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PWR 2JS: In Science We Trust

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Catalog Number: PWR 2JS

Instructor: Jennifer Stonaker

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent


Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

What does it mean to trust science?

A 2015 report from the Pew Research Center showed that 79% of Americans believe that science has positively impacted our society. However, despite this overall positive view of science, the public was less accepting of specific scientific topics. This same report showed that 65% of Americans believe humans have evolved over time (compared to 98% of scientists) and only 50% believe human activity is causing global warming (compared to 87% of scientists). This disconnect between scientists and the public has broad implications for the response to global warming and other core issues facing our society today.

But, while research on climate change and evolution is well-established, how do we trust science when society has questions that science hasn’t yet addressed? As we saw with the coronavirus pandemic, shifting responses to an emerging situation can lead to confusion among the general public. Additionally, how can we reach out to communities that have been historically mistreated by scientists, and who understandably lack trust in scientists and doctors?

In this class, we will explore the complex societal, political, and rhetorical factors that influence how scientific ideas spread and gain acceptance among the general public. In particular, we will focus on science communication, studying how complex information is communicated to different audiences and putting those strategies into practice as you communicate results from your own research project.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5 minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words): Researchers must get funding before beginning a project, often through a proposal to a grant funding agency. In this assignment, you will propose a project to our classroom community and get feedback before beginning your research. The project you propose will explore a specific science communication situation of your choosing. For example, if you are interested in public health, you could propose a project comparing pro- and anti-vaccine rhetoric around mRNA vaccines. Or, if you are interested in climate change, you could propose a project exploring how meteorologists talked about global warming during a recent hurricane season.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages): In the final culmination of your research project, you will share your research findings in a written report. This report could take the form of a standard academic essay, an IMRAD-style scientific paper, or another written genre as applicable to your research project.

Delivery of Research

(10 minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support): In this assignment you will give an oral presentation on your project, like researchers do at conferences. Presentations will include multimedia components such as presentation slides, audio and video clips, or other visual aids. Presenters will participate in a Q&A session after their talk.

Genre/Modes assignment

(Research Log maintained throughout the quarter): All researchers keep records, from filing cabinets of papers to digital laboratory notebooks. The goal of this assignment is to help you organize and reflect on your research. Entries into your log will include reflections on class texts, memos on your work, peer review, storyboards, data visualizations, etc. You will complete log entries both during class and for homework

photo credit of lab vials: Louis Reed