Scientists constantly make groundbreaking discoveries, some of which receive attention from the press. We designed a course intended for a lay audience that provides the scientific background to appreciate these reports more fully. We discuss three topics in the life sciences: stem cells, cancer, and infectious disease. The course is structured to blend relevant scientific background and evaluation of primary literature with the coverage of these advances by the media and popular press. In short, lectures emphasize exposure to basic biological concepts and tools as a means of informing understanding of prominent biological questions of public interest. The overall goal of the course is not only to expose students to the media's coverage of scientific progress, but also to hone their critical thinking skills to distinguish hope from hype.