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Debating Science in Society (HPSC10003)

Undergraduate level 1Points: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelUndergraduate Level 1
Subject codeHPSC10003
Semester 2
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

The university is not just a place to learn facts, it is also a place of argument, where ideas are contested. In this subject students will attend debates conducted by academics arguing about some of the most important issues in contemporary science and society. The subject places scientific debate in the context of current social and cultural issues, and illustrates how current social and cultural thinking is shaped by scientific controversy. Each week we will take up a contentious issue, and students will hear a lecture clearly arguing for one position, followed by a lecture clearly arguing for a different position. In each case your lecturers will do their best to persuade you of their position. The challenge for students in the tutorials and assessment tasks is to judge what is at issue, weigh the evidence, and determine which case is strongest.

Weekly debates will be selected from among the following controversial propositions:

  1. Genetically modified crops are the only way to feed the masses.
  2. Nuclear fuel is the future of energy production.
  3. Science and technology is the path to utopia.
  4. Humans will become Post-human.
  5. The scientific method is the only way to truly know.
  6. Catastrophic climate change can be averted.
  7. There is a physical explanation for everything that exists and everything that happens.
  8. Digital media is making us stupid.
  9. A machine more intelligent than you will exist in your lifetime.
  10. Our history is fundamentally shaped by science and technology.
  11. This has been a waste of time: controversies cannot be resolved through rational debate.

Intended learning outcomes

Students who successfully complete this subject will:

  • Understand that many important issues in science and technology are not settled.
  • Develop an understanding of the particularities of important debates in science and technology, and the reasons that different positions are taken in respect of each issue.
  • Develop the capacity to critically weigh contrasting evidence and argument and to reach defensible and persuasive conclusions based on evidence and argument.
  • Acquire skills in clear, coherent and persuasive written and oral presentation.
  • Begin to develop an understanding of the empirical, methodological, epistemological, and social and cultural foundations of controversies in science and technology

Generic skills

Students who successfully complete this subject will:

  • Develop the clear thinking skills required to assess the validity of an argument.
  • Develop effective written and oral communication and presentation skills.
  • Extend their capacity to read effectively and to conduct wider research.

Last updated: 11 October 2019