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PWS 180: Section 1

How do we know and why does it matter?
The worksheets, slides, and other materials for this section can be found in the Box folder (link in syllabus).
  • Before doing any of the assignments this week, please fill out this survey on environmental perceptions. It is completely anonymous, but you will be asked for your name so we can give you credit for filling it out.

    After completing the survey, I am inviting you watch a very reputable and well-regarded source (Naomi Oreskes, one of the top historians of science) and read a much maligned but very valuable source (Wikipedia). Here are the links:

    Here are some questions to guide your study (you are likely to encounter these types of question on the quiz):

    1. What is the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning (and which one did Sherlock Holmes mainly use)?
    2. Is induction or deduction better?
    3. T/F There is a unified and singular method to which all scientific inquiry conforms.
    4. What is the common “key element” across all scientific approaches?
    5. What is the “traditional” or “formal” scientific method called?
    6. Is trust in science an “appeal to authority”? How and how not?
    7. How is belief in science like the leap of faith associated with spirituality?
    8. What is scientific modeling generally?
    9. Why is science sometimes described as “organized skepticism”?
    10. What are the “funding effect” and the “third-person effect”?
    11. What are ways to counter bias and inaccuracy in science?
    12. T/F Any skeptical claims about the scientific mainstream are irrational and anti-science.
    13. T/F The best test of whether a scientific paper is valid is by exposing it to peer review.
    14. What surprised you in the readings?
    BYU undergraduate Haley Moon sets up an experiment to test the biodegradability of dissolved organic matter after a wildfire.

    Here are some supplementary resources if you want to dig deeper:

  • This week, we are taking on the simple and straightforward (sarcasm) challenge of information literacy: the ability to find, interpret, and use information in an ethical and reliable way. Our general goals are to 1. Become more aware of the biases and limitations that can lead us to incorrect beliefs and actions, and 2. Develop skills and attitudes that help us secure reliable information and interpret it in valid ways.

    You will encounter your first peer-reviewed scientific article this week (yay). Do your best to understand how the study was performed and what were the main findings. I encourage you to be patient with yourself and give yourself plenty of time for the reading. We will go over some tips on reading technical articles in class, but if you want to be extra prepared, here is a nice primer: “The art of reading a journal article.”

    Here are the links to the materials:

    Here are some further readings (not required, but definitely worth the time):

    • Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf 2013, “What is truth.” This CES address provides a Restored Gospel perspective on knowledge, media literacy, and the importance of truth:
    • Angie Drobnic Holan and Kate Starbird 2020, "How to fight an infodemic." This Intelligence Squared interview on “crisis informatics” addresses how information spreads about important and urgent topics (e.g. COVID-19, climate change, violent conflict, etc.).
    • Jay Smooth 2020. This “crash course” series on media literacy gives an insider perspective of how “The media” generate and share information and how media consumers (all of us can better interpret the information we see).
    • The Association of College and Research Libraries produced this "Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education" that describes the knowledge practices and dispositions that can enhance our information literacy.
    • Jill Lepore 2012, “The Lie Factory.” This long-format piece explores the history of Campaigns Inc., the first campaign consulting firm in the U.S.:
    • Ben Abbott 2020, “Seekers and tellers of truth.” This blogpost is based on a talk I gave in sacrament meeting about the importance of seeking and spreading truth.
    • Steffen and other 2015, “Planetary boundaries…” This high-profile scientific paper tries to identify how much pressure and disturbance the Earth system can take before transitioning into a state that might not be able to support human civilization. If you don’t have access, PDF is in Section 1 folder.
    • Rutgers University Fake News handbook.
    • Gallup 2019 research on trust in the media.
    • Ben Abbott 2020, “How close are we to the edge?” This is a seminar given for the BYU Kennedy Center’s Environmental Stewardship Series. There was a technical glitch and the recording cuts off prematurely, but the topics of ecological laws and prioritization of environmental issues are addressed.

    Here are some questions to guide your study this week:

    1. What are "reliable sources"?
    2. Why do you think the Church chose to make this addition to the handbook now?
    3. What are the types of incorrect information or interpretation to which you are most vulnerable?
    4. What is “fake news”?
    5. What conditions contribute to the spread of false information?
    6. How are claims of fake news misused or abused?
    7. Does it matter if false information spreads? How and how not?
    8. How is the current “infodemic” a continuation of past trends versus a departure (how is it the same and how is it different)?
    9. T/F It is harder than ever before to access reliable information.
    10. What were the main hypotheses of the peer-reviewed paper you read?
    11. How did the researchers test those hypotheses?
    12. T/F People generally evaluate the strength of scientific claims objectively, regardless of their prior beliefs
    13. T/F The tendency to accept information that supports your beliefs is stronger in liberals than conservatives.
    14. Why has trust in the media decreased over the past decades?
    15. What hypotheses can you come up with to explain why the recent trends are so different for Republicans and Democrats?
    A meadow lark reminds us to slow down and evaluate the reliability of information before passing it along.

  • This week, we are exploring two crucial environmental questions: 1. how do our environmental choices affect others and 2. what is the correct way to interact with the Earth from a religious perspective?

    Here are the required materials

    1. Watching: Gérald Caussé 2022, "Our Earthly Stewardship"
    2. Watching: Robin Wall Kimmerer 2014, “Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass”.
    3. Watching: Katharine Hayhoe 2022, "Loving all God's Creation".
    4. Reading: Pope Francis 2015, “Laudato Si’—our care for our common home.” This is a long document (184 pages) and it is absolutely worth the read. However, for the purposes of this class, read at least the first 14 pages (up to Chapter 1).
    5. Watching: Grist summary of Environmental Justice, 2012.

    Here are some supplementary materials

    Here are some questions to guide your study this week:

    • What is environmental justice, and why should we care about it?
    • Who does environmental injustice affect?
    • Why does environmental injustice exist?
    • How does environmental justice inform the way we consider climate change?
    • How should we consider and learn from indigenous wisdom and teachings from other faiths about the environment?
    • What commonalities and differences did you see in environmental stewardship among the various faiths you learned about?
    • Why might indigenous beliefs and practices about the environment be different from immigrant beliefs and practices?
    • What is the law of the honorable harvest?
    • What ideas about the environment do you most often hear from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or your own faith, if different)?
    • What is the environmental ethic of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ?
    • How do the teachings of the Restored Gospel influence how you view the environment?
    • Which of these teachings are value based (based on doing what is right) and which are pragmatic (based on what is practical or what works well)?
    • How do Latter-day Saint culture and practice fulfill and fail to live up to our environmental ethic?
    A honey locust tree, a sunset, and a stake center in Orem, Utah