BIO3015 : Social Impact of Biology

  • Module Leader(s): Dr Heather Finlayson
  • Owning School: Biology
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


Modern biology has thrown up issues that concern ordinary people, such as genetically modified foods. To decide whether or not such technologies present risks one needs facts, but even with facts the issues remain, since people may agree on the facts but still disagree as to whether or not we should use these technologies (i.e. explore non-scientific issues). The aims of this module are: (1) to outline the scope of the social impact of applied biology and explain some of the main concepts and issues including ethical considerations; (2) to expose students to cases which illustrate ethical dilemmas in biology and use this to help them develop a structured, logical approach to their analysis; (3) to foster an ethos which will help students to apply ethical principles to the applications of biology.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module comprises of lectures and seminars (ie varying amounts of verbal exchange between the students and the session leader according to what best suits the topic).

Ethical, legal, scientific and sociological aspects are included within the following topics:
1. Ethical principles. Examples of current perceptions of scientists; examples of logical approaches.
2. Genetically modified plants - potential for survival, spread and crossing in the field.
3. Environmental ethics.
4. Experimental animals: legal and ethical principles; pain in animals.
5. Food policy and consumer acceptance.

Three seminars will develop thinking and reasoning skills and apply to bioethics.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion31:003:00Preparation of short reports following seminars
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion121:0021:00Preparation of assessed essay
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00Includes 3x 2hr seminars
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading18:008:00Additional directed reading linked to lectures
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study241:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study221:0022:00Includes 6hrs seminar prep and 16hrs lecture follow up
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The topics covered are diverse and go well beyond typical biological material and their delivery in the time requires rapid grasp of unfamiliar facts and concepts. This is done through lectures that are delivered mostly with an above average amount of interaction between session leader and students and specified additional reading. The seminars include debate and small-group discussion to give practice in thinking and in developing arguments. The course focusses on a high proportion of time developing practicing thinking and reasoning skills, and is paralleled by a lesser dependence on wider factual reading than in most stage 3 modules.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Other2M453 Short written assignments prepared after the relevant seminar (worth 10,15, 20% for Assignments 1,2,3 respectively)
Essay2M551500 word essay
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Following the debate or small group discussions in the seminars students are required to produce a short written piece covering the topic discussed. As consideration of ethical issues in this way requires development of new skills, the marks awarded will increase over the three pieces of work to reflect the increasing expectations and response to feedback. The assignments will be assessed on all aspects required to produce logical, structured, relevant and well argued comments on an ethical issue.

The essay tests the ability of the students to research and independently identify relevant material and prepare a longer piece of work discussing an ethical question in which they will be expected to demonstrate appropriate skills following previous feedback.

Reading Lists


Disclaimer: The University will use all reasonable endeavours to deliver modules in accordance with the descriptions set out in this catalogue. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, however, the University reserves the right to introduce changes to the information given including the addition, withdrawal or restructuring of modules if it considers such action to be necessary.