HPS 2156 Empiricism in Science Spring 2024

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John D. Norton, Department of History and Philosophy of Science,  412 624 5986, jdnorton@pitt.edu
1008C Cathedral of Learning
Wednesday, 2:00-4:30pm

Your Part

Take your turn presenting material

The seminar will be structured around presentations by seminar members, including me. They are based on weekly readings drawn from the topics and reading list.

In presenting a reading, you should presume that the seminar has read the text. You should spend a short amount of time reviewing the principal ideas of the reading. This is not intended to replace the seminar's reading of the text, but merely to identify what you have found of importance and interest in the text. Your goal is establish a common understanding of the text's content upon which subsequent discussion is based.

Term paper

To be submitted by 5pm, Friday April 26, in email.

My policy is NOT to issue incomplete grades, excepting in extraordinary circumstances. I really do want your papers completed and submitted by the end of term. I do not want them to linger on like an overdue dental checkup, filling your lives with unnecessary worry and guilt.

In return for the rigidity of the deadline, the seminar will not meet in the final week of term (Wednesday April 26) to give you extra time to complete the paper.

The paper may be on any subject of relevance to the seminar.

To assist you in commencing work, I ask you submit a paper proposal by Wednesday April 3 in email to me, prior to the start of the seminar. The proposal need only be brief. It should contain a paragraph describing the topic to be investigated and give a brief indication of the sources you intend to use. Do talk to me about possible topics in advance!

Attendance and participation

... is expected. I look forward to seeing and hearing you each week in the seminar.

The number of pages to be read each week has been kept short in order to make it feasible for everyone to do the reading. Please do the reading. Otherwise you will be unable to participate properly in discussion and become a burden on those who have done the readings.

Presentation of Readings

Your goal is to review the essential content of the paper read for the seminar, proceeding with the assumption that the seminar has read the paper in advance.

Your goal is active engagement with the reading. You are to identify what are the major theses, the arguments that support them, the important ideas, and the paper's strengths and the weaknesses.

Your goal is NOT merely to recapitulate passively what you read. "Author says this, then this, then this, then this ..." is unhelpful to the seminar and minimizes what you learn from the reading.

For long readings, it will not be possible to present everything in the paper. Be bold. Select the most important content and concentrate on that. Leave the incidentals. That is better than giving superficial coverage of everything.

My preference is for a presentation to be based on the projection of content on the seminar screen. That way, everyone's attention is drawn to the front of the room and to you speaking.

A common habit is to list "discussion questions." I discourage this. My experience has been that what a presenter thinks is a topic of discussion rarely matches what the seminar thinks. I don't understand why this is so, but it does mean that presenters can save themselves the trouble of trying to think up these questions.

Maximum times have been assigned to each reading. Presentations should keep strictly within these limits so that we can keep to our schedule of two+ papers read per seminar meeting.

To help you focus on what is important and what you have learned, I am asking each presentation to identify "three gems or coals." They are just three items in the reading that you judge noteworthy. The ones that you deem praiseworthy are "gems":


The ones you judge blameworthy are "coals" or "lumps of coal":

How to Present Well

A presentation IS an act of communication.

That means that there are two parties in the act: you and those in the room. The communication goes in two directions. You convey your material to them; and they react by showing various levels of interest and, from time to time, intervening with questions to trigger discussion.

To present well, you should come to the front of the room and stand. Then you tell everyone what you think about the reading. You should look at everyone in the room and make eye contact with them. This is essential if you are to keep communicating. Only then can you see how they are reacting to what you saying. Are they interested? Are they bored? Do they get the little jokes? Does someone have a question? Good! What is it? This opens the discussion.

You will likely have to consult notes as you tell everyone what you think. But the primary mode will be you speaking to the room. Every time your head drops into your notes, you break contact and the presentation is diminished.

Standing is important. It gives you a full view of the room and lets you see if you are holding everyone's interest. It also encourages you to be dynamic in your presentation. Body language is an important amplifier of your message. Think of how you shift your weight forcefully forwards with a key point Those movements are enhanced when you stand.

When you stand, you can also use visual aids well. Old-fashioned "chalk and talk" is still a very effective means of communicating. You stand at the blackboard. The act of writing draws attention to the few key words, symbols or pictures at the core of your story. You then turn to the room and explain, pointing at the key elements. Powerpoints are also good, if used well, especially if you have the "chalk and talk" mindset. They do not work well if all you do is parade huge slabs of text or undifferentiated bullet points.

If you have had little experience speaking, you will likely be nervous. That will soon pass. The more you make it an act of communication, the more it feels like talking to one person only. You will not be talking AT a crowd of strangers. You will be talking WITH a new friend, but many times over in parallel. Your demeanor will shift from nervous recitation to conversation. If you like talking to a friend, you will like talking to this room of new friends. And they will be happy to listen and engage with you.
A presentation is NOT a ritual act of recitation.

It is not an athletic event in which you drive through your content, at breakneck speed, with your head buried in your notes. Then, when your time is up, you are relieved that you have discharged the awful obligation of displaying knowledge of the reading. Your listeners will be relieved as well.

Proper communication requires that you keep your listeners in mind and worry about whether they are keeping up with you or perhaps whether you are just telling them what they all already know. You cannot know which is happening unless you open channels for them to communicate back to you. Pause and let those signals come back to you.

Ask for feedback. "Is that clear?" "Did I go through that too fast?" and even "I'm not sure what to think of X. Should it be Y or Z? What do you think?" Then pause and wait for an answer. Nudge a little if you have to. "Are some of you thinking Y...?"

You cannot do this if you sit at the back of room, with poor lines of sight, with your head buried in your notes.

A handout does enhance a presentation since then those in that room are relieved of the obligation of taking notes. But that is all it does.

If your presentation merely consists of reading or paraphrasing line by line what is in the handout, it will be a tedious imposition on everyone in the room. As the tedium continues and interest in what you are saying flags, the overriding hope in the room is that this display will end soon. It is as awkward and uncomfortable for you presenting as it is for everyone who has to listen to it.

University-wide Policies 

Academic Integrity

Students in this course will be expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s Policy on Academic Integrity. Any student suspected of violating this obligation for any reason during the semester will be required to participate in the procedural process, initiated at the instructor level, as outlined in the University Guidelines on Academic Integrity. This may include, but is not limited to, the confiscation of the examination of any individual suspected of violating University Policy. Furthermore, no student may bring any unauthorized materials to an exam, including dictionaries and programmable calculators.

To learn more about Academic Integrity, visit the Academic Integrity Guide for an overview of the topic. For hands- on practice, complete the Academic Integrity Modules.

Disability Services

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS), 140 William Pitt Union, (412) 648-7890, drsrecep@pitt.edu, (412) 228-5347 for P3 ASL users, as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.