GCH104—"Communications and Science in a Century of Limits"
Fall 2013

Dr. Patrick Logan
Department of Communication Studies, 108 Davis Hall
Phone: 401-874-2970; Fax: 401-874-4722 | Email:

Course description: The science, public policy, and communications of peak oil, climate change, and planetary limits to human population growth illustrate a critical disconnection between awareness within the sciences and action by the public. The language and culture of natural sciences effectively communicate observations and reasoning within closed intellectual discourse communities, allowing scientists to cope successfully with uncertainty and complexity. The same language and culture, however, fail to create appropriate public awareness; the public social regulatory mechanisms of politics, the economy, and education fail to persuade more rational collective human behavior capable of addressing the 21st Century predicament of human demands conflicting with world ecological and resource limits. This course investigates the causes and consequences of the underlying problem of humanity's greatest failure to communicate, in an effort to use communications—specifically an analysis of the credibility, importance, and rhetorical effectiveness of scientific claims—to persuade rational social movements.

Grand Challenge Course: Freshman Grand Challenge courses examine problems of global significance. This course focuses on the failure of the natural sciences to communicate effectively to world governments, a disconnection between critical awareness and essential public policy and social action.

General Education Core Knowledge Area: This course is a general education course in the Social Sciences knowledge area, "related to the study of human development and behavior and varying social, economic, cultural, and political solutions to societal and global problems." Human society in the 21st century is facing severe limits of resources, space, the natural environment, and planetary climate. Science, as it is recognized among scientists, is misunderstood or systematically distorted in human politics, economics, and society. Science is aware of immense implications of 21st century planetary limits but has thus far failed to change collective human behavior. Asking why? and What can we do about this? is the focus of our semester.

General Education Integrated Skills:

Prerequisites: Freshmen class standing or approved transfer student.

Learning Outcomes: Students will be better able to:

Text: "Communicating the Science of Global Limits" (online lectures, see below).

Format: Lecture and discussion.

Grading: (see Assignments & Grading).

Special Needs: Any student with a documented disability is welcome to contact me as early in the semester as possible so that we may arrange reasonable accommodations. See also, Disability Services, Office of Student Life, 330 Memorial Union. Phone: 401-874-2098 (for TT access call R.I. Relay at 1-800-745-5555); email

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.

Schedule (Fall, 2013—Tues & Thurs, 9:30-10:45, 204 Swan)

MeetingsTopics and Lecture Titles
(Note: In the following list, "pdf" links to a 2-column print copy)
 Table of contents for printed pages (pdf)
Sep. 5Preface: How Did This Course Come to Be? | pdf

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

Sep. 10,12To Be Aware and To Act | pdf
Sep. 17, 19How Science Confronts Doubt, Complexity, and Uncertainty | pdf
Sep. 24, 26What Science Knows About Climate Change and How This is Communicated | pdf
Oct. 8, 10Peak Oil and the Science of Energy Futures | pdf
Oct. 29, 31Will we Have Enough Food and Water? | pdf

II. Systematic Distortion of Science In the Public Sphere:
How and Why Contrarians and Ideologues Manipulate Science

Oct. 1, 3How Contrarians Bend Science for Ideology and Corporate Profit | pdf
Oct. 15, 17Post-peak Energy Alternatives | pdf
Oct. 22, 24How Can We Persuade the Public to Act on Climate and Energy Change? | pdf

III. Scientific Credibility, Importance, and Rhetoric and the Formation of Social Movements

Nov. 5, 7After the Era of Fossil Fuels | pdf
Nov. 12, 14Sustain, Transition, or Collapse?
Nov. 19, 21The Twenty-first Century Rhetorical University
Nov. 26A World of Myths and the Long Emergency
Dec. 3, 5Personal and Social Responsibility in the Century of Limits.

Classes end Dec. 9: We do not meet that week.