When Science isn’t Simple

One of the earliest lessons we learn in our training as scientists is to accept the simplest explanation of evidence, rather than assuming a more complicated solution. We call this “Occam’s Razor,” and it is repeated in class after class.

But the world is complicated. What happens when our simple explanations don’t capture the entire picture? Dr. Angela Potochnik, Director of the Center for Public Engagement with Science, explores this complexity in her new article “Constructing an Ideal Reality.”

“Idealizations like these make it possible for scientists to focus in on one or a few factors in a sea of complexity in order to get a handle on how those factors are relevant and perhaps to use them as ‘levers’ for change. Where we go wrong—and “we” here includes many scientists, philosophers, policy-makers, and others—is in assuming that our simple explanations provide the full story. “

Phil 1032: How Science Works

As fall semester nears, we want to highlight How Science Works, an undergraduate course at the University of Cincinnati. This course is offered by the philosophy department, and it satisfies natural sciences and quantitative reasoning general education requirements (NS and QR BOKs, in UC lingo). The course also is an opportunity for more science-focused students to engage explicitly with the methodology of science, with examples from across fields of science and historical epochs.

How Science Works is offered every semester, typically in person in fall semesters and online in spring semesters. This fall, there is a fully online section without any required meetings, as well as a section with some meetings that are planned to occur in person if circumstances allow.

Please consider finding room in your schedule for this course if you are an undergraduate student at UC, and others at UC: please encourage students who would benefit from this course to enroll—whether this semester or a future semester.

For more information, see the course page (link) on the Center website.