Science and the Public


The aim of this Focus cluster is to take a scholarly, interdisciplinary and, we hope, fun approach to science and technology and the ways in which they reach the public. Our cluster will be a cohort of four courses dedicated to various aspects of science’s place in the world, including: patient activism and advocacy; the development of laws and policies governing science; the relationship between science and the performing arts; and human-machine interfaces in the twenty-first century.  The weekly interdisciplinary discussion course will be dedicated to science communication and science outreach. Each course will explore, to varying degrees,  “how the sausage gets made,” i.e., how science and technology happen; what becomes of them once they do happen; how they are conveyed to various publics; and stakeholder responses to them.


Science and Society 196FS/ African and African American Studies 196FS/ Global Health 195FS/ Psychology 196FS/ Public Policy 196FS/ Sociology 196FS/ Cultural Anthropology 196FS - Patient and Research Participant Activism and Advocacy (SS, STS, W)


Misha Angrist, Associate Professor of the Practice at the Social Sciences Research Institute; Senior Fellow in Duke Initiative for Science & Society;  Visiting Associate Professor of the Practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy 

In the 1960s, patients appropriated the language and tactics of the civil rights movement to advance clinical and research agendas. Today patient activism is evolving, leading to new solutions, dilemmas, and organizational structures. This course will examine patient and research participant activism and the ways it challenges conventional notions of expertise, amateurism, "human subjects protections," and minimization of risk. Students will bring the tools of journalism, anthropology, humanities scholarship, public policy and community engagement/citizen science to bear on ethical and policy questions. 

Science and Society 199FS/ Public Policy 199FS - Imagining American Health (SS, W)

Clare Callahan

Clare Callahan, Instructor, Duke Initiative for Science & Society 

How has landmark public policy changed the health landscape in the United States and influenced the way we think and talk about health as a social fact? How has cultural expression both registered these changes and sought to influence law and policy? What debates have played out in public discourse regarding policies that impact health and how can attention to language and narrative literacy help us to understand both the potential and the limits of policy work? This course will explore these interactions between policies that impact health in its social context and cultural expression, focusing on photography, literature, and film.

Science and Society 198FS/ Theater Studies 198FS/ English 198FS/ Literature 198FS - Performing Science: Experimentation, Collaboration, and Artistry (ALP, STS, R)


Jules Odendahl-James, Director of Academic Engagement, Arts & Humanities

This course invites students to consider the ways in which visual, creative, and performing arts can improve public awareness and knowledge about complex ideas and research across what C.P. Snow called “the two cultures”: the arts and the sciences. We will center our inquiry on climate change and its short and long-term effects. We will read a handful of new plays, short fiction, and non-fiction that depict and dissect the present and imagine a variety of futures. We will consider science museums, particularly Durham’s own Museum of Life & Science, as public laboratories for experimental, embodied, interdisciplinary collaborations. The course is project based and workshop structured with opportunities for students to pitch, test, and revise ideas. No previous arts experience necessary; you will learn/employ a host of tools (e.g., adaptation, composition, design, dramaturgy, and movement) of your choosing to craft original work for three related course units: Autobiography of an Element, The Uncertainty Festival, and Ocean Exhibit Prototypes.

Science and Society 197FS - From Siri to Skynet: Our Complex Relationships with Technology (SS, STS)


Mark DeLong, Director of Duke Research Computing

From mobile phones to driverless cars, modern high-tech devices have important human-facing and human-obscured elements that shape our relationships with technology. Some integrate seamlessly into our daily lives, others frustrate us, and some simply captivate us. In this course, we will investigate how the design, development, and usage of these technologies impact contemporary human societies. Topics will include design principles, data collection & usage, accessibility, usability, safety, ethics, societal impact and performance. Case studies used in the course will include a variety of past and current technologies, as well as emerging systems such as brain-computer interfaces, autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence.