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PWR 2MFC: March for Science? Social Justice and the Rhetoric of Science

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Dr. Formato discusses the theme of PWR2MFC

Catalog Number: PWR 2MFC

Instructor: Megan Formato

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

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


Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

We are often taught that science is a form of knowledge set aside from, not just from the humanities and arts, but also the whole messy world outside of the laboratory.  The fact that science is considered to operate objectively above the “fuzzy fray” has invested it with both neutrality and authority. But is science really so separate? And what are the costs of imagining such a clean line between science and our social world?

Recent conversations about diversity and inclusion in STEM fields, events like the Science March in 2017, and headlines about words that can and cannot used by the Center for Disease Control point to just some of the ways in which science and technology might be more political than we at first imagine. 

In this course, we will think together about these questions by closely considering moments when science and social justice have been bound up together. But does thinking of science as an activity that has implications for social justice risk discrediting it as a form of knowledge? How might considering the social and political dimensions of knowledge strengthen the role of science in our society?

To answer these difficult questions, we’ll read Safia Noble’s new work, Algorithms of Oppression, which examines data discrimination in search engines. We’ll read about mainstream biology’s complicity in the formation and practice of eugenics in early the 20th century and watch oral presentations by scholars who trace the impacts of eugenics on racial disparities in healthcare today. What can we learn from moments when the objectivity of science has been used as cover for institutional racism? How can we prevent this from happening again?

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words): You will propose a topic for an interdisciplinary research-based argument that examines a way that science and social justice intersect; your project should aim to answer how science has facilitated social justice or, by contrast, perpetuated colonialism, oppression, or inequality. Proposals will identify relevant scholarship and primary sources, and pose research questions. Potential topics include the use of racially-biased algorithms in the criminal justice system, establishment of scientific laboratories and observatories on native land, citizen science movements, AIDS activists’ advocacy for research and treatment, and the atomic physicists who raised concerns about nuclear proliferation after WWII. <br><br>

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages): After presenting your proposal, you will pursue research on your topic and craft a convincing and well-researched academic essay. Your essay will draw on analysis of primary sources and relevant secondary source to support and contextualize its argument. <br><br>

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support): You will then translate your research-based argument into an oral presentation, which you will deliver at the end of the quarter.

Genre/Modes assignment

(600-900 words or 2-3 pages):This thick description assignment is a more creative opportunity to focus on a specific moment or person in your research and show it to your reader in vivid detail.