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University Bulletin
Undergraduate Degree Programs

These course descriptions are not being updated as of August 1, 2016. Current course descriptions are maintained in LionPATH.

Science (SC)

SC 200 (GN) Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy (3) A science appreciation course, aimed at making non-scientists more informed consumers of science.

SC 200 Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy (3)

Science is frequently in the news. That’s because it affects our everyday lives, shapes our view of the world and our place in it, and will have a profound impact on our future. This course teaches an appreciation of science and scientific thinking. It is aimed at making non-scientists more informed consumers of science by improving their ability to distinguish good science from bad science, and science from non-science. The course assumes no background knowledge. It is not for scientists. Teaching is delivered by case studies of controversies within science and/or the public domain, some of which are resolved, some of which are not. The first section of the course illustrates general principles by studying arguments now largely resolved, but which still resonate, such as child health and IQ, smoking, and why the peacock has such a ridiculous tail. The second section focuses on unresolved scientific controversies which might include climate change, personalized genetic medicine, passive smoking, nanotechnology, the scientific evaluation of the healing power of prayer, or deer management in Pennsylvania. The third section evaluates unresolved scientific issues in the contemporary media: why it is in the news, what are the scientists involved actually doing and arguing about, and how is the media is handling the science? This will be likely focused on real time analysis of media reaction to a scientific paper published by PSU faculty during the course. The fourth section will discuss paradigm shifts which have occurred during the students’ lifetimes, particularly those involving our view of ourselves and our universe, and end by speculating on the paradigm shifts that could occur in the next twenty years. The course will draw on experts from within and outside of PSU. Throughout, the focus is on the nature of the debates, looking at how scientists evaluate problems, and why that can generate controversy within science and beyond science – but at the same time, generate knowledge which profoundly affects our well being and our understanding of ourselves.

General Education: GN
Diversity: None
Bachelor of Arts: None
Effective: Summer 2010

Note : Class size, frequency of offering, and evaluation methods will vary by location and instructor. For these details check the specific course syllabus.


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Course descriptions are stored in LionPATH, the University-wide student information system. Please visit the LionPATH Course Catalog to access current course descriptions. At that point, you will be leaving the University Bulletin website.

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