• Class Number 3937
  • Term Code 3030
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery Online
    • Dr Rod Lamberts
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 24/02/2020
  • Class End Date 05/06/2020
  • Census Date 08/05/2020
  • Last Date to Enrol 02/03/2020
    • Dr Rod Lamberts
SELT Survey Results

Uncertainty is everywhere. We casually and unknowingly take risks and accept uncertainty many times every day. However, in the sciences, we cannot afford to be so blasé. The ramifications of poor risk assessment (and communication) in science can and do have dramatic, global consequences. Risk is very hard to calculate, and even harder to communicate. What is risky, to whom, and why? How is risk understood by experts? How does it manifest in public domains? When does a risk become acceptable? Is it possible to speak about “real” or “true” risks in science? How do the concepts of risk and ethics relate?


In recent years, issues such as climate change, environmental degradation and gene/ nano-technologies have regularly highlighted the need for society to challenge and address risks and ethics in the sciences. In this course, the practice and application of science is analyzed from risk communication and ethical perspectives. Consideration is given to how social, political and psychological contexts of scientific research influence contemporary debates about risk and ethics. The concept of ethical research is analyzed and critiqued and the communication of risk and uncertainty with lay publics is examined in detail. Throughout the course, significant attention is devoted to the consideration of clear and effective ways to characterize and communicate controversial, risky, and ethically charged science-based matters in the public sphere.

This course is co-taught with undergraduate students but assessed separately.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Analyse critically and reflect on risk/ethical issues pertaining to science in the public sphere, and contextualise these within individuals' own workplace and/or geographical contexts
  2. Research, synthesise and professionally communicate information about social, cultural and psychological influences that affect people’s perception of risks and ethical positions associated with science
  3. Critically analyze and comprehensively review risk communication strategies involving the communication of contemporary science-related risk issues - and make high level, evidenced-based recommendations for improvements.
  4. Undertake expert desktop research into the theory and practice of risk communication
  5. Write persuasively for diverse non-specialist audiences about risk and ethics in science, integrating personal opinion, advanced knowledge of risk theory and responsible ethical judgement
  6. Using course reading and lecture materials as a catalyst, but integrating knowledge of published research, clearly present personal views, and critically respond to those of others, in open fora.

Research-Led Teaching

The material underpinning SCOM6031 incorporates both classical/ traditional and current research and theory in science communication and related disciplines and is accessed by students via lecture content, texts, readers, journal papers, professional guides and policy documents. Students will also be exposed to, and at times apply, elements of research practice during the course, especially via the course readings and their evidence-based critique and recommendations for improvement of public risk communication campaigns in the course assessment.  

Required Resources

All reading and audio visual materials for the course will be made available via the course WATTLE site

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • written comments
  • verbal comments
  • feedback to whole class, groups, individuals, focus group etc

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Other Information

Adjustments to delivery in 2020

Course delivery and assessment in 2020 was adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Main changes to this course comprised adjustments to assignment due dates. For details see the course Wattle site.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Introduction to science communication, to communicating risk, & to the course
2 SCOM Research & theoretical foundations of risk communication Reflection #1 due - see assessment tasks
3 On Evidence
4 Techniques & methods for crafting risk strategies
5 Perceptions of risk Review Progress Report due - see assessment tasks
6 Crafting an argument/ opinion pieces
7 Introduction to ethics
8 Persuasion & Influence
9 Risk, Ethics & Public Health Opinion Piece Assignment due - see assessment tasks
10 Communication & Ethics, Crisis communication
11 Perceptions of expertise, strategies for involving & consulting publics
12 Risk, ethics and policy Final Review Report due - see assessment tasks Reflection #2 due - see assessment tasks

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
Reflection #1 0 % 08/03/2020 * 1,5,6
Review Project part 1 - Progress report 20 % 29/03/2020 22/04/2020 1,2,4
Opinion piece exercise 35 % 10/05/2020 23/05/2020 2,5,6
Reflection #2 10 % 29/05/2020 17/06/2020 1,5,6
Final Review Report 35 % 29/05/2020 17/06/2020 1,2,3,4

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the Academic Integrity . In rare cases where online submission using Turnitin software is not technically possible; or where not using Turnitin software has been justified by the Course Convener and approved by the Associate Dean (Education) on the basis of the teaching model being employed; students shall submit assessment online via ‘Wattle’ outside of Turnitin, or failing that in hard copy, or through a combination of submission methods as approved by the Associate Dean (Education). The submission method is detailed below.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.



The master’s strand of Science, Risk and Ethics is designed be taken entirely online. To facilitate this, instead of having a ‘tutorial’ class, the second class each week (the equivalent of the undergraduate, on-campus Tuesday tutorial) will take the form of a podcast (called the SCOM6031 “SCOMcast”), and will be recorded every week during semester time.

How students participate 

Each week, SCOM6031 students will have assigned readings which they will be required to read, digest, critique and question. Students should then go to the “Masters tutorial” link for that week and write a post of up to 500 words telling everyone:

  • One thing about the readings they found useful or interesting
  • One thing that they didn't like OR didn't agree with OR didn't understand
  • One questions for the tutor/ the group 

The convener will read these and comment, answer or expand on them over the course of the SCOMcast. Each SCOMcast will run for between 30 and 60 minutes and will be posted under each module by the the end of that week.  

For your post to be eligible for inclusion in the weekly SCOMcast, it must be up by 2:00 pm on the Thursday of that week (Canberra time)

This forum only allows each person to start ONE discussion topic each week (You can respond to others as much as you like). Make sure you choose what you want to say carefully before posting!

Assessment Task 1

Value: 0 %
Due Date: 08/03/2020
Learning Outcomes: 1,5,6

Reflection #1

The purpose of this introductory piece of assessment is to start you thinking about your personal perspectives on science, risk and ethics and to get you reflecting on these in the context of positions held by others. This task is a hurdle requirement - there are no marks allocated for it, but you will use this assessment item as base material for the second reflective task at the end of the semester (see below).

There will be a template to use for this task on WATTLE

Assessment Task 2

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 29/03/2020
Return of Assessment: 22/04/2020
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,4

Review Project part 1 - Progress report

Review Project – Critical review of a risk communication strategy 

This is the major assessment task in SOCM6031 and has two elements:

  1. Review Project - Progress Report
  2. review Project - Final Report


  • The overall review project task is described next in this section, followed by Part 1 (Progress Report).
  • Part 2 (Final Review Report) is described in a separate section under "assessment task 5"


The overall review project task


The main purpose of this project is to apply the suite of theories, tools and ideas addressed throughout the course to identify, analyze and critically review a science-based risk communication strategy associated with it. The main target of the strategy you review must be a general audience (or “the public”). The strategy you review should be aimed at influencing people who do not have scientific or technical expertise, not communiqués for experts audiences.  


The main elements of the whole Review Project task are:


1.   Choose a strategy to review

a.   Choose a risk issue that has a clear science-related aspect to it that has been the subject of a current, or recently completed, public risk communication strategy. Some examples of relevant subject matter for a topic might be:

                                               i.     Private company advertising about the dangers of obesity and the products and services they try to sell to combat it. 

                                             ii.     Messages, public information sheets and media releases from the latest IPCC meeting. 

                                            iii.     Government TV campaigns to curtail speeding.  

                                            iv.     Cancer council strategies to encourage people to be aware of/ prevent skin cancer.

                                             v.     Campaigns by environmental groups aiming to encourage wildlife protection

b.   If you are unsure about the suitability of a topic, talk with course staff

2.   Present a clear, theory and evidence based rationale for why you chose the topic and why it is suitable for this kind of project. Discuss things like:

                                               i.     why it is a ‘risk’ issue at all

                                             ii.     how prevalent is it in, or how relevant it is to, the public domain 

                                            iii.     what the likely consequences of this issue being poorly communicated have been/ could be

                                            iv.     How well is it being addressed now/ has it been addressed in the past

3.   Gather and summarise the background facts pertinent to the issue(s) covered in the strategy you are reviewing

a.   Science facts. The risk issue you present must have a scientific basis. There must be a body of evidence that offers information about the issue. It is not uncommon for such scientific work to have controversial and/or contradictory elements within it. Your project must include a section, comprehensively supported by evidence from the literature, that sets the scientific scene for your risk issue. For example

                                               i.     What does the science behind the issue say?

                                             ii.     Is it clear, or are there nuances and disagreements among experts?

b.   Context facts. Is this issue a particularly “hot” political topic? Has it been inspired by a specific event, or is it something that has been around for a while? Who are the main voices/ stakeholders in the issue (and what might their motivations be)? Are there characteristic of the issue that are specific to a place, a time, particular types of people, etc.? Are there strong, non-science influences (e.g., religion, culture, political persuasion, financial interests, history/traditions)? 

c.    Theory. What communication, risk perception & comprehension, and/or persuasion & influence theories are best suited to understanding and analysing your issue? 

4.   Gather and analyze pertinent materials that represent the strategy (for example: advertising or marketing collateral, TV or radio programs or advertisements, websites, public briefings, blogs, podcass, etc.) . Consider:

a.   Media. What kinds of ‘publication venues’ are being used? Are there particular messengers (e.g., celebrities, people who look like scientists/doctors, mascots)? Do these media themselves have characteristics that may influence the way the issue is presented and considered in the public arena?

b.   Audiences. Who are they (assuming you can even tell)? Why those audiences? Are they explicitly targeted or merely implied? To what extent are the materials and their messages suited to the desired audiences? 

c.    Messages. What are the strategy’s messages? Are there many, or just one or two key ones? How do you know/ can you tell? Do they appear to be tailored to suit particular audiences, media, content, etc.? Are they clear? Do any messages conflict or contradict each other?

d.   Message creators/ ‘owners’. Who is responsible for the messages you are critiquing? What are their reasons or intentions (consider explicit and implicit possibilities)? 

e.   Evaluation. Has any been done? If so, what did it say/ how useful was it?

f.     Use of evidence. To what extent are the messages supported by science evidence (both overtly and implicitly)?


5.   Critique

a.   Using what you have learned throughout the course via the lectures, readings and interactions online with you peers AND in the context of the previous elements above, provide a critical review of the strategy 

b.   Consider what ‘works’ (being sure to define what ‘works’ means), and what does not. Here you should look at things such as the alignment of messages with intention and with audiences, evaluation (or lack thereof), and the extent to which what is being communicated (and how) reflects good practice and theory. Use the data and information you have generated at step 3.


6.   Recommendations

a.   Suggest how efforts could be improved, modified or expanded. 

b.   This could involve you proposing alternative messages, mocking-up different – or new – collateral, re-framing the issue, or targeting audiences more effectively. 

c.    Make sure your recommendations are based on good-practice and/or relevant theory.



*******Review Progress Report (20%) - description of task*******


The Progress Report should provide a brief overview of the risk strategy you are critically reviewing, and some sound, evidence-based reasons for why this strategy is suitable for the overall Critical Review Project. 


You are not expected to have completed all the elements of the major report (as outlined above) at this stage of the semester. We realise that many elements of the project will still need work to be completed, so your goal here is to show us how much you have done, and give us an idea of what you intend to do in the second half of the semester as you work to complete the final critical review report.


This means the bulk of the Progress Report should concentrate on presenting a clear “story so far” of the work you have undertaken on your review project, and it would be expected that it would focus predominately on the first 4 elements of the overall project outlined above.  We would expect to see little, if any, critique (report element 5 above) and probably no recommendations (report element 6 above) in the Progress Report.



·      a written report of a maximum of 2500 words(excluding cover page and references) 


What this report should ideally demonstrate: 

·      a comprehensive, succinct, critical outline of the work you have done so far and where it fits in your bigger plan for the overall project

·      effective incorporation of relevanttheory, examples and ideas from the lectures and readings 

·      a high standard of comprehensive research 

·      appropriate use of references and referencing,

·      clear communication of ideas, written in proper English prose with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.


Assessment Task 3

Value: 35 %
Due Date: 10/05/2020
Return of Assessment: 23/05/2020
Learning Outcomes: 2,5,6

Opinion piece exercise


Choose two topic areas from this list

  • Longevity research
  • Climate change
  • Research using animals
  • Nutrition, exercise and obesity
  • Reproductive technologies
  • Nanotechnology 
  • GM foods


Write 2 opinion pieces for both topics (a total of 4 opinion pieces).

For both topics:

  • 1 piece should focus on aspects of the topic you think should be supported (and why)
  • 1 piece should focus on aspects of the topic that you think should not be supported (and why not)

How to begin?

Consider the kinds of questions about the topics you have chosen that would be of interest to your audience. It can be a simple as: 

What would happen if everyone lived to 150?


How could we decide what is a healthy body shape?


Can we afford to ignore warnings from climate scientists?

Alternatively, come up with some clear, bold statements about the topic and then address them in your piece.

For example:

Reproductive technologies should be made available to anyone who wants them  


We should not conduct any experiments on animals that we wouldn't conduct on people. 


For each of the four pieces,  briefly and clearly state what venue you are writing for (for example; The Australian, The Women’s Weekly, New Matilda, The Conversation, On Campus, etc) and why what you have written is suitable for this format/ audience. This should be brief – one or two paragraphs maximum

  • You do not need to formally reference within the 4 pieces, instead you should have a separate reference section (see next bullet)
  • Reference section:
  • You will be required to attach a formal reference list of the main scholarly sources that inspired you and provided supporting evidence for the arguments represented in each of your 4 pieces.
  • Under each of these references, note the most significant elements that relate either to the science or the ethical position you have made on the topic (maximum three (3) bullet points per reference – no more)

You should base your 4 pieces on 

1.   scientific evidence related to the topic,

2.   your own beliefs, opinions and experience, and

3.   arguments, positions and ideas from the ethics component of the course.


Learning Outcomes 

·      Actively reflect on your beliefs and positions on 2 ethically complex, science-based issues that are of broad public interest

·      Practice creating arguments to support ethical positions based on scientific evidence, theories of ethics and personal views

·      Develop skills in writing for venues that contribute directly to popular discourse while still basing your content on scholarly evidence and thinking



Supporting materials



  • Your four (4) pieces based on the two (2) topics you chose to write about.
  • NOTE:  Each of the 4 pieces must be between 600 and 800words. No more, no less. Marks will be deducted for pieces that are too short OR too long (1% for every 10 words over or under).
  • Your reference list, including the maximum 3 bullet points per reference as outlined above. You can submit a separate list with each of the 4 pieces or a combined one for all 4.

Assessment Task 4

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 29/05/2020
Return of Assessment: 17/06/2020
Learning Outcomes: 1,5,6

Reflection #2

Revisit your first reflection (the one you did in-class in week 2) and consider what you have learned and experienced in SCOM6031 over the course of the semester. Use the first piece as a starting point to write a reflective critique of your journey through SCOM6031. You might want to use question like these to inspire your thinking (you are not obliged to answer all – or any – of these questions, they are just here to get you started):

  • Have any of your views on risk, ethics or science changed? If so how, or why?
  • Did you come across ideas or tools that you found particularly intriguing, useful or interesting?
  • What about ideas that you found especially confronting?
  • What do you think you did well?
  • What could you learn to do better?


The critical thing we are looking for here is intelligent, reasoned opinion, critiques and arguments that draw on the course material, particularly in the context of your personal experiencewith science, risk and ethics. It doesn’t matter if what you say is controversial or if others might disagree here, as long as what you say is clear, logical and substantiated. 



A short written piece of prose in coherent, grammatically correct English (BETWEEN 300 AND 500 WORDS).




2.You do not need formal referencing for this assignment

Assessment Task 5

Value: 35 %
Due Date: 29/05/2020
Return of Assessment: 17/06/2020
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3,4

Final Review Report

The Final Review Report should provide a full account of the critical review of a risk communication strategy you have worked on throughout the semester. It should incorporate and expand on the Review Progress Report supported by the course material, your own research, and feedback you received from staff during the semester. 


You have considerable freedom to decide how you would like to present the Final Report – part of successful science communication practice is being creative in the way you present information. Just be careful not to get so excited about howyou present your Final Report that you shirk on the content. 


At a minimum, the content should clearly address all the relevant elements outlined above in the description of the overall project. Broadly, these are 

1.   A clear overview of the strategy you chose to review

2.   A clear, theory and evidence based rationale for why you chose the topic and why it is suitable for this kind of project

3.   A summary of background facts pertinent to the issue(s) covered in the strategy you reviewed

4.   A collation and analysis of pertinent materials that represent the strategy 

5.   A thorough, evidenced-based and theory-guided critique of the strategy

6.   Recommendations for how to improve, expand, evaluate and/or move forward based on your critical review

7.   IN ADDITION– please include a briefsection reflecting on how your personal values, previous experience and existing knowledge about the issue you critiqued affected the way you approached this task, and if doing the research and critique of the risk strategy changed any of your pre-existing views about the topic. 

If you are unsure about this assessment item, make sure you speak with SCOM6031 staff well before the due date!


a report of not more than 20 pages, with a font not smaller than 12 point (excluding appendices, table of contents and cover sheet).  Reports over 20 pages will be returned to be edited. Late penalties will apply until the edited, 20 page (or less) version of your report is re-submitted.



What your report should ideally demonstrate:

·      appropriate language with correct grammatical structure, spelling and punctuation

·      a comprehensive consideration of the risk strategy you chose, including a sound justification for choosing it

·      a balance between big picture overview and relevant detail

·      evidence that you have thoroughly explored and researched the science facts and relevant contextual influences, and have applied pertinent theory from SCOM6031 

·      seamless integration of the sub-elements of your final report. Ensure you have:

a clear and accurate table of contents

an internally well-referenced document. That is, if you refer to other elements of your report, you make it easy for the reader to find them (e.g. “please see appendix B, page 22)

a uniform overall style for the report 

a thoroughly proof-read document 

·      References & referencing

you must include evidence and supporting references for all factual aspects of your report 

you will also need complete, comprehensive and consistent referencing throughout your report AND a comprehensive reference section

·      professional presentation – the report should look ‘professional’. Innovative and interesting presentation is absolutely encouraged. If in doubt, talk with SCOM6031 staff

·      evidence of critical thinking and critique – your report should demonstrate that you have considered the available scholarly literature and public information relevant to

your topic area, and presented the necessary information in a considered fashion that reflects the theory and practice covered in SCOM6031

·      suggestions and recommendations about how to improve the risk communication of your chosen strategy, explicitly based on a synthesis of the elements of your report

·      recommendations, limitations, things you would do differently if you were to do this project again 

·      considered reflection on the process of doing this research and how it affected you personally 

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of the ANU culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically, committing to honest and responsible scholarly practice and upholding these values with respect and fairness.

The ANU commits to assisting all members of our community to understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to be familiar with the academic integrity principle and Academic Misconduct Rule, uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with.

The Academic Misconduct Rule is in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Very minor breaches of the academic integrity principle may result in a reduction of marks of up to 10% of the total marks available for the assessment. The ANU offers a number of online and in person services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. Visit the Academic Skills website for more information about academic integrity, your responsibilities and for assistance with your assignments, writing skills and study.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

Late submission permitted. Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. Extensions may be granted for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Dr Rod Lamberts

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Dr Rod Lamberts

Dr Rod Lamberts
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Research Interests

Dr Rod Lamberts

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