Principles of Basic Science


Why do some things matter more than others?

The purpose of this guided discussion/seminar course is to identify and understand what scientific thinking is and to describe how it is applied to the discovery of new knowledge. Thomas Kuhn’s “the Structure of Scientific Revolutions” will serve as theoretical framework. We will explore central ideas in the method and progress of science and analyze papers from this point of view. In turn, we will discuss the “reproducibility crisis” in modern science and try to understand the social and psychological factors that contribute to it. Finally, through open discussion, we will try to understand how we can best conduct ourselves within this framework. What is it that scientists should aspire to?

It is a strict requirement that all students do the reading, in full, before each class. Students should come to class with opinions about the reading material and be prepared to discuss them.


1. The progress of science (one 2 hour class – lecture/discussion).

To read before class:
Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Gerstein library: Q175 .K95
OISE library:  501 K96S
Indigo: $20 paper back; $62.50 hard cover

2. The scientific method as paradigm (one 2 hour class –lecture/discussion)

To read before class:

3. Readings (three 2 hour classes – student presentations).

We will take up 6 papers in class:

Rossant J. et al., 1983. J. Embryol. Exp. Morp. 73. 179-91
Davies, J. 1965,. PNAS 51: 883-90
Mandelstam, P et al. 1962. J. Biol. Chem. 237: 2683-8.
Meselsohn and Stahl, 1958. PNAS 44:671-82
Parma et al., 1992. Genes & Dev. 6:497-510
Roeder and Rutter, 1969. Nature 224 : 234-7

Students will present one paper each and will emphasize how the paper fits into the views we have established about the progress of research. The presenter is expected to explain the paper with reference to the scientific context in which the work was done – how was the work revolutionary in its time? What technical or theoretical advance sets this work head and shoulders above the mainstream? Does it establish a new paradigm or elaborate one that is already known? What is the paradigm that the work relates to? How did the paper influence the field?

Every student is expected to understand and help discuss each paper in detail.

4. Lying to ourselves and others – what goes wrong and how often does it happen? (one two hour class)

To read before class:
Begley and Ellis 2012. Nature 483:531-33

5. Open discussion: what is it that we aspire to? (one two hour class)

You will briefly describe the overarching question in your own research using the terms in The Structure of Scientific Research. How does your work fit, or not fit Kuhn’s idea of “Normal Science”? Are you seeking to establish a new paradigm and, if so, what is the anomaly that led to the need for this effort? Are you elaborating on an established paradigm and, if so, what is it and how are you doing so?

1,500 words, due December 4th at 5 pm




SIGN UP: Please click HERE  to request this course


Add date – Deadline to submit request – August 21, 2020
Drop date – Due to the required reading prior to classes students must notify the course coordinator before the end of September to allow sufficient time for other waitlisted students to read material prior to first class.

Course Next Offered

November 2020

Course Time and Location

Mondays, 10AM-Noon
November 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th
December 7th, 14th

All classes with be delivered remotely.

Enrollment Limit

Yes — 6

All are expected to do the reading, in full, in advance of class – failing to do so will result in expulsion with no exceptions. All students are expected to attend all classes and actively participate in the discussion. Students should come to class with opinions about the reading material in hand.

Method of Student Evaluation

40% class participation
30% in-class paper presentation
30% Essay: what’s your paradigm?


Justin Nodwell

Justin Nodwell

Medical Sciences Building
1 King's College Circle

Last Updated 14 September 2020