1.1 course overview
BSE and vCJD are important in their own right, having had major impacts on the lives of many people. Some people have died of vCJD and their deaths will have profoundly affected those who knew them. Large numbers of cattle have died either directly or indirectly because of BSE and this has had enormous economic effects on the agriculture and food industries. As a result, many practices in these industries are profoundly different from those of two decades ago. Although fundamental research into similar diseases was already well underway - leading to the development of an entirely new branch of science called prion biology - this research acquired a new urgency with the emergence of BSE and vCJD. It is quite likely that prion biology will lead in unexpected directions during the lifetime of this course. Arguably, the BSE/vCJD experience has had a profound influence on the attitude of the public (at least in the UK and elsewhere in Europe) to several proposed science-based developments - in particular, the rapidly developing fields of genetic manipulation of organisms and nanotechnology.
C R E D
In order to achieve the learning outcomes, it is important that you constantly bear in mind the four themes (communication, risk, ethical issues and decision making) as you study the science underpinning the course topic. What do we mean by 'bear in mind'? As you work through the course, you should increasingly be able to analyse the text critically from the perspectives of communication, risk, ethical issues and decision making. However, the first step is simply to be able to recognise these themes in the context of a particular issue and the second is to be able to explain in what way(s) the material is relevant to one or more of the themes.
Where relevant we have highlighted the first letter of each of the themes in bold. The emboldened letters will be used to draw your attention to material that is particularly relevant to one or more of the themes. For the first six sections of this course we will use the icons for communication, risk and decision making - but not that for ethical issues. Instead, you should note down the letter E when you come across material you consider to be particularly relevant to ethical issues. You should also make a brief note to remind yourself in what way(s) you consider the material to be relevant. We will return to this topic at the end of Section 2 in order to review progress and then again at the end of Section 6.