The story broke after the Institute of Ideas, a think tank, published a report in which scientific luminaries including Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial college, and Baroness Warnock, the philosopher, criticised the exams.
The 21st-century science course, they said, taught pupils too little about basic scientific concepts to be of much use either to the next generation of scientists or to the average teenager. They said it was replacing experimental work and the teaching of fundamental scientific principles with debate about the "impact of science and technology on modern life".
The course encourages pupils to debate topical issues such as biotechnology, the MMR vaccine controversy and global warming.
Instead of all students taking the same course, they study a compulsory core GCSE, and then opt for either a more theoretical, or an applied, second exam.
Sheila Curtis, head of science at an east London comprehensive, said: "If anything, the new GCSE is more rigorous than previous courses. We are teaching concepts in physics normally taught at A2."
Madeleine Walton, a science adviser at Durham council, said: "I wish it had been devised 30 years ago. The response from children was amazing. It just seems ill-informed to criticise."
Dr Sarah Lindfield, head of science at the private St Paul's girls', London, said: "It's the best spec we could be teaching them and has rigour at every level."
Emma Midforth, 14, in Year 10, at St Paul's, said: "It relates to the news and so it's more interesting."
The course has taken 10 years to develop, through the Nuffield Curriculum Centre and York university, with backing from Salters', the livery company, and the Wellcome Trust.
Martin Stephen, high master of the private St Paul's school, in Barnes, west London, said: "The new GCSEs are to real science what baby food is to steak and chips."
Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, said that the new courses were "really exciting" and had "great potential", so long as schools did not teach only the core GCSE.