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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

Undergraduate Course: Investigating Science in Society (STIS08008)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Year 1 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
Summary'Investigating Science in Society' considers the social nature of science and scientific knowledge, as well as the relationship between science and wider society. We begin by considering different ways that people have tried to make sense of science: through assumptions, by writing definitions and by carrying out studies of what scientists do. We move on to systematically explore important elements of scientific practice. We examine the inner workings of scientific observation, experimentation, teamwork, writing, replication and debate. We learn how scientists make their knowledge and how it sometimes falls apart. We then move on to consider science in its social context. We investigate the relationships between science and other parts of society, such as the law, gender, health, politics, the economy, nature, arts and design. We learn that science is situated and entangled with these. it shapes them and they shape it in important ways. As a result, we cannot understand sciences without understanding their societies, and we can't understand those societies without understanding their sciences.

'Investigating Science in Society' is an interdisciplinary, team-taught class. We learn from many different perspectives. Different lecturers provide unique approaches to the student of science. And the readings feature texts of all kinds, including writings from outside academia. Our wide-ranging exploration teaches us that science is fundamentally social. It must be understood as the work of groups of coordinated individuals, affected by the forces that shape all other parts of society. Crucially, science is ultimately imperfect and limited, since scientists are imperfect and limited human beings.

The course studies science internally and externally using a variety of readings, including historical and sociological case studies from physics, biology and chemistry. The course will be intelligible to students of any disciplinary background.
Course description This course is divided into 3 units. Unit 1 (Beginnings) presents starting points, such as our assumptions about what science is and previous attempts to define legitimate science. It also introduces novel perspectives, developed in the second half of the twentieth century, which form the basis for science studies today. Unit 2 (The Social in Science) systematically explores important elements of scientific practice; for instance, observation, experimentation, theories and replication; and examines their fundamentally social character. In Unit 3 (Science in the Social), we study the place of science in relation to, and as a central tool in shaping, other major social phenomena. We explore topics like the law, gender politics, public policy, the environment and literature. Finally, we conclude with an epilogue about the place of science studies in science, and how the two can work collaboratively.

Students can get a flavour of the course from a text that will be used several times: Steven Yearley, (2005). Making Sense of Science. London: Sage. This is available as an e-book in the library (and as an actual book).
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  None
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 166 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) There are 2 assessments for this course:

1. A mid-term case study analysis essay, max. 1,500 words, 40%, due in week 6

2. A final essay, max. 2,000 words, 60%, the last week of the teaching block.

Further details will be available in the handbook and given in lectures and tutorials.

NOTE: In order to pass the course, students must pass the final essay.
Feedback The first essay involves students applying ideas learned in class to analyse a case study of scientific work. The feedback from this essay, and further advice given during tutorials will help students improve their analytic and essay-writing skills.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Question the usual picture of science as something separate from society, and of scientific knowledge as pure, objective truth. Replace this picture with a more nuanced and empirically accurate understanding of science, scientists and scientific knowledge.
  2. Appreciate and understand the complexities of scientific practice and of scientific judgement.
  3. Understand and make use of the basic tools of the sociology of science and of scientific knowledge. Grasp the central tenet that science is a social institution, and apply this comprehension in exploring the work of scientists, for example in legal or in media contexts.
  4. Describe the position of science as part of wider society, and account for the development of scientific knowledge in relation to other major social phenomena. Also, discuss the behaviour of scientists, politicians and other stakeholders based on such social factors.
  5. Be able to use both primary and secondary sources in essays and written analyses
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Generic Cognitive Skills: evaluating evidence to develop a clear and sustained argument in oral and written work.

Critical Analysis: making use of arguments developed by other people to carry out investigation; comparing and contrasting different perspectives; evaluating and critiquing different perspectives.

Communication: conveying information to different audiences; presenting and developing arguments in discussion; understanding and responding to others arguments.

IT Skills: findings materials online; using resources like LEARN and Resource List.

Autonomy: prioritising objectives; carrying out independent reading and preparation; working to deadlines.

Working with Others: participating in oral discussions; engaging with different perspectives in productive ways.
Additional Class Delivery Information 2 lecture and 1 tutorial per week
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Steven Yearley
Tel: (0131 6)51 4747
Course secretaryMr Ethan Alexander
Tel: (0131 6)50 4001
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