What is Science? Explaining Nature from Pythagoras to Popper, Stanford, Fall 2007

  • The scavenger-hunt assignments were very interesting! You learn so much when you take charge of the material and need to present it in an informal setting to the class. The readings were so inspiring for discussion: controversial, challenging, incomprehensible at times (in an insightful way). I liked that we read entire primary works and few secondary sources.
  • The best professor I’ve had at Stanford—intelligent, interesting and interested, enthusiastic and endlessly encouraging.
  • An amazing class—such a high level of intellectual stimulation, good discussions, and creative thought.
  • I had such a great time in this class in large part because of McCaskey’s attitude toward the students and willingness to adjust the course to our interests. Showed a lot of passion and enthusiasm about what we were discussing and was really responsive to the student’s thoughts and comments.
  • Personally, I thought a lot of the readings were really tough to get through. I was interested more in ideas rather than how the ideas were presented, so some of the primary sources weren’t always really clear as to what the author was trying to communicate. But reading the primary source is really important and I was glad for that experience as well.
  • I loved it! Such a great group of students, great prof, great material. I learned so much and I’d take it again in a second because I know there’s so much more I could learn.
  • Excellent intuition of students needs. The instructor knows how to ask good questions to help students think through what they were saying. He also knows how to just sit back and listen and let the student discussion take off.
  • I wish we could have not cut out the physics readings... If only the quarter were longer!
  • Papers were excellent to review material and go more in depth in topics that interested the individual student. They were of good length and frequency— well balanced.
  • The course content is excellent and greatly increases the student’s knowledge about history and, especially, helps to think about the current state of science/how science is done today. I really appreciated the thoroughness and intensity of the course! Thank you!!
  • McCaskey’s passion for the material influences his students, and results in an incredibly enjoyable and informative 2 hour discussion seminar.
  • The readings, though occasionally difficult, were refreshing, interesting, and always very different. I felt that after reading and discussing them I could improve upon and analyze my own understanding of science.
  • Prof. McCaskey was fantastic. He was very encouraging and friendly, but he challenged every student to defend the implication of his or her assertions, which was a great exercise in critical thinking and argumentative skills. Prof. McCaskey made the material extremely accessible and engaging.
  • The Aristotle reading was the most difficult, but it was still very worthwhile. Our short digression in the social sciences and chemistry was quite interesting and added to the breadth of the course. I felt that we covered some really important scientific concepts about which I have always been curious (evolution in particular).
  • The workload could be spaced out between weeks a little more evenly, with a little more consideration for when papers are due.
  • The papers were great assignments—they forced me to think critically and creatively about the material, and they really helped me engage with the readings. The number of papers (3) was just right. The final quiz was very easy but still helpful.
  • Fantastic course; my best of the quarter. I’ve learned a lot about the subject of the course, but, more importantly, I’ve learned a great deal about how I think and about how others think. My critical thinking skills benefited greatly from this class.

This is all (not a sample) of the unedited, written comments, both positive and negative, for “What is Science? Explaining Nature from Pythagoras to Popper,” a seminar course on the history of scientific method that I taught at Stanford in fall, 2007. Students were mostly upper-class undergrads. The highlighting is mine.


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