37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 4 HAD Posters
HAD Posters, Monday, September 5, 2005, 11:00am-5:30pm, Umney Theatre Foyer

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[4.03] The Copernican Revolution as Story: an Antidote for Scientific Illiteracy

P. M. Wallace (Berry College)

``When a white-robed scientist, momentarily looking away from his microscope or cyclotron [or telescope], makes some pronouncement for the general public, he may not be understood but at least he is certain to be believed.'' The truth of this opening sentence of Anthony Standen's 1950 book Science is a Sacred Cow, as clear today as it was then, is the motivation for a new astronomy course at Berry College near Atlanta, GA, USA. To non-scientists, science is known by its products, not by what it is: a human progress. For this illiteracy an antidote is offered: the history of astronomy. In this course the story of the Copernican Revolution is told, for within this story the true nature of science can be found in its fullness. For example, Aristotle's uniform circular motion is used to emphasize the role of assumptions, and the occasional value of wrong ideas is evident in Tycho's theory and in Kepler's universe of perfect solids. Tycho's observations of Mars and Kepler's analysis illustrate the interplay of observation, theory, and technology. As a final example, the indirectness and often-unintentional nature of scientific advance can be seen in the work of Copernicus. The roles of personality and the intersections of science and society are themes throughout the course, as are the merging of disparate fields and the power of strong theories. There are other themes (e.g., coherence, the role of mathematics), but the emphasis is on the science and much of the work is quantitative. There is a laboratory component that features observations and experiments, and in order to bring the narrative to life the class spends two weeks in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Italy, touring sites that are relevant to the story of the Copernican Revolution.

If you would like more information about this abstract, please follow the link to http://fsweb.berry.edu/academic/mans/pwallace/astronomy120.html. This link was provided by the author. When you follow it, you will leave the Web site for this meeting; to return, you should use the Back comand on your browser.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.