Senior Seminar

PHIL 4901. Section 101. Ohio University, Spring 2021.

Seminar Meetings on Microsoft Teams, TTh 4:35–5:55pm (EST).
Instructor: Dr. Yoichi Ishida.
For office hours, click the menu on the left.

Course Description

In this seminar, we will explore three related themes: the historical development of scientific objectivity, the cultural production of ignorance about scientific issues, and the public trust in science. In particular, using the methods of history and philosophy of science, we will study kinds of objectivity and their historical origins, types of ignorance and mechanisms of their production, and a variety of arguments for and against the trustworthiness of science.

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Describe the philosophical and historical questions discussed in the readings.
  2. Describe different positions one might take in response to these questions.
  3. Summarize arguments for and against these positions.
  4. Analyze and evaluate arguments for and against various positions discussed in the course.
  5. Express your own position in a clear and concise piece of writing.

Technology Requirements

This course is offered online through this website, Blackboard, Microsoft Teams, Perusall, and Top Hat (if applicable). To be successful, you will need to have reliable internet and a computer with audio and video capabilities. You will also need to have Microsoft Word (or equivalent) to do assignments.


All readings will be available on Perusall. The login information will be emailed. The principal readings will be drawn from the following books:

  1. Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison. Objectivity. New York: Zone Books, 2007. ISBN: 189095179X
  2. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN: 1608193942
  3. Naomi Oreskes. Why Trust Science? Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. ISBN: 069117900X

We will also read a few selections from the following collections:

  1. Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger, editors. Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 0804759014
  2. Janet Kourany and Martin Carrier, editors. Science and the Production of Ignorance: When the Quest for Knowledge Is Thwarted. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020. ISBN: 0262538210

The writing assignments will be based on ideas from:

  1. Joseph M. Williams. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
  2. David R. Morrow and Anthony Weston. A Workbook for Arguments. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2011.

Course Policies

Assignments and Final Grade

The assignments listed in Table 1 below are required in this course, and your final grade will be calculated according to Table 2.

AssignmentsDue DatesWeights
AttendanceEvery scheduled meeting15%
AnnotationsEvery reading assignment40%
Writing Workshop Assignment 1By the end of Week 45%
Writing Workshop Assignment 2By the end of Week 710%
Writing Workshop Assignment 3By the end of Week 1015%
Writing Workshop Assignment 4By the end of April 3015%
Table 1: The assignments and their due dates in this course. Weights are percentages of the final grade.

Annotations: For each reading assignment, excluding the readings for the writing workshops, you will make annotations on the social annotation platform Perusall. You can start a new annotation thread in Perusall by highlighting text, asking a question, or posting a comment. You can also add a reply or comment to an existing thread. Each thread is like a chat with one or more members of your class, and it happens in real time. For full credit, you are to make at least three (3) substantive annotations per assignment. A substantive annotation demonstrates your understanding of the text and clearly describes your own thoughts or questions on a specific part of an assigned reading. You can also comment on other students’ annotations, and high commentary activities will be counted favorably toward your final grade (see below).

Writing Workshop Assignments: In each writing workshop, we will learn some principles for writing a clear, concise, and direct prose. These principles are not ironclad rules. Rather, they serve as helpful guides for revising your own writing. To help you use these principles, there will be writing assignments for each workshop, except for the first one. For each assignment, you will produce and revise a very short piece of text, which is to be written in the style of a letter to the editor, and we will look at your text in class following the format of critiques in art education. Specific topics and instructions will be given as we progress in the course.

A93 or aboveC73–76
C+77–79F59 or below
Table 2: The letter grades and percentages. Your percentage points will be rounded to the nearest one (e.g., 92.5 is rounded up to 93; 89.4 is rounded down to 89).

Although not formalized in these tables, your improvements over the course of the semester and exceptionally good participation in class or commentary on other students’ annotations will count favorably toward your final grade.


This is a hybrid course. In general, we meet on Thursdays, and you work independently the rest of the week. But there are several writing workshops scheduled on Tuesdays. You can download a tentative overview of schedules, but for up-to-date assignments, consult weekly pages below.

Week 1: Introduction

Part I: Emergence of Scientific Objectivity

Week 2: Epistemologies of the Eye

Week 3: Truth to Nature; Writing Workshop 1 (Tuesday)

Week 4: Mechanical Objectivity

Week 5: Mechanical Objectivity; Writing Workshop 2 (Tuesday)

Week 6: The Scientific Self

Week 7: Trained Judgment

Week 8: Writing Workshop 3 (Tuesday)

Week 9: Truth, Objectivity, and Judgment

Part II: Agnotology, or the Study of the Cultural Production of Ignorance

Week 10: Introduction to Agnotology

Week 11: Merchants of Doubt; Writing Workshop 4 (Tuesday)

Week 12: Merchants of Doubt

Part III: Why Trust Science?

Week 13: Why Trust Science?

Week 14: Objectivity, Consensus, and Values in Science; Writing Workshop 5 (Tuesday)