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The Culture of Science

Edited by Patricia Oman


The Culture of Science is a casebook that explores the role and function of science in modern society. Is science a useful tool? Is it a frame of mind? Is it a culture in its own right? Is science too privileged in today’s society? What are the current challenges to scientific authority? Who determines whether something is scientific? Readings include examples of argumentative writing, scientific writing, and fiction by scientists (e.g., Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Nobel-prize winning microbiologist J. Michael Bishop) and nonscientists (e.g., Mary Shelley, Matthew Arnold, and John Banville).The casebook is organized into four units: (1) Defining Science, (2) The Promise of Science, (3) Reading and Writing Science, and (4) Fringe Science and Pseudoscience. The readings in Unit 1 ask “What exactly is science?” Is it a method? a belief? a metaphor? Unit 2 addresses what science is expected to do and what it is able to do, which, as J. Michael Bishop argues, are not always the same. Unit 3 explores how science defines itself through writing and how an examination of scientific writing can help to explain its place within culture. The readings in this unit include excerpts from writing style guides and scientific works. Unit 4 addresses some controversial subjects within the scientific community, including global warming, creation science, paranormal activity (e.g., ghosts, aliens), and cryptozoology (e.g., Bigfoot). In other words, this unit looks at the subjects that challenge science.Although a little bit of scientific knowledge might be helpful in thinking about the issues raised in this casebook, it is not necessary. In fact, many of the readings address this very issue: How do we discuss the role and importance of science when not everyone is a scientist? The readings in this casebook are difficult enough to challenge students, but they are also accessible to students (and instructors!) who are not scientists. Introductions provide basic historical and conceptual background for each reading and for each unit, and discussion questions encourage students to think about the historical context of the readings and to make connections between readings.


Unit 1: Defining Science 

  • “The Nature of Science”, Alexander Bird
  • “Defining Categories”, Henry H. Bauer
  • “Beauty, Charm, and Strangeness: Science as Metaphor”, John Banville

Unit 2: The Promise of Science

  • “Enemies of Promise”, J. Michael Bishop
  • “Literature and Science”, Matthew Arnold
  • Special Section: The Prometheus Myth
    • “Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus,” Mary Shelley
    • “The New Prometheus,” Lyman Bryson

Unit 3: Reading and Writing Science

  • “Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th Edition”
  • “The Essential Guide: Research Writing Across the Disciplines, 3rd Edition, James D. Lester and James D. Lester, Jr.
  • “Technical Writing, 2nd Edition”, John Lannon
  • “Natural Enemies—Metaphor or Misconception?”, Matthew K. Chew and Manfred D. Laubichler
  • “The Common Language of Science”, Albert Einstein
  • “Origin of Species”, Charles Darwin
  • “Mules and Men”, Zora Neale Hurston

Unit 4: Fringe Science and Pseudoscience

  • “The Global Warming Debate: Science and Scientists in a Democracy”, Stuart D. Jordan
  • “Mysterious Entities of the Pacific Northwest, Part”, Joe Nickell
  • “Mysterious Entities of the Pacific Northwest, Part II”, Joe Nickell
  • “TAPS vs. SAPS: The Atlantic Paranormal Society Meets the Skeptical Analysis of the Paranormal Society,” Alison Smith
  • “What Is a Bigfoot, or Sasquatch?”, W. H. Fahrenbach
  • “Microbes and the Days of Creation”, Alan L. Gillen