The Vocabulary of Science: First Steps to Science Literacy

Learn to think more critically about science by mastering the language we use to talk about science
Rating: 4.4 out of 5 (108 ratings)
5,130 students
The Vocabulary of Science: First Steps to Science Literacy
Rating: 4.4 out of 5 (108 ratings)
5,131 students
Master the different ways that scientists use key terms like “theory”, “fact”, “law”, “hypothesis”, and “model”
Analyze arguments and fallacies about science that turn on the meaning of these concepts
Build a foundation for understanding science and debates about science
Recognize the most common confusions that people who write about science are prone to make

Requirements

  • No previous knowledge or training is required. Only a sincere interest in learning more about the nature of science and scientific reasoning.
Description

WHAT IS THIS COURSE ABOUT?

Is evolution a theory, a fact, or both? This question has been debated by critics and defenders of evolution for many years.

Some claim that evolution is a theory, not a fact. Others claim that evolution is a fact, not a theory. And still others say that evolution is both a theory and a fact.

What exactly is going on here?

One reason why the debate persists is that people disagree not only on the strength of the evidence for evolution, but also on the meanings of the key terms, “theory” and “fact”.

This course is designed to help you understand and think critically about debates like these, debates about the nature of science that turn on the meanings of scientific terms like “theory”, “fact”, “law”, “hypothesis” and “model”.


ABOUT YOUR INSTRUCTOR

I have 20 years of experience teaching the history and philosophy of science at the university level, but now I work as independent online educator. I have given lectures on the topic of science literacy to national and international audiences.

I have over 30,000 students on Udemy, where I also offer courses on critical thinking and argumentative essay writing.


WHO IS THIS COURSE FOR, AND WHAT WILL YOU LEARN?

This course is for anyone interested in learning more about how a philosopher of science thinks about science and scientific reasoning.

It will be of special interest to science students, science educators of all kinds, and people interested in debates about the nature of science.

In this course you’ll learn the various meanings of the key terms, “theory”, “fact”, “law”, “hypothesis” and “model”, as they're used both within and outside science.

You'll learn the most common confusions made by people who write about science.

And you'll have an opportunity to test your understanding through quizzes and a video critique assignment.


Who this course is for:
  • Science science educators and science enthusiasts of all types
  • Anyone interested in learning how to better communicate with others about scientific issues, and engage constructively in scientific debates
  • Anyone interested in understanding how science really works
  • Anyone interested in the history and philosophy of science
Course content
11 sections • 52 lectures • 4h 14m total length
  • Question: Is Evolution a Theory, a Fact, or Both?
    04:50
  • Why Am I Qualified to Teach This Course?
    02:42
  • Overview of the Course
    02:31
  • Update: Additional Videos on Science Literacy and Science Education
    00:46
  • Section 1
    3 questions
  • An Important Distinction: Epistemically Loaded versus Neutral Language
    06:59
  • Section 2
    3 questions
  • "It's Just a Theory": "Theory" as Down-Player
    02:56
  • "Theories are the Pinnacles of Science": "Theory" as Up-Player
    05:11
  • Why We Need a Neutral Definition of "Theory"
    03:56
  • A Neutral Definition of "Theory": A Classical (But Incomplete) Story
    06:39
  • A Neutral Definition of "Theory": A More Sophisticated Story
    06:13
  • Section 3
    4 questions
  • "You Can't Deny the Facts": A Loaded Definition of "Fact"
    07:20
  • "I Had the Facts Wrong": A Neutral Definition of "Fact"
    04:34
  • Can There Be Theoretical Facts?
    04:48
  • Section 4
    4 questions
  • Loaded Definitions of "Law"
    04:51
  • Examples of Laws in Biology and Psychology
    10:15
  • Examples of Laws in Astronomy and Physics
    07:49
  • Unpacking the Neutral Concept of "Law"
    10:01
  • But Are There Any Laws?
    03:15
  • A Quick Word: Are Laws Explanatory?
    00:31
  • Section 5
    3 questions
  • "That's Just a Hypothesis": A Loaded Definition of "Hypothesis"
    01:38
  • A Neutral Definition of "Hypothesis"
    08:24
  • Section 6
    3 questions
  • Introduction: What is a Model?
    02:19
  • Maps and Models
    07:28
  • Models as Tools for Reasoning About the World
    06:04
  • How Equations Can Be Models
    07:06
  • Is There a Difference Between a Model and a Theory?
    05:09
  • Section 7
    4 questions
  • Introduction: Theories, Models, Truth and Reality
    01:26
  • The Challenge of Interpreting Scientific Theories
    07:45
  • Prediction and Truth: Lessons from Ptolemy
    10:37
  • Prediction and Truth: Lessons from the Kinetic Theory of Gases
    10:20
  • Section 8
    4 questions
  • Assignment: Critique a 7 Minute Video on the Vocabulary of Science
    01:54
  • Part 1: The Motivation for the Video
    03:35
  • Part 2: "Scales of Truthiness"
    00:57
  • Part 3: The Fundamental Error
    01:25
  • Part 4: Problems With Defining Facts in Terms of Observations
    01:26
  • Part 5: Problems With Defining Hypotheses as Starting Points for Inquiry
    01:51
  • Part 6: Problems With Defining Theories as Well-Supported
    02:03
  • Part 7: Problems with Defining Evolution as an Observable Fact
    02:51
  • Part 8: Problems with Defining Laws in Terms of Observations
    02:59
  • Part 9: Can Laws Explain, or Do They Just Describe? Kepler, Newton and Einstein
    05:19
  • Part 10: Analyzing the Last Slide
    02:02
  • Part 11: Who is to Blame?
    01:35
  • Section 9
    6 questions
  • Introduction to the Videos in This Section
    00:44
  • Should We Expect Our Politicians To Be Science Literate?
    09:32
  • Why Most People (Even Science Phds) are Scientifically Illiterate
    16:00
  • A Curriculum For Teaching Genuine Science Literacy: Overview
    01:50
  • The Logic of Science
    03:15
  • The Methods of Science
    09:31
  • The Landscape of Science
    08:22
  • The Ethics of Science
    10:17

Instructor
PhD, Philosopher, Founder of the Critical Thinker Academy
Kevin deLaplante
  • 4.4 Instructor Rating
  • 7,887 Reviews
  • 60,860 Students
  • 4 Courses

I'm a philosopher of science by training, and I've taught philosophy and critical thinking at the university level for twenty years. 

From 2009-2013 I was Chair of the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Iowa State University. 

In 2015 I left my tenured academic job to pursue a career as an independent online educator. I produce video tutorial courses on topics in science, philosophy, critical thinking and communication skills.

I also do consulting and coaching, and run a membership community dedicated to improving our "Argument Ninja" skills!