Assignment: Debates

Learning Goals

The purpose of this assignment is for you to take a position and debate an issue involving a scientific controversy.

The assignment's learning goals:

• Research and develop a position, even if it is not one you might personally hold, on a scientific controversy;
• Offer an oral presentation on the position you take;
• Answer questions regarding the content of your presentation.

Please refer to the Wiki Article assignment.

Please note. The grade on the debate is divided into an individual grade (10% of your final grade), and a group grade (5% of your final grade). Students will assess one another's performance. The assessment form is here.


The policy arena at the local, state and national levels has its own character which must be addressed by professionals, but which is often lost on academics and in classroom training. In lobbying to the public, government officials, or even officials within the same industry, you will need to integrate academic, journalistic, and professional sources in analyzing the political agendas of science and technology and in constructing a persuasive argument.

In order to participate in public debates concerning science, technology, and your professional and personal interests, you must learn to argue your case in a clear and incisive manner. As a group, you will debate the merits of a position about the scientific controversy you have chosen for the final report.

Debate Structure

Debates will be based on your current research. The positions of the group members will reflect individual answers to a central question that will be debated. For example, the central question might be: "Should Creationism and Evolution Both Be Taught in Public Schools?" Assuming a group of four, two group members would answer 'Yes' to the question, two group members would answer 'No' to the question. Once you have decided your position on the question, I would like you to make your argument from a perspective, or context, which interests you. For example, you may argue 'No' in response to the question above on scientific grounds — arguing that creationism is not a scientific theory or explanation, rather a belief system. Or, you may answer 'Yes' to the above question on philosophical and religious grounds — arguing that both creation and evolution are belief systems that ought to compete on equal footing for the hearts and minds of students.

Assuming a group of 4 (debates can be modified to accommodate groups of 3 or 5), 2 group members will take the affirmative side of the question, 2 group members the negative side of the question. Both sides should work collaboratively to lend the debate coherence. The form of the debate is as follows:

    First, the affirmative side will present their position for 10 minutes;

    Second, the negative side will present their rebuttal for 5 minutes;

    Third, the negative side will present their position for 10 minutes;

    Fourth, the affirmative side will present their rebuttal for 5 minutes;

    Fifth, the audience will ask questions for 5 minutes;

    Total Time: 35 minutes

• Groups will determine the order of appearance of presenters.

Each presenter will provide at least one visual aid to support their presentation. Aids can vary from handouts, to PowerPoint, to snippets of YouTube clips, to slides,to web sites. I strongly suggest that the group work together to coordinate their visual aids for a smooth presentation. For example, if two group members want to use PowerPoint, then they should integrate their presentation so that flash drives do not need to be swapped out in mid-presentation. If you have any questions, please let me know.

• You will be not only graded by me, but by your classmates as well. Your classmates are your primary audience. Please make sure that the central question you are debating is clearly and concisely stated.

Due as scheduled in November and December. Please refer to the course calendar.

Science Writing