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Science in Society

Module titleScience in Society
Module codeBIO3411
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Nicola Weber (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

What are the key messages of science for society, and how are these messages perceived? This module will help you place your understanding of evolution and ecology in a wider societal context. We will explore the origins of controversy using the case studies of evolution and climate change, and through workshops we will explore how scientists can communicate better. You will employ a range of formats to communicate controversial scientific topics of your choosing, including writing a press release, giving a presentation, and preparing a final project using your preferred method of communication.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to help you understand and address the divide between scientists and society relating to ecology, evolution and conservation, with particular reference to contentious issues such as climate change and the origins of biodiversity through evolution. The module will develop and expand the principles of ecology and evolution introduced in Stage 2 Biosciences, leading to an understanding of their implications for policy issues and the societal understanding of science. Our overarching aim is to enable you to understand and address misunderstandings between scientists and the public in an accurate and confident fashion, from a standpoint of familiarity with the broad range of perceptions of key scientific or policy debates.

The module will focus on real-world problems faced by society, and the ways in which current scientific research is trying to address them. For those interested in careers in science communication, policy, or other roles at the interface between science and society, this module will provide a valuable introduction and an opportunity to practice relevant skills. As demonstrating impact from scientific research, and outreach with society, is now essential in academic roles, this module is also important for those interested in pursuing a career in research. Transferable skills to other sectors include presentation and writing skills with a strong emphasis on effective communication to diverse target audiences.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Outline the key implications of science in society
  • 2. Describe the balance of evidence for or against anthropogenic climate change, and its implications for biodiversity and conservation
  • 3. Discuss the arguments for or against evolution by natural selection, and of the implications for biodiversity and conservation

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of biosciences
  • 5. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 6. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems in biosciences
  • 7. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within biosciences
  • 8. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of biosciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 10. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 11. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance
  • 12. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to graduate-level professional and practical skills, and act autonomously to develop new areas of skills as necessary
  • 13. Reflect effectively and independently on learning experiences and evaluate personal achievements
  • 14. Work in a small team and deal proficiently with the issues that teamwork requires (i.e. communication, motivation, decision-making, awareness, responsibility, and management skills, including setting and working to deadlines)

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

This module is likely to include the following topics:

  • Bridging the gaps – how science is funded and the trade-offs between policymakers, businesses, scientists, and society.
  • Science communication
  • Media lecture
  • Science and the media interactive panel session.
  • Submission of press release on primary scientific literature
  • Climate change
  • Evolution / Intelligent Design
  • The role of citizen science.
  • Presentation skills workshop.
  • Student oral presentations on controversial science topics (assessed).
  • IT clinic – e.g. how to make a poster/website/video.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching 10Lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching 2Science and the media panel session
Scheduled learning and teaching 3Presentation skills workshop
Scheduled learning and teaching 3You will give oral presentations and answer/ask questions on the policy implications of ecological research
Scheduled learning and teaching 2Formative feedback project session
Scheduled learning and teaching 2End of module party – peer assessment of final projects
Guided independent study128Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the module1-4, 8-9Oral
Presentation skills workshop3 hoursAllOral
Discussion regarding project2 hoursAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
PowerPoint seminar presentation, questions to speakers355 minutes1-10Written
Science communication skills package651 x poster, website leaflet, education pack/ activity or similar1-12Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PowerPoint seminar presentation, questions to speakersPowerPoint seminar presentation1-10August assessment period
Science communication skills packageScience communication skills package1-12August assessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further science communication skills package. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Sutherland WJ et al. (2006) The identification of 100 ecological questions of high policy relevance in the UK. Journal of Applied Ecology 43: 617-627.
  • Lawton JH (2007) Ecology, politics and policy. Journal of Applied Ecology44: 465-474.
  • Public Attitudes to Science (2011) Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute
  • Berkman, MB et al. (2008) Evolution and Creationism in America’s classrooms: a national portrait. PLoS Biology 6: e124.
  • Reiss MJ (2009) The relationship between evolutionary biology and religion. Evolution63: 1934-1941.
  • Borick CP, Lachapelle E, Rabe BG (2011) Climate compared: Public opinion on climate change in the United States and Canada. Issues in Governance Studies 39: 1-13.
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) "Climate Change 2007" IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) 

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Media sources available at the time of the module.

Key words search

Climate change, ecology, public perception, science communication, evolution, policy, citizen science

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date