BSc Molecular Biology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Science & the Modern World

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM10221
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

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

This unit explores the place of science in human affairs using examples from the past and present. It uses non-specialist vocabulary to help us understand why we trust scientists and where that reliance comes from historically. It also invites you to reflect critically on the methods scientific experts use and the influence they exercise in the modern world.

Through a variety of case studies showing scientists at work, this unit analyses their ambitions, successes and the controversies that their research created. A variety of resources, from scientists’ writings to literature and film, will be used to introduce both humanities and science students to different ways of understanding science in the past and the present.

Aims

This unit explores the place of science in human affairs using examples from the past and present. It uses non-specialist vocabulary to help us understand why we trust scientists and where that reliance comes from historically. It also invites you to reflect critically on the methods scientific experts use and the influence they exercise in the modern world.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Describe the range and complexity of the modern sciences in the context of their historical development
  • Describe the role of sciences in modern culture
  • Analyse different ways of thinking about science in contemporary society, including the views of non-scientific audiences and issues around authority and trust
  • Defend arguments and contributions to interdisciplinary group debates
  • Prepare well-argued and evidence-based written reports

Syllabus

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? Trust and Authority
  • Truth and Method
  • God and Nature
  • Politics and Ideology
  • Strange Science and Controversies
  • Gender and Science
  • Science and Money
  • Risk and Post-normal Science
  • Science and Democracy

Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set weekly reading. Students are required to answer a short series of questions based on the set text; these questions form the basis of the seminar discussion.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures (in person and broadcast online), seminars (group discussions based on set reading), supervised group working on formative assessments, recorded online content, supervised online forums, supplementary reading lists. 

Knowledge and understanding

Students should have:

  • The historical development of science as an important feature of modern societies in the context of wider social changes. 
  • How scientific developments were and are presented and received within wider publics.
  • The ethical dilemmas posed by both historical and contemporary scientific developments.
  • How scientists came to form a cohesive social group with shared norms and practices.

Intellectual skills

Students should have:

  • Critical thinking - capacity to abstract, analyse and make critical judgement.
  • Expression - able to make a reasoned argument for a particular point of view.

Practical skills

Students should have:

  • Critically analyse films and articles in the context of wider scientific and societal debates. 
  • Create well-constructed arguments regarding the relationship between science and society and defend these arguments both in seminars and in written work.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Students should have:

  • Writing and speaking convincingly - important for job applications, interviews and grant applications.
  • Critically analyse goings on in science and society - important for ensuring ethical practice and creative problem-solving in a complex world.

Employability skills

Group/team working
Your team-working skills will improve as a result of coursework activities and so will your leading skills.
Innovation/creativity
This course offers an opportunity to learn creatively and collectively.
Oral communication
There will be a significant amount of discussions in the class which will help you to give and accept constructive criticism.
Research
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.

Assessment methods

Film Review 50%

Article Review 50%

Feedback methods

Students are encouraged to ask questions at any point during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff will answer queries in class and also over email. Comments will be provided on work you've prepared during writing sessions throughout the semester in order to help you prepare for the submission of assignments. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and comments providing a rationale for the mark given.

Recommended reading

  • Bowler PJ & Morus IR (2005) Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey. University of Chicago Press
  • Chalmers A (1999) What is This Thing Called Science? Open University Press
  • Collins H and Pinch T (1998) The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science. Cambridge University Press

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 78

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Robert Naylor Unit coordinator

Additional notes

HSTM units are designed to be accessible to all undergraduate students from all disciplines. They assume no prior experience. 

The Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) offers a range of 'free choice' units, see The Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine Undergraduate teaching for further information. Led by experienced researchers, our teaching explores science as part of human culture, demonstrating that history is a valuable tool for understanding the present state and possible future of science, technology and medicine.

If you are unsure whether you are able to enrol on any of the HSTM units you should contact your School Programme and Curriculum team. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a HSTM unit.

You can also contact the Academic Lead for Undergraduate teaching at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

This unit is offered in both 10-credit and 20-credit versions to meet the requirements of different programme structures across the University. Students will be able to choose the version appropriate to their programme.

10 credit - HSTM10221

20 credit - HSTM10721

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