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Science and the public: contemporary and historical perspectives


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.


See MSc schedules

Mode of instruction

Class discussion of course literature, museum visits.

Assessment method

Class participation (20%), presentations (20%) and a paper (60%).


Blackboard will be used to get students to register, to provide course information and instructions, to post the weekly readings, to solicit summaries and essays, and to facilitate online discussions. To have access, you need an ULCN account. More information:

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 at the Faculty of Science can be found here
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.
For Interest only & Contractual enrollment, please see this website.

Contact information

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