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Beyond Logos

Beyond Logos

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Published by Kathy Kieva
Written for a graduate-level course in Professional Writing, this paper provides an overview of how science is profoundly rhetorical, contrary to the stereotype we have of science as logical, unemotional, and completely fact-based. Not true.
Written for a graduate-level course in Professional Writing, this paper provides an overview of how science is profoundly rhetorical, contrary to the stereotype we have of science as logical, unemotional, and completely fact-based. Not true.

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Published by: Kathy Kieva on May 31, 2009
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Beyond Logos: An Overview of the Rhetoric of Science
Kathy KievaENL 501 - Rhetorical TheoryResearch PaperJerrold Blitefield10/30/08
 
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Science has been around almost a long as humans have, from the first time someonethought to wonder what those shiny points of light were in the night sky, or squatted down on hishaunches to study the comings and goings of ants, or started noting the monthly cycle of themoon. We've come a long way since then - from Lucretius's epic poem on the atomic theory of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived about 300 B.C.E (Bolles 420), through the ScientificRevolution of the 17th and early 18th centuries, which brought us, among other things, "precisetime measurement, enhanced astronomical observation, selective animal and plant breeding,technical advances in navigation, [and] chemical substance analysis" (Jardine 7), to quantummechanics, chaos and string theory, molecular biology and black holes.
 
Rhetoric has been around almost as long as science has, perhaps formally beginning withIsocrates, Plato and Aristotle. Unlike science, however, rhetoric has fallen on somewhat hardtimes, becoming "a shabby little weasel word in most circles" (Harris 282). Putting the word
rhetoric
together with the "god term"
science
may seem like a contradiction in terms, but thispaper will demonstrate that science is actually, as Harris puts it, "profoundly rhetorical," and thelast few decades have seen a blossoming of the discipline now known as
rhetoric of science.
A Brief History of Science Writing
Around 444 B.C.E, Herodotus provided a detailed account of the silting of the Nile whichaccounted, he said, for the creation of the greater part of Egypt. Based on "personal observation,on curiosity about the natural processes that account for the observations, and on speculationabout what these processes mean generally for the natural world" (Bolles 125), his account is oneof the first examples of what we what we now call "science writing." Besides being a painter,sculptor, architect and engineer, Leonardo Da Vinci wrote about a curious phenomenon broughtto his attention by local peasants in Milan: seashells and corals which they had found in the
 
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mountains. How did seashells get to those mountains? He never found out, but his efforts reveala "scientific imagination striving in an unscientific age" (105). Lavoisier's
The Elements of Chemistry
, which was published in 1789, revolutionized the study of chemistry by developing asystem of nomenclature that "forces clear thought and aids in understanding" (379), removingchemistry permanently from its alchemical roots. His system stands today as the foundation onwhich all chemistry is based. When Alfred Wegener first proposed the theory of continental driftin 1929 in
On the Origins of Continents and Oceans
, he was ridiculed and dismissed. He was,after all, a meteorologist, not a geologist, but he diligently amassed facts based on observation,both his own and those of others, and history has since proven him right (198).Scientific discourse isn't limited to writing, of course. But the long history of sciencewriting, even if it has seemed in the past more "personal" than "scientific," is still about humanbeings curious about the world around them striving to
 persuade
others of the validity of whatthey've found, which is the essence both of science and rhetoric.
The Rhetorical Nature of Science
Thomas Kuhn opened a Pandora's box of controversy with his 1962 book "The Structureof Scientific Revolutions." By describing how "normal" science works and how normal sciencegets upended during scientific revolutions, what Kuhn calls "paradigm shifts," he helped topplescience from its lofty heights of rational certainty, placing it instead in the world of the probableand the contingent--in other words, into the sphere of rhetoric.Kuhn makes a distinction between "normal" science - the everyday work that mostscientists do based on an established scientific foundation - and "revolutionary" science, the typethat questions the very foundation on which "normal" science is built. Normal science, he says,consists mainly of extending the knowledge of the facts revealed by the established paradigm,

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