The Rhetoric of Science

This course examines how rhetoric—the art and craft of persuasion—is used by scientists and writers of science to construct scientific knowledge in communities. Thomas Kuhn asserts that “all science is rhetorical” and that for scientific knowledge to be accepted in society, it must be persuasive.

We will focus on the emergence of this relatively new discipline, and follow its growth from the early ideas of Thomas Kuhn through to examples of its practical application in society. We will examine different science-related discourses and consider how they influence what we believe to be “true” about science. We will look at Darwin’s Origin of Species and the role rhetoric played in the acceptance of his ideas in 19th Century society, a time at which the very suggestion of creative influences other than that of the divine was considered heresy. We will go on to explore what is arguably the most defining issue of our modern time – global warming – as well as other highly debated issues such as stem cell research, eugenics, and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).

Cristiano Banti's 1857 painting
Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition

We will look at different genres of science writing such as the academic journal article, the television and newspaper report, the lab report, advertisements, and film. Students will be encouraged to focus their essays and presentations on the rhetorical analysis of issues in science that reflect their particular disciplinary interest.

This course will be of interest to students across disciplines, but particularly those in the Human and Natural Sciences, and in Communications, Law, and Education. If you have questions about it and when it is offered, please contact the Academic Writing Program.