HC 441H : Calderwood Seminars Public Writing: Public Science

Professor: Dare Baldwin

4.00 credits

  • CRN 22639: Wednesday, 1415-1655 @ REMOTE

Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing are advanced-level, writing-intensive courses that engage students in a review of areas of special interest. These seminars emphasize public writing—the ability to translate complex arguments and professional jargon to a broad audience— which is a central feature of a liberal arts education. These seminars will have a collaborative format, with students writing frequently and rewriting their work in response to comments by their professors and input from classmates. You have learned how to write for college, now learn how to write for life.

Scientific practices are currently undergoing radical change. Among other things, such changes alter best practice in scientific communication. One key source of changes that are afoot lies in growing recognition that many, and possibly even most, reported scientific findings are not reproducible. For example, one recent large-scale replication project documented that only about a third of 100 different scientific findings met a reasonable replication criterion. General consensus has emerged that part of the solution to what some have called the “reproducibility crisis” involves science reshaping itself away from the proprietary toward the public and transparent. This shift has widespread implications for scientists themselves, but also for all the many institutions and industries linked to science, including academia, publishing, health-care, technology innovation, educational practice, science-based policy-making, and science-oriented funding structures.

Students in the Public Science seminar will gain a window on forces driving this “open science” movement and explore its implications for human well-being. Writing assignments will engage open science issues within a variety of genres: assignments may include a) public-facing science journalism, such as what one might encounter in Scientific American, a New York Times science journalism piece, or The Conversation, b) book/manuscript reviews like those appearing in widely-read, interdisciplinary journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, c) blog posts tackling open-science issues, d) public-facing powerpoint-presentations, such as those utilized for TED or Veratasium, and e) science-oriented materials designed to engage a youthful audience (e.g., children’s literature or graphic novel formats). Class meetings will emphasize workshop discussion and peer editing of student products. Reading/viewing/listening assignments will offer students exposure to controversies linked to the open science movement as well as to models of each genre they are assigned to produce.

Students will gain exposure to societal benefits of scientific transparency, put open science principles to work in their science writing, and gain skill at increasing public access to science and the principles of sound scientific practice. In sum, this course aspires to improve students’ critical thinking: about science, the way science should be done, and the way it is communicated.