The most pressing science issues facing the human condition today
Through lectures, readings, discussions, and writing, the class will explore such issues as climate change, alternative energy, genetic engineering, emerging infectious diseases, and the overall forecast for the human condition in the next several decades. Students will gain an appreciation of how science can inform policies that will shape our society, and will recognize the limitations of our current knowledge in predicting how modern technology will shape the human condition in the future.
By taking this course, students will...
- develop a "scientific literacy" of some of the most pressing issues facing the human condition today;
- become familiar with some of the major scientific issues that will affect our society within the next several decades;
- gain a greater appreciation of how science can inform policies that will shape our society;
- recognize some of the limits of our knowledge when predicting how modern technology will affect the human condition.
By the end of this course, students will be able to...
- describe the major natural and anthropogenic factors that can influence our climate, and have a general sense of our level of scientific understanding of each;
- assess, propose and debate possible societal responses to a changing climate;
- employ qualitative and quantitative arguments to address issues of resource conservation and the pursuit of alternative energy technologies;
- demonstrate understanding of global/national trends in resource consumption, and describe and evaluate how society might adapt as technology allows;
- describe and evaluate the possible concerns and possible benefits of genetically modified food;
- describe the risks posed by emerging infectious disease, chronic disease, drug-resistant disease, and climate-mediated disease, and provide informed argument for how scientific research may be incorporated into a societal response;
- describe the underlying technologies and debate the potential risks and achievable benefits of genetic engineering;
- describe the underlying technologies and debate the potential risks and achievable benefits of emerging nano-scale technologies;
- describe the underlying technologies and discoveries of modern space research, and construct reasoned argument for how knowledge gained from space exploration may impact the human condition;
- describe the underlying technologies and the time scales of the risks posed by various weapons of mass destruction;
- describe how human health may be impacted by toxic materials, and describe what factors contribute to toxicity;
- describe the potential benefits of green design, and construct reasoned argument how green design can actually be achieved;
- describe how science is revealing the connections between our brains and our perception and behavior, and understand the significance and implications of this knowledge;
- demonstrate understanding of the qualities that can distinguish science from pseudoscience in examples of popular advertising and media.
The calendar below is an example of how the course has been structured in the past. Like most non-studio three-credit classes at Pratt, the course meets for a total of 45 in-class hours— one weekly session of 3 hours for each of 15 weeks.
Climate Change I: Detection of Climate Change
What information would you need to see if climate is indeed changing?
Climate Change II: Attribution
What factors are responsible for recent climate change? And how could we know?
Climate Change III: Prediction;
Introduction to the term paper/project assignment
How can we attempt to predict the future of climate change? What must we assume?
What are the main options for powering the 21st century? How do they work? What are the benefits and shortcomings of each?
Introduction to science information resources
TERM PAPER TOPIC INTRODUCTION DUE
Food and Water
What are the main food and water resource challenges for the future, and how might science work to assure their availability for all? Includes an exploration of the techniques, perceived risks, and potential benefits of genetically modified agriculture.
An exporation of some of the techniques and possiblilites of stem cell therapies, cloning, IVF, and gene editing.
Focus will include 21st century infectious and chronic disease, drug resistance, and the relationships between disease and climate change.
TERM PAPER ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY DUE
Multiwavelength astronomy and the possiblity of life elsewhere. An introduction to (some of) the dimensions of 21st century space research.
A "new" scientific and technological discipline. Separating hype from potential.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Chemical, biological and nuclear weapons... and "dirty bombs," too? Exploring the science; Exploring the risks.
Pollution and Green Design
Chemicals in the environment, chemicals inside us. E-waste. Cradle-to-cradle design.
Studying the living brain. The "Astonishing Hypothesis" and modern neuroscience.
Pseudoscience; Course synthesis and review
TERM PAPER/PROJECT DUE
After a course full of examples, what distinguishes real scientific inquiry from pseudoscience?
COMPREHENSIVE FINAL EXAM
Students do not have to purchase any reading material for this course. All required readings will be posted as PDFs or made otherwise accessible through the course website on Pratt's Learning Management System.
Course readings will include book chapters, government reports, articles from peer-reviewed journals (e.g., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, Nature), mass-market science periodicals (e.g. Scientific American), and recent articles in the popular press. To comply with "Fair Use" copyright guidelines, students will need to authenticate with a Pratt userid and password to gain access to readings.
- Readings (available on the course LMS) are to be read BEFORE coming to class.
- A reading report is due each week ON THE DAY BEFORE CLASS. You will complete these reports within the LMS in response to the provided questions. Reading reports will cover the main ideas of the assigned reading, and will help to frame the context for the upcoming lecture and in-class activities. Reading reports may also include a question or two as a followup from the previous week's lecture; they may also include questions which will develop the skills necessary for completion of the semester-long term-paper assignment (discussed below).
- Participation is heavily weighted in this course. Assessment of participation is based upon structured in-class activities (such as weekly "Do Now" exercises that will begin each class; occasional group debates and presentations; small group discussions), contribution to classroom discussion, as well as general preparedness and attentiveness.
- You are expected to develop a term paper/project over the course of the semester. Intermediate deadlines for this assignment will help to assure that you are on-schedule toward its completion: A topic introduction and annotated research bibliography will be due via the LMS roughly 1/2 and 2/3rds of the way through the semester, respectively, as marked on the course schedule; both of these assignments will receive feedback which will help guide you as you complete the term assignment. The term paper/project must demonstrate appropriate use of information resources, and a facility with the technical and stylistic expectations of college-level writing for all written materials. The paper/project must demonstrate conceptual understanding beyond what was covered in the class lecture and the required reading, and must also demonstrate "higher-level thinking"-- e.g. synthesis, analysis and critique of appropriate information resources. Expectations and assessment guidelines will be posted on the course LMS site in advance of the due date. Portions of in-class time in Weeks 3 and 5 will be devoted to the development of the skills necessary to complete the assignment. Reading report assignments throughout the semester may also be utilized to highlight crucial skills necessary for the development of the term paper/project.
- A comprehensive final exam will be given in class during the last week of the semester.
Final course letter grades are based on 100%–90% for A-range, 89%–80% for B-range, etc.
- 10% Participation (including written "Do Now" exercises and other in-class activities)
- 30% Reading reports
- 30% Term paper/project assignment (5 points - Topic introduction draft; 5 points - Annotated research bibliography draft; 20 points - Final version of the paper/project)
- 30% Final exam
There are NO opportunities for extra credit.
- Students must adhere to all Institute-wide policies listed in the Student Handbook under "Community Standards," which include policies on attendance, academic integrity, plagiarism, computer, and network use. Please see the Office of Student Affairs for policies and procedures for handling academic conduct issues.
- Pratt Institute is committed to full inclusion of all students. Those who require special accommodations for disabilities must obtain clearance from the Learning/Access Center at the beginning of the semester. Please make an appointment with the L/AC) to discuss these accommodations. The L/AC is located on the first floor of the ISC building.
- On-time attendance at each class meeting is expected. (See the section on absences below.)
- Partial attendance, i.e. lateness or early departure and will impact the the Participation component of course grade. (An example: A late-arriving student would be likely to miss the "Do Now" exercise at the beginning of each class.) If not excused in advance, each late arrival or early departure will be penalized as a 50% reduction of the Participation component for the session.
- For students who miss three or more classes, I will send a notice to the student and a "Retention Alert" to the appropriate advisor. These messages will give an indication of progress to date in the course, and provide guidance for remaining eligible to pass the course.
- Students MAY attend another of my sections for Participation credit if cleared with me at least one full week in advance for a VALID reason. Valid reasons include crits, shows or class trips related to other Pratt courses. Arrangements must be accompanied by an advisor or dean-provided note.
- Students MAY NOT attend a later section for Participation credit if they have missed their assigned section due to a non-excused reason.
- Students must check the course LMS site to download readings, check guidelines for assignments, and check course announcements.
- Students must obtain a Pratt e-mail address and check this mailbox for official course communication.
- Credit for late assignments will be reduced by one full grade (i.e., 10%) per each day late. No assignments will be accepted for credit more than 10 days late. Late assignments will only be accepted at the discretion of the instructor (i.e., in very unusual circumstances and/or arranged well in advance).
It is absolutely in your best interest to attend all class sessions. Absences and late arrivals/early departures will count against your Participation grade. On the comprehensive Final Exam, you are held responsible for all material covered in the course, regardless of whether you were present.
If you are absent AND if you contact me within a day of your absence, I will provide you with an out-of-class assignment which will be due at the next class meeting. This assignment will require well-researched answers to a series of questions that parallel the lecture and class discussion. Answers will require explicit citation to required articles and supplementary reading, and may require additional research to demonstrate college-level understanding. Timely and satisfactory completion of the out-of-class assignment will give you a chance to earn participation credit up to the full amount for the missed session. If you elect not to complete the out-of-class assignment, you will not earn participation credit. Because it is possible to complete Reading Reports two weeks before the class meets, on-time submission of the Reading Report will still be expected for most absences; exceptions for emergencies may be granted at the discretion of the instructor.
As per Pratt Institute policy: I will only consider granting an incomplete if a student in otherwise good standing within the course can provide a compelling and exceptional reason for the request (e.g., documented unexpected illness, death in the immediate family, etc.) — in writing — before the final exam, and agrees to a contract for completion of all missing material. In no circumstance will incompletes stay on a transcript for more than one semester. An incomplete will automatically change to a grade of "F" if the deadlines and expectations in the contract are not followed.