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Biology in Society Seminar, fall 2010

Paul Grobstein's picture

Biology in Society Senior Seminar

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2010

A discussion of the nature of biology, and science in general, and of their reciprocal relationships to broader social and cultural activities.  In addition to in class conversation,  students will participate in on-line forum discussion of papers on this general subject, lead discussions and write web papers on topics of particular interest to themselves, and write a senior paper on one such topic that will also appear on-line.  Others are welcome to join in the conversation by way of background readings and on-line forums.  

Learning objectives:

  • To acquire greater ability to engage in productive public discussion of biological research and its practical and conceptual significance for enhancing an understanding of life, human and otherwise.
  • To achieve critical and synthetic in-depth understandings of selected issues at the biology/society interface and make them available in a form that is engaging and useful to others.
  • To further develop skills of co-constructive inquiry

Some possible take off points for topics (see also ehedman's page and senior seminar 2009)

Things to consider in relation to possible topics

  • Are scientific observations/perspectives distinctively relevant for this topic? If so, why? How should they be presented?
  • Is there something to be learned from this topic about science and its engagement with the culture in which it is embedded? If so, what? 
  • Presentations/papers should reflect both awareness of existing observations/perspectives and a distinctive critical/synthetic perspective of one's own. They should not only outline a problem or controversy, but provide one's own creative thoughts about what can be learned from it and/or how best to move beyond it. 

Course requirements:

  • Regular participation in class discussion and in subsequent on-line forum conversation
  • Preparation of summary of in-class discussion
  • Background material preparation and facilitation of in-class discussion
  • A five page paper on a topic of your choice
  • A twenty or so page senior research paper on a topic of your choice

Serendip arrangements:

If you have previously had a Serendip user name and password, use that; let me know if there are any problems.  If you have never had a Serendip user name and password ...

  1. go to the course home page
  2. click on the Login link in the upper right of the page
  3. click on create new account
  4. enter user name (your choice, bearing in mind that your work will be public,  but let me know if you use a pseudonym)
  5. enter your college email address
  6. enter the registration code provided in class
  7. select class group
  8. submit

Always log in before posting materials to Serendip, including forum postings.  If you use Word to prepare materials for Serendip, click on the W icon in the posting menu and paste into the resulting window.












30 August Science and culture/values: the need for a scientific code of conduct? Grobstein
2 September Science and culture/values: the need for a scientific code of conduct?, con Grobstein
13 September Sex/gender: cultural and biological considerations Grobstein
20 September

The science of science education

Vaccination and the autism controversy

Kendra, Dakota


27 September

Medical advice: the doctor or the internet?

The science of science education, con.



Kendra, Dakota

4 October

Mental illness and stigmatization

Use of human subjects



11 October FALL BREAK (five page paper due 18 October)  
18 October

Psychiatry and the DSM

Disconnect between the scientific community and the public

Naa, Collete


25 October

Issues surrounding the human genome project




1 November

Vehicle exhaust

Vaccination and autism: a case study in scientific communication



8 November Writing workshop; conclusions  
15 November

The relationships between scientists and the media

More thoughts on whaling and the IWC



22 November

The status of premature babies

Medicine and the internet

Collette, Naa


29 November

Labelling mental illness

Gene as symbol

Ethical use of human subjects

Draft of senior paper due




6 December

Senior presentation rehearsals

Departmental course evaluations:

8 - 10 December Final senior paper due  

First web papers


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