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Course Descripition

There are many challenges that the United States faces today. These range from climate change, energy independence, human genomics, nano-technology, to modified food crops. The question then becomes: How do we properly address these concerns? This course will start by examining the historical interaction between scientists, engineers, and public policy makers and how National public policy has affected various aspects of national concern. We will then examine the process by which public policy decisions are made in the Federal Government. We will also look at the proper role of advocacy groups, industry, researchers, national laboratories and individual citizens in setting public policy. We will also examine the role that political values have on the setting of the research agenda.

This course is intended for all majors and for all who are interested in the functioning of Government. This course can also qualify for graduate credit.

Classroom Time and Location

Class Time: Tuesday, Thursday 12:40 - 1:55

Room 512
Nielsen Physics Building

Contact Information

Instructor: Dr. Thomas Handler
Office: 504 Physics
Phone: 974-7820
Office Hours: TBA


Required Textbooks

  • 2007 - "The Honest Broker - Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics," Roger A. Pielke, Jr.

Papers to be Read

Strongly Recommnded

  • 1996 - "Frontiers of Illusion - Science, Technology, and the Poltics of Progress," Daniel Sarewtiz.

Suggested Reference Books

  • 1967 - "The Politics of Pure Science," Daniel S. Greenberg.
  • 1990 - "The Fifth Branch - Science Advisors as Policymakers," Sheila Jasanoff.
  • 2001 - "Science, Money, and Politics - Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion," Daniel S. Greenberg.
  • 2008 - "Beyond Sputnik - U.S. Science Policy in the 21st Century," Homer A. Neal, Tobin L. Smith, and Jennifer B. McCormick.


The semester grade will be determined from the following:

  • Class Participation: 10%
  • 2 Semester Papers: 30%
  • Term Paper: 30%
  • Class Presentation: 30%

All work submitted by a student is expected to represent their own work except in group projects wherein each student member of the group is expected to contribute equally. Students are expected to perform all work in conformance with the University policies regarding Academic Honesty.

Lecture Sequence and Readings

For the sequence of topics to be discussed please see Detailed.pdf

Reading Selections

During the semester selections from the following material will be read and discussed:

  • Science for Society - November 2000 Conference on Basic Research in the Service of Public Objectives
  • "The Demon-Haunted World - Science As A Candle In The Dark," Carl Sagan - 1995
  • "Politicizing Science - The Alchemy of Policymaking," Michael Gough, Editor - 2003
  • "The Black Swan," Nassim Nicholas Taleb - 2007
  • "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," Thomas Friedman - 2008
  • "Unscientific America," Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum - 2009
  • "Denialism," Michael Specter - 2010

Questions for Thought and Discussion

  1. What are the connections, either implicit or explicit, between The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and "Science - The Endless Frontier?"
  2. Compare the workings of science with the workings of government. Do not dwell on the detailed workings but concentrate on the generalities.
  3. Have tax policies been beneficial and/or detrimental to the advancement of science and/or technology?
  4. Should decision/policy makers base their actions only on advice that is 100% certain?
  5. What should be the proper balance, if there is such a thing, between "pure" research and "applied" research?
  6. How and why do issues become controversial?

Disability Statement

Any student who feels s/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs. Please contact the Office of Disability Services at 865-974-6087 in 2227 Dunford Hall to coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities.