Most Helpful Review
I took Smeenk for Philosophy of Science and came away very impressed. His lectures were a bit boring in the beginning of the course, but once he stopped using Powerpoint presentations they were great. He presents every topic, both simple and difficult, clearly and completely, and it is always evident that he wants the students to understand the material. The material itself was excellent for the most part, which is good... because there was a lot of it. expect to read 3 standard sized books, as well as another 2 or 3 books worth of material from the course reader. All of the articles and excerps from the course reader were great, and all of the books, except the one by Hempel (which I though was very dry in style) were excellent.
For the exams,he does expect you to know the material well, but he is very fair. He makes sure to not test on any topics that he feels might not have been completely clear to the students (such as some of the details of quantum mechanics), and the exams are designed to see if the students know what is important. He doesn't put obscure, unimportant or trivial questions on the exams. If you have paid attention during lecture and done some of the reading, you should do fine, and if you did all of the reading, you should do very well. Just know the important components of each philosophers arguments, and which philosopher was a proponent of which argument. There was also one medium- sized paper, and to do well on it one just needs to make sure that they make a clear philosophical argument and support. No fluffy language or fuzzy logic. If the paper makes a clear argument and supports it, you'll do fine.
Overall, I loved the course. I enjoyed the material, did the reading, went to lecture and ended up with an A+ without ever having to kill myself with work. Smeenk is a very kind man with a bit of a boyish, country charm (he grew up on a farm), and for his first quarter, he did an outstanding job. He was more organized and a better lecturer than most of the other professors I have had here. Highly reccommended if you're even remotely interested in the subject. Not to mention, that a course in philosophy of science is invaluable, and after taking it, it will penetrate and enhance your understanding of almost every other course you take, especially other science courses. You won't ever think about science in the same way... and that's a good thing.
Most Helpful Review
He seems to be one of the more casual philosophy professors in terms of his lecture style,maybe because he's younger than most of them. He seems to present each topic so that everyone can understand. For those interested in math or science previously to this class it seems a little easy and you see a side of math and science you never saw before. Learning the philisophical side of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein can be very interesting. For those not interested in science or math at all, his lectures and examples are still fairly basic and clear. His reading may be a bit much, and is complememtary to lectures, it is not entirely necessary for the papers, but it is for the in class tests. So depending on his grading style, mainly whether or not he has an in class final, the reading can be simply complementary, or necessary.
Most Helpful Review
Smeenk is a nice guy. Very helpful. His class, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.
Philosophy of Science, right? Wrong. Try "History of Science" or "Science of Science". I actually think the best name for the class would be "Science, with Interesting Questions". If you are generally bad at science: BEWARE. In this class, we use vector calculus and other things that I haven't heard since high school calculus and have mostly forgotten. Math/physics majors are better suited for this class than Philosophy majors.
If you are planning on taking one of his classes, I encourage you to talk to him before the course begins and ask about the specific content of the class and what sort of a knowledge base he is expecting from his students. If I had known that "Philosophy of Science" was going to focus on quantum mechanics and theory, I would have never signed up for it. But I'm there, I'm stuck, and my GPA is going to take a serious thrashing.
If Prof. Smeenk ever reads this, PLEASE add more philosophy to your philosophy classes and make the material, itself, more accessible. I am worried that the actual philosophy of science is not being discussed in any undergraduate courses at UCLA; which is a shame because it is really a very interesting subject. Also, Prof. Smeenk, on behalf of those who had to drop Phil 131 because of its content, you need to add the appropriate prerequisites to your courses. I know two people that dropped because they didn't know calculus, which was necessary for the class but not required to enroll. It's only fair to make those things required if your course depends on them.