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HR903 - BioScience, Politics & Social Acceptability

  • Module code: HR903
  • Module name: BioScience, Politics & Social Acceptability
  • Department: School of Life Sciences
  • Credit: 10, 12

Content and teaching | Assessment | Availability

Module content and teaching

Principal aims

Science and technology have a central place in modern society. Since the end of the second world war, scientific research has led to unparalleled developments in medicine, agriculture, manufacturing, transport, computing, communications, energy production, to name but a few. These changes have driven increases in the standard of living, health and wellbeing of many people. However, at the same time, the expansion of modern, industrialised economies has led to significant pressure being placed on the environment (though climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, and disruption of biogeochemical cycles). In addition, science and technology are being viewed increasingly as a threat by some sectors of society, particularly where they are considered to impact negatively on the sanctity of life, public health, privacy, democracy, personal freedom and the environment. In these cases, controversies arise which lead to public disputes. There are also complex, related questions about how science and technologies can best be regulated for common good in a globalised world in which enlightenment values are increasingly being questioned. Self-evidently, professional scientists play a critical role in these issues, both in terms of developing new scientific discoveries and technologies in universities, institutes and industry, but also by acting as government policy advisors, regulators, public communicators, or working for NGOs and pressure groups. The dual roles of science as the originator and advocate for new technology, and as the safety and risk assessor have generated questions of its veracity, reliability and ownership. Understanding the relationship between science and general society is an important part of the education of our science graduates, therefore. This module explores the societal drivers for a range of disputes centred on science and technology, particularly for issues concerning the environment and the biosciences. It discusses how an understanding of ethics can be used to gain new insight into controversial science/society issues. I then explores how modern science is funded, regulated and communicated. Examples of controversies explored in the course include GM crops, food safety (BSE), over-exploitation of natural environmental resources, and climate change. This module aims to address the basis of the various concerns and disputes over new technology and analyse the issues and risks scientifically. The philosophy of science will be discussed to describe the process of scientific research, which increases knowledge but also involves uncertainties and limitations of scientific evaluation in terms of hypothesis testing and modelling, and the apparent uncertainty of risk assessment. Science is governed by a compact between society and science but the privileged position of science is under question. New models are sought to increase communication and understanding between science and society (involving individuals, NGO’s, commerce and governments).

Principal learning outcomes

1. To better understand the role of science in modern society, why and how it is done, and why and how it is regulated. 2. To introduce basic concepts of ethics and to understand how these can be used to inform contentious issues concerning science and wider society. 3. To introduce a range of science-society controversies and to discuss the different arguments connected with them. 4. To analyse the risks associated with the introduction of new technology and the reasons for concern. 5. To understand the challenges faced by governments and other actors involved in developing and regulating science and technology. 6. To explore how science is communicated in different ways, including within the scientific community and to the wider public.

Timetabled teaching activities

Lectures for the module 11 hours; Seminars for the module 7 hours

Departmental link

Module assessment

Assessment group Assessment name Percentage
10 CATS (Module code: HR903-10)
A1 (Assessed work only) Assessed coursework 70%
  Seminar presentation 30%
12 CATS (Module code: HR903-12)
A1 (Assessed work only) Assessed coursework 70%
  Seminar presentation 30%

Module availability

This module is available on the following courses:

  • Postgraduate Taught Environmental Bioscience in a Changing Climate (D4A1) - Year 2
Optional Core


  • Postgraduate Certificate in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PC) - Year 2
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PC) - Year 3
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PC) - Year 4
  • The Warwick Postgraduate Award in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PD) - Year 2
  • The Warwick Postgraduate Award in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PD) - Year 3