Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Science, Technology, Society

ENGL 158.401
also offered as: STSC 118.401
T 1:30-4:30

Millions of Americans are science-illiterate. An annual survey published by the National Science Foundation reveals that more than 50 percent of Americans over age 18 don’t understand what antibiotics are; don’t understand evolution; don’t know what a laser is. There is much confusion about science as reported in the press. What foods should we eat? Are GMOs dangerous? Does the discovery of new “risk genes” for autism or schizophrenia hold any practical significance for patients and their families? What does your online data trail reveal about you, and to whom? This workshop is intended for students interested in using popular science writing to broaden public understanding of who scientists are and what they do. The premise is that good science writing should help the public understand how to judge scientific claims, one basis of intelligent participation in debates about major policy questions such as our response to climate change or whether limits should be placed on gene editing. This is a writing workshop, and the plan is for each student to produce 3-4 polished pieces of writing (2-3 of 500-750 words and 1 of 1,500-2,000 words) about scientists (including a profile of one scientist “at work”) and scientific subject matter, based on a range of techniques that all journalists must master. Some of the skills we focus on: quickly researching a topic; identifying potential interviewees; performing interviews; focusing the story; and writing and rewriting story drafts. The object is to show improvement between first and subsequent drafts, with help from others in the workshop, who will provide periodic short critiques. 

fulfills requirements