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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.


Tuesday 4-530 in CRX C030
Thursday 230-4 CRX C030
DGD sessions: Wednesdays 1-230 in TBT 070

Office Hours

Wednesday 11 am – 12 pm in GNN284
Please email me to set up an appointment at another time if you are not available to drop in during office hours.


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

  • you will present a 60-second narrative orally on a research article of your choice in the format of an introduction at a cocktail party.  This is your chance to infuse your personality/history into your science by getting personal about it.  In the 60 seconds you will be expected to tell us about what you do (the kind of research), why you find it interesting and how it can be useful to society.  This short presentation must be ready to show upon arrival at the class on Sept. 24.

Respond to pseudoscience/anti-scientific rhetoric 10%
Write an Op-Ed for a newspaper 10%
Mock media interviews 10% (teams of 2 people)
Pitch a business idea 10%
Write a government briefing report 10%
Know your personal bias 10%

Final project:

Debates 30% (teams of 2 people)
Community Service Learning placement 30%

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. 11-13, 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.

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 TA, 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 received your corrected/completed assignment back, you will then have 3 days to submit your self-assessment to complete your overall mark.

Over the course of the term, we will receive many guests from various sectors of society that all have a specialization in communicating 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 in class.

Guest Roster for Fall 2019

Date Guest Learning Activity

Sept. 17 & 19

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

Debunking pseudoscience and anti-scientific rhetoric
Presentation notes in pdf here

Assignment due on Sept. 19

October 3

Dr. Kevin Orr
Professor of Theatre

Public speaking and using ‘the space’

October 8 & 10

Sharif Virani (H.B.Sc.)
Managing Partner and Creative Director of Media Launch Ottawa

Pitching Science to Business

Assignment due on Oct. 10

October 22 Al Connors
Theatre Manager
Gladstone Theatre
October 24 Dr. April Killikelly
Scientific Project Coordinator
Public Health Agency of Canada

Government policy reports and briefings

Assignment due on Oct. 31

November 5

Dr. Kathy Focsaneanu
Professor of Chemistry

Addressing bias

Assignment due on Nov. 7

November 12 & 14 Alex Freedman
Former Producer for CBC TV News
Current Chief of Staff for Chief of Assembly of First Nations
Talking to the Media

Lecture Topics

There will occasionally be some theoretical material delivered in a classic lecture-format, for which I will post the lecture notes here beforehand for your note-taking.

Introduction to Science Communication Notes in 3 slides or 6 slides per page
History of Science Communication Notes in 3 slides or 6 slides per page
Framing for your audience Notes in 3 slides or 6 slides per page
more TBD….  

Potential topics for debates:

  • GMOs are detrimental 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
  • Facebook 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


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