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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 this Box folder: PWS180 shared.
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    Week 1: What is science (what are reliable ways to discover truths around us)?

    Before doing any of the assignments this week, please fill out this survey on environmental perceptions: PWS180 perceptions pre-survey. It is completely anonymous, but you will be asked when you take the reading quiz whether you filled 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.

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    Week 2: Fake news and prioritizing environmental issues

    This week, we are taking on the simple and straightforward (sarcasm) issues of prioritizing environmental problems and filtering error from truth. Our general goals are to 1. Understand how various environmental issues are connected, and 2. Develop skills and channels to 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:

    • Watching: 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:
    • Listening: Angie Drobnic Holan and Kate Starbird 2020. 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.):
    • Reading: Ditto and others 2019, “At least bias is bipartisan…” This paper investigates if biased interpretation of science is associated with political party. It (if you don’t have access, PDF is in Section 1 folder):

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

    Here are some questions to guide your study this week:

    1. What are the four ecological laws?
    2. What are the major environmental issues facing humanity and the Earth system?
    3. How are these issues connected?
    4. Why should we care about these issues?
    5. Approximately how many people die of environmental pollution each year?
    6. Why does it matter if a species goes extinct?
    7. What does the word “ecosystem” mean and what is its origin?
    8. What is “fake news”?
    9. What conditions contribute to the spread of false information?
    10. How are claims of fake news misused or abused?
    11. How is the current “infodemic” a continuation of past trends versus a departure (how is it the same and how is it different)?
    12. T/F It is harder than ever before to access reliable information.
    13. What were the main hypotheses of the peer-reviewed paper you read?
    14. How did the researchers test those hypotheses?
    15. T/F People generally evaluate the strength of scientific claims objectively, regardless of their prior beliefs
    16. T/F The tendency to accept information that supports your beliefs is stronger in liberals than conservatives.
    17. Why has trust in the media decreased over the past decades?
    18. 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.

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    Week 3: Environmental Justice and Environmental Stewardship

    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: Grist summary of Environmental Justice, 2012:
    2. Watching: Robin Wall Kimmerer 2014, “Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass”:
    3. Watching: George Handley 2020, “Environmental Stewardship”
    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. Reading: Sayedi 2020, "Islam and the Environment." This is a short document written by our very own Sara Sayedi! The file is in the readings folder.

    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?
    • How were the Islamic scriptures and interpretations similar and different from your interpretation of teachings in your faith?
    • 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