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Science and the public: contemporary and historical perspectives


Admission requirements



Science has often been held to exemplify the values which operate in the public sphere in an open society. It has been treated as a model for the democratic discourse through which the state is held accountable in public. Yet, science as specialized expertise, fostered in elite communities, is also detached from the lay discourse of the public sphere. This detachment is increasingly challenged as skeptical publics question expert prerogatives. This course aims to offer a careful understanding of the interrelationship between science and the public. Students will learn about different aspects involved in the way scientists, intermediaries and institutions have interacted with the public sphere in the past and continue to do so. Topics that will be addressed are the popularization of science, public (dis)trust in science, scientific expertise and public law, classified science and secrecy, the depiction of science in the media, science museums, and science based government campaigns aimed at the general public. In this course, we will discuss critical texts on these topics after a brief introduction by one of the students. Excursions to museums are also included. A final essay will conclude the course.

Course objectives

The main aim of the course is to familiarize students with different aspects of the interaction between ‘science’ and ‘the public’ over the last two centuries and deepen their understanding of the difficulties and opportunities in bridging the supposed gap between them.


See Astronomy master schedules

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For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

  • Exercise classes (discussion of course literature)

  • Excursions (museum visits)

Assessment method

  • Class participation (20% of final grade)

  • Presentations (20% of final grade)

  • Final essay (60% of final grade)

Reading list

The weekly readings, mainly journal articles and book chapters, will be provided by the teacher.


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Lecturer: Prof.dr. F.H. (Frans) van Lunteren


Soft skills
In this course, students will be trained in the following behaviour-oriented skills:

  • Verbal communication (presenting, speaking, listening)

  • Written communication (writing skills, reporting, summarizing)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, check assumptions)

  • Creative thinking (resourcefulness, curiosity, thinking out of the box)