Evaluating contemporary science
Effective communication is essential in science, but do you ever wonder whether articles written about science in the news are thorough, unambiguous and objective? This module will enable you to explore contemporary areas in science, examining the ‘science behind the news’, and offering some choice in the areas that you will individually investigate. Key skills you will develop include searching current research, critiquing and evaluation methods, risk analysis, decision making and the communication of science. You will also explore different methods of collaborative working in a digital environment – the module is delivered entirely online, with no printed materials.
What you will study
In everyday life we often meet advances in science, usually through reports in the media. The way science is reported is important as it can influence decisions and behaviour. For example, the suggested link between the MMR vaccine and autism in the late 1990s illustrates how stories can develop far beyond the original scientific report and consequently influence the behaviour of the public. Therefore, you will appreciate that effective communication is essential for scientists. You will begin this module by exploring how science is peer reviewed and published before becoming news.
Next, you will study some recent original scientific research articles evaluating how closely they match some related news or other media articles. One contemporary topic we will use as an example is plastics in society, looking at the many multidisciplinary problems in their production, use and disposal, and, where possible, some potential solutions. You will choose one of the multidisciplinary aspects (such as the health effects of the leaching of chemicals from plastics, novel uses and recycling of plastics, or plastics in the environment and geology) to apply your evaluation skills.
As part of your evaluation of the science behind the news, you will then investigate the process of carrying out scientific research and how datasets are analysed and represented, an increasingly important area as more large datasets in science are being made available to the public. You will also be given the opportunity to work with some datasets in this module such as the level of lead in the blood of children due to environmental exposure.
For the later parts of the module, you will select one from several interdisciplinary scientific topics that you will individually investigate in more depth. Some examples of possible interdisciplinary scientific topics include antibiotic resistance, pollution from diesel vehicles, rare earth elements, moons and asteroids, The topic you choose should suit your interests and previous studies to allow you to apply your prior scientific knowledge to a contemporary real world issue. In parallel, you will also be encouraged to assess the wider implications in society of the science that you are exploring.
There is a popular online ‘science conference’ where you will utilise the skills learnt during the module to produce a scientific poster on your chosen topic. In addition, you will also adopt the role of a scientific advisor, presenting the findings from your chosen investigation as a separate briefing document. You will be fully supported in developing the important employability skills that you will practice and improve during these activities, such as presentation, critical thinking and analysis, awareness of societal impact, assessing risk, and decision making. The study materials work through some recent scientific topics and provide guidance on planning your own literature search, analysing data and communicating the information.
The module is ideal preparation for anyone planning a career in science, particularly those intending to go on to study one of the Science project course modules. As part of your first piece of assessment you will develop skills to deal with information that is not familiar to you and present your findings in a particular written style. Two intermediate submissions will help you to further develop important independent learning such as data analysis and presentation skills, and preparing a scientific poster with an accompanying recorded audio pitch, data analysis and presentation skills. For the final assessment you will present your findings as a short briefing document for a specific audience.
You are expected to check the S350 website and online forums frequently, and take part in group discussions in online tutorials. You will also be introduced to working with Open Studio, an online platform, to participate in a student conference involving peer support and feedback. Note the module is delivered entirely online, with no printed materials.
You will learn
By studying this module you will learn to:
- work independently with cutting edge scientific research
- develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and skills required to deal with scientific information
- present scientific information in various media.
To register for this module you must have successfully completed at least 60 credits of science at OU level 1 and 60 credits of science at OU level 2. This will ensure that you have some of the knowledge and skills required to develop further in this module. To further check your readiness for the module please work though the resource: Are you ready for S350?
If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.
Web-based text, software and access to The Open University library.
You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).
Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.
To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).
Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.
Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.
It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.