ENGL 281 A: Intermediate Expository Writing

Science Writing and Society

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 12:00pm - 2:10pm
BAG 331A
Norman Wacker
Norman Wacker

Syllabus Description:

Your course syllabus lives here: ENGL281CourseSyllabus.docx

Additional Details:

Science Writing and Society
English 281 A  Summer 2016 A-term C-Course
Counts toward the English Minor

Norman Wacker nwacker@uw.edu
The primary objective of this course is to establish an interactive classroom community in which students from all disciplines and areas of interest can collaborate to engage recent scientific research and science reporting and their consequences for contemporary social issues, including global health, the nature of aggression, uncertainty and warfare, advances genetic engineering, climate change and the neurology of writing, learning and creativity.

We will examine how individual research papers contribute to new and flexible portfolios of knowledge and  technical innovation, an open-ended process of  knowledge making  central to research universities like ours, professional fields as various as medicine, resource management, finance, business and social and mass media.  

Darwin’s Origin of the Species, important as it was and continues to be to science, was written for a general audience and that purchased the whole of the first printing on the day of its release. Its treatment of evolution lead to a vision of time and life as defined by change, progress, driven by highly selective processes of fitness, adaptation and competition that was introduced to  Darwin’s enormous readership and the public discourse of the English speaking world virtually overnight. The influence persists as the geneticist Theodosious Dobzhansky remarked, “Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.”  

Key Questions:
How are science papers organized? What do we learn as we read about research, scientific reasoning, and experimentation?  What are the larger stakes of the results reported in these often quite specialized studies?   What debates and conversations have they sparked? How do these papers compare to writing and representation of science for a general audience in other media, such as Ted Talks or short instructive videos on science issues? What are some common assumptions about scientific writing and scientific knowledge?  How should we evaluate and revise those assumptions as we work closely with this kind of writing in this class?


  • Brief low-stakes homework reading log entries, in-class writes and active sharing in class discussion of our reading experience designed to build collaboratively our comprehension and engagement of science papers and their context.
  • 3-short analytical papers on 1) One science paper, its context and stakes 2) One science paper and ensuing discussion and debate 3) A review of three state of the moment papers and their contribution to advancing a thread of inquiry.
  • Engaged preparation and active participation in each class meeting.

Reading List (in Progress): “Emergence of Individuality in Genetically Identical Mice;”  “Chimpanzee Adenovirus Vector Ebola Vaccine—Preliminary Report;”  “Investigating the zoonotic origin of the West African Ebola epidemic;”  “A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance;” ““Bees at War: Interspecific Battles and Nest Usurpation in Stingless Bees;” “Designing Tomorrow’s Vaccines;” “Genomic Engineering and the Future of Medicine:” “Neural correlates of verbal creativity: differences in resting-state functional connectivity associated with expertise in creative writing;” “An Empirical Test of the Theory of Gamified Learning”

Catalog Description: 
Writing papers communicating information and opinion to develop accurate, competent, and effective expression.
GE Requirements: 
English Composition (C)
Last updated: 
October 5, 2016 - 9:22pm