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SCI 3101 The Public Communication of Science

Course Description

A multi-disciplinary approach to communicating Science towards non-specialist audiences by exploring the principles and practices of communication, public speaking and media relations. Theoretical topics include framing issues for various audience-types, use of metaphor and appropriate terminology in story-telling.

Biology Program Learning Outcomes Addressed:

“By the end of this course, the students should be able to -” 

Application of knowledge

  • Acquire and collate the information and data relevant to a given biological question and objectively interpret them to draw an informed conclusion;
  • Use key concepts and methodologies in applied situations ranging from advanced laboratory and field courses to work and research settings.

Communication skills

  • Develop and defend logical, coherent arguments;
  • Disseminate biological information in written and oral format to scientific and non-scientific audiences.

Awareness of limits of knowledge

  • Evaluate recent advances in biological knowledge and recognize the limits of the scientific process.

Autonomy and professional capacity

  • Demonstrate professional work habits and ethical conduct when working individually or as part of a team.

Online Classes

Tuesday 4-530 on Zoom
Thursday 230-4 on Zoom

Office Hours

I do not have no specific office hours but I am ready to meet with you on Zoom anytime you have a question or just want to drop in and say HI or chat.


Occasionally, I will be required to contact you by email with some info about the course.  Please note that it is your responsibility to check your uottawa email regularly and to respond within a reasonable delay.  You may consult these regulations surrounding email contact at uOttawa here.


Personalize your story 10% of your final grade on Thursday Sept. 17
Know your personal bias 10% due on Oct. 6
Record a podcast 15%, due Nov. 2
Respond to pseudoscience/anti-scientific rhetoric 10%
Build Science Centre/Museum displays 10%
Mock media interviews 10%
Write an Op-Ed for a newspaper 10%
Final project:

Debates 25% (teams of 2 people)
Community Service Learning placement 25%

Self-Reflection Assessments
For all assignments there will be a component of your evaluation that will be based on an assessment of the quality of your work by the professor and TAs, as well as a portion devoted to your own personal assessment of your learning experience after having completed the project (worth 5% of the mark).  Once you have completed/submitted/presented your assignment, you will then have 3 days to submit your self-assessment to complete your overall mark.

CSL placements

There are a limited number of spots available for the CSL opportunities and they are on a first-come-first-served basis.  The enrolment period is from Sept. 14-17, so please act quickly if this option interests you.  The information presentation about the CSL program can be found here and the information sheet for students can be found here.

Dr. Brown’s lecture Notes

Why is Science Communication important?  3 slides or 6 slides
What is Science Communication? 3 slides or 6 slides
How to do Science Communication 3 slides or 6 slides 

Guest Roster for Fall 2020

Over the course of the term, we will receive guests from various sectors of society that all have a specialization in communicating science to the public.  We will learn from their perspectives through brief lectures and will quickly begin to apply that learning towards dynamic and exciting science communication activities as course assignments.

Date Guest Learning Activity

September 22

Dr. Kathy-Sarah Focsaneanu
Assistant Professor, Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences uOttawa

Acknowledging and addressing biases

Lecture notes in .pdf format
In-class activity 
Media diet assignment (do not start until after Dr. Focs’ presentation)

Oct. 1

Body of Evidence, with Dr. Christopher Lobos, M.D. and Jonathan Jarry, M.Sc.

Podcasting notes in pdf format
Guidelines from CHUO about writing for radio
How to record using Zoom
Link to CBC webpage on doc structures

October 13

Jonathan Jarry, M.Sc.
Science Communicator
McGill Office for Science and Society

Addressing pseudoscience and anti-scientific rhetoric online
Lecture notes in .pdf format

November 5 Science North with Katrina Pisani, M.Sc. & Amy Henson, M.Sci.Comm.

Creating engagement with visitors to science centres and museums
Lecture notes in .pdf format

November 17 Alex Freedman
Former Producer for CBC TV News
Current Executive Director of the Community Radio Fund of Canada

Talking to the Media
Lecture notes in .pdf format


Personalize your Research

You will present a 1-2 minute oral delivery of your scientific research (via a published research article of your choice) in order to infuse a little passion and personality into the otherwise clinical and objective fields of science.

During the 1-2 minutes at our mock-cocktail party you will need to present:
1. What you do (the kind of research)
2. Why you find it interesting and
3. How it is or should be considered important or valuable to society


In order to make this experience equitable to both teams (as well as to maximize the science communication learning from this experience), you will not know whether you will argue FOR or AGAINST the issue until the time of the debate.  Because of this, you will need to prepare both sides of the argument, which will allow you to develop a complete view of the issue in question.

The process during the debates will follow typical debate formats: the team arguing FOR the issue will present their opening arguments for 5 minutes, followed by the AGAINST opening arguments for the same duration.  After the opening arguments, each team will have 5 minutes each to offer a rebuttal to the arguments presented by the other’s opening remarks.  Finally, there will be a 2 min allotment for each team to present their concluding remarks on the subject.

Potential topics for debates:

  • GMO food is toxic to human health
  • GMOs are bad for the environment
  • Human populations must be limited in growth
  • Vaccines cause autism
  • Nuclear power is too dangerous to be a viable energy option
  • The earth is flat
  • Glyphosate (Round-up) pesticide dangerous to human health
  • Human-caused climate change is a real threat to humanity
  • Homeopathy is a valid ‘alternative’ medicine
  • Veganism is healthier than omnivory in humans
  • Farmed fisheries are more sustainable than wild caught fish
  • Humans should colonize Mars
  • Capitalism is bad for the environment
  • All remaining oil stocks should remain in the ground
  • The economy is more important than the environment
  • Water fluoridation is bad for our health
  • Mining for precious metals is unsustainable
  • Artificial intelligence is a threat to human civilization
  • Social media algorithms are a threat to democracy
  • Social media is a cause of mental illness in youth
  • Applied scientific research is more important than basic research
  • All drugs should be legalized in Canada
  • GMO mosquitos will increase the spread of infectious diseases like Zika or West Nile Virus

or you may make other suggestions


You will write an opinion piece (op-ed) to a recognized newspaper in response to a science-related media story that was in the news during this Fall term (published between Sept. and December 2020 exclusively).  The format will follow the Globe and Mail guidelines of 700 words maximum and you will be graded according to the following criteria:

Clarity & precision of articulation – Identify your issue
Logical progression of argument
Relevance and impact of scientific argument
Brief & to the point – no waffling about
Direct & forceful language

Here is a great article that provides a lot of useful tips on how to craft a science-based op-ed for the public.  I hope that it can be helpful for you.

The assignment will be due on the last day of classes (Dec. 9th) and is to be submitted by email in a .pdf format, including a .pdf copy of the original media article to which you are responding.

This assignment is worth 10% of your final grade but I will give you a bonus 2% to your final mark in the course if you get it published in the newspaper.


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