Course Syllabus


Jim Collier
215 Lane Hall
Hours: 11:00-12:00 M,W and by appointment

Seungmi Chung
316 Lane Hall
Hours: 1:00-2:00 M,W and by appointment

Samantha Fried
223 Lane Hall
Hours: 11:30-12:30 M,W and by appointment

Kian Lua
355 Lane Hall
Hours: 10:00-11:00 F and by appointment

Catalog Description

Introduction to the interrelationship among science, technology, and society. Study of how science, including medicine, and technology are defined and analyzed by the humanities and social sciences. Examination of topics, theories, and methods of the field of Science and Technology Studies. Depiction of the dynamics of scientific and technological controversies including the roles knowledge, expertise, risk, rhetoric and public understanding play in policy making.

Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

❧ Define the interrelationship among science, including medicine, technology, and society;
❧ Describe theories and practices unique to the field of Science and Technology Studies;
❧ Analyze the elements comprising scientific and technological controversies;
❧ Specify the roles knowledge, expertise, risk, public understanding and discourse play in perceptions of science, including medicine, and technology;
❧ Determine the possibilities for policy-making that shapes, and are shaped by science, technology and society.

Course Environment

An academic course constitutes a living, developing community. And, for the purposes of coordinating our learning goals, we can understand ourselves as acting together not only as individual scholars, but also in an intellectual collective. The dynamic between individual and collective leaning, understanding and knowing sustains our course.

Our course is, relatively speaking, large and complex. Given this complexity, we seek your insight and help in managing our resources and dynamics. A few observations and principles, then:

❧ You will succeed in this class. You will succeed by attending regularly—much research draws a positive correlation between attendance and success—and participating actively in class. Class participation amplifies your presence. Attending and participating in Friday sessions, in particular, will lead to your success.
❧ Please attend to your well-being. If you have any questions, or needs, related to the class, do not hesitate to contact any of the instructors.
❧ Please attend to the well-being of others. We must work together to maintain a healthy balance in our community—a balance, in this instance, among humans and machines. By having all our readings available online, we invite you to use computers, tablets and like in the classroom. But the vitality of our community requires our keen awareness. We respectfully request, then, that you use digital devices—avoiding the use of smart phones—to access only class-related material during our class meetings. We want to foster, and protect, a shared experience.
❧ As the instructors of this course, we will work diligently to make the class environment intellectually challenging, significant, imaginative, meaningful, and, we trust, fun. While we certainly understand your desire to achieve good grades, we seek to foster and encourage the true joy found in exploring, analyzing and reflecting on, ideas.

Together, our class will address some of the most significant issues of our time. The outcome of these issues will determine, at least in part, our common human future.

The Structure of Our Course

Our course divides into three units.

Unit One—“Science and Scientific Controversies”—begins on August 24 and runs through September 19. In this unit, we will make explicit and question the assumptions that support our taken-for-granted understanding of science. By examining scientific controversies involving, for example, the Flint Water crisis, the development of germ theory, and the teaching of intelligent design, we will explore how history and public debate both shape, and are shaped by, science. On September 21, you will be given a take-home exam. The exam questions will arise, in part, from the questions that you, as part of a small group, develop in the three Question Formation Exercises held during this unit.

Unit Two—“ Unit Two: Technology and Privacy”—begins on September 28 and runs through October 24. In this unit, we will examine our definitions of technology and analyze the complex interplay among technological artifacts and human beings. Specifically, we will consider surveillance technologies, including drones, in both nonfiction and fiction. On October 26, you will be given a take-home exam. The exam questions will arise, in part, from the questions that you, as part of a small group, develop in the three Question Formation Exercises held during this unit.

Unit Three—“Medicine and Our Human Future”—begins on November 2 and runs through December 5. In this unit, we will address how we conceive of disease, bodies, and patients and consumers. These conceptions, and our accompanying intuitions, get magnified as we investigate pubic policies regarding human enhancement. On December 7, you will be given a take-home exam. The exam questions will arise, in part, from the questions that you, as part of a small group, develop in the three Question Formation Exercises held during this unit.

On Course Readings and “Bias”

The readings for this course represent numerous genres—magazine and newspaper articles, speeches, academic journal articles and books, fiction, blog postings—and offer numerous perspectives. We select course readings and supplemental materials for many reasons. We choose pieces that forward a clear perspective—a perspective that, we hope, gives us a basis for engaging, discussing, analyzing debating and judging the ideas and arguments being offered. Often, authors make provocative claims as a way to introduce, and work through, new and controversial ideas.

Speaking rather generally, students believe that the course readings somehow reflect views held by the instructors. Consequently, many students assume that in order to succeed in class they must agree with the claims provided by the authors in the readings. In this course, nothing could be further from the truth. The readings serve primarily as a platform for discussion. While the readings do, indeed, take on a point of view, let us be alive to the distinction between systematic distortion (bias), or lying, and arguing for, with passion, reason and evidence, a particular position.

Our approach to the readings and discussion comes out of a belief in the philosophical “principle of charity”. The principle of charity, in this case, states that: “We make maximum sense of the words and thoughts of others when we interpret in a way that optimizes agreement”. Lander University’s philosophy department explains the idea as follows:

The principle of charity is a methodological principle—ideas can be critiqued after an adequate understanding is achieved. The original presumption of setting aside our own beliefs and assuming the new ideas are true is only a provisional presumption.

Hence, we should listen and read in the beginning as if we had no personal attitudes. We should seek to be open and receptive.

This attitude, if maintained, frees the conditioned mind and enables it to absorb and understand the new.

In essence, we just start with a simple desire to get a point not understood upon first acquaintance.

If you have any questions regarding the role of the readings in the class, please feel free to contact any of the instructors.


❧ Exam 1: 15%
❧ Exam 2: 25%
❧ Exam 3: 25%
❧ Conceptual Exercises: 35%



We will develop and use rubrics, based on the subjects and strategies covered in a given course unit, to assess the exams. Please note that the first exam counts less than the second and third exams.

Question Formation Exercises

Our Friday meetings will be activity centered. The activities will result in an outcome at the end of class that will posted on Canvas. These outcomes will serve as the basis for our Monday discussions and will be figure in the questions on the exams. Grades for the Question Formation Exercises assignment will be as follows:

❧ 9 exercises: A
❧ 8 exercises: B
❧ 7 exercises: C
❧ 6 or fewer exercises: F


All required readings will be provided through the course website on Canvas.


If you require any adaptations or accommodations with respect to the conduct of the course, please contact Jim Collier at any time.

Principles of Community

This course affirms and adheres to Virginia Tech's Principles of Community. If you have any questions, please ask us or consult the Principles of Community online.

Honor Code

The Undergraduate Honor Code pledge that each member of the university community agrees to abide by states:

As a Hokie, I will conduct myself with honor and integrity at all times. I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor will I accept the actions of those who do.

Students enrolled in this course are responsible for abiding by the Honor Code. A student who has doubts about how the Honor Code applies to any assignment is responsible for obtaining specific guidance from the course instructor before submitting the assignment for evaluation. Ignorance of the rules does not exclude any member of the University community from the requirements and expectations of the Honor Code. For additional information about the Honor Code, please visit:

Course Summary:

Date Details Due