Environmental Science

FYS 206: Collateral Damage:  Pollution, Pesticides, and Politics

Spring 2006

Tues./ Thurs. 9:30-10:45,  Moyer 302

The over-arching theme of this seminar is the inconvenient notion that complicated questions, despite our desire for simplification, require complicated answers.  Issues related to environmental science, management, and protection do not lend themselves to easy resolutions, and this seminar will allow students to debate some important and, at times, intractable problems.  Students will explore opposing arguments about a number of controversial environmental issues and try to discern the appropriate course of action when confronted with conflicting points of view.   Of critical importance will be the role of bias in the conduct of science and the evaluation of data.


  1. In-class writing activities
    1. Daily in-class writing assignments will be completed in response to readings, discussions, and other class activities.
    2. These activities will be maintained in the student portfolio and used to generate formal essays (described below).
  2. Formal essays
    1. Two short essays (4-5 pages) will be completed during the semester (see schedule for due dates).  Topics will be chosen by the students from class discussions, reading, and in-class writing activities
    2. These essays will account for 40% of the course grade.
  3. Revisions
    1. One of the essays described in item 2 (above) will be revised and resubmitted for grading (see schedule for due date).
    2. Students will be expected to make extensive use of peer editing and the writing assistant assigned to this seminar.
    3. This revision will account for 20% of the course grade.
  4. Class participation, discussions, presentations
    1. Discussions will be interactive and require extensive and thoughtful student involvement. Students will be expected to comment on reading assignments, the writing of their peers, and topics addressed in class.  Unless otherwise noted, reading assignments should be completed prior to the class for which they are assigned (see schedule below).
    2. Periodic impromptu presentations will be prepared and presented during class meetings.
    3. The class participation grade will depend on the degree to which a student contributes positively to the learning environment. Both insufficient and negative participation will lower the class participation grade.
  5. Student portfolioFinal letter grades will be assigned as follows (numbers are percentages of the total number of points available).
    1. All in-class writing assignments, revisions, and other written work should be kept in a portfolio.
    2. The portfolio will be collected at the end of the semester and will account for 10% of the final course grade.
  1. Final letter grades will be assigned as follows (numbers are percentages of the total number of points available).

A  94 or higher

B- 80-82


A- 90-93

C+ 77-79

D 60-69

B+ 87-89

C 73-76


B 83-86

C- 70-72

F below 60

NOTE:; If you have a problem with the schedule or the syllabus, you must contact the instructor during the first week of the semester to discuss the conflict.  Check the dates of exams now; you will be expected to adjust your schedule to meet the demands of this course.






Introduction; thinking, writing, editing



Science and bias


1/26, 1/31

Bias (continued)
Film:  Supersize me 



Environmental science and the precautionary principle

Issue 1


Environmental science and environmentalism

Issue 2 and handout


Biodiversity (Essay #1 due)

Issue 4


Human population growth, Nature

Issue 13 and handout

2/16, 2/21

Agriculture and biotechnology

Issue 14 and handouts

2/23, 2/28, 3/2


Issue 16 and handouts

3/7, 3/9

NO CLASS:  spring break



Superfund and regulation of soil pollutants

Issue 18 and handout


Environmental pollutants, permit trading

Issue 6


ANWR (Essay #2 due)

Issue 8


Hydrogen:  fuel of the future?

Issue 10


Nuclear power and Yucca Mtn

Isues 12 and 19


Global warming

Issue 9 and handouts

4/4, 4/6

Film:  The Day After Tomorrow



Discussion of film; last word on global warming






Risk assessment



Endocrine disrupters (Revision due)

Issue 17

4/25, 4/27, 5/2

Human health effects of environmental contaminants
Film:  Erin Brokovich



Last day:  truth, facts, bias....is bias always bad?


*Unless otherwise noted, readings are from Easton, T. A., Taking Sides.


Any student who feels s/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the Office of Academic Support Services (x3433) to obtain guidance and coordinate reasonable accommodations.  Once you have met with Academic Support Services, contact me privately to discuss your specific needs.


Students will be held to the highest standards of ethical behavior.  Plagiarism, cheating, lying and other dishonest behavior will not be tolerated.  Muhlenberg has established a strict Academic Behavior Code (A.B.C.), and students will be expected to abide by it.  All students should read the entire code, which can be obtained through the Dean of The College for Academic Life or accessed through the Muhlenberg web site (click on ‘Policies and procedures’ from the main page).

A.B.C. Summary
Students may NOT, under any circumstances, cooperate with each other on exams, papers, or homework assignments.  (Consultation on laboratory reports is occasionally acceptable, when authorized by the instructor.  However, each student must turn in his or her own report written in his or her own words).  Sources consulted for papers, talks, and other assignments must be properly cited.  Specific guidelines for citation of references will be distributed as needed, but, in general terms, follow this rule:  if you did not write the words or come up with the idea on your own, you MUST give credit to the person who did write the words or came up with the idea.  If you do not follow that rule, you have committed plagiarism.

Consequences of Violations
Students who violate the A.B.C. will be in danger of failing the course.  A grade of 0 will be assigned to the assignment in question (exam, paper, report, etc.), and the matter will be turned over to the dean for further action (suspension, dismissal, etc.).  No warnings or exceptions will be given. Students will write and sign the following pledge on all exams, papers, and reports handed in for grading:

I pledge that I have complied with the Academic Behavior Code in this work.