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Elective: Science, Media, and Society 1


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies.
The number of participants is limited to 25.


Climate change. Genetically modified foods. Flu pandemics. Obesity. Post traumatic stress disorder. Science issues of global proportions affect our lives as citizens of this planet. Journalists may help us make sense of these issues, enabling us to make informed decisions about policy and about our personal lives. This course looks at the science–media–society nexus, focusing on news media as an intermediary between science and society.

The course will bring critical sociological and rhetorical perspectives to bear on current developments and controversies in this field. The way news media, policy makers, scientists and citizens deal with risk and uncertainty will be a major issue. Special emphasis will be put on the challenges to traditional expertise and authority posed by the internet and social media.

The major assignments will consist of a fact-check report and a final paper. Fact-checking requires the students to assess the accuracy and reliability of a published science news item. Drawing on the mandatory literature and on an additional literature search, the final paper addresses the way a science issue has been reported by the news media.

Please note: an interest in news media and in the social implications of science issues is required, a background in the natural sciences is not.

Weekly overview:
Week 1: Introduction. Science in the news: global trends. Models of science communication: top-down or participatory? Fact-checking: research skills.
Week 2: Uncertainty. Reporting practices. Controversy, consensus, and objectivity. Climate change. Choosing your baby’s sex.
Week 3: Risk society. Policy decisions and public outrage. Global epidemics. Food safety. Air pollution.
Week 4: Social construction. Psychopaths. Depression. How experts and news makers shape mental disorders.
Week 5: Framing. Spreading the message: multinational companies versus NGOs. GM foods. Nuclear energy.
Week 6: Expertise. The crisis of authority. Vaccinations: the Internet, vernacular authority, and expertise.
Week 7: Story telling 1. News as narrative. Heroes, villains, and victims. Cancer survivors.
Week 8: Story telling 2. Science as narrative. The cholera detective. Murder & the bystander effect.
Week 9: Fraud. The failure of peer review. Journalists as watchdogs. Stem cell research. How social psychology handled the Stapel scandal.
Week 10: Work-in-progress. Evaluating the fact-check reports, drafting the final papers.
Week 11: Consultation.
Week 12: Conclusion.

Course objectives

The elective courses for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the interdisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral presentation skills:

  1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
  2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using up-to-date presentation techniques;
    d. aimed at a specific audience;
  3. to actively participate in a discussion following the presentation.

Collaboration skills:

  1. to be socio-communicative in collaborative situations;
  2. to provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position;
  3. adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

  1. to collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques;
  2. to analyze and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability;
  3. to formulate on this basis a sound research question;
  4. to design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved;
  5. to formulate a substantiated conclusion.

Written presentation skills:

  1. to explain clear and substantiated research results;
  2. to provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course
    a. in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;
    b. in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;
    c. using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;
    d. aimed at a specific audience.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. This course includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 280 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending lectures: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks = 24 hours

  • Studying the assigned readings / preparing writing and presentation assignments: 104 hours

  • Fact-checking assignment: 32 hours

  • Researching and writing the final research essay: 120 hours

The final paper will be based on the mandatory readings complemented by the student’s individual literature search. In the paper, the students will critically assess media coverage of science issues in the light of the theories discussed in class.

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Weekly Writing and Presentation Assignments 20%
Fact-Checking Assignment (2-person teams) 30%
Final Research Essay (3,000 words, excluding tables and bibliography) 50%

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted the final paper on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to a resit. For the resit, students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the final paper.
In case of resubmission of the final essay (insufficient grade only) the final grade for the essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the final essay.

Retaking a passing grade

Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2017 – 2018.

Exam review

How and when an exam review takes place will be determined by the examiner. This review will be within 30 days after official publication of exam results.


Blackboard will be used for tutorial groups. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard for this course, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

Will be published on Blackboard.
All required readings are available through the e-journals section of Leiden University Libraries or can be downloaded from the web.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis can be found here.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J.P. Burger

When contacting the lecturer, please include your full name, student number and tutorial group number.


The deadline for submission of the final essay is 15 June 2018.