module specification

SJ6081 - Science, Technology, Environment and Health Journalism (2021/22)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2021/22
Module status DELETED (This module is no longer running)
Module title Science, Technology, Environment and Health Journalism
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 15
School School of Computing and Digital Media
Total study hours 150
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
105 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 35%   Essay 2,000 words (individual)
Coursework 45%   Final project, 2,000 words (individual)
Practical Examination 20%   Engagement with class, moderated by contributions to online journal (individual)
Running in 2021/22

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
No instances running in the year

Module summary

  This module develops professional skills of the journalist in writing about science.  It is both theoretical and practical. It is suitable for all students interested in these ideas and their public discussion. An online journal will give space for reflective learning.

Students will examine historical and current writing about science, technology environmental and health issues, and look at the role of media in informing public debates and analyse communications issues.  They will cover how scientific research is undertaken, globally and in the UK, and the influence of funding and lobbies (for example on tobacco consumption or climate change).

They will explore how to cover protests, lobbying and direct action, on the one hand, and learn how to extract the information for stories from scientific data, journal articles and reports, on the other. They will take into account the ethics of how to cover health campaigns, from human interest stories to funding disputes and the bottom line.

They will explore, through discussion, presentation and professional practice, links with grassroots organisations, PR and internal comms professionals, viral and social media, human interest stories and running appeals.  They will become familiar with the basic legal frameworks around defamation, confidence and data protection as they apply to research and research protocols.

They will produce original journalistic work, which they must pitch to their classmates and tutor.
Formative and summative assessment will be an essay on the pitfalls and triumphs of science journalism, as emplified in current UK and USA practice.

An overview of media law and ethical considerations will underpin a summative project of practical journalism which will combine original research, in either a series of three short articles or one long article (or multi-media equivalents) and a log of research and contacts. An online journal will give space for reflective learning.

Prior learning requirements



The focus in this module is on extracting stories of public interest from published sources such as databases and scientific publications and making them attractive and comprehensible to journalistic markets, thus developing professional skills.

Scientific research constantly throws up a wealth of information – the journalist’s job is to pre-digest this so that an audience can be better informed. Additionally, students need to develop skills in identifying subject matter and potential readerships, research, interviewing and editing techniques, on-the-spot reportage, and finding original angles and relevant sources for their stories.  Originality of form and multi-media techniques, user-generated content, social media and the interface with PR will all be explored. LO1, LO2, LO4

Students will consider the constraints on the media and on scientists, from funding to pressure groups, from institutions to audience, from ethics to the law. LO2, LO6

The history of science journalism will be examined --- for instance, the battle over cancer and tobacco, Ralph Nader's seat belts, high-cholesterol foods and heart attacks and campaigns over GM crops. Looking at science, journalism and society will highlight campaigning, lobbying and funding. LO1, LO2, LO4

The nature of scientific research – its disciplines and methods – will be key to understanding, as will a critical analysis of scientific newsgathering from journals, conferences and researchers themselves. The module will aim to create scientific literacy in students, including data journalism and the limits of expertise. LO3, LO4, LO5

More current debates like climate change, and clinical trials (Cochrane) will be examined as will social media techniques. LO1, LO5, LO6

A variety of approaches and writing styles will be explored, including video, audio, blogging, visualisation tools and surveys. The disciplines of writing to precise word-length and for specific audiences will be addressed in these contexts. A sensitivity to images and online formats will be important. LO5, LO6

Formative assessment will consist of an essay displaying evidence of critical awareness of key ethical dilemmas, while summative assessment will involve journalism based on original research, which must be pitched to the class and tutor and backed up by a log book detailing contacts and sources. Contribution to class will be self-assessed, moderated by tutors’ evaluation of attendance and participation on online journal. LO1, LO5, LO6

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

 Teaching methods include lectures, workshops, guest speakers, seminar discussion, screenings and tutorials.  Workshops will focus on producing the professional skills of journalism within class and outside it. Students are expected to attend and must participate.  In seminars, workshops and tutorials they are expected to raise issues, ask questions and seek feedback to enable them to reflect on their practice.

In addition to guided reading, students are expected to read and use new media critically. They should readily use a variety of sources (primary and secondary).
News weeks will involve guest speakers, field trips and participation in newsdays.
Blended learning will be facilitated through blogs, the virtual learning environment, twitter and photo sites.
Opportunities for pdp will be supported.

Learning outcomes

 On successful completion of this module, having completed all the tasks set, students should be able to:

1. Identify the main challenges facing journalistic investigations into scientific, health and environmental matters;
2. Situate journalism within an understanding of British society;
3. Interview a range of sources effectively for their stories;
4. Identify appropriate sources for their stories, within published material of all kinds;
5. Use different formats to convey scientific information to a range of audiences;
6. Create journalistic products which conform to legal and ethical norms..

Assessment strategy

 Formative assessment from tutor and class members will be given through oral assessments in class and feedback on weekly journal.

The ethical essay will be formatively and summatively assessed, through feedback in class and one-to-one sessions as well as electronic feedback.
The final project will be formatively and summatively assessed, with drafts discussed one-to-one and feedback sent electronically.
Class contribution will be assessed through presentations with immediate feedback and online journal moderated by tutors.
Formative assessment will consist of an essay displaying evidence of critical awareness of a key scientific dilemma (2,000 words); while summative assessment will involve original journalism based on research (three pieces of 750 words each or one of 2,000 or a two-minute podcast or video), a draft of which must be pitched to the class and tutor and backed up by a log book detailing contacts and sources.
Engagement with class will be self-assessed, moderated by tutors from online journal.
All assessments are individual.


 Allan, Stuart. (2002) Media, Risk and Science. Open University

Broks, Peter (2006) Understanding Popular Science. McGraw-Hill.
Cox, Brian (2008) Wonders of the Solar System. BBC TV
Cox, Brian (2010-2013) Wonders of the Universe. BBC TV
Cox, Brian (2013). Wonders of Life. BBC TV
(Goldacre, Ben. (2009) Bad Science. Harper. London.
                        (2013) Bad Pharma. Fourth Estate. London
Gregory, J and Miller, S.  (2000) Science in Public. Perseus
Harvard list of classic texts
House of Lords Report on Science and Society (2000).
Hulme, M. (2009) Why we Disagree about Climate Change. UEA.
Irwin, A and Wynne. B. Misunderstanding Science? CUP
Jones, Steve (1993). The Language of the Genes. Flamingo
Jones, Steve; Martin, Robert D.; Pilbeam, David R (Editors). (1994). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human evolution. Cambridge University Press.
Jones, Steve (1997). In the Blood: God, Genes and Destiny. Houghton Miffin.
Jones, Steve (1999). Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated. Doubleday. Jones, Jones, Steve (2003). Y: The Descent of Men. Flamingo. ISBN 0-618-13930-3.
Jones, Steve and Van Loon, Borin (2005). Introducing Genetics. Totem Books
Jones, Steve (2007). Coral. Little, Brown..
Jones, Steve (2009). Darwin's Island. Little, Brown.
Nelkin, D.  (1995) Selling Science. Little, Brown.
Russell, N. (2010). Communicating science: professional, popular, literary, Cambridge UK ;New York: Cambridge University Press
Singh, Simon (2004) Big Bang
Singh, Simon (2000) The Science of Secrecy
Singh, Simon (1999) The Code Book
Smith, Adam. (2012) Talking Science to Power. Guardian
Stilgoe, J, Irwin,J and Jones, K  (2008) Received Wisdom. Demos.
Wilsdon, J and Willis, R. (2004) See-through Science. Demos.
Wynne, B, Wildson, J and Stilgoe, J. (2005) The Public Value of Science. Demos
Life 3.0 Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. (2017)  Max Tegmark. Allen Lane. London

Journals and online blogs

BBC Online
Science  Jonathan Amos, David Shukman
Environment Matt McGrath & Roger Harrabin
Medical  Fergus Walsh