Misha Angrist
Misha Angrist

Science and the Public

The aim of this Focus cluster is to take a scholarly, interdisciplinary and, we hope, fun approach to science and technology and the ways in which they reach the public. Apply Now   View All Cluster Courses

Duke’s Focus Program (FOCUS) is an exciting opportunity for students to explore ideas from the vantage point of different disciplines across the humanities, sciences and social sciences during their first semester at Duke.

The Focus Program offers these extraordinary opportunities to first-year, first-semester students:

  • Interdisciplinary seminar clusters that nurture the FOCUS student’s intellectual curiosity and sense of academic adventure. Students apply to FOCUS—the program—not to a specific course. Each cluster offers a range of interrelated seminars and features a community element while fulfilling Duke curriculum requirements.
  • Small group seminars of no more than 18 students interacting with some of Duke’s most distinguished professors. This intimate learning experience encourages personal intellectual responsibility while establishing student-professor rapport. Faculty and students engage in a comfortable interaction which continues throughout their academic life and later careers.
  • Shared housing with other FOCUS students that facilitates discussion and scholarly exploration while taking part in Duke’s rich East Campus living environment.
  • Integrated learning experiences across academic disciplines and opportunities to venture beyond Duke’s campus into the community. Field trips, travel, community service, and research are incorporated into the interdisciplinary FOCUS learning experience.

Duke Focus Cluster

Science and the Public

The Duke Initiative for Science & Society organizes the curriculum for the Science and the Public cluster.

The aim of this Focus cluster is to take a scholarly, interdisciplinary and, we hope, fun approach to science and technology and the ways in which they reach the public. Our cluster will be a cohort of four courses dedicated to various aspects of science’s place in the world, including:

  • Patient activism and advocacy
  • The development of laws and policies governing science
  • The relationship between science and the performing arts
  • Human-machine interfaces in the twenty-first century

The weekly interdisciplinary discussion course will be dedicated to science communication and science outreach. Each course will explore, to varying degrees, “how the sausage gets made,” i.e., how science and technology happen; what becomes of them once they do happen; how they are conveyed to various publics; and stakeholder responses to them.



SCISOC 196FS: Patient and Research Participant Activism and Advocacy (SS, STS, W)

Misha Angrist, Associate Professor of the Practice at SSRI, a Senior Fellow in Science & Society, and Visiting Associate Professor of the Practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy as part of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy.

In the 1960s, patients appropriated the language and tactics of the civil rights movement to advance clinical and research agendas. Today patient activism is evolving, leading to new solutions, dilemmas, and organizational structures. This course will examine patient and research participant activism and the ways it challenges conventional notions of expertise, amateurism, “human subjects protections,” and minimization of risk. Students will bring the tools of journalism, anthropology, humanities scholarship, public policy and community engagement/citizen science to bear on ethical and policy questions. Open only to students in the Science & the Public Focus cluster.


SCISOC 199FS: Risks, Rewards, Rule and Tools: Science, Law and Policy (SS, EI, STS)

Brian Clark, Interim Director of Duke’s Center for Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Initiative for Science and Society

What are the government policies that support science? How is science regulated and controlled? What can science contribute to law and policy? How do the states and the federal government interact to set science policy? How do disparate regulations and law impact research and translation? How is scientific research funded? Why is there so much distrust of science? We will explore these questions and more by looking at the various interactions of law, science, and policy. Open only to students in the Science & the Public Focus cluster.


SCISOC 197FS: From Siri to Skynet: Our Complex Relationships with Technology (SS, EI, STS)

Johnathan Lyon, Research Scientist for Biomedical Engineering

From mobile phones to driverless cars, modern high-tech devices have important human-facing elements that shape our relationships with technology. Some integrate seamlessly into our daily lives, others frustrate us, and some simply captivate us. In this course, we will investigate the intersection between people and technology to better understand how design can influence performance, safety and user satisfaction. Topics will include design principles; usability and user experience concepts; and an overview of human strengths and limitations that influence our interactions with technology. Case studies used in the course will include a variety of past and current technologies, as well as emerging systems such as brain-computer interfaces, robotics and artificial intelligence. Open only to students in the Science & the Public Focus cluster.


SCISOC 215FS: The Psychology of Crime: Scientific and Public Perspectives (SS, EI)

Miriam Ehrensaft, Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Introduction to theories of criminal behavior from developmental and psychological perspectives, with a focus on scientific and public perspectives. Investigate risk and protective factors influencing the development of delinquency and crime, systemic and sociocultural factors, ethical controversies, and applied topics in criminal behavior. Students critically evaluate, synthesize, and debate cases in the context of current empirical research. Interactive learning emphasized. Open only to students in the Focus Program.


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