Course Objective: The discoveries of science, as well as their technological applications, play major roles in your life—roles that impact your family, your health, your job, and much more. It is vital that every citizen understand the nature of science, and how scientists arrive at conclusions regarding health, safety, and the environment. The central objective of this course is to introduce to you the most important principles of science, with an emphasis on understanding science at a level that will allow you to appreciate varied natural phenomena in your daily life, as well as reports in magazines and newspapers. We avoid complex vocabulary and mathematics, while emphasizing a few core principles, as well as the nature of scientific questions, the importance of scientific facts, and the process of scientific discovery as a way of knowing. This course, an integral part of the General Education program, has been designed to empower each of you with the ability to continue learning about science throughout your lifetime and to integrate scientific ideas into other aspects of your life. Scientific principles affect all of us, all the time. You don’t have to be a scientist to appreciate the profound importance of science in everyday life and to be a part of the never-ending adventure of scientific discovery.

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SCIENTIFIC ETHICS (GEOL315-001 / GEOL500-001 / EVPP505-005)

Scientific Research in Modern Society: Scientists in the United States are taught how to do science with skill and rigor, and the United States produces most of the world's best scientists. Yet science majors in this country rarely are asked to examine the limits of science and the ways that science and society may come into conflict. This seminar is designed for science majors to examine the role of science in society in general, and the ethical responsibility of scientists in particular. The course will draw on a wide range of sources, including newspapers, scientific reports, history of science texts, plays, and novels about the scientific process, as well as movies, TV, poetry and art. This seminar-style course deals with many issues in scientific ethics, including obvious issues of misconduct (fraud, plagiarism, improper authorship, massaging data) and more general issues (how to select research topics, dealing with the public, political misuse of scientific data, animal and human testing, and more). We will do a fair amount of reading, including scientific ethics statements by major societies and a wide variety of essays, editorials, news stories, novels and plays that deal with ethical situations. We'll also watch segments from movies that portray scientists and read some original controversial papers and study their aftermath. The main student effort, and the basis for most of the grade, is coming to class prepared to engage actively in the discussions.

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The origin of life is a problem of deep philosophical, religious, and scientific interest. For all its familiarity, "life" is an elusive concept that's hard to define, much less to explain. This course explores various efforts to understand life's origins. Much of the focus will center on chemical processes on the early Earth that might have led to life as we know it. But we shall find every week that relevant data are few and far between, so theories for life's origins have been influenced as much by philosophy, mythology, religious convictions, and the desire to present clever original ideas as they have by the more typical inductive process of science. Many of the most important questions related to the origin of life can't yet be answered by science, because we know of only one origin event -- life on Earth. Is life rare in the universe or is it a cosmic imperative? Did life arise from a dilute solution (the "prebiotic soup"), or did it depend on a confined environment? Was the first life self-sustaining (autotrophic), or did it rely on organic molecules already in the environment (heterotrophic)? Did metabolism or genetics come first? Is a genetic mechanism like DNA essential for life? Did life originate on Earth or was it seeded from space? Was an intelligent designer (i.e., God) involved? Are scientific origins models based more on logos or on mythos? Experimental and observational data have not yet come close to settling these questions, yet many scientists have staked their reputations on one side or another in each of these debates. The literature of origins research is unlike any other I know in science in that almost any minimal new data are followed by wild (and often unsupported) extrapolations to intricate models of life's origins. Indeed several widely publicized and discussed models for life's origins (the clay world, the iron sulfide world, the PAH world, and more) were proposed before any supporting data were available. What does such an approach indicate about the epistemology of origins research and the process of scientific discovery? This course will examine the current state of research and understanding of the origin and distribution of life on Earth (and perhaps the Cosmos) by focusing on the rich primary research literature, including portions of more than 40 books and research articles. These readings will set the historical context of origins research, as well as the philosophical and religious implications of the pursuit. We will explore the major scientific advances of the past two decades, to be sure, but always with an eye to what constitutes reproducible observation and experiment, as opposed to speculation and extrapolation.

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Symmetry encompasses any aspect of matter or experience that involves the repetition of a pattern in space, in time, or in any other dimension. Sights and sounds and other inputs constantly bombard our senses. The only way that we can make sense of the universe is by learning to recognize patterns and their variations. Symmetry thus affects every characteristic of the natural and artistic world.

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