COM410: Science Communication
108 Davis Hall, Department of Communications Studies, University of Rhode Island, Kingston RI 02881
Phone: 401-874-2970; Fax: 401-874-4722
This syllabus is still being revised (8/29/14)
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:
- How scientific communication within natural science discourse communities is unique and different from ordinary communication.
- How science discourse is misappropriated for purposes of ideology or corporate greed.
- How anti-scientism in the public sphere came to be so widespread and persistent.
- How public policies are impeded by misrepresentation or denial of consensus scientific views.
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.
- Seth Mnookin. 2011. The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. Simon & Schuster. 427 p.
Dr. Logan will have a used paper-back copy of this book for each student at the first meeting: price is $5.
- Kenneth Miller. 2008. Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul. Viking. 244 p.
- Dale Jamieson. 2014. Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—and What it Means for Our Future. Oxford. 266 p.
- Additional readings online, available through links below.
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)
The Rhetoric of Science: Scientists talking to scientists. Scientists talking to the public. Science in the public sphere.
Reading: Mnookin—Introduction, p. 1-20.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccination Coverage Articles and Reports. Note: This page will provide access to reports, FAQ pages, position statements on things like vaccination safety, thimerisol, vaccines and autism, etc.
- "One map sums up the damage caused by the anti-vaccination movement." Lisa Winter. IFLS. Jan. 24, 2014.
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.
"Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases." Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Science 27 September 1974: Vol. 185 no. 4157 pp. 1124-1131. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/185/4157/1124 (PDF here)
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.
- Frontline. Interviews: The Vaccine Wars. Posted April 27, 2010. Interviews with Jenny McCarthy, Anthony Fauci, others.
- Penn & Teller's Bullshit—Vaccinations. Youtube. Uploaded on Aug 16, 2010. "Full version (~30 minutes), Season 8, Ep. 10, Vaccinations. Note: Some language NSFW. Take note of the tone and substance of posted comments. Question: What does the internet do to science discourse? We'll discuss. NSFW = Not Safe For Work...you knew that, right?
- "A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Autism." Madsen et al. New England Journal of Medicine. 347 (19): p. 1477-1482.
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.
- "Adaptive Radiation of a Beloved Icon," MacFadden, B. J. 2005. Science 308: 1728-30. (see fig. 3.1, in Miller, p. 48) (pdf of this article)
- "Embriology: Fluid Flow and Broken Symmetry," Stern, C. D. 2002. Nature 418: 29-30. (see Miller, p. 57-62) (pdf of this article)
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.
- "Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Case No. 04cv2688." (pdf of full ruling) (Wikipedia summary of key points of decision) (see Miller, p. 70-74)
- "Zack Kopplin on Keeping Creationism out of Public Classrooms." Moyers & Co., Mar. 1, 2013. (13:16 video) (printable transcript).
- "RAG1 Core and V(D)J Recombination Signal Sequences Were Derived from Transib Transposons." V. V. Kapitonov and J. Jurka. 2005. Public Library of Science, Biology 3: e181. (see Miller, p. 73.) (Included here as an example of how a critical explanation from the science community is communicated within that discourse community.)
- "Detecting Design in the Natural Sciences." William Dembski. Natural History, Apr. 2002, p. 76. (Included here as an example of how ID is "couched in the language of modern science." (see Miller, p. 74-78)
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.)
Essay: Holy Monkey Business. Due Oct. 28.
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.
- "Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions." Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knuttic, and Pierre Friedlingstein. 2009. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 106: 1704-1709.
- "History of Global Warming and Global Climate Change Awareness." An outline of the major science developments, complementing Jamieson's history from chapter 2.
- IPCC 5th Assessment Report, Home Page: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/
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.
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.
- William R. L. Anderegg, et al. "Expert credibility in climate change" (pdf), PNAS July 6, 2010 vol. 107 no. 27, p. 12107-12109.
- Video: Oreskes, N. 2010. "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscure the Truth about Climate Change" Youtube video of March 2, 2010 presentation at URI (really good production!). ~1 hour. (Audience scans include Dr. Logan and his (now) wife, Caitlin: Can you spot us?)
- "Climategate: the role of the social sciences." (pdf) 2013. Myanna Lahsen. Climatic Change 119: 547-558. (see Jamieson p. 61)
- "Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies." S. Pacala and R. Socolow. Science: 13 August 2004: Vol. 305 no. 5686 pp. 968-972. (see Jamieson, p. 69.)
- Frank Luntz . 2003. Memo on the Environment ("The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America") (pdf of scanned copy, p. 131-145, from "Straight Talk" by Frank Luntz) (see Jamieson, p. 84.)
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.
- "Sustainability & Resource Productivity: Latest Thinking." Website from McKinsey & Co. (see Jamieson, p. 106, footnote 5 (this is a current link; the one cited has changed)).
- "Yale Project on Climate Change Communication." Website from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. (see Jamieson, p. 107, footnote 9.)
- "Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change, Executive Summary" (pdf. see Jamieson p. 110).
Week 12 (Nov. 18, 20)
Reading: Jamieson—Cpt. 6-7, p. 178-238.
Week 13 (Nov. 25)
Thanksgiving Recess is Nov. 27-30. Classes do not meet.
Week 14 (Dec. 2, 4)
Reflection and Resolve
Week 15 (Dec. 8)
Classes end Dec. 8. We do not meet this week.