BA Liberal Arts with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Science and the Modern World (20 Credits)

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM10721
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Faculty of Life Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Science has a central role in our cultural, economic and political life. You will reflect on the role of science in the past and in the present through the use of a variety of resources including literature and film.


Using a variety of examples from past and present, this unit explores the place of science in human affairs. By using a non-specialist vocabulary, it helps to understand why we trust scientists and where that reliance comes from historically. It invites to reflect critically on the methods scientific experts use and the influence they exercise in the modern world.

A variety of resources, from scientists’ writings to literature and film will thus be made available to introduce arts, humanities and science students to different ways of understanding science in the past and the present. Through a variety of case studies showing scientists at work the course analyses their ambitions, successes and the controversies that their research engendered. It will thus explore how science confronts politics, religion and culture more generally.

What is science? And why does science have authority in our society and culture? You don’t have to be Einstein to find an answer!

PLEASE NOTE that this course can be taken in 10 or 20 credit versions.

Learning outcomes

Students will have an appreciation of the complexity of the modern sciences in the broad context of their historical development; understand a range of ways of thinking about the sciences and contemporary society and the relationships between them; be able to reflect critically on the role of the sciences in modern culture; develop their communication and group-working skills.


Lectures form a connected series of case studies of various aspects of science in society and culture, based on the following themes:

  • What is Science? An Introduction to the course
  • Who should we trust? The authority of science
  • “This statement is false” is false: truth and method
  • C.U.D.O.S.! Science and ideology.
  • God or Nature? Looking at science and
  • The path towards global warming: Discovering the environment  
  • Show me the money! Science as a commodity
  • Sexist? Science and Gender
  • The Dark Side: War, Secrecy and Surveillance
  • Non-Neutral or Post-Normal? Science and its critics
  • Review of the course

Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set weekly reading. Students are required to conduct groups activities based on their readings, answer questions and discuss the content. They will also prepare weekly a piece of writing that will then form integral part of their final essay.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Employability Skills

This course offers an opportunity to learn creatively and collectively. Your team-working skills will definitely improve as result of coursework activities and so will your leading skills. The research output requested will increase your problem-solving capacity, while it will also give you an invaluable opportunity to improve your writing skills. More significantly, you’ll get up to speed with your knowledge of science and learn to critically review what is being discussed in the media and there will be a significant amount of discussions in the class which will help you to give and accept constructive criticism.

Written Communication

1. Non-assessed one paragraph summaries of the readings which are used to provide students with feedback on their reading and writing abilities. These abstracts are meant to introduce skills that could be applied in essay writing.

2. Essays on select topics, pre-circulated. The essays are 1000 words long and are meant to enable students to produce a short but coherent review of the arguments related to the course. In the running of weekly coursework, students will prepare the sections of their final essay accordingly to the principles of “patchwork assessment”. They will also learn how to write an essay and what literature is available.

3. Students taking this unit as 20credits will additionally learn how to research and write a longer piece.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analytical skills are at the core of all the above exercises. Students taking this unit as a 20 credit module will have an opportunity to further refine these skills as the project requires them to discuss tasks with the course coordinator, investigate in greater detail a specific problem, carry out innovative research and come up with innovative analytical methods to find out the relevant answers.
Essays are based on students' own interests and ideas and it is the requirement of the unit that they offer their own views on existing debates or issues. This ethos is further strengthened by the class discussions. The key in all such exercises is the ability to understand the logic of sustainable claims with relevance to non-scientific discourse.
Oral communication
Students do not have a formal oral presentation in this unit but they are asked to read a text for the seminars during which an oral interaction takes form of a discussion on a topic of relevance for science and society issues - usually on a topical issue such as the role of ideology in science, or the role of laboratory work in the production of biological knowledge. The seminars are lively and sometimes demanding in that they require the skills of real-time dialoguing and defending opposing cases.
Students perform research for essays. They are given a list of initial readings but are not fed into reproducing the consensus. They are told how to use databases, how to avoid unreliable public domain resources and how to develop the criteria for judging the quality of academic work.
Written communication
See transferable skills above
Critical analysis and independent evaluation of arguments in relevant literature. Communication skills developed during seminars. Effective writing skills (abstract summaries) and extended composition for Essays. Independent research, time management and organization of data for Projects. Team work in preparation for in seminars. Effective learning and revision techniques.

Assessment methods

Both lecture and seminar content are assessed by:

  • 1000 word essay (50% of overall mark)
  • 2 hour exam (50% of overall mark)

Students taking this module as 20-credit unit will also prepare a 3000 words essay based on a project that will contribute to 50% of the overall mark (with the remaining assessment items –1000 words essay – 25% of overall mark and exam – 25% of overall mark).

Feedback methods

Students are encouraged to ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff answers queries in the class and also by email or during office hours (contact details in the course handbook or at lectures). All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and comments explaining the rationale for the marks given.

Recommended reading

  • Peter Bowler & Iwan Morus, Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Alan Chalmers, What is This Thing Called Science? Indianapolis: Hackett Publications, 1999
  • Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.3
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 76.7

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Simone Turchetti Unit coordinator

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