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Gross, Alan G. Starring the Text : The Place of Rhetoric in Science Studies. Southern Illinois University Press, 2006. Print.

Part One: The Case for the Rhetorical Analysis of Science

Chapter One: The Achievements of Rhetoric of Science

  • In the preface Gross is careful to distinguish between rhetoric as metadiscipline and rhetoric as a tool to consider the epistemology of science: rhetoric isn’t the master discipline; rather, it is simply a way to evaluate the knowledge claims of any particular epistemological framework.  As G. notes, rhetoric makes the “hermeneutic unraveling” of science possible. . . in this rhetoric shares much with history of science, philosophy of science, and sociology of science.
  • In the first chapter Gross is reviewing the established literature in the rhetoric of science.  In chapter two he considers the conceptual and methodological basis for the rhetoric of science.
  • G. notes that much rhetoric of science relies on rhetorical analysis (the application of classic and modern rhetorical theory) for its analytical gaze (4).  In classical rhetorical terms, Fahnestock has claimed that science is composed in the forensic genre; however, its popularization takes the form of the epideictic (5).  This results in a untouchability – science is to be praised – it is not a subject of critique.
  • There are two ways to consider write-ups of science: first, works like Darwin’s Origin of Species can be considered communications designed to persuade a scientific discourse community; second, rhetoric might be considered constitutive of scientific knowledge and, as such, constructed like any other rhetorical act (5).  Gross tends to agree with the second version.  As Bazerman puts it, “Persuasion is at the heart of science, not at the unrespectable fringe.  An intelligent rhetoric practiced within a serious, knowledgeable, committed research community is a serious method of truth seeking” (1988, 321).  Yet, Bazerman doesn’t say that rhetoric creates knowledge; rather, it shapes it.
  • G. acknowledges that the “linguistic turn” of the 1980s (initiated by Wittgenstein, Austin, and Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature) saw the rise of the “rhetorical consciousness” or the new power assigned to the functions of language in multiple contexts (9).
  • Swales’ work on introductions to published scientific articles (the rhetoric of science at work) reveals three trends or moves that help build the “research space”: 1) establish an intellectual territory; 2) establish a niche in that territory; and 3) occupy the niche (10). In addition to considering form of rhetoric of science, others (McCloskey, et al.) have considered the way that style effects rhetorical efficacy of scientific texts (The Rhetoric of Economics).
  • G. is completely in agreement with McCloskey’s reading of science: “A science is a class of objects and a way of conversing about them, not a way of knowing the truth” (13).
  • G. summarizes Gaonkar’s famous “The Idea of Rhetoric in the Rhetoric of Science” thusly:

  • The second generation of rhetoric of science folks includes Ceccarelli, Fahnestock, (rhetoric is constitutive of knowledge in sciences), Condit, Gross, Harmon, & Reidy (don’t engage the epistemic nature of rhetoric in science).
  • Condit draws attention to an important point about quantitative research:  quantitative methodologies can be understood as “counting tools embedded in a critical project” rather than as “overarching frameworks that constrain critical thought within a hypothesis-testing method.  It is possible to use numbers in a postpositivistic fashion” (17, 1999 – 257).  Condit uses coding and rhetorical analysis to make claims about the conceptual shifts in the discourse of genetics and health.

Chapter Two: The Justification of Rhetoric of Science

  • G. begins this chapter by asking the question:  can the tenants of classical rhetorical theory (from Ancient Greece & Rome forward) really be adequate to consider the scope and complexity of modern science?  Surely not (says Gaonkar)!  But, perhaps, surely so.  G. contends that the rhetorical “toolkit” isn’t necessarily laden by the ideology of the classical period[1. I wonder how this is and isn’t possible.  What I mean here is that G. has argued earlier in this work that rhetoric is constitutive of knowledge.  If that is the case, then how can it not also embody an ideology?].  G. claims that because he separates the ideological from the technical he can employ the classical rhetorical terms to contemporary ideological perspectives (Foucauldian, Habermasian, etc.) (21).
  • What about the fact that rhetorical analysis typically applies to texts (and the corpa of Science extends far beyond texts)?  Well, this is a limitation of rhetoric; however, as G. notes, this is its strength because it focuses attention to particular differences in Science that Science fails to acknowledge (21-2).
  • Invention: Stasis – G. claims that when scientists make up their minds about what needs to be explained, what constitutes an explanation, and how an explanation counts as evidence they are engaging in stasis theory – An sit (what exists?), Quid sit (what is the character of the things that exist?), and Quale sit (what laws govern the thing & its character?), and jurisdiction (who has the authority to speak and judge over a particular thing?).
  • Topoi – The Common Topics – comparison, cause, and definition are all key to the function and structure of science.  The Special Topics – this includes the sources of argument that serve as the basis for the three genres of speech: forensic, deliberative, and epideictic (24).  All of these genres and the special topics that compose them are present in science.  G. recognizes that specific sciences have specific topics (experimental sciences – “observation” and “prediction”, theoretical sciences – mathematization).
  • Logic – The Structure of argument – As G. notes, Science and rhetoric both preference deductive certainty when at all possible; however, no laws of deduction hold in all possible worlds.  Said differently, all deductions are inherently enthymematic – “every deductive chain consists of a finite number of steps between each of which an infinite number may be intercalculated” (26).  Thus, the recounting of deductive experimentation (and its actual carrying out) are rhetorical activities – they tell stories of the procedures that happened and excise those that didn’t.
  • Ethos – Ethos is created in scientific work by interlocking “networks of authority” that typically take the form (in today’s world) of disciplinarity.  This is achieved in the write up through a recollection of past successes testing scientific processes.  As G. notes, “So long as science is taught as a craft through extended apprenticeship, its routes to knowledge will be influenced by the relationships between masters and disciples” (27).
  • Pathos – Appeals to the emotions typically occur when science is the result of social interactions.  In other words, science uses the emotional appeal when it becomes a matter of public policy.
  • Organization:  Organization has become more and more codified in the presentation of scientific knowledge.  As G. notes, this is a problem because “Experimental papers, for example, are equally reports and enactments of a set of values inherent in experimental science: the unproblematic progress from laboratory results to natural processes” (29).
  • Style – Science tells itself through the formalization of style that clarity and objectivity are embodied in its own way of speaking.  This means avoiding metaphor or hyperbole because they confuse and muddle the natural, unproblematic relationship between words and things (HA!) (30).  In other words, “While the order of scientific arguments has an epistemological role, designed to show us how science works; the style of scientific arguments has an ontological role:  the syntax and semantics of scientific utterances are designed to reveal the causal structure of the world” (31).

Chapter Three: The Kind of Rhetoric Science Is

  • In this chapter Gross takes up analogy in oratory, philosophy, and science in order to demonstrate how each of these epistemologies use analogy differently and how that different use reflects the kinds of “agreement sought and achieved” in each discourse community (32).
  • In oratory G. sees analogy as capable of “mobilizing strong emotions in the interest of the transformation of social reality, a reality that was a precursor to a new set of beliefs whose value as a survival method is viewed as significantly higher than the old set” (34).  Emotional commitment is the path of acceptance for the analogy.
  • In philosophy G. sees analogy as both the agent of intellectual exploration and the vehicle for proof (36).  Yet, analogy is open only to a small amount of specialized individuals who don’t ever plan on really assenting to one another’s position (they are hermeneutical after all).  So, analogy is probative (intending to prove), but proof is constantly deferred.    Rational commitment is the primary path for acceptance of the analogy.
  • In science analogy is heuristic in that it is used as a means to test out the putative truth of a scientific claim.  As G. notes, the scientific and scholarly (humanities) use of analogy are similar in that they view analogy as heuristic; however, science has a complex of quantitative methodologies to try and verify the procedures for analogical proof (39).  In other words, quantitative methods provide the ability to move analogy from heuristic toward proof.  Or as Gross (following Olbrechts-Tyteca) notes, “The persuasive effect of science becomes just its ability to move from term I to term II as if moving from appearance to reality” (40).  Commitment to the analogy reaches (supposedly) beyond argument toward truth.
  • How do you provide a rhetorical account of truth?  G. notes that truth can simply be the correspondence between the sentences we create and the world out there or truth can be the coherence among the sentences we create (41).
  • What do you say to people who argue for the “truth” of fact?  You don’t!  As G. notes, “the claim of rhetorical analysis is that the phrase brute facts is an oxymoron.  Facts are not in the world but in our heads; they are by nature linguistic – no language no facts.  By definition, a mind-independent reality has no semantic component.  It can neither mean nor be incorporated directly into knowledge.  Incorporation by reference is the only possibility: sentences that are candidates for knowledge must refer to a mind-independent reality in fact or in principle, a reference earned in a manner approved by relevant epistemic communities, in this case communities of scientists who superintend their disciplinary domains.  Only such sentences can become part of bodies of knowledge regarded as objective” (43).  This isn’t a point to be bemoaned and lamented; rather, G. argues that the “supreme human achievement” of science is its consensus on such complex issues (43).  Said plainly:  the truths of science aren’t beyond reproach or argument; rather, they are incredible achievements of argument that garner complex and varied consensus from complex and varied individuals.

Part Two:  The Limits of the Rhetorical Analysis of Science

Chapter Four: The Possibility of a Complete Rhetorical Description of Science

  • G. begins by relying on Wittgenstein to describe how particular language games direct the “rules” and reality of any particular event (and the subsequent articulation of truth about that even).  So, for any description to be “correct and complete” it must meet the needs of its audience (and, thus, it is socially constructed and bound by the forces to which it speaks) (50).
  • In this chapter G. attempts to illustrate Wittgenstein’s idea of what constitutes a “correct and complete” description by attempting to provide a correct and complete account of evolutionary taxonomy from the perspective of science and the perspective of rhetoric.  In science the description must provide a picture of the world whose existence is “independent of its descriptions”; however, the rhetorical description the world is called forth into being through language and language generates evolutionary theory.  While these two viewpoints would seem diametrically opposed (social construction through language vs. empirical reality), G. contends that they are actually quite complementary (50).
  • In scientific discourse description of an organism is bound by its shared characteristics with other taxonomic families.  Qualitative descriptions (habitat, mating habits, behaviors) are cross referenced with quantitative data (size, geographic location, markings, etc.) to categorize objects into families.
  • From Popper:  modus tollens – the rule of logic that stipulates that no number of accumulated facts can prove a theory; however, the existence of one fact can disprove it (55) (also known as the doctrine of falsifiability).
  • In his analysis of scientific description of species G. makes a couple of claims:  science is inductive and teleological in that it moves constantly toward better and more reliable knowledge; however, that knowledge is always open to, and very resistant to, falsification (56).
  • Before even considering the facts about species, rhetoricians must first demonstrate how scientists create a “universal audience” or a world wherein every individual is on board with the various points of stasis ( something exists, it has a character, things govern that character – things like evolutionary biology).
  • G. claims that science uses “referential presence” as a way to refer unproblematically to the world through language (57).  Now, how do we move from referential to taxonomical presence?  Through visualizations (pictures, charts, graphs), naming, and statistical inference.
  • What do these two perspectives (the scientific and the rhetorical) share in common?  The scientific lines up with Habermas’s characterization of human interest as “cognitive interest in technical control over objectified processes” (61).  But this is somewhat apolitical.  To make science important to the conduct of modern life, G. looks to Habermas’s second characterization of human interest (and rhetoric): the “practical cognitive” or the desire to understand how the rhetorical elements of science create interdependent social and political worlds prefaced on mutual understanding.  As G. notes, “The relationships between technical and practical interests and between science and rhetoric are complementary: without technical interest, science is impossible; without the practical, science would be devoid of meaning for the conduct of life” (61-2).

Chapter 5:  The Possibility of Complete Rhetorical Description of Scientific Change

  • In this chapter G. takes up the two rhetorical tactics used to describe change in scientific discourse:  first is the topos of complete rupture or epistemological break.  This line of argumentation provides a radical dismissal of views that went before.  The second line or topos is a narrative of essential continuity that continues to keep the dominant narrative in place but restructures/revises parts of it – not incorrect, merely incomplete(the Kuhn-Popper debate again).  G. identifies Darwin’s Origin and Galileo’s Dialogue as the first kind.  He designates Descartes Diotropics and Newton’s Opticks as the second.
  • Newton’s Opticks was a rhetorical masterpiece because it extended (and revised) the traditional theory of opticks (instead of breaking severely), it heightened the necessity of meticulous description through measurement (repeated over dozens of experiments for reliability), and he adopts the negative rhetorical question (he does this by breaking with the Euclidean proof/experimental program – the hard facts of empirical research – and initiates a series of negative rhetorical questions that have speculative answers) (65-76).  This use of speculation in answering the negative rhetorical question stakes out the limits of the scientific conversation and strengthens the proofs provided in the Euclidean/experimental sections of the work.
  • G. acknowledges that science isn’t merely rhetoric; rather, he claims that rhetoric’s disciplinary status enables rhetoricians to speak “of all the written and visual records of the sciences from a rhetorical perspective” (78).

Part Three:  The Range of the Rhetorical Analysis of Science

Chapter 6:  The Generation of Scientific Knowledge – The Evolution of Evolution in Darwin’s Notebooks

  • In this chapter G. aims to do a couple of things:  1) consider rhetoric’s ability to analyze significant cases of the generation of scientific knowledge; 2) consider rhetoric’s ability to certify scientific knowledge as knowledge by a community of scientists; 3) consider how rhetoric spread through scientific communities (circulation); and 4) consider how rhetoric is incorporated into scientific practices (81).  He does this by focusing on Darwin’s Notebooks to trace the birth of “an important scientific idea” (81).  As G. notes, “This chapter traces the development of Darwin’s ideas from these initial epistemologically fluctuating acts of self-persuasion to their final form – the public acts of persuasion embodied in the prose and in the single comprehensive visual that constitute the Origin (82).
  • G. traces how the private writings of Darwin found in the Notebooks actually constitute something of a heuristic for moving from private, self-persuasion toward the construction of arguments designed for public persuasion – this is particularly the case when considering the use of diagrams in Darwin’s notes.  Here’s his finished visualization of evolutionary biology and an implicit representation of the geological record:

  • As G. notes, the importance of the diagram is that it not only is a depiction of his evolutionary theory – it actually becomes an argument in favor of that theory (97).  G. notes that the Origin begins as a “rhetorical transaction” within Darwin himself and ends with a “rhetorical transaction” with others (the scientific community).  The evolution of his theory coincides with an evolution of his rhetorical technique (from inwardly directed to directed toward the public).

Chapter 7: The Initial Certification of Scientific Knowledge – Peer Review as the Institutionalization of Consensus

  • G. begins by acknowledging that what counts as scientific knowledge is actually bound up in the assent of a broad base of practitioners of science – a discourse community.  To call something “scientific knowledge” as opposed to regular old knowledge “raises the bar” because of the putatively rationalist nature of scientific inquiry and the rigor of scientific challenge.
  • According to G. peer review is the institutionalization of arbitrations concerning the legitimacy of knowledge (99).  In this chapter G. considers this institutionalized structure as a way to get at how judgments about the viability and reliability of knowledge are reached through consensus-building.
  • G. acknowledges that things like game theory provide alternatives to peer review as rationalized judgment (game theory instead argues for peer review as strategic maneuvering to reshape the system).  Yet, Gross, following Habermas, rejects this view because it rejects the rational element – game theory strategically maneuvers in a contest for power while rational theory argues that peer review builds consensus and the best possible world.  This means that rationality is a process not an object/thing in the world (100).
  • For G., again following Habermas, the Ideal Speech Situation isn’t actually a utopic speech situation; rather, it is a “reconstruction of the criteria that make a certain kind of experience possible” . . . or, in the case of science, it articulates the rational consensus that forms the foundation of knowledge in scientific discourse communities (101).
  • In this chapter G. will attempt to test out how the Ideal Speech Situation (renamed REASON – the rationally enabled speech orientation) can be brought into conversation with peer review as a rationally motivated system whose goal is rational consensus building around a particular set of disciplinary assumptions/facts (101).  To do this G. traces how one issue of one biological journal was created, how the work of peer review generated a rich collection of texts, and how consensus was reached through these acts of negotiation around the idea of knowledge.
  • G. draws attention to a fascinating point about peer review:  it is designed to test the intellectual rigor and rationality of any particular scientific report; however, in so doing it legitimizes knowledge through acts of faith and consensus.  As such, peer review is a rational action that judges cognitive claims not against the realities of the world but by opinion of authorities.  In this sense even the most scientific of knowledge is legitimated by its discourse community through the act of peer review (109).

Chapter 8: The Spread of Scientific Knowledge – The Initial Acceptance of Heliocentricity

  • G. notes that when a potentially revolutionary theory is in its infancy and has relatively few adherents, when a theory is “underdetermined by the evidence” then rhetorical qualities of a theory (style, elegance of expression, simplicity of presentation, tension of plot and narrative, and seductiveness of content) are supremely important features of its composition (111).  To demonstrate the power of rhetoric in attaining scientific consensus about what constitutes knowledge (especially revolutionary knowledge), G. traces how Rheticus uses both narrative and evidence to argue for the validity of Copernicus’s theory of heliocentricity (112).  G. calls this “rational conversion” or the tacit acceptance of scientific knowledge through rhetorical means when scientific arguments for that knowledge are still weak.
  • G. traces out the “social network” of astronomers who rational conversion to the Copernican position greatly influenced the future of astronomy (Brahe, Kepler, etc.).  There is much shared here between Gross and Latour’s consideration of Tycho Brahe and immutable mobiles in Science in Action (121).

Chapter 9:  The Incorporation of Claims into Practice – Closure in Science and Its Philosophy

  • In this chapter G. considers the concept of “closure” or how the scientific community decides to halt debate and judgment in a way that allows the entire community of practitioners to accept theory as knowledge.  G. does this as a way to point to how Science manages to maintain an air of “superiority” over philosophy.  To do this he looks at cold fusion and the violation of Bell’s inequality.  Finally, G. considers if claims of science’s epistemic superiority are rooted in rhetorical maneuvers.
  • G. notes that closure moves from claim maker to claim critic to peer review (represent approval/disapproval)  to experimental validation (embody approval/disapproval) – this movement is representative of the movement of scientific claims toward closure (128-30).
  • G. considers the debate between Einstein and Bohr considering quantum physics as a way to reveal how arguments about the philosophy of science are closed (as opposed to science itself in the cold fusion example) through further experimentation in science.  G. considers this and the previous example to demonstrate how the epistemological “ranking” of science over philosophy is pretty tough to dismiss; however, as G. notes, that apparent experimental superiority is often buttressed by rhetorical moves that oil the gears of acceptability in scientific communities (137-42).

Part Four: Science Studies – Where Rhetoric Fits In

Chapter 11: Compatible Insights Between Sociology and Rhetoric – Priority as a Social Norm

  • G. begins this chapter by highlighting a paradox of science: it is communal in its goals; however, it is intensely individualistic in its discoveries (165).  This contradiction became readily apparent in the 17th century when scientists altered science toward a more proprietarian model (because of the rise of intellectual property) (165).  To demonstrate this G. will use sociological analysis first and rhetorical analysis second to reveal how social change at the macrolevel has parallel changes at the micro level.
  • Considering Bacon’s cooperative model of scientific inquiry in New Atlantis as the model of scientific endeavor in social settings, G. then analyzes Spratt’s History of the Royal Society to reveal how the individualistic “desire for glory” is somewhat incompatible with Bacon’s ideal.  This tension between the Utopian transnationalism of Baconian science and imperial, royal, individualistic science of Sprat makes itself visible in the conflict/disagreement between Newton & Leibniz later in the early 18th century.  G. claims that this dispute (over who invented the calculus) was actually a dispute about intellectual property and was distinctly nationalist in character (174).
  • G. traces the rise of intellectual property in scientific discourse and scientific communities to the rise of capitalism (174).  So, Newton’s Royal Society judged in favor of him because he invoked the narrative of IP in an age of ever escalating capitalist enterprise, nationalism, and imperialism (175).  G. traces the evolution of the “guarantee of priority” via journal publication to the rise of all these factors in 17th century scientific circles in England.
  • G. claims that this emphasis on priority is actually a detriment to the work of science because it signals premature closure due to IP rights.  He also notes that the focus on priority distorts the history of science as “originality” is merely construed by those who have the power to tell the story (like Newton) (178).  As G. notes, “too great a concern with priority distorts the efforts of scientists; it encourages them to show a ‘concern with recognition’ at the expense of a ‘concern with advancing knowledge'” (178, Merton 1973, 338).

Chapter 12: Complementary Insights among the Disciplines

  • In this chapter G. highlights how rhetorical theory “will be shown in an independent role in a cooperative intellectual enterprise: the joint solution of a problem central to science studies” (180).  To do so he’ll use stasis theory as a framework to explain the “incommensurability of paradigms” (Kuhn).  He’ll also use philosophy, history, and cognitive psychology to explain how this all works together (180).
  • Stasis theory – Hemagoras – Questions of fact, definition, quality, and jurisdiction.  G. links (via McKeon) stasis theory to the questions that Aristotle claimed science must answer: Is it?  What is it?  What properties does it have?  What is its proper place in the causal structure of the world?
  • G. acknowledges that incommensurability exists so the first stasis question is fulfilled.  As G. notes he wants to “estimate the importance of incommensurability as a component of scientific change” and determines that the transition from one paradigm to another is determined by three characteristics: 1) is it psychologically plausible?; 2) is it communal?; 3) it is relational in nature?  The question of jurisdiction – or what discipline is responsible for developing answers to questions of definition and quality – are actually four; as such, the idea of incommensurability exists in an intensely interdisciplinary space (182).
  • What’s the role of rhetoric?  Well, when viable arguments are presented on both sides of a scientific division rhetoric must step in to allow for the pursuit of “normal science” or science as usual?
  • G.’ s track in this chapter:  1) reconstruct Kuhn’s definition; 2) discuss two aspects of the stasis of quality – the importance of incommensurability to scientific change and the nature of transition from paradigm to paradigm (a function of cognitive psychology and rhetoric); and, finally, 3) reflections on how to address issues whose solutions are antithetical to disciplinary constraints (183).
  • G. finishes by highlighting the dangers of solitary work as pursued by scholars in the Humanities.

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