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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

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 and personal freedom. In these cases, controversies arise which lead to public disputes and raises complex ethical questions. There are related issues about how science and technologies can best be regulated and used for common good in a globalised world in which enlightenment values are increasingly being questioned. Scientists play a critical role in these issues, both in terms of developing new scientific discoveries and technologies in universities, institutes and industry, and also by acting as government policy advisors, regulators, communicators, or working for NGOs and pressure groups. Sometimes, scientists have conflicting roles as the originators and advocates for new technologies, as well as being the safety and risk assessor for the same technologies. The pressure to publish novel and groundbreaking findings can lead to some scientists publishing work that is incorrect, not repeatable, or interpreted in a particular way to grab headlines. These issues have generated questions about trust in scientists, the reliability of scientific evidence, and its ownership. Understanding the relationship between science and general society is an important part of the education of our science graduates, therefore. In this module we explore the societal drivers for a range of ethical issues concerning science and technology, particularly for issues involving bioscience and environmental science. We discuss how an understanding of ethics can be used to gain new insight into controversial science/society issues. We explore 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 aim of the module is improve participants’ understanding of ethical concerns and disputes over science and technology. 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, NGOs, commerce and governments).

Principal learning outcomes

1. Demonstrate understanding of ethical questions concerning science, technology or the environment. 2. Be able to identify the participants involved in specific ethical questions and explain their roles / motivations. 3. Be able to recognize and explain conflicts of interest between participants. 4. Be able to combine normative ethical theories with knowledge of natural science in order to identify insights or potential solutions to ethical questions involving science, technology and the environment. 5. Be able to explain the challenges faced by governments and other actors involved in developing and regulating science and technology. 6. Understand how science is communicated in different ways, including within the scientific community and to the wider public.

Timetabled teaching activities

Lectures: 3 Seminars: 5 Practical Class/Workshops:17

Departmental link

Module assessment

Assessment group Assessment name Percentage
10 CATS (Module code: HR903-10)
A3 (Assessed work only) Assessed Seminar 40%
  Essay 60%

Module availability

This module is available on the following courses:

  • Postgraduate Taught Environmental Bioscience in a Changing Climate (D4A1) - Year 1
Optional Core


  • Postgraduate Taught Integrative Bioscience (C1PK) - Year 1
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PC) - Year 1
  • 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 1
  • The Warwick Postgraduate Award in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PD) - Year 2
  • The Warwick Postgraduate Award in Transferable Skills in Science (F1PD) - Year 3
  • Postgraduate Taught Scientific Research and Communication (F1PE) - Year 1