Rhetorical analysis of scientific texts

Part of understanding science is understanding how those participating in scientific work choose to make arguments regarding phenomena. Take for example the discovery of the electron. Before JJ Thomson confirmed the existence of this subatomic particle in 1897, scientists considered all sorts of explanations for cathode rays. Most prominent at the time was the proposed existence of a new type of electromagnetic radiation, the aether wave. Although we now accept the existence of the electron and many other subatomic particles, at some point in time there was controversy surrounding its acceptance.

For this assignment, I want you to identify a scientific article and analyze the various arguments presented within. Often, focusing on a scientific controversy provides a fun and interesting topic for this analysis, but you don’t have to choose an article associated with a controversy. Examples of controversies include: the cathode ray, cause for dinosaur extinction, steady-state vs big bang theory for the origin of the universe, expanding earth vs plate tectonic model, etc. What’s most important here is that you analyze how the author of the text you select portrays science.

Let the following questions guide your analysis:

  1. What is the article about? Who is it intended for?
  2. How does the author portray science? Is it blackboxed and therefore only focuses on the conclusions? Why does the author need to frame science as they have?
  3. What rhetorical practices are at play throughout the article? What function do they serve?
  4. Do these rhetorical practices work? Why or why not? (Use the audience and context of the article as foundations for building your argument)

Assignment details:

  • 5-6 pages single space (approx. 2,500 words)
  • Includes references (doesn’t contribute to page count)
  • Submitted as a .docx or .pdf file

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