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First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

"Bad Science": Science as a Tool for Promoting Social Justice*

Instructor(s): Corinne Moss-Racusin, Psycholoy

Are scientists truly objective in their pursuit of knowledge, or do they demonstrate the same flaws, biases, and cruelties as the rest of us? What can we learn about "good science" by studying "bad science? In this course, we will explore both the bias of science (i.e., examples of scientists exhibiting discrimination) and the science of bias (i.e., the rich, interdisciplinary science exploring how and why people discriminate). To do so, we will grapple with material and arguments from numerous disciplinary perspectives, including Psychology, Medicine, Biology, Sociology, History, Philosophy, Public Policy, and Feminist Theory. Together, we will discover the dark sides of science—the “bad” science that has been shaped by scientists’ own biases, perpetuated social inequality, and even actively harmed people from stigmatized groups. From the Eugenics that fueled Nazi genocide to unethical testing of dangerous new drugs and medical devices on communities of color and the theft of female scientists’ research, we will see that science can descend quite far from its lofty ideals. However, we will contrast this with an examination of the bright promise of “good” science, which utilizes rigorous scientific methodology to help identify, understand, and halt discrimination. This course will immerse students in both the perils and promise of scientific inquiry as a means of fighting for social justice. 


*For the fourth credit hour, this seminar will participate in FYE ID, designed to educate students about power, privilege, and social identities, and to help them develop dialogue and reflection skills to engage productively with and across social differences.   This weekly program consists of six lectures alternating across the semester with six small-group discussions.


Course Offered: