Selected Course Descriptions

Scientific Controversies

Climate change, GMO foods, evolution, stem cell research, contrails, nuclear power, MMR vaccines, pesticide policy, big pharma, sociobiology, and ulcers: all issues that are subject to controversy. But what kind of controversy? Is the question of how to ethically conduct stem cell research the same kind of controversy as anthropogenic climate change? What are the differences between controversies within the scientific community and public controversies about scientific issues? How and when should scientists intervene in public discourse? How should a modern democracy deal with questions of scientific controversy?

Students in Scientific Controversies will explore and address these questions through engagement with a series of case studies on hot-button topics relating to science and public policy. They will explore the circulation of these controversies in a wide variety of scientific and popular media ranging from prominent scientific journals and outreach efforts by scientific educators to major world newspapers and parody news professionals.

Rhetoric of Science, Technology, and Medicine

“[P]racticing scientists are only a fraction of those who contribute to what science is. The other contributors are not just those people who use science more or less as scientists intend, such as technologists, physicians, and policymakers. [Rhetorical studies of science] also takes seriously the rest of the population who consume science by reading The Tao of Physics, watching “Tomorrow’s World,” and eating fat-free muffins.” —Steve Fuller, The Philosophy of Science and Technology Studies

As Steve Fuller suggests above, science, technology, and medicine are each part of a vastly complex cultural enterprise which extends far beyond what is done in the laboratory or what happens in scientific journal articles. Scientists, technologists, doctors, patients, regulators, policy makers, journalists, and the general public each interact with and participate in technical, scientific, and medical discourses in a wide variety of ways. This course examines the role of debate and argument both within scientific communities and in the larger contexts that surround those communities. More specifically, students will explore 1) the modes of communication which facilitate successful collaboration between scientific disciplines, 2) different styles of argument in science-policy debates, and 3) the discourses of scientific ideology and their impacts on the general public.

In investigating these questions, we will explore a series of case studies in the rhetorics of physics, genetics, and medicine. In so doing, we will also address long-standing questions in rhetorical studies of science, technology, and medicine and explore how scholars of rhetoric can contribute to interdisciplinary Science, Technology, and Medicine Studies.

Rhetoric and Visual Cultures

Metaphors of the visual are pervasive in western cultures. From scientific discovery and medical imaging to NSA surveillance and body image, sight takes center stage. As a result, there has been a great deal of rhetorical and cultural theory devoted to exploring, critiquing, and developing pedagogy that accounts for the role of the visual and visual metaphors in a variety of spheres from western cultures writ large to localized practices of scientific inquiry and technical documentation/ information design. Even more recently, new intellectual efforts under the rubrics of new materialisms have rejected the visual entirely as a central concept, replacing looking with doing. Correspondingly, the Spring 2015 edition of English 855 is devoted to exploring central figures and concepts in theory and pedagogy of the visual as well as the criticisms of/from new materialisms.

Biological Communication

The primary purpose of Biological communication is to teach students effective writing and communication methods in the biological sciences, presentation of research data, methods of bibliographic citation, ethical communication, use of oral and visual presentation methods for biological information, manuscript and report preparation. Though the primary emphasis will be on academic writing, BioComm is designed not only to help prepare students to communicate technical information to their biologically-knowledgeable peers, but also to managers, clients, and coworkers who may not understand the ramifications of the data itself. This necessarily involves an appreciation of not only the technical information, but also the rhetorical (communicative), social, political, and ethical issues at work in technical communication. It is the role of this class to help students explore how to communicate the technical information of their discipline with a much greater awareness of these issues. To that end, English 312 will help students study four primary areas:

  • Rhetorical analysis and awareness
  • Communication processes (including development, revision, and distribution)
  • Written, oral, and visual information design
  • Social, political, and ethical issues in biological communication

To help develop these areas, students will read about and produce an assortment of academic and technical documents. Additionally, students will explore how communication issues were involved in prominent scientific or technical cases in the biological sciences and related fields. Each of the cases I select help explore three overarching issues in science and applied science communication: 1) inter-discourse community communication, 2) science in public policy, and 3) science in activism.