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

Postgraduate Course: Social Dimensions of Astrobiology and Space Exploration (STIS11001)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThere is a strong possibility that we will find evidence for life elsewhere in the universe in the next few decades and that humans will establish ever more permanent settlements in space. But why are we searching at all? If we find it, what will this discovery mean for human societies here on earth? What responsibilities do astrobiologists have during the search for extraterrestrial life and when claiming the discovery is made? Furthermore, what role should the humanities and social sciences play as our species extends its reach into space? To explore such questions, students on this course will examine the philosophical, cultural, ethical and social issues orbiting astrobiology and space exploration.
Course description This course provides students with a broad understanding of the social implications of research in astrobiology and space exploration activities. Scientists on the course will learn about the key theories and methods in science & technology studies (STS) as applied to astrobiology, and develop the skills and confidence to contribute productively to broader discussions of their research and its social dimensions. Social scientists on the course will have the opportunity to explore these exciting areas of scientific enquiry in depth, and to apply theory and methods from their disciplinary training to the analysis of these fields. Both groups will gain a new appreciation for interdisciplinary dialogue and debate.

Topics explored on this course will include:
the history of astrobiology,
the Drake equation,
the epistemology of extraordinary claims,
depictions of astrobiology and space exploration in science fiction media and popular culture
planetary law and politics,
equality, diversity and inclusion in astrobiology and work in space
environmental ethics and planetary protection
the ethics of space exploration

The course will be delivered through a weekly seminar. Students will be set readings and other resources to prepare for the seminar in advance.
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:  30
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 25, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 171 )
Additional Information (Learning and Teaching) One 2.5 hour seminar per week. Visit s to local sites of scientific research possible.
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 80 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 1. Reading Responses (20%)
- Assessed weekly

2. Group work presentation (20%)
- A 10-minute small-group oral presentation

3. Essay (60%)
- One essay (maximum length 3000 words)

Note for the board: essay topics likely to be inspired by discussing the Drake Equation, with students focusing on a term or terms from that equation that are not typically considered in the students home discipline.

(Note to the board, this course will be assessed through assignments designed to test and develop students interactive skills, critical analysis, academic writing, and familiarity with the material taught and discussed. These assessments follow those already used for Social Dimensions of Systems and Synthetic Biology (PGSP11476). We have found these work well for mixed groups of science and social science students, allowing plenty of opportunities to work with the scientists on essay writing.)

Also note for the board, marking criteria for the reading responses as follows, at the end of semester the portfolio of responses will be combined and submitted as an single mark:
F: No submission
C: Minimal submission that does not provided evidence of having done the essential readings
B: Shows evidence of having done the essential readings
A: Well written, shows good understanding of essential readings, raises appropriate questions and/or reflections
A+: Well written, shows good understanding of essential readings, raises appropriate questions and/or reflections to a high standard, demonstrating originality (may bring in additional material from recommended or further readings)
Feedback We will provide formative feedback on the reading responses.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate substantive knowledge and critical understanding of the social and political contexts surrounding developments in astrobiolog
  2. 2. Identify and evaluate the key methods, approaches and theories from science and technology studies, as they apply to the study of astrobiology and space exploration.
  3. Critically evaluate the ethical, cultural and social consequences of media representations (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) of astrobiology and space exploration.
  4. 4. Find and appraise the resources available (theories, methods, techniques, sources of information, etc.) for pursuing these issues in their future work
  5. Apply these understandings and skills, and deploy these approaches, concepts and techniques through written and oral means, particularly through formal essay writing and contribution to seminars
Reading List
Erickson, M. (2015). Science, culture and society: understanding science in the 21st century, 2nd Edition. Polity.

Meyer, S., ed. (2018) The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Science. Cambridge UP.

Vakoch, Douglas A., ed. (2013) Astrobiology, History, and Society: Life Beyond Earth and the Impact of Discovery. Springer.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1. Synthesising and analysing empirical and theoretical material from a variety of sources;
2. Examining, using and assessing evidence in support of explanatory and normative claims;
3. Developing and evaluating arguments that take different kinds of social complexity into account, especially concerning the role of science in society;
4. Exercising informed independent thought and critical judgment
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Lawrence Dritsas
Tel: (0131 6)50 4011
Course secretaryMrs Casey Behringer
Tel: (0131 6)50 2456
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