7


Successfully introducing historical narrative into science teaching involves a fine balance between keeping faith with the actual sequence of events and creating a useful and meaningful learning experience for the students. In “How Not to Teach History in Science”, Douglas Allchin sets out some of the pitfalls and problems he has encountered in this endeavour. History is not “simulation”, to coin a word, which is in current vogue. Historical reconstruction is thus subject to bias and distortion from which science is not immune – on the other hand sometimes even wrong ideas can be useful.

Technical competence in solving physics problems is important to students studying physics, but for non-science majors it can be an obstacle to taking even a “low level” course in the physical sciences. In “History and Philosophy of Science in a College Physics Course”, Ron Good and Greg Hussey describe such a course, which though demanding, is less pressured in terms of technical competence. Such courses introduce students to ideas about the historical and philosophical nature of physics and go well beyond the “Astronomy for Poets” type course which, in the past, is the only exposure many students have to any kind of science.

By contrast, in his “Professional Issues” course, James Franklin describes a course he has developed for mathematics students. These types of courses are part of the syllabus for many students in computer science, but are much less common for mathematics majors. It never ceases to amaze me how often university authorities expect lecturers to learn their subject matter by giving a course – even more amazing is how often this works well.

In a piece on philosophy of communication, following the work of Hubert Dreyfus, Karl Leidlmair’s “Knowledge and Noise” explores the effect of the medium in “reverse engineering” knowledge in relation to expert systems. We only know there is a problem sometimes when things go wrong – and this applies to cultural effects of electronic media.

Nigel Sanitt



How Not to Teach History in Science, Douglas Allchin

History and Philosophy of Science in a College Physics Course, Ron Good and Greg Hussey

A “Professional Issues” Course: Grounding Philosophy in Workplace Realities, James Franklin

Knowledge and Noise: The Role of “Disturbance” in Communication, Karl Leidlmair