Bard’s new Citizen Science Program

You can see it in the dust up over climate change or vaccines, most people just don’t understand what science is, how it works, and how it’s different from anecdotal evidence.  This translates to some very real world policy issues.

Bard College, in my backyard, is creating a new program to try to address this:

But to many of the college’s faculty, and to Leon Botstein, who has been the college’s president since 1975, there was still something missing: a true introduction to science and scientific thinking for the vast majority of Bard’s students. “People who graduate in fields other than science often do not understand science,” he says. “They do not know what the limits of science are and what science can do. It’s catastrophic.”

Next January, Bard’s science and math faculty – along with postdoctoral students and faculty from other institutions — will try to change all that with the Citizen Science Program, three weeks of science learning modeled on the success of Language and Thinking. Also required of all 500 of the college’s freshmen, and ungraded, Botstein hopes it will become similarly entrenched as a landmark of students’ first year at Bard.

This is going to be 3 weeks of quite intensive education.  From the curriculum:

This program will merge three distinct, yet thematically interwoven week-long rotations, each designed to address the overarching question How can we reduce the global burden
of infectious disease?
In one rotation, you will focus on the concept of laboratory experimentation by exploring the question How can infections be treated? This rotation will be spent in the laboratories of the Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center for Science and Computation. You will get hands-on experience exploring how antibiotic resistance develops in bacterial strains and how DNA is moved from bacterium to bacterium (similar to how antibiotic resistance in Staphylococcus aureus produced the “MRSA” strains so often reported in the news).

The second rotation will focus on the question What factor best explains a person’s probability of exposure to disease? The disease we will study is tuberculosis. You will look at a number of factors, including the science of Mycobacterium (the organism that causes tuberculosis), risk factors that can cause a tuberculosis infection to become worse (including HIV infection), and global locations where the tuberculosis burden is heavy and light. We will discuss what can be done to alter the number of infectious cases within these different environments.

The third rotation will focus on the spread of infection by exploring the question What intervention—such as vaccination, treatment, reduced exposure—is the most effective at reducing transmission of an infection? You will learn to use state-of-the-art computer simulations to help you understand and observe how an infectious disease can spread throughout a community, and how different treatment options can be effective in limiting disease.

I especially appreciate their focus on a real world problem, then using science to explore facets on how to address it.  It’s an inspired approach, and I wish them the best of luck in implementing it.

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