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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 schedule

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have successfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go to 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.


As a student, you are responsible for registering on time, i.e. 14 days before the start of the course. This can be done via Mystudymap. You do this twice a year: once for the courses you want to take in semester 1 and once for the courses you want to take in semester 2. Please note: late registration is not possible.

Registration for courses in the first semester is possible from July; registration for courses in the second semester is possible from December. First-year bachelor students are registered for semester 1 by the faculty student administration; they do not have to do this themselves. For more information, see this page.

In addition, it is mandatory for all students, including first-year bachelor students, to register for exams. This can be done up to and including 10 calendar days prior to the exam or up to five calendar days in case of a retake exam. You cannot participate in the exam or retake without a valid registration in My Studymap.

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)