The Science of Head Lice Removal

Before you get started, please see the information bellows and read our Welcome Letter!

Course Information

Infestation with Pediculus capitus, or head lice, is a global problem with hundreds of millions of cases worldwide annually, including millions in the U.S. alone. Dealing with these pests is proving to be remarkably challenging. As head lice have become more resistant to the most effective insecticides, the search for alternatives has lead to the proliferation of claims for new treatments-from household items such as mayonnaise and hot air dryers to newly-patented combs and formulations to potentially toxic chemicals. However, scientific evaluation of many of these claims is limited and often of poor quality. In this not-for- the squeamish Writing 20 course, we will examine the scientific evidence for some of these claims and do our best to sort out the truly promising from the ineffective and the fraudulent. Students will also investigate related policy issues, such as whether elementary school students with nits (louse eggs) in their hair should be banned from school-a common but scientifically questionable practice that places considerable hardship on lower-income parents.

This course will begin with an emphasis on research skills focusing on how to locate the most relevant and useful sources. Next, using select principles of health science research and statistical data analysis, students will practice careful, skeptical reading as they draft and revise reviews of experimental research reports on lice treatments. Finally, building on their own work and that of their classmates from the first half of the term, students will write scholarly scientific essays discussing the current science of lice treatment and its implications for health policy. Audiences for student writing will include both classmates and health- science professionals. Students will have the opportunity to participate in the Duke Reader Project (; those who elect to participate will be matched with a Duke alum or employee in a health science field who will provide feedback on drafts of a major writing assignment.

Note: this course involves a considerable amount of collaborative work; students should have schedules and attitudes that will allow them to work extensively with classmates outside of class time. Prior coursework in statistics is useful but not required.

Course Calendar

Sept 21: Student-reader matches are announced.

By Sept 25: Students and readers schedule their Introductory Meeting.

By Oct 1: Introductory Meeting completed.

By Nov 9: Student sends rough but coherent draft to reader; reader gives feedback ASAP but within one week.  (Please see note on Feedback  below.)

By Dec 7 : Students and readers to meet (via webcam, skype, phone…) to discuss revisions and feedback.

Dec 10: Final essay due to professor and reader.

Note to Students: The earlier you submit the drafts the more time you will have to make use of reader feedback before turning in your work to your professor! You can also ask whether your reader will be available to give you less formal input at other points in the process, such as when you are considering options or developing particular ideas or wording.

Note to Readers: While you should provide feedback at the stages outlined above, you may also offer to give feedback  or chat informally with the student about the work in progess at other moments during the student’s work on this paper.


Giving feedback for students in the Reader Project requires special considerations.

READERS:  Here is what we suggest you do before you look at a draft:

  1. Read our guide to giving feedback
  2. Let the student know what form of feedback you plan to use.
  3. If you choose to use our recommended form, think-aloud response, please see How to Do a Think Aloud Response before you begin. An instructional video on how to record this response is also available.
  4. If you choose not to record a Think Aloud Response, email the student and the Project Manager ( a copy of your written feedback.


  1. Find out whether your reader is planning on doing a “think-aloud response” for you.  If so, please read “How to Use a Think-Aloud Response: A Guide for Students.”
  2. Regardless of the type of feedback your reader provides, it is crucial that you maintain ownership of the document.  This means that you should take the reader’s comments seriously, but that you should decide on (and take responsibility for) all changes to your document.  When in doubt, ask you instructor.

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