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Unit outline_

HPSC2011: Science, Ethics and Society

Semester 2, 2022 [Normal day] - Remote

What is the role of science in society? What should it be? Scientific knowledge is often difficult to understand without years of training, and yet this knowledge is crucial to social welfare, and to our political and environmental futures. In this Unit of Study, we look at the practical realities of living in a society of which science is an integral part. Our examples come from across the sciences, with an emphasis on the health sciences, and on biodiversity, climate change, and environmental challenges. Major themes are: 1. Science in Society: how can publics relate to scientific knowledge? What is the importance of trust in science? What is the role of experts? What does it mean to say that science and society are co-constructed? 2. The West and the Rest: what are the relations between so-called "Western science" and other knowledge systems? What role has science played in colonial legacies? Our focus is on relations with Aboriginal Australian knowledges and cultures. 3. Facts and Norms: how does science relate to social and political values? Can scientific facts be independent of these values? We look at the historical origins of important concepts of science and ethics in response to the Second World War, and at present-day examples e.g. in biomedical research.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit History and Philosophy of Science Academic Operations
Credit points 6
Assumed knowledge

Students should be familiar witj introductory material in Philosophy of Science, Ethics or Sociology

Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Daniela Helbig,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Final essay
25% Formal exam period
Due date: 14 Nov 2022 at 23:59
2,500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO4 LO5
Small continuous assessment Forum
Online tasks (varying formats)
10% Multiple weeks 1hr
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Assignment Short essay
15% Week 05
Due date: 04 Sep 2022 at 23:59
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO2
Assignment Podcast/Vodcast
Podcast/Vodcast on Indigenous knowledge systems
20% Week 10
Due date: 16 Oct 2022 at 23:59
up to 15 min recording
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO4
Small test Weekly quiz
Quiz on lecture content
15% Weekly 20 min quiz
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Small continuous assessment Reading Room
Written answers to questions on the weekly reading
15% Weekly 1hr
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2

Assessment summary

Weekly assessments: Online Forum (different weekly tasks), quizzes on lecture content, submitting written answers to reading questions.

Major assessments: short essay (1,000 words), podcast, essay (2,500 words). 

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Introduction Lecture (1 hr) LO1
Science and Society in the Anthropocene Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 02 Social construction Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2
Thought collectives Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 03 Cultures of science Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2
Science and Expertise Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 04 Climate Change and Co-production Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Climate change and co-production: the IPCC Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Week 05 Producing Doubt Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Invasive species and the bushfire crisis Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 06 Western science? Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO2 LO3 LO5
CCWM visit Lecture (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 07 Indigenous Science for the future Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO3 LO5
The Dark Emu controversy Lecture (1 hr) LO3 LO5
Week 08 The Hermannsburg experiments Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO4 LO5
DNA and History Lecture (1 hr) LO4 LO5
Week 09 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Methodologies Lecture (3 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5
Future-proofing oyster habitats Lecture and tutorial (1 hr) LO4 LO5
Week 10 Nazi science and the Nuremberg code Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Tuskegee and Informed Consent Lecture (1 hr) LO4 LO5
Week 11 FPIC and Ethical Biovalue Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO4 LO5
Research Ethics in Practice Lecture (1 hr) LO4 LO5
Week 12 Environmental Ethics Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO4 LO5
Values in Conservation Lecture (1 hr) LO4 LO5
Week 13 Environmental ethics and conservation Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO4 LO5
Conclusion Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5

Attendance and class requirements

This course requires mandatory weekly online activities. These include a weekly quiz on lecture content, reading questions, and additional online tasks that vary week by week. 

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

Readings on course website.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Recognise, and reflect critically on problems that are both social and scientific in nature
  • LO2. Discuss basic approaches and ideas with regard to the place of science in society, relations between science and the public, and the role of experts
  • LO3. Understand some of the social and political implications of the concept of 'modern Western science,' and reflect on the relations, similarities and differences between different knowledge traditions
  • LO4. Recognise the lasting importance of the history of science for research ethics, and discuss examples of normative judgments embedded in research practices
  • LO5. Present coherent arguments about the relationship of science to society, the relation between 'Western' science and Indigenous knowledges, and ethical issues related to developments in modern science and its applications

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

In-class presentation has been replaced by podcast assignment.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

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