Science, Controversy and Public Policy

Subject PPMN90040 (2014)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2014.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 9 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2014.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: A two hour seminar each week for 12 weeks.
Total Time Commitment:

120 hours


Admission to Master of Public Policy and Management or Executive Master of Arts or postgraduate diploma or fourth-year honours in History and Philosophy of Science.



Recommended Background Knowledge:

Undergraduate studies in any science discipline or undergraduate studies in public policy, politics, social studies or cognate area.

Non Allowed Subjects:


Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Students Experiencing Academic Disadvantage Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Description, Subject Objectives, Generic Skills and Assessment Requirements of this entry.The University is dedicated to provide support to those with special requirements. Further details on the disability support scheme can be found at the Disability Liaison Unit website:


Dr Darrin Durant

Subject Overview:

From genetic modification to climate change, science seems to be embroiled in an ever-growing number of public controversies. Some of these controversies are international in scope. Others have unfolded in the distinctive environment of Australia’s public policy and research apparatus, sometimes with lessons for the international stage. Drawing on case studies, this subject observes and analyses the interactions of science, public discourse, and national and international policy formation. The subject will examine questions such as: What policy positions are taken and by which agencies? What are the dynamics of the interactions between them? What are the roles and limits of science and scientific evidence in such controversies? How may such controversies be resolved? Examples of areas of controversy that may be considered are: Genetics and Food Production (e.g. Mad-Cow Disease); Genetics and Biomedicine (e.g. Racial Profiling, Non-Invasive Prenatal Diagnosis); Alternatives to Western Medicine; Approaches to Greenhouse Gas Reduction; Nano Technologies; Energy Production; Water Policy; Digital Privacy and Surveillance; Freedom of Information and Expression in the Online World; Transhumanism; Geo-Engineering (e.g. Fracking); Climategate.

Learning Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this subject should

  • Develop an understanding of key theoretical approaches and recent developments relating to science and public policy formation,
  • Develop an understanding of how controversies may arise in contexts where science and public policy interact, and
  • Develop an understanding of the mechanisms (theoretical, administrative, political, scientific, etc.) that may, or may not, contribute to resolving such controversies.
  • Be able to apply these theoretical approaches to the analysis of contemporary case-studies.

A 1,500 word essay due at the end of week 5 (30%) and A 3,500 word essay due at the end of semester (70%).

Hurdle Requirement: Students are required to attend a minimum of 75% of classes in order to pass this subject. Regular participation in class is required. Assessment submitted late without an approved extension will be penalised at 2% per working day. In-class tasks missed without approval will not be marked. All pieces of written work must be submitted to pass this subject.

Prescribed Texts:

A collection of texts will be made available via the LMS.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

The subject will enable students to

  • Become familiar with key theoretical and analytical perspectives and debates in public policy, and with the roles and limits of contemporary science therein.
  • Understand the interdependence, diversity and dynamics of global, national and local institutions, and appreciate how they may intersect with contemporary scientific controversies.
  • Gain deep knowledge of the institutions, processes and practices of contemporary government and policy making.
  • Develop high level analytic skills to meet the demands of complex contemporary public policy making and an ability to locate resources to apply these skills.
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: 100 Point Master of Public Policy and Management
150 Point Master of Public Policy and Management
150 point program - full time over 18 months
200 Point Master of Public Policy and Management
200 point program - full time over 18 months
200 point program - full time over 24 months

Download PDF version.