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Social Studies > Journalism > Rhetoric: Rhetoric of Science
 Rhetoric: Rhetoric of Science  posted by  duggu   on 12/26/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Galileo. (Image courtesy of The Library of Congress, [reproduction number, LC-USZ62-7923 (b&w film copy neg.)].)

Course Highlights

This course features an extensive list of assignments and readings.

Course Description

This course is an introduction to the history, theory, practice, and implications of rhetoric, the art and craft of persuasion. This course specifically focuses on the ways that scientists use various methods of persuasion in the construction of scientific knowledge.



A list of topics by session is available in the calendar listed below.

"The rhetorical view of science does not deny 'the brute facts of nature'; it merely affirms that these 'facts,' whatever they are, are not science itself. . . Whatever they are, the 'brute facts' themselves mean nothing; only statements have meaning, and of the truth of statements we must be persuaded. These processes, by which problems are chosen and results interpreted, are essentially rhetorical: only through persuasion are importance and meaning established."
- Alan Gross. The Rhetoric of Science. p. 4.


This course is an introduction to the history, theory, practice, and implications of rhetoric, the art and craft of persuasion. This course specifically focuses on the ways that scientists use various methods of persuasion in the construction of scientific knowledge.

We will start with discussions about the nature of science and rhetoric. Then, we will turn our attention to texts written by scientists and use rhetorical theory to analyze those texts. We will look at the professional scientific research articles and other genres of scientific writing. Finally, we'll investigate the way that rhetoric plays a role in the everyday life of scientists. Throughout the class, we will wrestle with questions, such as:

  • How is science rhetorical?
  • What can rhetorical analysis tell us about the ways that scientists use persuasion?
  • How does rhetorical analysis not help us understand science?

Through class discussions, presentations, and written assignments, you will get to practice your own rhetorical prowess. Through the readings, you'll also learn some ways to make yourself a more efficient reader, as you turn your analytical skills on the texts themselves. This combination of reading, speaking, and writing will help you succeed in:

  • Learning to read and think critically
  • Learning techniques of rhetorical analysis
  • Learning techniques of argument
  • Learning and practicing some basics about oral presentation

The course work is primarily "front-loaded," and a series of short postings on our MIT server will help you accomplish the two major assignments in this course in a series of steps. Finally, you will notice that there are two conference times this semester with me as well as peer review and data workshops. These are further meant to help you finish the course assignments. Most importantly, you should have fun in this course!

Plagiarism Policy

In all academic writing, then, you must give citations each time you use someone else's ideas, someone else's words, someone else's phrasing, someone else's unusual information. Further, you show appropriate respect for other writers and thinkers by giving them credit for their ideas, their structures, their phrasings, and their information. In Western culture, not giving credit is an insult as well as an act of dishonesty. In other words, never take credit for someone else's words, ideas, or style (this prohibition includes material found on the Web). Although the material on the Web is free, you did not create it; someone else thought it, researched it, wrote it-and that someone must be given credit.

There are several guidelines for using sources in your academic writing:

  • Cite information that is not considered common knowledge, a direct quotation, or a summary of another's words/ideas.
  • When you quote, quote exactly, use quotation marks, and cite the source.
  • When you summarize, you keep the meaning of the source but put it in your own words and cite the original source.

In sum, your essays should always be your own work (although you are encouraged to seek writing advice from the Writing Center and from your workshop groups). Your essays should always be your new work created specifically for this course (do not hand in work written for other courses-neither from this semester nor from previous semesters, and this prohibition includes modifying or adapting your own work from other courses).

If I request, you must hand in hard copies of all the sources that you used for writing an essay, as well as your notes. If you cannot produce these materials when requested, your final course grade will be reduced by one letter grade for each instance that you cannot produce your data. Also, you are responsible for ensuring that others do not copy your work or submit it as their own.


This course requires your attendance, participation, and on-time submission of assignments:

  • There are 3 penalty-free absence; save these for illness, religious reasons, job interviews, etc. You may not make up any work missed for unexcused absences.
  • The 4th absence lowers your final course grade by half a letter grade; the 5th absence lowers it by an entire letter grade.
  • The 6th absence means automatic failure for the course; you should drop the course immediately to avoid its showing up on your transcript. This automatic failure occurs regardless of your average or the reason for the absences because you will not have fulfilled the course requirements-no exceptions.
  • Please be on time for class. Class starts at 3:05 p.m. and ends at 4:25 p.m. If other classes or labs will necessitate you're consistently arriving late or leaving early, do not take this class this semester. Chronic lateness or early departure will count as a cut.
  • If you do not have the assignment for the day, you will be counted absent.

Grading Policy

This course is meant to be an intellectual exploration. For that reason, I do not assign grades on individual assignments. Instead, we will use a contract grading system. A contract grading system means that you do not receive grades on individual assignments. Instead, you agree to a certain set of criteria in order to earn a minimum grade in this class. With extra effort and work, you may earn a grade above the minimum for this contract. The easiest way to earn less than the minimum grade is to miss classes and turn assignments in late (or not at all).

Your grade in this class will be based on the following:

  • 2 major projects, including two papers of 6-10 pages and two 8-10 minute presentations. Each paper and oral presentation includes one draft as well as a final revision of the draft.
  • 1 portfolio and portfolio review
  • 6 postings to the MIT server
  • Class discussions
  • Collegial peer and group work
  • In-class workshops
  • Regular attendance
  • 3 conferences (2 partner, 1 individual)

You are guaranteed a "C" in this class if you meet the following criteria:

  • Missed fewer than three classes.
  • Were punctual to class. If you are late or miss a class, you are responsible for finding out any assignments that were given.
  • Submitted assignments on time. If you do not have the assignment for the day, you will be counted absent.
  • Attended all conferences and was prepared for them.
  • Kept your MIT server postings up-to-date. Submitted six postings by the end of the course.
  • Prepared a complete portfolio with review.
  • Worked cooperatively in groups and with your partner. Shared your writing, listened supportively to the writing of others, and gave full and thoughtful commentary.
  • Submitted two major assignments (1 paper and 1 presentation per major project) with the following:
    • A substantial draft of the written paper and a substantial practice draft of the oral presentation.
    • Drafts that evidenced your original ideas (not your friends', parents', etc.).
    • A final version of the written paper that was 6 or more pages (complete pages) long. A final oral presentation that met the time limit.
    • A revision from rough to final that showed you made substantial changes to the product. Did more than just fix up 'errors.' Your revision clarified your ideas.
    • Final versions of both major papers that were free of major mechanical errors and were proofread carefully.

You are guaranteed a "B" in this class if you meet the following criteria:

  • Fulfilled all the criteria for a C.
  • Demonstrated notable effort, thinking, and involvement in the essays. In each draft, showed that your writing was driven by some genuine question or wondering.
  • Strong effort on the MIT server postings.

You are guaranteed an "A" in this class if you meet the following criteria:

  • Fulfilled all the criteria for a B.
  • Provided depth and complexity to the class discussions.
  • Managed a successful collaboration with your partner and produced an outstanding series of drafts and final papers/presentations.
  • Essays and presentations showed novelty in the analysis and discussion of the data. These essays went beyond simple completion or hard work; rather, they showed insight and a real attempt to provide a clear, nuanced discussion of the material.
  • Submitted a thoughtful portfolio review with your portfolio.

You are guaranteed a "F" in this class if you meet the following criteria:

  • Missed more than 5 classes.
  • Did not turn in assignments. (You may not make-up all your missing assignments at the end of the semester).
  • Did not revise your work.

Additional Notes

  • There are no penalty-free extensions. Every two late submissions drop the final course grade by ½ (this includes the MIT server postings). For example, two late submissions will drop your final grade from "B" to "B-'"; four late submissions drop your final course graded by one letter from "B" to "C", etc.
  • I will count you absent for the day if you have not read the readings.
  • Plus and minus grades will be assigned for borderline cases.
  • At any time in the semester, you may ask me for an assessment of your work.


1 Introductions  
2 What is Rhetoric?  
3 Say Again! What is Rhetoric?  
4 What is Science? MIT server posting 1 due
5 What is Rhetoric of Science? Project 1 assigned. Find sample article (and backup article) by 2 days before Lec #13

MIT server posting 2 due
6 What's Rhetorical Analysis?  
7 What's Rhetorical Analysis? (cont.) MIT server posting 3 due
8 Workshop Day Homework: Project 1 presentations

Practice presentation sign-up
9 Practice Presentations  
10 Practice Presentations (cont.)  
11 Final Presentations Draft of paper due

Peer workshop

Conference sign-up
12 Final Presentations (cont.) Paper due 4 days after Lec #17 on MIT server
13 Introduction to Socially-Situated Research Project 2 assigned
14 What are Latour and Woolgar talking about in Lab Life? MIT server posting 4 due
15 Lab Life  
16 Lab Life (cont.) MIT server posting 5 due

Oral progress report due in Lec #17
17 Lab Life (cont.) MIT server posting 6 due
18 Lab Life (cont.)  
19 Data Workshop  
20 Practice Presentations in Class  
21 Practice Presentations in Class (cont.)  
22 Final Presentation Project 2 Draft of project 2 paper due

Peer workshop

Conference sign-up
23 Final Presentation Project 2 (cont.) Paper due 1 day after Lec #23 on MIT server
24 Last Day of Class

  Final Conferences Portfolio and review due   Tell A Friend