The SGC Colloquium represents a series of 1 credit classes (CPSP 118G for Semester I, CPSP 119G for Semester II, and CPSP 218G for Semester III) in which the students and faculty meet to explore aspects of scientific understanding and global change. It also serves as the means through which field trips and other out-of-class opportunities are organized, and in which general Scholars matters are conducted.
In the SGC Colloquium, we hope to:
- Introduce the methods of Science
- Help students learn how Science differs from other disciplines
- Explore what has been discovered about the operations of Earth's systems in the present, the recent past, and the far past, and what that understanding informs us about planning for future situations
- Provide an opportunity for students to integrate the information they receive in other courses
- Understand how scientific information is conveyed from the lab to the public at large
- Teach each student on the use of information technologies in an academic setting
Each semester of the Science & Global Change program forms one coherent whole that also contributes to a three semester long exploration on the methods and perspectives of global change science and its implications for human society. The breakdown of topics listed below reflects our plans over the course of the first three semesters (Freshman year and the first semester of Sophomore year).
Left: Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador, showing the interaction of the atmosphere, glacial ice, volcanism, and the living environment. Photograph ©2004 Thomas R. Holtz Jr.
Right: Thermohaline circulation, the predominant driver of Earth's oceanic currents and climate system. Figure from NOAA.gov.
Semester I "The Nature of Science: What We Do To Keep From Lying To Ourselves": What is Science, and how is it distinguished from other aspects of human thought? Physicist Richard Feynman famously said "Science is what we do to keep from lying to ourselves": words that get to the heart of the scientific enterprise. In an age when the activities of human society and technology can greatly affect Earth's systems for decades, centuries, and even millennia to come, we must be able to evaluate the merits of ideas as they relate to the actual natural world, independent of our personal, political, or philosophical preconceptions. In this semester, students will learn the basic intellectual "tool kit" of the scientific enterprise. They will discuss how Science differs from other fields of human endevour, with a particular emphasis on distinguishing scientific ideas from pseudoscientific thinking. Students will also discuss the influence of our understanding (and often misunderstanding) of Science upon contemporary society. We will examine real cases of Science gone bad, and the effect (good and bad) of popular portrayals of Science and scientists has on the public. We will also begin exploring the details of the origin, use, and effects of the energy resources which we use to run our world.
Readings for the semester include selections from Thomas Kida's Don't Believe Everything You Think, Robert Hazen and James Trefil's Science Matters: Achieving Science Literacy, and Alfred W. Crosby's Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity's Unappeasable Appetite for Energy. Additionally, students will examine the parts of a scientific paper and learn how they are developed, published, used, and revised. Futhermore, we will guide the students (both experts and novices) in website design, and the students will construct and mount their own professional academic website to be used for the rest of their tenure in SGC.
Fig. SPM 4 of the IPCC FOURTH ASSESSMENT REPORT, CLIMATE CHANGE 2007 (AR4), comparing temperature models with (pink) and without (blue) human factors; observed data shown as solid black line.
Semester II "Life in the Anthropocene: Understanding a Human-Dominated World": Some geologists have proposed the word "Anthropocene" for the current geologic epoch, in recognition of the fact that the industrial and agricultural activities of humans have reached a level where they impact Earth systems on scale comparable to natural systems. Whether the Anthropocene is regarded as a geological epoch or "merely" as an event, we humans will be living in a world dominated by the products of our actions for the foreseeable future. This semester we will explore the Earth's systems; how they operate; how human activities impact them; and what that means for the world in which we will be living the rest of our lives.
Readings will include Robert Henson's The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms * The Science * The Solutions. Students will choose and examine in depth some "climate myth" in detail, to develop a better understanding of the science of climate change and the misunderstanding of this science in the general public.
Figure I-1 of the IPCC CLIMATE CHANGE 2007: SYNTHESIS REPORT, showing the interrelationships between natural and human systems in global change.
Semester III "The Search for Solutions: Science in the Age of Consquences": In reviewing the foreign policy and national security implications of global climate change, the Center for Strategic and International Studies referred to the current century as the "Age of Consequences". Having developed a scientific understanding of the issues, what can we as individual citizens and as members of our larger societies do? All of us will live in a human-dominated future, but our decisions and actions can help direct what changes may come and how we deal with them. It is better to make those decisions and actions based on accurate science than on criteria other than those which govern global change. In this semester students will address how scientists are acting to deal with the effects of natural and human-induced changes; what some of the options for changes in our own lives and technologies might be; and how we can contribute (through new scientific discoveries and own personal actions) to our future situation. Additionally, students will learn how to critically evaluate scientific claims in the media. Furthermore, each student will develop a plan for an individual research, internship, or service-learning project involving the discovery, application, or transmission of scientific information for their fourth-semester Sophomore Practicum.
Readings include David JC MacKay's Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, and Greg Craven's What's the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate. Additionally, small teams of students will examine in depth various proposed methods, technologies, and approaches to dealing with global change issues, and report the results of their examinations back to the class as a whole. Furthermore, in preparation for their fourth semester independent practicum projects, we will teach students some basics of raster and vector graphics software.