ENGL 302: N08
Advanced Composition: Natural Sciences

TR 1:30-2:45  Rob A 245
George Mason University
Spring 2003

Dr Dean Taciuch   Hours: M-Th 12-1:30
Office: Rob A 401C
  Phone: 993-2784



Appleman, Phillip, ed. Darwin. Norton Critical edition.

Course Description

English 302 is an Advanced Composition course; this section will focus on the writing and research needs of students in the natural Sciences. English 302 is not a technical writing course. We will not be writing lab reports or technical articles in this class; rather, the focus will be on conducting secondary research, organizing the results of the research, and presenting your interpretations of your findings to appropriate audiences, both inside and outside scientific fields.

English 302 focuses on the research process, and for this section our model of the research process will be the scientific method of gathering data, forming hypotheses, testing these hypotheses with new data via prediction and experimentation, and refining the hypotheses. In research writing, you are not gathering new data first hand; rather you are conducting secondary research by reading and analyzing the writings of others, forming your own opinion (a preliminary thesis, or hypothesis), then gathering more information via research to support or modify that thesis. Aside from the distinction between primary and secondary research the method is the same: you develop an idea based on the material you find, and you modify your ideas as you uncover new information.

The act of interpretation is key; theses, hypotheses, and theories are all based on facts, but theories are not facts themselves. Facts are raw data. In the course of constructing a thesis, you must discriminate relevant from irrelevant data; you must analyze, select, and conscientiously try to avoid bias. Bias, however, is practically unavoidable. The very act of gathering information and presenting it requires you to make decisions as to the importance of certain details. As we shall see in the summary-writing exercise, even a “simple” task such as summarizing a difficult passage introduces bias.

In the sciences, and in most professional writing, such biases are alleviated by the process known as peer-review. Peer review is part of the general scientific method as well: when a new hypothesis is presented, others in the field try to disprove it. They aren’t just doing this out of professional jealously (not all of them, anyway). A valid hypothesis is falsifiable; that is, it makes predictions or statements which can be tested. If a hypothesis can withstand the tests of new data, if it makes predictions which can be shown to be true or false, then the hypothesis is accepted. Generally, however, hypotheses require refinement and alteration. One reason initial hypotheses so often fail is due in part to initial biases. Some data will be ignored as irrelevant because the researcher assumed it was unimportant. This “irrelevant” data often contradicts the hypothesis, and a better hypothesis will be required to explain as much relevant information as possible. This is the process of revision.

We will also make use of the peer-review process, and you will revise your theses as you find more information. Information which contradicts your thesis cannot be ignored if it is relevant (and contradiction doesn’t automatically imply irrelevance). Rather, the thesis will need to explain the apparent contradictions.

Course Goals

The goal of this course is to introduce you to research writing. You will conduct research using library databases and online search tools, analyze and evaluate the sources you find, interpret information, establish a thesis, and synthesize your sources into a well organized whole which supports your thesis.

Analysis requires breaking something, like a source essay, down into its parts to determine how the parts are related. For example, most essays that we will look at will have the interrelated parts of audience, thesis, and purpose. Analysis allows us to see how these parts fit together. Evaluation requires determining validity. We can analyze sources, for example, on the basis of authority, logic, currency, and the like. If the logic, however, is faulty, or the source is out of date, our evaluation may determine that the source cannot be used.

Interpretation allows you to form an opinion based on the information you’ve gathered, analyzed, and evaluated. A thesis is always an interpretation (as is a scientific hypothesis). Interpretations are not facts; they are inferences and deductions based on facts. If the information is valid, and the inferences and deductions (the logic) is valid, the thesis will be supported.

Synthesis is the method of supporting your inferences and deductions with material from a variety of sources. An essay is a synthesis of several sources, but it will be supporting your thesis. A successful synthesis weaves summary, paraphrase, and quotes from several sources (with proper citation) into a new argument.


Most of your work will receive a letter grade. An “A” paper has a strong thesis, clear organization and focus, very good support, and very few if any grammatical errors. A “B” paper has a good thesis, good organization and focus, good support and examples, and a few grammatical errors. A “C” paper may have a weaker thesis, some organizational problems (though still an identifiable organization and focus), some support (though it could use more), and some (though not too many) grammatical errors. A “D” paper may have problems with its thesis or organization, may lack focus and support, or may have serious grammatical errors. An “F” paper has serious problems in more than two of these areas.

I will give all assignments letter grades. I calculate final grades by converting the letter grades to a 100 point scale using the following values:

A+ 100  
A 95 C+ 78
A- 90 C 75
B+ 88 C- 70
B 85 D 65
B- 80 F below 60

The University translates letter grades into 4-point GPA values:

A+ 4.00 B- 2.67 C- 1.67
A 4.00 B 3.00 D 1.00
A- 3.67 C+ 2.33 F 0.00
B+ 3.33 C 2.00  

(please note that A+ and A have equivalent point values.)

Special note on grades in English 302: You must earn a C or better for English 302 to fulfill your general education requirement. A grade less than C will count towards your GPA, but you will need to take English 302 again. Since there is some disagreement between the University and the English Department concerning the C- grade in English 302, I will refrain from using the C- for final grades.


Revision is a required part of the course; the research paper will be revised and reworked several times before you turn it in. I do allow some revisions after a paper has been graded, but most revision should be done before you submit the paper. The final research paper can’t be revised once it has been submitted since it comes at the end of the semester, but all of the other assignments, except the peer review, can be revised.

A revision is a thorough reworking of a paper; it is not merely correcting spelling and grammar errors (that’s proofreading, and it won’t result in a higher grade, since I assume you’ve proofread before you’ve turned in the paper). Generally, “B” papers are more difficult to revise; they are already better than average, and revising means changing them substantively. There is always a risk that the changes may result in a weaker paper, but I will not penalize anyone for revising (you won’t drop below the original grade on a revision). I recommend revising papers with a “C” or lower, since these papers usually have more serious problems which respond better to the thoroughness of the revision process.

All revisions must be submitted by April 24.

Course Policies

Late Assignments: Unless you make prior arrangements with me, late papers will lose one letter grade per day. The lost grades cannot be made up by revision.

Plagiarism: “Plagiarism means using the exact words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving the person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes or endnotes; a simple listing of books and articles is not sufficient. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in an academic setting” (Department of English Guidebook). I will report any suspected cases of plagiarism to the Honors Committee.

Attendance: I will not take attendance, but it is not possible to do well in this course without regular attendance. In class assignments make up part of your grade. Class discussions of the texts are necessary for the papers, exercises, and the research project. Topics will develop from the class discussions. In addition, we will work on revising the drafts in class.


Summary: An important aspect of research is the ability to summarize, paraphrase, and quote effectively. This assignment will require you to summarize the key points of an essay or chapter in 500 words. This assignment will be graded for accuracy, organization, and clarity.
Summary assignment: 5%

Initial position statement: The initial position statement will be used to examine your starting assumptions about science writing and the process of investigation. This short (3 page) writing assignment will be graded on the basis of clarity and organization. The audience for this assignment will be the instructor and the other members of the class.
Initial position statement: 5%

Short Essays
: Two short (3-5 page) essays will allow you to explore topics of interest before you commit to the major research project. Unlike the position statements, the short essays will explore and explain one topic in depth. These essays will be graded on organization, audience awareness, focus, and detail.
First short essay: 12%
Second short essay: 12%

Research assignments: The research assignments will introduce you to the library databases and reliable online sources. The first research assignment will be to locate any five of the secondary essays in original publication versions. The second research assignment will be locate five articles which cite any one of these secondary works. The research assignments will be graded for accuracy and relevance.

By the time of the second research assignment, you should be forming the rough outlines of your research project, so these articles should be useful in the final research assignment.
First research assignment: 5%
Second research assignment: 6%

Research Project: The major assignment for this course will be 7-10 page research paper on a topic chosen from the textbook. The general theme of evolution is very broad; the textbook divides the subject into more focused subtopics (evolutionary theory and philosophy, for example), but these are still far too general for a 7-10 page research paper.

In the course of the assigned readings, each student will find some aspect of the class discussions which she or he would like to explore in more detail. This topic will be narrowed and refined through the research process, resulting in a focused, 7-10 page essay on a specific aspect of evolutionary theory (social, scientific, philosophical).

The research project has four parts: a research proposal, an annotated bibliograph, a class presentation, and the final project essay.

Research proposal: Before the research project can begin, each student will need to submit a research proposal to the instructor. In this proposal, you will describe the purpose and focus of your research, and a list of possible sources.
Research proposal: 5%

Annotated Bibliography: As part of the research project, you will prepare a working bibliography of five sources, each with a 1-2 paragraph critical annotation.
Annotated Bibliography. 10%

Final Project conclusions and essay: The final project will be due on the last class day (not the final exam period). The final essay should be 7-10 pages, double spaced, with a bibliography (not annotated). It may be submitted in any standard format, print or digital (including HTML).

During the last week of class, you will present your research and conclusions to the class in a ten minute presentation. Visuals are not required, but they are permitted.
Presentation of conclusions: 15%
Final essay: 25%


The schedule of readings will almost certainly change during the course of the semester, depending on the interests in the class.

Week 1 (Jan 21-23): Course Intro. National Academy of Sciences: Evolution and the Nature of Science (289).

Week 2 (Jan 28-30): Darwin,The Origin of the Species: Introduction, Chapters 3, 4, and 6.
Research practice: library databases.
Initial position statement due Jan 28 (1-2 pages).

Week 3 (Feb 4-6): Darwin,The Origin of the Species : Chapters 9, 14;
The Descent of Man: Introduction, Chapters 1, 2.
Paraphrase and quotation exercises.
First research assignment due Feb 6.

Week 4 (Feb 11-13): Darwin’s Influence on Science
Richard Dawkins: "Explaining the Very Improbable" (301)
Peter Bowler: “The Evolutionary Synthesis” (319)
Steven Jay Gould: "[On Punctuated Equilibrium]" (344)
Niles Eldredge: "The Great Stasis Debate" (349)
Summary assignment due Feb 13 (500 words)

Week 5 (Feb 18-20): Darwin’s Influence on Science (continued)
Adam Kuper: "The Chosen Primate" (326)
Ian Tattersall "Out of Africa Again . . . and Again?" (335)
Steven Jay Gould: "The Human Difference" (342)

Week 6 (Feb 25-27): Patterns in Social Thought.
Richard Hofstedter "The Vogue of Spencer" (389)
Andrew Carnegie "The Gospel of Wealth" (396)
Martin Nowak, et al "The Arithmetics of Mutual Help" (403)
Edward O. Wilson: “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” (409)
Stephen J Gould "Biological Potentiality vs Biological Determinism" (415)
First short essay due Feb 25 (3-5 pages)

Week 7 (March 4-6): Patterns in Social Thought (continued)
Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh "The New Creationism" (420)
Nancy M Tanner "On Becoming Human" (427)
Evelleen Richards "Darwin and the Descent of Women" (436)
Edward O Wilson "[On Consilience]" (450)
Steven Pinker "How the Mind Works" (465)
Steve Jones "The Set Within the Skull" (477)

Week 8 : Spring Break

Week 9 (March 18-20): Philosophy and Ethics
Daniel Dennett: “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” (489)
Michael Ruse: “Darwinian Epistemology” (493)
Michael Ruse and Edward O Wilson: “The Evolution of Ethics” (507)
Frans de Waal: “Good Natured” (511)
Matt Ridley: “The Origins of Virtue” (517)
Second short essay due March 20

Week 10 (March 25-27): Evolution and Religion
Mainstream Religious Support (527)
Eugenie Scott: “Antievolution and Creationism in the US” (534)
Institute for Creation Research: “Tenets of Creationism” (555)
Henry Morris: “Scientific Creationism” (557)
Thomas Wheeler: “Review of Morris” (564)
Second research assignment due March 27

Week 11 (April 1-3): Evolution and Religion (continued)
Richard Dawkins: “[The Argument from Personal Incredulity]” (577)
Philip E Johnson: “Darwin on Trial” (581)
Eugenie Scott: “Review of Johnson” (686)
Research Proposal due April 1

Week 12 (April 8-10):
Michael Behe: “Darwin’s Black Box” (592)
Robert Dorit: “Review of Behe” (601)
Michael Ruse: “Darwin’s New Critics on Trial” (605)
National Academy of Sciences “FAQ about Evolution and the nature of Science” (617)
Annotated Bibliography due April 10

Week 13 (April 15-17):
Synthesis and support
Quoting and paraphrase
Citations and citation styles

Prepare for presentations.

Week 14 (April 22-24): Presentations.
All revisions due by April 24.

Week 15 (April 29-May 1): Presentations.
Final essay due May 1



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