By Jared Kennedy
James Wilson, associate professor of biology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has been developing the curriculum for his “Science and Critical Thinking” course for close to a decade. It’s a course aimed at bringing science to students who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in it, and it’s working.
The course uses science to take down folklore ranging from vampires, Big Foot, the Yeti, to UFO sightings and Ouija boards. Wilson says this type of class appeals more to students because they perceive it as directly connecting to their daily lives in stronger ways than other sciences do.
Wilson says in the last decade he has seen a shift in television programming. Channels are running less real science and are focusing more on pseudo-science, and he wants to push for keeping real science on TV.
“Science literacy has been a fa- vorite subject of mine for a long time…I’m sad that people don’t know science, especially in today’s society,” Wilson said. “A comment I got recently was that a student was afraid the course would knock religion really hard…they were glad it didn’t.”
Wilson was a child when the Big Foot phenomena first became a sensation. He says due to that being close to his childhood it is one of his favorite sections in the course to teach.
“I was 7 or 8 and I remember Leonard Nimoy’s ‘In Search Of,’ and the Patterson film…the DNA and other evidence hadn’t come out yet that made it all not real so when I was little it was still a possibility,” Wilson said.
Wilson says he is now teaching the class in one of the biggest lecture halls on campus and the seats are almost full.
“The room holds 305. I just upped the enrollment, I had it capped at 250 and then I upped it to 270. Its currently at 261 which leaves nine seats, and this is only the third semester,” Wilson said.
Jared Brown graduated from UNO last year. He took Science and Crit- ical Thinking and really enjoyed the course.
“I took Science and Critical Think- ing because it piqued my interest in disproving the supernatural and paranormal through scientific rea- soning,” Brown said. “By the class conclusion, Dr. Wilson’s lectures had honed my reasoning skills, reinforced my knowledge of the history of science, and most importantly furthered my admiration of the natural world—devoid of superstition and wishful thinking.”
Wilson says some students come into the class expecting he will teach in favor of Big Foot or UFO’s, but when he shows his demurring evidence those students may be disappointed. Delivering the messages of real science is important, and the user friendly nature of the course is helping facilitate that.
“I calculated that if I taught this course for four years… I could reach more than 2,000 students,” Wilson said.