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Science and the public: contemporary and historical perspectives


Please note that this course description is preliminary. The final course description will be released in the Summer of 2019.

Admission requirements



Science has often been held to exemplify the values which operate in the public sphere in an open society. It has been treated as a model for the democratic discourse through which the state is held accountable in public. Yet, science as specialized expertise, fostered in elite communities, is also detached from the lay discourse of the public sphere. This detachment is increasingly challenged as skeptical publics question expert prerogatives. This course aims to offer a careful understanding of the interrelationship between science and the public. Students will learn about different aspects involved in the way scientists, intermediaries and institutions have interacted with the public sphere in the past and continue to do so. Topics that will be addressed are the popularization of science, public (dis)trust in science, scientific expertise and public law, classified science and secrecy, the depiction of science in the media, science museums, and science based government campaigns aimed at the general public. In this course, we will discuss critical texts on these topics after a brief introduction by one of the students. Excursions to museums are also included. A final essay will conclude the course.

Course objectives

The main aim of the course is to familiarize students with different aspects of the interaction between ‘science’ and ‘the public’ over the last two centuries and deepen their understanding of the difficulties and opportunities in bridging the supposed gap between them.

Soft skills

In this course, students will be trained in the following behaviour-oriented skills:

  • Verbal communication (presenting, speaking, listening)

  • Written communication (writing skills, reporting, summarizing)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, check assumptions)

  • Creative thinking (resourcefulness, curiosity, thinking out of the box)


See Astronomy master schedules

Mode of instruction

  • Exercise classes (discussion of course literature)

  • Excursions (museum visits)

Assessment method

  • Class participation (20% of final grade)

  • Presentations (20% of final grade)

  • Final essay (60% of final grade)


Blackboard will be used to communicate with students and to provide course information and instructions, to post the weekly readings, to solicit summaries and essays, and to facilitate online discussion. You must enroll on Blackboard before the first lecture. To have access, you need a student ULCN account.

Reading list

The weekly readings, mainly journal articles and book chapters, will be provided by the teacher.


Via uSis. More information about signing up for your classes can be found here. Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply. For a la carte and contract registration, please see the Prospective students website.

Contact information

Lecturer: Prof.dr. F.H. (Frans) van Lunteren