Science, Society, and Controversy

Brandon Richard, Writer

On the 52nd page of the 61-page-long NKHS Program of Studies lies the description for Science and Controversy — a class so intriguing and interesting to many that the mere 45-word description, in a size 11-point font, does not do it justice. 

This semester-long elective is open to juniors and seniors and is taught by Mr. James Bruneau. In addition to Science and Controversy, Bruneau teaches Biology, The Marine Biology and Oceanography of Narragansett Bay, and Comparative Anatomy. He describes Science and Controversy as a fascinating and thought-provoking course.

“Science and Controversy is a class that explores the intersection of science and society,” Bruneau said. “These two entities interact in multiple ways, in which societal decisions need to be made about scientific progress, or how science informs societal decisions.”

Bruneau covers a vast variety of topics in his class. In the second half of the class, students get to choose the topics of discussion. 

“[The choice of topics] varies from year to year,” Bruneau said. “Some of the ones that come up nearly every year are the atomic bomb, evolution, human life, regulation of unhealthy products, genetic engineering, environmental policy, and animal rights.” 

Hence the “controversy” part of the name; these differing issues, combined with students with differing viewpoints, cause debate and discussion. 

“We learn how to evaluate these viewpoints, how to inform our own viewpoints, and how to discuss potentially emotionally or politically charged science-related issues in a productive, respectful, and educated manner,” Bruneau added. “I continue to be impressed by how maturely students in the class handle really sensitive topics.”

Enrollment over the past few years has stayed steady. Usually, Bruneau teaches “one big section or two smaller sections.”

Bruneau cites the mature topics and discussions of this class as the reason for it only being open to juniors and seniors. 

He recommends Science and Controversy not only to those who enjoy debating or are interested in a scientific career, but to all eligible students.

“Our society needs more people who are capable of disagreeing and discussing difficult problems in a productive, non-combative way,” he said.