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Rational Rhetoric


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David J. Tietge examines the place and influence of scientific discourse in the popular consciousness of contemporary American society, offering critical strategies for recognizing, decoding, and understanding scientific language as it is used by both scientific and a-scientific agents and agencies.



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Published 09 July 2008
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EAN13 9781602350717
Language English
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Ràïôà Réôïç: Té Rôé ô Sçïéçé ï Pôûà Dïŝçôûŝé ular representations of science and scientiîc discourse under the terministic lenses of rhetorical theory, cultural studies, and language theory. DàVï J. Tïéé ranges broadly and insightfully across a wide range of scientiîc dis course and ideology as it is reconîgured for general consumption, in popu lar science writing (from Carl Sagan to Stephen Hawking and Stephen J. Gould), magazines (from Scientiîc American to Time and Social Text), news media (from CNN to The Discovery Channel), the public controversies over evolution, creationism, and intelligent design, and even pop psychology (Oprah, The Dr. Phil Show). The result is a tour de force reconceptualization of the enormous impact that our understanding (and misunderstanding) of science has on modern consciousness and, in turn, many of the most impor tant issues confronting American society in an era of global warming, wars on science, and other inconvenient truths.
Ràïôà Réôïç: Té Rôé ô Sçïéçé ï Pôûà Dïŝçôûŝé is complex and complete, reasonable and readable. It doesn’t say to readers, ‘here’s yet another cultural debate in which you have a stake’; instead, RATIONAL RHETORIC argues, ‘here’s a debate that’s going on in American culture that maers to all of us, and you’re already siing at the table taking part.’” —Shane Borrowman, University of Nevada, Reno
DàVï Tïéé is Associate Professor of English at Monmouth University, where he teaches courses in rhetorical theory, the rhetoric of science, com position pedagogy, literature, and writing. He has published on scientiîc rhetoric in The Journal of Technical Writing and Communication and The Journal of Advanced Composition. His earlier book, Flash Eect: Science and the Rhetorical Origins of Cold War America (2002, Ohio University Press), examines the role of science on the ideology of American society dur ing the early Cold War era.
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g e R at i o n a l R h e t o R i c R at i o n a l R h e t o R i c t h e R o l e o f S c i e n c e i n P o P u l a R D i S c o u R S e
D av i D J . t i e t g e
Rational Retoric
Rational Retoric
he Role of Science in Popular Discourse
David J. Tietge
Parlor Press West Lafayette, Indiana www.parlorpress.com
Parlor Press LLC, West Lafayette, Indiana 47906
© 2008 by Parlor Press All rigts reserved. Printed in te United States of America
S A N: 2 5 4 - 8 8 7 9
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Tietge, David J., 1966-Rational retoric : te role of science in popular discourse / David J. Tietge.  p. cm. Includes bibliograpical references and index. ISBN 978-1-60235-069-4 (pbk. : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-60235-070-0 (ardcover : alk. paper) -- ISBN 978-1-60235-071-7 (adobe ebook) 1. Science--Social aspects. 2. Science--Pilosopy. I. Title. Q175.5.T547 2008 306.4’5--dc22  2008024748
Cover image: “DNA” © 2007 by Vasiliy Yakobcuk. Used by permission. Cover design by David Blakesley. Printed on acid-free paper.
Parlor Press, LLC is an independent publiser of scolarly and trade titles in print and multimedia formats. Tis book is available in paper, clot and Adobe eBook formats from Parlor Press on te World Wide Web at ttp://www.parlorpress.com or troug online and brick-and-mortar bookstores. For submission information or to find out about Parlor Press publications, write to Parlor Press, 816 Robinson St., West Lafayette, Indiana, 47906, or e-mail editor@parlorpress.com.
Foreword and a Note on Metodologyvii Introduction: A Case For Retorical Studies3 1 A Culture of Science and Capitalism20 2 Te Creation of Media-Ready Science75 3 Two Popular Representatives of Science105 4 Scientists Named Steve132 5 Scientific Etos171 6 Te Sound of Punditry199 7 More Popular Sources for te Scientific Project240 8 Intelligent Design, Creationism, Evolution, and Darwinian Descents289 9 Residual Field Analysis313 10 Postmodernism, Humanism, and te Science Wars334 11 Te Education “Crisis”358 12 Conclusion389 Notes397 Works Cited421 Index439 About te Autor455
Foreword and a Note on Metodology
Wile te body of work available in te area of retoric of science is fairly expansive, few outside specialized academic programs in retoric ave any knowledge of it. A peer of mine declared in a review once tat “tere is a lot out tere on te retoric of science.” Wen I tell tis to people outside of te sub-field of retoric of science, even to career academicians, tey frequently reply, “watiste ‘retoric of science’? I never tougt tat tese two words could go togeter.” Te paradox of a large body of scolarsip tat is virtually unknown to anyone not interested in tis area of researc is tat, wile tere may in fact be “a lot out tere,” no one except experts in te field is reading it, and tis leads to a self-referentiality and academic inbreeding tat guarantees te formation of barriers for anyone not torougly steeped in te re-stricted discourse of tis specialized academic community. However, tis is not unusual in te world of academe. One would not expect an accountant to read about neurobiology any more tan one would expect a cemist to read a literary analysis ofMrs. Dalloway.Yet, tere is a growing need for people of all economic and educational levels to be informed about science, and just as importantly, about te language tat science uses to acieve its information. In my earlier book,Flash Effect,I admittedly underplayed te dept of researc available on te topic of te retorical use of scientific ideas because it was an inter-disciplinary work tat I wanted to make accessible to a broader range of people interested in istory, retoric, cultural studies, and political discourse; ad I cosen te traditional scolarly route for tat book, it would ave made it unreadable in any practical way for even te most well-rounded layperson, and it is te intent of tis current project to make te material accessible not only to scolars in oter fields, but also above all to te average reader.
One of te working premises in tis text is tat scientific ideas avenotbeen made accessible in any truly critical way to te average person wose interest in science sould be encouraged. By “truly criti-cal” I mean in a way tat instructs readers in te skills of umanistic “critical tinking,” wile not merely “dumbing down” (a favorite and somewat tiresome prase of te conservative scientific elite) scientific material in te process. It is from te vantage point of retorical analy-sis tat we can draw a basic conclusion about academic publising: Far too many aloof academics are preoccupied wit guarding teir own spere of interest at te expense of saring knowledge wit te rest of te reading and tinking public, and to lament tat te reading and tinking public no longer exists only furter empasizes tis point. If we are onest wit ourselves, ten we migt ask ow complicit we aca-demics are in keeping te public ignorant. Te success of teFor Dum miesandIdiot’s Guidebookseries sows ow “experts” often patronize te very people wo sould be tinking about te implications of ideas central to modern life (altougFondue for Dummiescould probably be sacrificed witout a corresponding blow to civilization), a process tat not only alienates te reading public and elps keep tem sielded from matters tat impact tem directly, but also undermines te very democratic process tat we assume is part of a broad umanistic and liberal arts education. Witout education (not teindoctrinationtat seems to dominate public and private education, or, worse, mere job training designed to keep people busy wit te tecnology but not wit te more difficult—and dangerous—task of assessing wat tey do in te workplace) tere is noting on wic to base a truly enligt-ened understanding of scientific enterprises. Suc enterprises, in fact, cannot be enligtened witout te commencement of public inter-est and knowledge. Oterwise, we blow limply wit watever direc-tion experts and “autorities” tell us, and it only furter compounds te confusion of te general public wen tey see tat te arguments made by te experts on wic tey rely so eavily are as diverse as te fields tey represent. Some may like te idea tat te American public seems easily swindled, tat tey can be manipulated wit little or no real evidence or suasive acumen, but I not only firmly believe tat tis is a caricature of te American “Everyman” (and woman), but also feel tat if itistrue, it is anoter symptom tat our great civilization is in its deat troes. If tis is true, umanism truly is te ardest fait to keep.
Education, so long eld as te panacea for all social ills and as te scapegoat for all social failures, is in dire straigts indeed; we invoke its power as a word wile rarely cultivating its real wort and poten-tial as a common condition for every person. It is up to te academic, more tan anyone else, to lead te way. Scool boards ave failed, as ave administrations on all levels, from te local to te federal. Wy? Because tose wo are often in te position to make te important and difficult political decisions regarding education are too often in-fluenced by people wo ave little experience in, knowledge about, or genuine concern for, te state of education. (Teacers, by te way, fail only wen tey are set up to fail by teir bosses, wo are often lame duck administrators performing te will oftheirsuperiors. Tose at te igest levels of educational administration are very frequently noting more tan political automatons, and tey give far too muc credence to te reactionary wims of teir constituency. It’s time we stopped blaming teacers for our own sortcomings.) Academics, as long as te tenure system remains intact (wic we sould in no way assume) ave te appy luxury of “Academic Freedom,” wic, at least ideally, means tey can speak onestly and candidly witout fear of reprisal. For tose wo would deny us tis last bastion of intellectual liberty—tose wo tink tenure is a aven for te lazy, te kooky, and te ideologically subversive—please consider te alternative, a world wit no dissenting voice and a populous beaten into submissive si-lence, unaware of its own state and unequipped to foster cange. Tis is not te image most of us ave of a functional and vibrant democ-racy. We will no longer ave any means for exploring new visions or producing a more enligtened public because universities will ave ad-opted a business model tat allows for te termination of its employees witout substantial cause or justification—in many cases, for simply discussing an unpopular idea. We will produce, ire, and reward pro-fessors wo toe te party line, mere puppets of te status quo wit te same intellectual relevance to te advancement of our knowledge and learning as te twenty-dollar-an-our unionized assembly line worker. Te specializations tat Ivory Tower academics covet so carefully as a venue for bantering among temselves te minutiae of sub-sub-sub-specialties wile watcing te rest of society crumble from educational decay will certainly no longer be needed nor desired. We ignore te common person—te one wo possesses an innate intellectual curios-ity and a natural uman intelligence but no means (nor incentive) to