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 194FS: Science and Pop Culture

Jory Weintraub, Senior Lecturing Fellow and Science Communication Director, Duke Initiative for Science & Society.

Since the dawning of the “pop culture” era (however one defines that), science and popular culture have been inextricably linked. This course will explore the relationship between the two, examining how science is, and has historically been portrayed through pop culture outlets, such as film, television, music, videogames, fashion, sports, and news/politics. It will examine how these portrayals of science have affected public perception of, and support for science, as well as how the pop culture media have affected the “doing” of science. Conversely, it will explore how scientific/technological advances have formed and shaped pop culture.


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.


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

Janet Prvu Bettgr, Director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy
Yousef Zafar, Associate Professor of Medicine

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.


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

Mark Delong, Director of Duke Research Computing

From mobile phones to driverless cars, modern high-tech devices have important human-facing and human-obscured 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 how the design, development, and usage of these technologies impact contemporary human societies. Topics will include design principles, data collection & usage, accessibility, usability, safety, ethics, societal impact and performance. 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, autonomous robotics and artificial intelligence.


SCISOC 199FS: Risks, Rewards, Rule and Tools: U.S. Health Policy and Cultural Narrative (SS, CCI, STS, W)

Dr. Clare Callahan, Instructor, Duke Initiative for Science & Society

How has landmark public health policy changed the health landscape in the United States and influenced the way we think about health care? How have cultural texts both registered these changes and sought to influence law and policy? What debates have played out in public discourse regarding health care policy and how can attention to language and narrative literacy help us to understand how the sciences, government, and other stakeholders rely on cultural narratives to shape it?


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 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 context of current empirical research. Interactive learning emphasized. Open only to students in the Focus Program.


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