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THINK 1: The Science of MythBusters

How do scientists actually go about answering practical questions? How does science function as a way of understanding our world, and importantly how does it differ from other approaches? As its point of departure, this course will examine and critique selected episodes of the television series, MythBusters (Discovery Channel), which tests the validity of many popular beliefs in a variety of imaginative ways, including myths, rumors, traditions, and stories. We will take the opportunity to delve more deeply into the applicability of the scientific method in understanding a vast range of real-world problems, and into the practical acquisition of fact-based knowledge, which together form the cornerstone of all science. The intellectual framework of this course will be based, first and foremost, on skeptical inquiry, combined with the other key ingredients of good science, which include: framing the question well, careful experimental design, meticulous observation and measurement, quantitative analysis and modeling, the evaluation of statistical significance, recovery from failure, disseminating findings, and the continuous cycle of hypothesis and testing. Note: This course is taught at an introductory level, but it pays serious attention to the quantitative treatment of experimental data and associated tests of statistical significance. All students taking the course will be expected to learn, and to work a series of problems in, basic probability and statistics. There is also a hands-on, "dorm lab" component that involves some fabrication and a significant amount of individual testing and measurement. The final course project will involve developing and writing a scientific grant proposal to test a myth. We hope to inculcate in our students "a taste for questioning, a sense of observation, intellectual rigor, practice with reasoning, modesty in the face of facts, the ability to distinguish between true and false, and an attachment to logical and precise language. " (Yves Quéré, 2010 Science 330:605).
Terms: Aut | Units: 4 | UG Reqs: THINK, WAY-AQR, WAY-SMA | Grading: Letter (ABCD/NP)
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