Software Engineering (3 Years) [BSc]

Science & the Modern World

Unit code: UCIL10221
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 1
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit?: Y




Using a variety of examples from past and present, this unit explores the place of science in human affairs. By using a non-specialist vocabulary, it helps to understand why we trust scientists and where that reliance comes from historically. It invites to reflect critically on the methods scientific experts use and the influence they exercise in the modern world.

A variety of resources, from scientists’ writings to literature and film will thus be made available to introduce arts, humanities and science students to different ways of understanding science in the past and the present. Through a variety of case studies showing scientists at work the course analyses their ambitions, successes and the controversies that their research engendered. It will thus explore how science confronts politics, religion and culture more generally. What is science? And why does science have authority in our society and culture? You don’t have to be Einstein to find an answer!

PLEASE NOTE that HSTM10221 is the 10-credit version of this unit. The unit is also available in a 20-credit version (HSTM10721) and as a UCIL unit (UCIL10221/UCIL10721).


Science has a central role in our cultural, economic and political life. You will reflect on the role of science in the past and in the present through the use of a variety of resources including literature and film.

Learning outcomes

Students will have an appreciation of the complexity of the modern sciences in the broad context of their historical development; understand a range of ways of thinking about the sciences and contemporary society and the relationships between them; be able to reflect critically on the role of the sciences in modern culture; develop their communication and group-working skills.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Employability Skills

This course offers an opportunity to learn creatively and collectively. Your team-working skills will definitely improve as result of coursework activities and so will your leading skills. The research output requested will increase your problem-solving capacity, while it will also give you an invaluable opportunity to improve your writing skills. More significantly, you’ll get up to speed with your knowledge of science and learn to critically review what is being discussed in the media and there will be a significant amount of discussions in the class which will help you to give and accept constructive criticism.


Written Communication

1. Non-assessed one paragraph summaries of the readings which are used to provide students with feedback on their reading and writing abilities. These abstracts are meant to introduce skills that could be applied in essay writing.

2. Essays on select topics, pre-circulated. The essays are 1000 words long and are meant to enable students to produce a short but coherent review of the arguments related to the course. 


Employability skills

  • Analytical skillsAnalytical skills are at the core of all the above exercises.
  • Innovation/creativityEssays are based on students' own interests and ideas and it is the requirement of the unit that they offer their own views on existing debates or issues. This ethos is further strengthened by the class discussions. The key in all such exercises is the ability to understand the logic of sustainable claims with relevance to non-scientific discourse.
  • Oral communicationStudents do not have a formal oral presentation in this unit but they are asked to read a text for the seminars during which an oral interaction takes form of a discussion on a topic of relevance for science and society issues - usually on a topical issue such as the role of ideology in science, or the role of laboratory work in the production of biological knowledge. The seminars are lively and sometimes demanding in that they require the skills of real-time dialoguing and defending opposing cases.
  • ResearchStudents perform original research tasks in preparing for their essays. They are given a list of initial readings but are not fed into reproducing the consensus. They are told how to use databases, how to avoid unreliable public domain resources and how to develop the criteria for judging the quality of academic work.
  • Written communicationSee transferable skills above
  • OtherCritical analysis and independent evaluation of arguments in relevant literature. Communication skills developed during seminars. Effective writing skills (abstract summaries) and extended composition for Essays. Independent research, time management and organization of data for Projects. Team work in preparation for in seminars. Effective learning and revision techniques.

Assessment Further Information

Both lecture and seminar content are assessed by:

  • 1000 word essay (50% of overall mark)
  • 2hour exam (50% of overall mark)


Lectures form a connected series of case studies of various aspects of science in society and culture, based on the following themes:

  • What is Science? An Introduction to the course
  • C.U.D.O.S.! Science and ideology.
  • Sexist? Science and Gender
  • God or Nature? Science meets Religion
  • The Celebrity Phenomenon: Science in the public arena
  • Power to the Scientist! The political arena
  • Towards Global Warming: Science and the Environment
  • Non-Neutral or Post-Normal? Science and its critics
  • The Dark Side: War, Secrecy and Surveillance

Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set weekly reading. Students are required to conduct groups activities based on their readings, answer questions and discuss the content. They will also prepare weekly a piece of writing that will then form integral part of their final essay.

Recommended reading

  • Peter Bowler & Iwan Morus, Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Alan Chalmers, What is This Thing Called Science? Indianapolis: Hackett Publications, 1999
  • Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: What Everyone Should Know About Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998

Feedback methods

Students are encouraged to ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff answers queries in the class and also by email or during office hours (contact details in the course handbook or at lectures). All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and comments explaining the rationale for the marks given.

Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 11 hours
  • Seminars - 11 hours
  • Independent study hours - 76 hours

Teaching staff

Simone Turchetti - Unit coordinator

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