Lecture: Scientific Discourse as Effective Expression

The readings for Week 3 — Campbell’s “The Polemical Mr. Darwin,”1)1. Campbell, John Angus. “The Polemical Mr. Darwin.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 61.4 (1975): 375-390. Gross’ “On the Shoulders of Giants: Seventeenth-Century Optics as an Argument Field,”2)1. Gross, Alan G. “On the Shoulder’s of Giants: Seventeenth-Century Optics as an Argument Field.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 74.1 (1988): 1-17.  and Halloran’s “The Birth of Molecular Biology: An Essay in the Rhetorical Criticism of Science”3)1. Halloran, Michael. “The Birth of Molecular Biology: An Essay in the Rhetorical Criticism of Scientific Discourse.” Rhetoric Review 3.1 (1984): 70-83. — while quite different in their own way are unified by their understanding that effective reports of scientific experiments and research such as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, Newton’s Opticks, and Watson and Crick’s “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” succeed because they are, in Lawrence Prelli‘s terms, acts of effective expression; that is, they are effectively persuasive discourse designed to meet the needs of their audience in their given situation.

While unified in their demonstrations of how each of these three major works of science are rhetorical in nature, Campbell, Gross, and Halloran each have their own aims and purposes, and, therefore, examine each of these three key texts in a different light. Campbell, for instance, seeks to challenge the traditional view of Darwin as a “dispassionate and detached investigator” (376), and does so by demonstrating how On the Origin of Species is a masterwork of argumentation designed to work around specific constraints — a need to publish quickly (and to his mind prematurely), a lack of an ideal language of expression (statistical modeling), and the values and beliefs of his audience. Gross, on the other hand, uses the concept of the argumentative field to explore why Newton’s Opticks succeeded when his earlier “New Theory about Light and Colors” did not. Finally, Halloran examines how Watson and Crick’s paper did far more than explain the structure of DNA: it established a new kind of ethos — a new kind of persona — for scientists and how they report their work, and, in effect, created a new branch of science based upon identification with the ethos they established. Although each article approaches its subject with a different purpose and highlights different rhetorical aspects of the text or texts they examine, we can apply various concepts we’ve covered so far — the function and purpose of rhetoric; a writer’s aims and purpose; audience analysis; persuasion and the enthymeme; ethos, logos, and pathos; kairos; invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery; and Prelli’s five characteristics of effective expression — to both analyze Campbell, Gross, and Halloran’s essays and to identify rhetorical techniques and strategies they discuss in the texts they examine.

References   [ + ]

1. 1. Campbell, John Angus. “The Polemical Mr. Darwin.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 61.4 (1975): 375-390.
2. 1. Gross, Alan G. “On the Shoulder’s of Giants: Seventeenth-Century Optics as an Argument Field.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 74.1 (1988): 1-17.
3. 1. Halloran, Michael. “The Birth of Molecular Biology: An Essay in the Rhetorical Criticism of Scientific Discourse.” Rhetoric Review 3.1 (1984): 70-83.