Spring 2014

COM 455: Science and Communication in a Century of Limits

Dr. Patrick Logan, Department of Communication Studies, URI, Kingston RI 02881
Phone: 401-874-2970 | Fax: 401-874-4722 | Email: mayfly@uri.edu | Teaching and Office Hours

Lectures | Assignments & Grading | Weekly Schedule | Current Events


Communication of scientific observations and projections of global resource and environmental limits is focused on persuading formation of publics and social movements needed for widespread action in the 21st century.


We study the science, economics, and communications of climate change; fossil fuel depletion; soil loss; water crises; future food, forests and fisheries; exhaustion of mined ores and minerals; and planetary-scale pollution. We see how scientists observe, reason, and deal with uncertainties, how science is communicated or distorted, and how communications may be used to improve politics and promote effective governance.


Senior or graduate students with varied backgrounds in science and communications. Readings and lectures address knowledge and philosophy, preparing us to focus on how science is conveyed, effectively or not, from science discourse communities to the public. Be prepared for substantial reading and reflective writing. This is an advanced course with high expectations for scholarship.


Students will be better able to



Two weekly classes, a mix of lecture and discussion, focused on analysis of assigned readings. This course is reading and writing intensive; there will be three 2-4 page book critiques, a journal, and a final paper. Grades are also influenced by degree and quality of participation.

SCHEDULE (Spring, 2014) | TTh 3:30-4:45, 180 Pharmacy Bldg.

Course Theme, Topics, Lecture Titles: The central theme of the course is a study of scientific communication and deliberate distortion (miscommunication) of science.

This theme is divided into three topics:

The central theme and topics are illustrated by problems from a spectrum of twenty-first century global significance: climate change; energy production peaks; and the conflict between human population growth and limits on future production of food, water, and natural resources.

Lecture and Discussion Schedule (Spring, 2014—Tues & Thurs, 3:30-4:45, 180 Pharmacy Bldg.)

MeetingsTopics and Lecture Titles
(Note: In the following list, "pdf" links to a 2-column print copy)
Jan. 23Preface: How Did This Course Come to Be? | pdf

I. Science as Discourse Communities and Communication With The Public Sphere

Jan. 28, 30To Be Aware and To Act | pdf
Feb. 4, 6How Science Confronts Doubt, Complexity, and Uncertainty | pdf
Feb. 11, 13What Science Knows About Climate Change and How This is Communicated | pdf
Feb. 25, 27Peak Oil and the Science of Energy Futures | pdf
Mar. 25, 27Will we Have Enough Food and Water? | pdf

II. Systematic Distortion of Science In the Public Sphere:
Manipulating Modern Science and Failing to See the Future

Feb. 18, 20How Contrarians Bend Science for Ideology and Corporate Profit | pdf
Mar. 4, 6Post-peak Energy Alternatives | pdf
Mar. 18, 20How Can We Persuade the Public to Act on Climate and Energy Change? | pdf

III. Scientific Credibility, Importance, and Rhetoric:
Communicating Science and the Formation of Critical Social Movements

Apr. 1, 3After the Era of Fossil Fuels | pdf
Apr. 8, 10Sustain, Transition, or Collapse?
Apr. 15, 17The Twenty-first Century Rhetorical University
Apr. 22, 24A World of Myths and the Long Emergency

Classes end Apr. 29.