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LEGACY OF SCIENCE AND SOCIETY

Dr. Lizabeth Johnson, lizjohnson@unm.edu
Core: Humanities     

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION

In modern society, we are accustomed to the discussion of scientific theories and discoveries, as well as debates over the appropriate use of that scientific knowledge.  For example, we frequently hear about debates over the teaching of evolution in schools versus the teaching of creationism, a subject which has carried over into our political campaigns and court system.  Similarly, since the discovery of the nature of DNA in the 1950s, interest in and information about genetics has spilled over from scientific research facilities and into popular culture, even appearing in movies such as the X-Men.  However, this interest in and concern over scientific theories and discoveries is not unique to modern society.  Since the birth of science as a philosophical and practical pursuit in the ancient Greek world, scientists and ordinary people have debated the study and use of scientific knowledge.  The work of ancient Greek scientists and natural philosophers was parodied in plays, such as Aristophanes’ The Clouds.  While Roman scientists and physicians debated astronomical and medical theories among themselves, philosophers such as Lucretius forwarded the theory of atomism, drawing the ire of all those who accepted traditional Roman polytheism.  In the medieval period, those societies that inherited Greco-Roman scientific and medical knowledge made few advances on that knowledge, but scientists and physicians faced resistance from religious figures, both Catholic and Muslim, because much of Greco-Roman science hailed from a pagan past. 

With the beginning of the Scientific Revolution in the 17th century, however, not only did scientists begin to question the received wisdom of the Greco-Roman world, they also began to question the limitations placed on scientific discovery by religious authorities.  Since that time, science has advanced tremendously, but the old debate over the development and use of scientific knowledge has remained.  While scientists have argued among themselves the potential applications of and ethical issues regarding their work, aspects of that argument have appeared in literature as well, such as in the works of Mary Shelly and H.G. Wells.  In the 20th century, the debate over the use of scientific knowledge has only become more prominent in issues such as the conflict over evolution and creationism, the use of genetic information and materials and the protection of individuals’ genetic identities, the development and use of atomic weapons, and even the use of taxpayer money to fund space exploration.  In this course, we will examine works of science from these different eras and societies, as well as works which describe debates over or fears of new scientific discoveries, in order to come to a better understanding of how scientific discoveries, theories, and debates have changed the study of science over time and have shaped modern society itself.

READINGS AND TEXTS

Dava Sobel.  Longitude:  The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time.  Walker Books, reprint ed., 2007.  ISBN 978-0007790166.

H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Dover Thrift Editions, Dover Publications, 1996. ISBN 978-0486290270.

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Del Rey, 1996. ISBN 978-0345404473.

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Reprint edition. Broadway, 2011. ISBN 978-1400052189.

Students will also be required to purchase a course reader from the Honors main office.  The reader will contain many of the shorter readings for class.

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

•              Active participation in daily discussions

•              One 10-minute presentation on a subject of the student’s choice

•              Two analytical papers of 3-4 pages each

•              One synthesis paper of 5-7 pages

•              Participation in a group project on modern scientific debates

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Dr. Lizabeth Johnson has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History.  She teaches courses on law, gender, science, the environment, and social responses to disease outbreaks.  She has published several articles and book reviews on medieval British history, specifically in the area of women’s activities in courts of law.

She teaches courses on law, gender, science, the environment, and social responses to disease outbreaks.  She has published several articles and book reviews on medieval British history, specifically in the area of women’s activities in courts of law.