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Journalism and Science

ENGL 158.302
fulfills requirements:
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

This nonfiction workshop will address the problem of writing about science and technology for a public that has grown skeptical of science’s role in shaping the future. With the sobering atomic-era lessons of Hiroshima and Chernobyl now deeply embedded in human consciousness, a new set of science-centered subjects such as mammalian cloning, genetically modified foods, and emissions-driven climate change present challenges of comprehension for the general public and political leaders alike. Members of our workshop will be asked to engage in a semester-long reporting project whose subject matter requires them to move between the two cultures of "science" and "societal values," and identify where they intersect. We will explore a post-futurist paradigm of science writing in which the skeptical writer plants a foot in both worlds in order to provide critical perspective on difficult subject matter often opaque in its societal implications. A partial list of potential subjects, in addition to those already mentioned, includes: stem cell research; the science and politics of AIDS vaccine research; technologies affecting end-of-life care; nano-biotech and synthetic biology; safety of our food and water supplies; the challenge of “clean energy”; the evolution/creationism debate; artificial intelligence and the human interface; the future of reading in a “webified” world; science in service of “national security” objectives, etc. This being a writing course, our stress will be on selecting a suitable topic, devising a realistic research and interview strategy; and techniques for bringing it all together in the form of an extended article suitable for magazine or web publication.