ASPH V1900 Seminar in Contemporary Physics and Astronomy
Physics, Politics, and Critical Thinking


Catalog Course Description:
 1 pt. Prerequisite or corequisite: any 1000-level course in the Physics or Astronomy Department. May be taken for Pass/Fail credit only. Lectures on current areas of research with discussions of motivation, techniques, and results, as well as difficulties and unsolved problems. Each student submits a written report on one field of active research.

Instructor's Course Description:
For the non-scientist, science courses can seem filled with difficult
facts, long calculations, and pre-posed problems with uninteresting solutions. This seminar is designed to break out of that mold and highlight what in my view is the most important take-away message from University science courses - the critical evaluative skills and confidence to apply basic mathematics, statistics, and (yes even) physics to see the world in a different way.

This is a discussion-based seminar course designed to use concepts, tools, and methods from modern physics research to develop skills for critical evaluation of contemporary political issues. We start with a discussion of critical thinking in general and talk about how scientific thought and basic math, statistics, and physics enhances our ability to make sense  of what we read, hear, see, and are told. The majority of the course consists of practical application of these skills - learning by doing.  Students are asked to read the papers, listen to the news, and bring in topics to be dissected and evaluated. Together, we extract critical questions, go through simple calculations, and discuss how objective evaluation can cut through spin provide a fresh perspective on what does and does not make sense.

No advanced math or science is required. We will review the bits that you need to know.

Course Syllabus:
I.        Course Introduction
II.       Issues Related to the Health and Sustainability of the Planet
III.      Strange Things in the News
IV.      National Defense and Terrorism
V.       Forensic Analysis
VI.      Additional Issues of Policy
VII.     Student Presentations