DAS 450 - Science and Society

2 or 3 credit hours

First, a disclaimer. This is not a science course. It is instead a course that looks at how science is received by society. For instance, we might ask why society as a whole has lagged behind science by about 20 years in recognizing the reality of global warming. Or we might examine whether society has overestimated the threat from bird flu. For any topic, the amount of science we study will be easily manageable by students from any major. There is no "agenda" built into the course; there are only questions to be posed and examined.

The 2 credit-hour course will be taught online in 4 weeks this summer. Using chats and message boards, we will form a group (or groups) as we work on material together. Each student will also have their own research topic and will write two short papers (on common topics) and one long paper (on an individualized topic), and the long paper will be written in two versions (with extensive comments and suggestions after the first version). For the third credit hour, a student would write a second long paper (again in two versions). Typically, this would be done, in coordination with the instructor, in the two weeks following the 4 week session.

To a large extent the Internet will serve as our text, especially for the topic for the first week. Once we settle on further topics, decisions to be made as a class, we will turn to hard-copy books , without abandoning information available on the Internet. During the 4 weeks of the 2-credit-hour course we will use a message board and chat room to establish a sense of community. That is, we will function as a class.

The course will be taught using K-State Online -- in other words, at distance. Students can be located anywhere they have ready access to the Internet.


TOPICS for the class as a whole or for individualized research projects. For our class-wide work, only 3 or 4 of these topics will be selected (by the class) and used. Especially as regards topics for individualized research, this is not intended to be all inclusive.

Vitamins – are they of value or a waste of money? (or, vitamin supplements: to test or not to test)

Performance enhancing drugs (steroids, HGH) -- a risk to society at large (high school athletes)

Aspartame (NutraSweet)-- safe or not -- what's the evidence?

Childhood obesity -- are public health measures necessary to address this problem? Is this a problem restricted to the US?

Smoking -- should it be made illegal? (Seemingly a logical extension of smoke-free laws and regulations?)

Drinking -- should it be made illegal? (We might look at the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents -- and injuries and deaths.)


Aspirin -- the miracle drug . Might it be underused?

Bird flu -- how great is the threat?

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- how to address an increasing problem (the interesting thing here is that pharmaceutical companies are for the most part not working on this problem -- because the payoffs are not high enough for them to invest the money required; so, ultimately the government has to step in one way or another)

HIV/AIDS -- new drugs (drug combinations); providing drugs for developing nations

Population growth and sustainability of lifestyle

Global warming -- When must we act? Can we capture CO2 and reverse global warming?

Alternative fuels (e.g., ethanol; biodiesel) and alternate sources of energy, unintended consequences of corn ethanol production.

Artificial intelligence -- especially as an individualized topic for an engineer, say, to work on for their long paper

Does science deny the existence of God; is it an atheistic set of beliefs?

Genetic engineering of bacteria, plants and animals

Screening of human pre-embryos for disease genes (or for sex, or for "positive" traits); should all human procreation be done by in vitro fertilization?

Cloning of animals and humans

Darwin as a converted creationist

Reception of evolution in this and other countries (intelligent design, creationism)

ADHD -- is it being over diagnosed in children?

Antidepressants -- are they being over-prescribed in children? This and the former topic have to do with the possible misuse of scientific advances or information.

Does medicine need a greater emphasis on prevention -- or, how can we best reduce cancer deaths or death by heart attack and stroke?

DNA fingerprinting -- what has it told us about the legal system?