CentreTerm students explore the dark side of science
RELEASED: Jan. 25, 2007
DANVILLE, KY—Using famous and not-so-famous scientific case studies, the students in Dr. Jennifer Muzyka's CentreTerm class "Scandals and Blunders in Science" explore how science works and what can happen when things go wrong.
"There's a variety of scientists who have done stupid things," says Muzyka, who is teaching this class for the first time. Those "stupid things" include making up data, plagiarism, carelessness and wishful thinking.
Muzyka, a chemistry professor, says teaching a class that isn't a straight-laced science course is a little outside her comfort zone. A regular class session includes the lively class of 15 students bantering comments and questions about their prior night's reading describing scientists who made sometimes very costly mistakes in their professions.
"I worry that students are going to think that all scientists cheat," she says. "In fact, these types of cases are somewhat rare. These individuals who are involved in these scandals didn't set out to make data up, but they weren't that careful."
Additionally, Muzyka tries to teach her students how to handle the situation if they ever discovered a colleague was cheating or falsifying information.
"I want students to leave this class a little better prepared to handle ethical situations," she says.
"Having taken this class, I have a much greater appreciation for scientific research," Farley says. "I had no idea how much work goes into the field and pressure that is placed on publishing."
The course combines readings from a variety of sources, from the New York Times to the selected textbook for the class, False Prophets: Fraud and Error in Science and Medicine by Alexander Kohn. The students are also required to complete a series of papers and group and individual presentations on different scientific cases.
"It was interesting to learn how different types of false data have been presented and how many of these individuals have lost their funding and/or their experiments have been scrapped," says Mark Carr of Louisville."I hope to learn from the experiences of these scientists and learn how to work appropriately in a lab group under a mentor," Carr says.
During CentreTerm, the College's unique three-week January term, all students take one course designed to provide an intense, small-group learning situation. The classes are carefully designed, based on the special interests and expertise of the professor, and typically include field trips, dinner discussions, labs, guest lecturers/performers and other special activities to stimulate student interest.
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