Fall 2014

COM410: Science Communication

Assignments | Office Hours | Dr. Logan | Current Events | Polls
Dr. Patrick Logan
108 Davis Hall, Department of Communications Studies, University of Rhode Island, Kingston RI 02881
Phone: 401-874-2970; Fax: 401-874-4722
Email: mayfly@uri.edu


The evolution, craft, and status of communication within science discourse communities and with the public. Analysis of contemporary factors inhibiting public science literacy and science in policy and politics.


Science dominates 21st century discourse, making us aware of the world around us in unique ways. As vital as science is, it remains challenged in its ability to inform the public via education, broadcast and internet media, or to inform public policy. Specifically, this course focuses on improving understanding in the following areas:

The exact examples used to illustrate these areas will change each semester. This Fall we will deal with science and communication about vaccinations, evolution, and climate change, as they are currently treated by scientists and in the public sphere.



Classes use lectures and discussions. Readings are assigned in advance; they will provide the focus of most classes. Occasional reference to relevant current events will also enter classroom discussion.


Brief topical essays and a term paper will form the primary basis for a course grade. Attendance, participation, and evidence of preparation for class will also matter. (Details)


The course is intended for advanced undergraduate or graduate students in communication studies or natural science.

SCHEDULE (Fall 2014)

Tuesday, Thursday, 12:30-1:45, 104 Quinn Hall

Public Science in the Age of the Internet

Week 1 (Sept. 4)
Science, Discourse Communities, Public Sphere: The Semester's Scope

Introduction: Logan—Introduction to Science and Science Communication. (notes)

Week 2 (Sept. 9, 11)
Communicating Science

The Rhetoric of Science: Scientists talking to scientists. Scientists talking to the public. Science in the public sphere.

Reading: Mnookin—Introduction, p. 1-20.


Week 3 (Sept.16, 18)
To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

The Evolution of Modern Vaccines: The view from medicine. Big pharm.

Science and Uncertainty: Deterministic and Stochastic Universes from Newton to Darwin to 2014.

Reading: Mnookin—Part I, p. 23-96.


Week 4 (Sept. 23, 25)
Positive Asymmetry and The Search for Happiness

Autism and the Internet: Seeking different answers when you don't like the ones you have.

The Happiness Cult: Is it UnAmerican to be Pessimistic or Realistic?

Of Two Minds: Left-brain and right-brain—What Determines Human Awareness?

Reading: Mnookin—Part II, p.99-200.


Week 5 (Sept. 30, Oct. 2)
Public Policy and the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Epidemiology in the 21st Century: Managing Global Plagues on a Crowded Planet.

Herd Immunity and Individual Freedom: The Ethics and Rhetoric of Publicly Mandated Vaccinations.

Reading: Mnookin—Part III, p. 203-308.

Essay: Viral Miscommunication. Due Oct. 7.

Science Confronting Scientism

Week 6 (Oct. 7, 9)
"...the cutting edge of a dangerous and destructive materialism."

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Is the world, or is it not, the work of a clockmaker?

Reading: Miller—Cpts. 1-3, p. 1-87.


Week 7 (Oct. 14, 16)

Oct. 13 is Columbus Day. Classes do not meet and there is no make-up day.

"...above mere personal incredulity...": Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board.

Reading: Miller—Cpts. 4-6, p. 88-164.


Week 8 (Oct. 21, 23)

Science in America: Intelligent Design and the science classroom.

Reading: Miller—Cpts. 7-8, p. 165-221.

Background: "The Wedge" (document). 1999. Committee for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Discovery Institute. (see Miller, p. 176-188.)

Should Science Fail, What Does the Future Hold?

Week 9 (Oct. 28, 30)
Antiscience in the Public Sphere

The Consensus: "We are stuck with climate change" (Jamieson, preface). How stuck are we, science?

Reading: Jamieson—Cpts. 1-2, p. 1-60.


I suggest that you read the Summary for Policy Makers for WGI (28 page pdf), or the summaries for WGII & III. We will discuss the science in class.

Essay: Holy Monkey Business. Due Oct. 30.

Week 10 (Nov. 4, 6)
Obstacles Preventing Awareness from Becoming Action.

Awareness: Is there a scientific consensus on climate change and its causes?

Obstacles: What blocks connection between science discourse communities and policy makers?

Reading: Jamieson—Cpt. 3, p. 61-104.


Week 11 (Nov. 12, 13)
Economics and Ethics as Catalysts for Action.

Nov. 11 is Veteran's Day. Tuesday classes meet on Wednesday.

Saving Money: Slowing climate change while improving U.S. long-run productivity.

Reading: Jamieson—Cpts. 4-5, p. 105-177.


Week 12 (Nov. 18, 20)
Guides for Action in the Anthropocene

Individual ethics, respect for nature, global fairness in the Anthropocene: Does it matter what I do?

The road ahead: "A motley collection of policies and practices."

Reading: Jamieson—Cpt. 6-7, p. 178-238.


Week 13 (Nov. 25)
Talking Turkey

Thanksgiving Recess is Nov. 27-30. Classes do not meet.

Discussion: Preparation for a Thanksgiving holiday assignment to be conducted over Thanksgiving Recess (optional, but highly recommended).

Week 14 (Dec. 2, 4)
Reflection and Resolve

This week is reserved for discussion of journals and free discussion of topics of interest proposed by the class.

Week 15 (Dec. 8)

Classes end Dec. 8. We do not meet this week.