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Decisions, Biases and the Creation of Knowledge

Course title: Decisions, Biases and the Creation of Knowledge
CRNs: IDS 495: 35700; ENGL 495: 35704, ENGL 595: 35708; OEAS 495: 35691, OEAS 595: 35696
Credits: 3
Course type: On campus
Instructors: Dr. Hans-Peter Plag, Michelle Heart
Listing Departments: IDS 495, ENGL 495/595, OEAS 495/595 Advanced/Special Topics
Term: Summer 2016, Session 2; Mondays and Wednesdays 17:15 - 21:00; Location: BAL 2067
Contact Information: hpplag at; mheart at

Course description: Wisdom and knowledge impact decisions made in society from individual level to community, country, and global levels. How are the knowledge and wisdom created that inform decisions? To what extent is the creation of knowledge impacted by individual, community, and cultural biases? What are the origins of these biases? In which ways do the biases drive progress and evolution of thoughts? Can adaptation happen without these biases, and how do the biases impact the interpretation of facts, evidence and, in particular, knowledge gaps? Importantly, how do the biases constrain science and research? These are core questions the course will address. In the context of these questions, the course will examine the nexus of knowledge creation, biases and decisions in society. In an open forum, the students will combine their own experiences with creation and usage of knowledge and decision-making in the context of their relationship to the world around them. Among others, students will use thought experiments to practice out of the box thinking and to develop a deep understanding of the role and impacts personal and cultural biases have on science, knowledge creation and societal decision-making. In these experiments, they will analyze societal use of scientific knowledge, evidence and wisdom with the goal to become skilled problem solvers and leaders in society.

Course objectives: Creating an academic matrix in which both the students and the instructors are encouraged to push the boundaries of traditional academic divisions between the sciences and the humanities, while at the same time developing unique theories in search of a better understanding of the 21st century's interdisciplinary and global perceptions at their fundamental levels.

Learning goals of the course: Students will:

  • be able to analyze personal, group and cultural biases and identify the origin of these biases;
  • have the skills to analyze the impacts of biases on the interpretation of evidence, facts, scientific knowledge, and knowledge gaps;
  • understand the importance of the personal bias of the communicator/scientist in framing the communication;
  • be capable of separating fact- and value-based statements;
  • be able to extract the social construct of science from literature in addition to literary fiction.

Approach: The course is structured into four main parts: (i) Personal, cultural and community biases, (ii) the use of evidence and knowledge creation; (ii) wisdom, knowledge and coping with risks and threats. In each part, students will prepare a brief paper: (i) examples of personal biases and their origin, (ii) impact of cultural biases on the interpretation of evidence and creation of knowledge; (iii) visiting Planet Earth as an alien from space and analyzing the wisdom and use of knowledge of different well-developed species. During the course, students are asked to come up with a weekly discussion thread & question to be explored. One of the essentials of the course is to help the students to come up with good questions, rather than providing them with answers. Our traditional system focused on “answers” creates a bit of an intellectual laziness and sometimes the best solutions are found in best questions, not otherwise. In our scheduling, we also leave room for an element of a surprise/something to be discovered during the course of the semester. Therefore, there may be changes to the weekly schedule.

Offices and Office Hours:

Dr. Hans-Peter Plag
4111 Monarch Way, Room 3211
p: 683-5335/773-4803, skype: hpplag
e: hpplag at (preferred mode of contact)
Office hours: by appointment
Michelle Heart
Office: BAL 8045, e: mheart at
Office hours: MW: 1:00-2:30 pm, TR: 2:00-4:00 pm

Policies: (Special Needs, Late Assignments, Grading) see here.

Prerequistes: N/A

Reading List: Is available here, but will be modified and updated in the next days.