Controversies in Science and Math

Full Course Title: 
Breakthroughs and Controversies in Science and Mathematics
Course Number: 
Section Number(s) and Day/Times Taught: 
184: TR 11:00-12:15
Fall 2017
Human beings are driven to explore ourselves and the world around us and to ask how things work. Today it may be difficult for us to imagine how mysterious the inside of a living person seemed only about 100+ years ago, when x-rays were discovered in 1895. Amazing breakthroughs have been made since then, such as the invention of the atomic bomb, penicillin, cloning and artificial intelligence.
In this course we will look at the process of discovery as well as the implications of recent breakthroughs and developments. We will choose topics and explore these issues using articles and videos. We might choose to debate climate change, string theory, or the 2005 president of Harvard University’s comments about the innate ability of women in mathematics.  We could explore the ethics of biodiesel or unbreakable codes, and whether we still need to learn multiplication tables.  
We will delve into diverse and opposing viewpoints on many issues as we discuss current scientific consensus.  In this context we will focus on what science and mathematics is, strategies for success in these fields, ethical and philosophical considerations, public perceptions, applications to daily tasks, and the relationship of science and mathematics to American competitiveness and the global economy. We’ll also think about a series of interrelated questions:  What is truth? When are we convinced? What are the consequences of certain truths? What is the role of chance and probability?  The only prerequisite for this course is an open mind.

My PhD is from the University of Pennsylvania in the Riemannian geometry of orbifolds.  I am a full Professor of Mathematics, and I am also an affiliate of Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies, investigating the connections between mathematics and society.  For instance, I co-edited the 3-volume Encyclopedia of Mathematics & Society, which was named a "Best Reference" by Library Journal.  My interactive mathematics lecture has been distributed on approximately one million DVDs worldwide as a 25-minute DVD extra for the 20th Century Fox Futurama movie Bender's Big Score. I've spoken about the impacts of scientific popular culture representations on NPR's Science Friday and all over the country, and I’ve won several teaching awards.  I am married to the bassist Joel Landsberg. In our spare time, we like to travel, hike and conduct genealogy research.  In addition to my own personal genealogy, I like to give back to the broader community, and in this context, I am affiliated with ASU's center for Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies.   Some of what I like about mathematics is also what I enjoy about genealogy—the sense of exploration, discovery and aha moments that come with lots of patience and effort.

Contact FYS

The First Year Seminar is part of the General Education Program located in Anne Belk Hall, Room 250.

Phone: 828-262-2028

Our mailing address:
First Year Seminar
ASU Box 32065
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608

Director of First Year Seminar:
Dr. Martha McCaughey

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