575.761.81 - Measurement and Pseudo-measurement in the Environmental Arena

Environmental Engineering
Spring 2024


In this course, students will be provided with the knowledge to critically investigate practical, theoretical, mathematical, philosophical, sociological, and legal aspects of measurement and pseudo-measurement in environmental science and related disciplines. Students will explore the theoretical and mathematical bases for quantification and trace the relationship between these bases and the expanding role of quantification and pseudo-quantification in environmental research, policy, and decision making. Three theories of measurement (traditional, representational, and operational) will be presented from historical, technical, and philosophical perspectives. Claims to quantification arising in a number of environmental contexts (such as river systems and hydrology) will be closely examined in light of these divergent measurement paradigms.

Expanded Course Description

Prerequisites: None (however, proficiency in college-level algebra is assumed, and prior successful completion of typical mathematics courses for undergraduate engineering students may be helpful).


Course Structure

The course materials are divided into modules which can be accessed by clicking Course Modules on the left menu. A module will have several sections including the overview, content, readings, discussions, and assignments. You are encouraged to preview all sections of the module before starting. Modules run for a period of seven (7) days. You should regularly check the Calendar and Announcements for assignment due dates.

Course Topics

Please see the Course Description.

Course Goals

The modern world is awash in numerical data, the result of manifold forms of quantification and pseudo (“fake”) quantification. This includes the environmental arena. The goal of this course is to investigate the uses and abuses of quantification in environmental analysis, research, policy and decision making. We will examine quantification from the standpoint of traditional, representational, and operational measurement theories so as to better understand and assess quantitative and pseudo-quantitative practices in environmental science and related areas.

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs)


None Required.

Student Coursework Requirements

This course will consist of the following four basic student requirements. You are responsible for carefully reading or viewing all assigned material (lectures, readings, videos) and being prepared for discussions. It is expected that each module will take approximately 7–11 hours per week to complete. Here is an approximate breakdown:

  1. Required readings, lectures, and videos (approximately 3–4 hours per week).
  2. Assignments in the form of problems sets or short papers (approximately 3 hours per week).
  3. Module discussion (approximately 1-2 hours per week).
  4. In addition, there is a course paper which you will need to spend time on, about 2 hours per week, during the second half of the course.

The course “deliverables” – discussion postings, assignments, and the course paper – are described in more detail below.

Module Discussions (20% of Final Grade Calculation)

Each week, there will be a class discussion germane to the content of the corresponding module. In the Blackboard Discussion Forum for the module week, do the following:

  1. Post your response/answer to the discussion question(s) by 11:59 PM of day 4 of that module week. Posting a detailed, substantive, thoughtful, and on-time response to the discussion question is the first part of your module discussion grade.
  2. Respond to the postings of at least two classmates by 11:59 PM of day 7 of that module week. The purpose here is to interact with other students. Feel free to agree or disagree with them, but please ensure that your postings are civil and constructive. Here, your responses should have “added value” in that you either provide a reasoned, insightful critique of the other student’s posting or extend it in a substantive and original way. This is the second part of your module discussion grade.

 There is a 24-hour “grace period” during which you may make discussion postings without penalty (i.e., until 11:59 PM of day 5 of the module, or 11:59 PM of day 1 of the following module). Late postings (i.e., postings made after the end of the grace period) will not receive credit (except in cases of medical or family emergencies). If you know in advance that you will not be able to participate in a discussion on time (e.g., due to illness or travel), contact the instructor of that module. Note that the discussion due dates listed in Blackboard include the grace period.

The instructors will monitor module discussions and will respond to some of the discussion postings during the module week. The instructors may also post a summary of the overall discussion at the end of the module or post their own response to the discussion question(s). You are encouraged to revisit the module discussion forum after the module has ended in order to read any postings you may have missed.

Each Module Discussion is graded/scored on a 12-point scale. Scores are based on the criteria listed in A and B, above. To get a perfect 12, you will need to contribute at least three thoughtful and on-time postings to the discussion (i.e., your response to the discussion question plus responses to the postings of two of your classmates). The module instructor will make every effort to post Discussion scores to Blackboard within several days of the end of the module. If your discussion score is less than 12, the instructor will provide feedback and explain why points were deducted.

Your aggregate discussion score for the course will be based on a possible 168 point total (14 module discussions x 12 points each).

Assignments (60% of Final Grade Calculation)

Assignments will include a mix of writing, analysis, and problem solving, in the form of short papers and quantitative problem sets. Clearly show your work on all problems. Your assignments must be typed or hand-written in legible way. The instructors reserve the right to reject any assignments that are not legible. Include a cover sheet with your name and assignment identifier. Also include your name and a page number indicator (i.e., page x of y) on each page of your submissions. All Figures and Tables should be captioned and labeled appropriately. Your assignment submission must be either Word or PDF documents.

All assignments are due at 11:59 PM of day 7 of the module week. There is also a 24-hour “grace period” during which you may submit your assignment without penalty (i.e., until 11:59 PM of day 1 of the following module). Late assignments (i.e., assignments submitted after the end of the grace period) will be reduced by one letter grade (10 percentage points). Assignments more than one week late will not be accepted (except in cases of medical or family emergencies). If you know in advance that you will not be able to submit an assignment on time (e.g., due to illness or travel), contact the instructor of that module. Note that the assignment due dates listed in Blackboard include the grace period.

All assignments are graded on a 100-point scale. Because each assignment is different, the grading criteria will vary from one assignment to another. In general, though, your grade will be based on: whether or not you correctly or thoughtfully answer the question(s) posed; the clarity and quality of your writing; the suitability of your methods for the particular problem; the technical accuracy of your calculations and of any other quantitative aspects of the problem; and the overall quality and thoroughness of your analysis.

The module instructor will make every effort to post assignment scores and feedback to Blackboard within several days following the due date. If your assignment score is less than 100, the instructor will explain why points were deducted.

Your aggregate assignment score for the course will be based on a possible 1300 point total (13 module assignments x 100 points each).

Course Paper (20% of Final Grade Calculation)

An individual course paper will be assigned at the beginning of Module 7 and will be due at the end of the course (at the end of Module 14). The Course Paper Description (CPD) will be made available at the beginning of Module 7. In the CPD you will find deliverables, due dates, and grading criteria. You should beginning working on the course paper during Module 7.

There is also a 24-hour “grace period” during which you may submit your Draft and Final Course Papers without penalty (i.e., until 11:59 PM of days following the last days of the respective Modules). If your paper is late (i.e., submitted after the grace period has expired), it will be reduced by one letter grade (10 percentage points), and you may also receive an “Incomplete” for your course grade. Contact Dr. Wolman if you know in advance that due to extenuating circumstances (e.g., a medical or family emergency) you will not be able to submit your course paper on time. Note that the course paper due dates listed in Blackboard include the grace period.

The course paper is graded on a 100-point scale. The module instructors will post course-paper scores and feedback to Blackboard within several days of the end of the course.

Due Dates

Discussion postings, Assignments, and the Course Paper are due according to the above guidelines. Specific due dates are posted in your Blackboard course site. You may check these due dates in the Calendar or the Assignments in the corresponding modules. The instructors will typically post grades within several days of due dates.

Grading Policy

The instructors generally do not directly grade spelling and grammar. However, egregious violations of the rules of the English language will be noted without comment. Consistently poor performance in either spelling or grammar is taken as an indication of poor written communication ability that may detract from your grade.

Final grades will be determined by the following weighting of your aggregate scores in the three course components:

Course Component

% of Grade

Module Discussions




Course Paper


Possible course grades are:

Score RangeLetter Grade
100-97= A+
= A
92.9-90= A−
89.9-87= B+
86.9-83= B
82.9-80= B−
79.9-70= C
<70= F 

A grade of A indicates achievement of consistent excellence and distinction throughout the course—that is, conspicuous excellence in all aspects of assignments and discussion in every week. Any student with an aggregate weighted course score of least 97% will receive a course grade of A+.

A grade of B indicates work that meets all course requirements on a level appropriate for graduate academic work. These criteria apply to both undergraduates and graduate students taking the course.

Academic Policies

Deadlines for Adding, Dropping and Withdrawing from Courses

Students may add a course up to one week after the start of the term for that particular course. Students may drop courses according to the drop deadlines outlined in the EP academic calendar (https://ep.jhu.edu/student-services/academic-calendar/). Between the 6th week of the class and prior to the final withdrawal deadline, a student may withdraw from a course with a W on their academic record. A record of the course will remain on the academic record with a W appearing in the grade column to indicate that the student registered and withdrew from the course.

Academic Misconduct Policy

All students are required to read, know, and comply with the Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) / Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) Procedures for Handling Allegations of Misconduct by Full-Time and Part-Time Graduate Students.

This policy prohibits academic misconduct, including but not limited to the following: cheating or facilitating cheating; plagiarism; reuse of assignments; unauthorized collaboration; alteration of graded assignments; and unfair competition. Course materials (old assignments, texts, or examinations, etc.) should not be shared unless authorized by the course instructor. Any questions related to this policy should be directed to EP’s academic integrity officer at ep-academic-integrity@jhu.edu.

Students with Disabilities - Accommodations and Accessibility

Johns Hopkins University values diversity and inclusion. We are committed to providing welcoming, equitable, and accessible educational experiences for all students. Students with disabilities (including those with psychological conditions, medical conditions and temporary disabilities) can request accommodations for this course by providing an Accommodation Letter issued by Student Disability Services (SDS). Please request accommodations for this course as early as possible to provide time for effective communication and arrangements.

For further information or to start the process of requesting accommodations, please contact Student Disability Services at Engineering for Professionals, ep-disability-svcs@jhu.edu.

Student Conduct Code

The fundamental purpose of the JHU regulation of student conduct is to promote and to protect the health, safety, welfare, property, and rights of all members of the University community as well as to promote the orderly operation of the University and to safeguard its property and facilities. As members of the University community, students accept certain responsibilities which support the educational mission and create an environment in which all students are afforded the same opportunity to succeed academically. 

For a full description of the code please visit the following website: https://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/policies-guidelines/student-code/

Classroom Climate

JHU is committed to creating a classroom environment that values the diversity of experiences and perspectives that all students bring. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Fostering an inclusive climate is important. Research and experience show that students who interact with peers who are different from themselves learn new things and experience tangible educational outcomes. At no time in this learning process should someone be singled out or treated unequally on the basis of any seen or unseen part of their identity. 
If you have concerns in this course about harassment, discrimination, or any unequal treatment, or if you seek accommodations or resources, please reach out to the course instructor directly. Reporting will never impact your course grade. You may also share concerns with your program chair, the Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, or the Office of Institutional Equity. In handling reports, people will protect your privacy as much as possible, but faculty and staff are required to officially report information for some cases (e.g. sexual harassment).

Course Auditing

When a student enrolls in an EP course with “audit” status, the student must reach an understanding with the instructor as to what is required to earn the “audit.” If the student does not meet those expectations, the instructor must notify the EP Registration Team [EP-Registration@exchange.johnshopkins.edu] in order for the student to be retroactively dropped or withdrawn from the course (depending on when the "audit" was requested and in accordance with EP registration deadlines). All lecture content will remain accessible to auditing students, but access to all other course material is left to the discretion of the instructor.