Chemistry, Energy and Society


Le Couteur, Penny, and Jay Burreson. Napoleon’s Buttons. ISBN: 978-1585423316


Oreskes, Naomi, and Eric Conway. Merchants of Doubt. ISBN: 978-1608193943


Mnookin, Seth. The Panic Virus. Simon and Schuster. ISBN: 978-1439158654


Further readings supplied in PDF form online.


Goals: To understand the relationship between chemistry and society on a reciprocal level, including recognizing the contribution of chemical discoveries to global climate and environmental change, the science and politics of energy consumption and utilization, and the idea that science both influences and is influenced by human endeavors. A secondary goal of the course is to examine issues associated with communicating about science, and the disconnect between the scientific community and the public.


Course Description: This course is meant as an elective or for Science and Society credit.It is appropriate to non-chemistry and chemistry majors with an interest in becoming an informed citizen and evaluator of information.A chemistry background sufficient to understand the molecules and reactions being discussed is prerequisite (i.e. CHM 107, 113 or equivalent*).Topics will include discussions of key historical chemical discoveries, the development (chemical and political) of the modern food chain, the development of modern energy policies and their affect upon global climate, and science denialism in the public.


*Students who have had at least one general chemistry class will be prepared to complete the assignments in this course, but may need to do a small amount of supplemental reading (provided) at the beginning of the course.


Evaluation:   Participation                                      400

(Group posts, 20 @ 5 pts =              100)

(Lecture responses, 5 @ 20 pts =               100)

(Reading responses, 6 @ various =            200)

Case studies                                       600

Total                                                   1000 points*

*Grades will be assigned on a standard scale (>90% = A, 80-89% = B, 70-79% = C, 60-69% = D, <60% = E); plus/minus grades will not be used.Please note that there will be no extra credit offered in this course.


Blackboard:The Blackboard website will be used for communication with the class; please plan to check regularly for announcements, etc.Further, be aware that while I will post your grades on Blackboard, this is for your convenience and does not preempt my official gradebook.A known error in Blackboard (and why this has never been fixed, I can’t begin to imagine) is that the point total provided by the system rarely accurately represents the total of your points (or possible points) to date.If you wish to, you may keep track of your own point total and total points possible; you can calculate your grade at any time by dividing your points by total points possible, and multiplying by 100.


Class Format:The class will consistof discussion of assigned readings, writing some formal (and less formal) papers, and listening to (and responding to) a few lectures that will be posted online.Please note that discussion needs to be meaningful; when you are asked to write a response to a reading or engage in discussion, volume does not trump content. Evidence that you did not complete (or only partially completed) the material to which you are being asked to respond will be grounds for a zero on that particular assignment.


Important Note: This course moves extremely fast; that’s the nature of a summer course. The TA and I will be having as much of a rodeo trying to keep up with grading as you’ll have keeping up with required work. As such, we are not in a position to be responsible for grading late work (as it increases our grading load later in the semester). For this reason, late work will be severely penalized, other than with university-excused absence (with proof). Work submitted within the first 24 hours of the due date/time will lose 25%, and will continue to lose 25% (of the points possible, not points earned) for each additional 24-hour period. For the sake of simplicity and because this is how Blackboard works, quiz links will simply disappear; no late quizzes will be accepted for any reason. Please do not leave submissions until the last minute. Someone, at some point this semester, will try to submit something at 11:59 pm, and it will take a minute or two to upload…and by the time it has uploaded, the submission stamp will show 12:00 am (or 12:01, or whatever) the following day. This has to be counted as late. The reality is there has to be a cutoff somewhere; if I gave you until 12:10 am without penalty, someone would turn their work in at 12:11 am, and be mad that they were being penalized. I really, really recommend that you do your uploading well before the last minute.


Group Work: This course, by necessity, involves a certain amount of group work. I have tried to minimize the degree to which this must be done “synchronously,” because I understand that people have very different schedules. As such, for the most part, you’ll make posts (and respond to posts) whenever you get a chance on a given day, and will then be looking over those posts and summarizing them as required the following day. Please DON’T be the student in the class who is constantly waiting until the last minute to make group posts; this makes everything harder on everyone. Plan ahead! There will be one discussion that must be held synchronously (as a “chat”). Unfortunately, Blackboard was recently “improved,” and one of the changes was the disabling of chat room functionality. As such, I’d like you, in your groups, to agree to hold the necessary discussion (which takes place on 5/25)in another such forum. You could meet in person, use Google Hangouts, Facebook (it’s easy to set up a very private account just for the purpose of the class), or you could even exchange phone numbers and do a group chat through the phone. I don’t want to mandate how it must be done, because everyone has their own set of preferences. I recommend planning ahead on this one so that no one is scrambling on the 24th to set up a chat account. Note that participation in this chat is mandatory. It is your group’s responsibility to find an hour or so when you can all be present (or online) for the purposes of this assignment. Group members who agree to be present and then arrive late, leave early, or are unprepared will be penalized, because this makes the assignment harder for everyone else. Penalties will depend upon circumstances, up to and including a zero on the assignment (which is 15% of your total grade).


Lecture Responses: While I like this class to be primarily student- and discussion-driven, there are a few times I’ll need to disseminate some specific information. In order to reduce your reading load, I’ll be doing 5 lectures over the course of the semester. For each of these (to ensure you’ve watched the lecture), you’ll be required to choose a mechanism for response. By the specified date, you can either write a formal (approximately 2 page) response to some specific prompts, or you can choose to take a short, 10-question, multiple choice quiz. I guarantee the quiz will be less work overall, but if you choose to take it, you may not change your mind during or afterward and decide to write the paper instead (which amounts to getting to see the questions before deciding what to do). I anticipate that most students will choose the quiz, but want to provide the option of a “no tests” environment for those who prefer the writing assignment. Note that you cannot get extra credit for doing both. If the quiz has been opened, the quiz grade will be the one used as your response, and no submitted writing response will be graded.


Guidelines for Success:While this class requires a significant amount of reading, most of it is “literary” (popular press) rather than “technical” (academic press). I suggest that you approach the reading much as you would for a literature or English class—annotate, keep track of main points, take notes, and write down points of interest.This will increase your comprehension and will provide fodder for classroom discussions (and will help you to maximize your participation points). The same goes for lectures; take notes and feel free to use them on the quiz (though please study first, as quizzes are timed). A benefit of an online lecture is that you can pause, rewind, and listen as many times as you like. Please note that due to the nature of this class, you will not be able to work ahead to any significant degree, though you can certainly complete required readings well in advance of their due dates.I will always make sure material (lectures, assignment guidelines, etc) for a given day is posted by 11:59 pm the night before (and generally, I’ll try to have an entire week prepped by 11:59 pm on Sunday night). Unfortunately, because I have to write/deliver/record lectures and assignments, it’s simply not possible for me to produce material fast enough that it’s all available at the start of the semester. To be perfectly clear, this is not a “canned” online class; I’m producing materials as you’re consuming them, just as would be the case if you were taking this course on campus.


Case Studies:As part of this course, we will be doing four case studies. These will require preparation of a significant written assignment (guidelines provided as time draws nearer for each).


Written Work (in general): It is VERY important that your written work be of high quality. With regard to term papers, please understand that you are graded on the quality of your writing and your ability to communicate your ideas in a fluent and readable fashion just as much as you are graded on your content. The main reason for this, simply stated, is that no one pays attention to ideas—even great ones—that are poorly communicated. Another reason is that the university requires that an upper division science and society course have a significant writing component. If you are not comfortable with your writing (or just want a little peace of mind), I strongly recommend you look into ASU’s writing centers ( Please note that due to the amount of grading I will have in this course, I am not able to preview or pre-grade papers (i.e. don’t just email me something a few days before it’s due and ask “Is this good?”). I am happy, however, to answer specific questions regarding assignments. As for utilizing sources in your writing, please focus (unless specifically directed to do otherwise) on primary sources (scientific literature) as opposed to secondary sources. As much as possible, please paraphrase rather than quoting, and always cite your source(s). When you cite a journal article, cite the print edition, even if you accessed the article online. The number of times it will be appropriate to use a website as a source in this class is small; think long and hard before you substitute a website for primary literature (with exceptions as noted in individual case studies).


Sources of Help:I am available either on campus or online (course Scribblar “whiteboard” site) by appointment. We will also have a TA, who will be available through similar mechanisms.


Withdrawing from the course:The withdrawal deadline is June 5.


Academic integrity:Cheating will absolutely not be tolerated.The first such infraction will be dealt with to the fullest extent permissible by the university.There are no exceptions.This includes (but is not limited to) presenting falsified evidence of a medical or university-sanctioned reason for an absence, plagiarism on papers, and using a course-taking service. If you do not know what constitutes plagiarism, please review university policies (see link below). Pro tip: If you are using the copy/paste function on your computer to bring material over from a website, the odds are that you’re plagiarizing.The first instance of academic dishonesty will be dealt with to the fullest extent supported by the University.There are no exceptions.ACCIDENTAL PLAGIARISM OR IGNORANCE IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR ACADEMIC DISHONESTY.It is incumbent upon the student to know the definition of plagiarism and to avoid it; a reference for the avoidance of unintentional plagiarism is available at








Tentative Course Outline and Schedule



NOTE:Reading assignments are to be completed by the date listed (for discussion in class that day)

UNIT 1:The Reciprocal Relationship Between Chemistry And Society
5/161. Introduction (discussion on Discussion Board); also, meet your groups (DB)

2. Start Napoleon’s Buttons (NB) reading; your first posts are due tomorrow

5/171. Read Napoleon’s Buttons (NB) Intro and Ch 1-3* (and primers, if necessary [see Readings])

*Note: this (and all such notes later in syllabus) means start at beginning of intro and read through end of Ch 3

2. Make required group posts about reading

5/181. Listen to “Alchemy and Origin of Elements” lecture

2. Submit chosenlecture response

3. Read NB Ch 4-6

4. Make required group posts about reading

5/211. Read NB Ch 7-9

2. Make required group posts about reading

5/221. Listen to “Pharmaceuticals and Poisons” lecture

2. Submit chosen lecture response

3. Read NB Ch 10-12

4. Make required group posts about reading

5/231. Read NB13-epilogue

2. Make required group posts about reading

5/241. Read Case Study (CS) 1 guidelines, listen to CS 1 intro lecture

2. Follow directions from lecture/guidelines within your group and submit requested document

5/251. Submit NB response assignment

2. Continue reading for your CS 1 “character”

3. Compile sources you are using to support your character’s position into an annotated bibliography

5/281. Engage in the CS 1 “dinner table” discussion with your group (Plan ahead! Schedule a time for discussion and a mechanism. Ideas posted in the CS folder)

2. Submit discussion summary document

3. Post your annotated bibliography for your group

4. Begin writing CS 1 paper

5/291. Read Ch 1-3 of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (posted online)

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Continue writing CS 1 paper

5/301. Read Ch 4-7 of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (posted online)

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Trade CS 1 papers with group members for peer editing(strongly recommended)

5/311. Submit CS 1

2. Submit response assignment for The Omnivore’s Dilemma

6/11. ReadFast Food Nation selected chapters (posted online)

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Read CS 2 guidelines, listen to CS 2 intro lecture

4. Begin reading for CS 2 (see required and recommended reading lists online)

6/41. Submit response assignment for Fast Food Nation

3. Complete CS 2 reading

4. Begin writing CS 2 paper

6/51. Continue writing CS 2 paper

2. Listen to “GMOs” lecture

3. Submit chosen lecture response

6/61. Trade CS 2 papers with group members for peer editing (strongly recommended)

2. Read Merchants of Doubt (MoD) Intro-Ch 2

3. Make required group posts about reading

6/71. Read MoDCh 3-approx page 120

2. Make required group posts about reading

6/81. Submit CS 2

2. Read MoD through end of Ch 6

3. Make required group posts about reading

6/111. Read MoDCh 7-epilogue

2. Make required group posts about reading

6/121. Submit response assignment for MoD

3. Read CS 3 guidelines, listen to CS 3 intro lecture

4. Follow directions from lecture/guidelines and submit requested document

5. Begin work on your chosen pathway for CS 3

6/131. Read “Risk” articles (posted online)

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Listen to “Global Warming” lecture

4. Submit chosen lecture response

5. Continue on your chosen pathway for CS 3

6/141. Submit response assignment for “Risk”

2. Complete writeup for CS 3

6/151. Read The Panic Virus (PV) Intro-Ch 4

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Submit CS 3

6/181. Read PV Ch 5-9

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Listen to “CAM” lecture

4. Submit chosen lecture response

6/191. Read PV Ch 10-14

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Read CS 4 guidelines, listen to CS 4 intro lecture

4. Begin reading for CS 4

5. Begin writing CS 4

6/201. Read PV Ch 15-18

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Continue writing CS 4

6/211. Read PV Ch 19-22

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Complete writing CS 4

6/221. Read remainder of PV

2. Make required group posts about reading

3. Listen to “Vaccines” lecture

4. Submit lecture response assignment

5. Trade CS 4 papers with group members for peer editing (strongly recommended)

6/251. Submit CS 4

2. Submit response assignment for PV

6/261. Wrap-up day! Discuss what you’ve learned and how you think about science (and communication with the public) differently than when you started this class

2. Submit wrap-up assignment



Note:This syllabus may be revised and appended as required; changes to the syllabus will be announced on Blackboard.

Last Updated on February 11, 2019