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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.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students are expected to be able to recognize the nature and values of different public audience types, to be able to communicate complex and controversial scientific topics in relevant and engaging manners and to be able to critically assess one’s own learning in the process.

Office Hours

I will be in my office on Thursdays from 11-12 for you to drop in to ask questions or to chat about life, the universe and everything.  There will be some times that I will not physically be on campus at that time but we can always arrange to meet over Zoom if that’s the case…. send me an email to set up a meeting.


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.


10% Personalize your Research due on Sept. 14 & 19
10% Respond to pseudoscience, due on Sept. 27 by email, show-and-tell on Sept. 28
10% Build a Science Centre display (teams of 3 people) due on October 12*
15% Record a podcast, due Nov. 21 (teams of 3 people)#
10% Know your personal bias, due on Nov. 9 
10% Mock media interviews (teams of 3 people) on Nov. 14 & 16*
10% Attendance and participation.
Final project:

25% Debates (teams of 3 people)#
25% Community Service Learning placement 

* = we assign the group members
# = you choose your own group members (let us know if you are having trouble finding partners)

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 through Brightspace 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 opens on Friday morning (Sept. 8th) at 9 am, 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.  The breakdown for the evaluation of your CSL activity will be the following:
5% for a timely completion of your 30 volunteer hours
5% for a positive assessment from your CSL host
15% for your final report (due on Wednesday Dec. 6 @ 5pm by email)
Your final report will consist of 6-8 written pages (12pt font, double-spaced, 1 inch margin), with a minimum of 6 primary research articles on the subject, that will address the following topics:
– a background on the placement organization and its role(s)
– some context on the scholarly knowledge about active learning of science for children
– a description of how you applied your knowledge from this course to the CSL experience
– a description of the skills you brought/developed to conduct your CSL activities
– a description of what you learned in the process of communicating/teaching science to children
This report must conform to the in-text citations and reference formatting of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Style and Grammar Guidelines

Dr. Brown’s 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 
How to craft an engaging scientific story

Guest Roster for Fall 2023

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.

DateGuestLearning Activity

September 21

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

Addressing pseudoscience and anti-scientific rhetoric online

Lecture notes in .pdf format

October 5Science 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
Assignment template in .doc format

October 17

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


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

October 31

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

Acknowledging and addressing biases

Lecture notes in .pdf format
In-class activity 

Bias assignment instructions


November 7Alex 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


Nov. 23 – Dec. 5Class Debates 

Personalize your Research

You will present a 1 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. This is your opportunity to weave a little of your own personal story into your science while making it interesting and engaging for the rest of us.

During the 1 minute 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


At the end of the term, you will debate in teams of 3 students on a topic of relevance to science in society. In order to make this experience equitable to both teams (as well as to maximize the science communication learning from this experience…. and the fun!), 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.

You must have your teams and a list of 3 preferred topics to debate by the end of September.

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 use is 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
  • 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


Ni manàdjiyànànig Màmìwininì Anishinàbeg, ogog kà nàgadawàbandadjig iyo akì eko weshkad. Ako nongom ega wìkàd kì mìgiwewàdj.
Ni manàdjiyànànig kakina Anishinàbeg ondaje kaye ogog kakina eniyagizidjig enigokamigàg Kanadàng eji ondàpinangig endàwàdjin Odàwàng.
Ninisidawinawànànig kenawendamòdjig kije kikenindamàwin; weshkinìgidjig kaye kejeyàdizidjig.
Nigijeweninmànànig ogog kà nìgànì sòngideyedjig; weshkad, nongom; kaye àyànikàdj.


We pay respect to the Algonquin people, who are the traditional guardians of this land. We acknowledge their longstanding relationship with this territory, which remains unceded.
We pay respect to all Indigenous people in this region, from all nations across Canada, who call Ottawa home.
We acknowledge the traditional knowledge keepers, both young and old.
And we honour their courageous leaders: past, present, and future.

Discussion Guidelines

  • Be constructive. Make your point, stay on topic, and don’t forget to complete the task as directed. Take your posts seriously and review and edit your posts before sending. Cite your sources, just as you would for a paper or a face-to-face discussion.
  • Be active. Participate and contribute to the discussions and read all messages in a thread before replying. Don’t repeat someone else’s post without adding something of your own to it. Avoid short, generic replies such as, “I agree.”, include why you agree or add to the previous point.
  • Be open-minded. Always be respectful of others’ opinions even when they differ from your own. Challenge ideas rather than the individual who offered them. Approach discussions with the goal of increasing everyone’s knowledge.

University Policies

Prevention of Sexual Violence

If you feel unsafe, call 9-1-1 or reach out to campus protective services at 613-562-5411. 

The University of Ottawa has a zero-tolerance policy for any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression. This includes both physical and psychological acts that are committed, threatened, or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism, sexual exploitation, and cyberbullying. The University, as well as various employee and student groups, offers a variety of services and resources to ensure that all uOttawa community members have access to confidential support and information, and to procedures for reporting an incident or filing a complaint. For more information, please visit https://www.uottawa.ca/sexual-violence-support-and-prevention/

Academic Accommodations

The Human Rights Office and the Student Academic Success Service (SASS) support students to remove barriers to accessibility. The University has always strived to meet the needs of individuals with learning disabilities or with other temporary or permanent functional disabilities (hearing/visual impairments, sustained health issues, mental health or learning disabilities), and the campus community works collaboratively so that you can develop and maintain your autonomy, as well as reach your full potential throughout your studies. You can call on a wide range of services and resources, all provided with expertise, professionalism and confidentiality.

If barriers are preventing you from integrating into university life and you need adaptive measures to progress (physical setting, arrangements for exams, learning strategies, etc.), contact:

  • (currently unavailable) visiting the SASS Academic Accommodations office on the third floor of the Desmarais Building, Room 3172 
  • logging into the Academic Accommodations Portal (Ventus) and completing the intake form
  • calling the SASS Academic Accommodations office at 613-562-5976

Deadlines for submitting requests for adaptive measures during exams:

  • Midterms, tests, deferred exams: seven business days before the exam, test or other written evaluation (excluding the day of the exam itself
  • Final exams:
    • November 15 for the fall session
    • March 15 for the winter session
    • Seven business days before the date of the exam for the spring/summer session (excluding the day of the exam itself).

Justification of absence from an examination (mid-term, final, supplemental or deferred) or from a test, or of late submission of assignments

Absence from any examination or test, or late submission of assignments on medical grounds or due to exceptional personal circumstances must be justified; otherwise, students will not be given the opportunity to complete the missed examination or test or to submit late assignments.

See regulation 9.5 for more information…

Academic Regulation A-1 on Bilingualism:
“Except in programs and courses for which language is a requirement, all students have the right to produce their written work and to answer examination questions in the official language of their choice, regardless of the course’s language of instruction.”


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