hisbaan noorani
Dec 21, 2021

VIC122 - Scientific Evidence in Public Policy

Scientific evidence needs to be communicated well to the public to be effective. VIC122 aims to let students explore concepts to better communicate this critical scientific evidence to the public, including the perception and communication of risk, the generalizability of research findings, probabilistic and mechanistic thinking, and the use and abuse of scientific authority and "expertise" in public discourse. I took this course during the winter 2021 semester, so the information in this article is subject to change.

Dr. Mathew MercuriWinter 2021

General Information

Taking this course was extremely enjoyable. Dr. Mercuri was a pleasure to have as a professor and was very open to discussion from any perspective (even if you just wanted to play devil's advocate). This course was a relaxing hour where it felt more like talking to a group of friends than a university classroom. The course is primarily student-driven as, other than the first few lectures, all the content is researched and presented by students. I do not feel that online learning increased the course load as it does for many other courses. In fact, this was one of the least affected courses I took.

I would classify the course load for this course to be very light. As long as you stay on top of the assignments and don't try and do them all last-minute, you will be fine. Some of the essays can be a bit long, but Dr. Mercuri is not a harsh marker as long as you follow his guidance: cite your sources and justify your claims.

Teaching Staff

Dr. Mathew Mercuri is a very down-to-earth professor and does not hold his "Dr." title above your head (although he will occasionally joke about it). You learn a lot about how his life experience has influenced his perspective on modern-day issues through his lectures. Do not mistake this kindness for friendship, though. I once asked him what he would like to be called, whether that be Mat, Dr. Mercuri, Professor Mercuri or anything else. His response was, "You can call me Mat, but that doesn't mean we're friends." It's save to say that I called him Dr. Mercuri after that encounter.


The assignments for this course included some required readings, a participation mark, a seminar presentation, a paper reflecting on the content of your seminar presentation, a mid-term paper, and a group consulting report.

Required Readings

While these readings are interesting, they are not strictly necessary as long as you are generally well-informed. The majority of the class contents center around modern-day issues, so if you are up-to-date on those, you won't have any problems following the class discussion.


Participation marks are awarded for active attention and constructive class interaction and for evidence of familiarity with assigned readings. Essentially, you won't have any issues if you say something every class and the professor knows your name by the end of the course. The participation mark accounts for 5% of the final grade.

Seminar Presentation

At the start of the term, Dr. Mercuri sent all the students a Google Sheets link to select their presentation topics. The presentation topics varied from Risk Perception and Communicating Risk to Legalized Cannabis in Canada. Choose one that you find exciting but choose fast if you want one of the more "fun" ones as they will go quickly. There are three students assigned per week. Dr. Mercuri prefers that you do not use a slide show and have it more as a discussion. You are allowed some notes to keep you on track, and you will need them as he is not shy of interrupting your presentation to ask a question or two. You are also expected to coordinate with the other students presenting in the same week to avoid overlap. You should aim to have the presentation be about 10 minutes long, and you should prepare some questions to engage a discussion about your presentation content. The presentation is worth 10% of the final grade.

Reflection Paper

Despite the assignment name, this paper is meant to extend your presentation instead of reflecting on it. It must be submitted before your presentation, so it should be evident that it is not a test of your self-reflection skills. I cannot, I repeat, cannot state this enough: JUSTIFY YOUR CLAIMS. This is the only thing that will get you marks in this course. Dr. Mercuri does not like unsubstantiated claims. The papers should be more than just a summary of your readings. It becomes easier to engage with the topic if you choose one of the later, more subjective topics than one of the earlier, more lecture-like topics. This paper is worth 15% of the final grade.

Mid Term Paper

This paper is meant to analyze and critique a piece of popular media (magazine, Facebook post, newspaper, television news report, etc.) where the author takes a stance on a current issue. These issues could be gun-control, nuclear disarmament, nuclear power, and much more. The sky is the limit. Your paper should critique the claims the person makes, demonstrating whether they are correctly substantiated or misuse scientific claims. You're essentially fact-checking the media. As a rule of thumb, the more citations you have, the better your paper will be. Again, I cannot stress this enough, justify your claims. If you choose something interesting and don't bore Dr. Mercuri, you won't have any issues. This paper is worth 35% of the final grade.

Consulting Report

This is a group assignment. You will form a group of 4 of your own choice, and each group will take the role of a "consultant" hired to make a hypothetical policy recommendation to the government of Ontario. The report includes articulating the problem, your recommendations, and a review of relevant literature and research to substantiate the recommendations. Each group will then present their report in class, taking approximately 20 minutes per group. As far as topics are concerned, you can pick almost anything as long as Dr. Mercuri approves of it. His suggested topics were gun control and physician-assisted death. With this being a group project, anticipate issues. As with my ANT193 review, most of my group members were good, but one of them did not do any work and would not communicate with the group. The offending group member then showed up at the end and presented with the group as if nothing had happened. The rest of us went to Dr. Mercuri beforehand to discuss what could be done if the group member did not show up, and he said that it would be dealt with fairly and we would not be impacted by the missing group member. The group member would then receive a grade of 0 for the consulting report and would have the opportunity to do an individual make-up assignment to salvage some of the marks for this assignment. The entire matter was resolved, and we all moved on with our lives. The consulting report and presentation are worth 35% of the final grade.


Overall, I would rate this course on the easier side of my courses. The course load was light until essays came around, but you could finish those up relatively quickly if you put some thought into it. As long as you put a bit of effort into this class and substantiate your claims, you will be rewarded with a good mark.

Parting Words

Despite my lousy group project encounter, I enjoyed taking this course and look back at it as a fun time. Dr. Mercuri was an entertaining professor, and there was a lot of interesting discussion. This is an excellent course if you are looking for an easy breadth requirement and are struggling to find something. Do keep in mind that you can only take this course in your first year as it is a seminar course, so make sure to prioritize it over other courses like HPS110!

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