Rhetoric of Science

COM400-002: Special Topic
Lawrence Souder, Ph.D.
Fall, '12-13; MWF, 4:00 pm to 4:50 pm
Office: PSA 323
Office hours: W, 2:00 to 2:50 pm; Creese Cafe
Voice: 215-895-2730
Classroom: MacAlister 4016 


Description: Climategate notwithstanding, scientists are usually quite cautious about their discourse, both public and private, and they would probably avoid using the words science and rhetoric in the same sentence. Such an attitude attended the very beginning of modern science with Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke. Yet, in our own times a vibrant and compelling perspective on the ways scientists conduct and communicate their work thrives called the rhetoric of science. This course introduces students to the ways researchers have examined scientists’ attempts to persuade nonscientists and even other scientists. In particular, it surveys such frameworks as neo-Aristotelian rhetoric, narrativity, and feminist critiques. The primary questions of interest are:

This course articulates with the content and goals of other courses in the Department of Culture and Communication, specifically COM 220, COM 310, COM 320, COM 520, COM 540, and COM 875.

Objectives: If you successfully complete this course, you will be able to:

• describe the pragmatic dimensions of scientific discourse
• identify some current approaches to examining scientific discourse
• analyze and evaluate case studies of scientific discourse
• write a critique of a piece of scientific discourse, using one of the approaches surveyed in this course.

Text: All readings are journal articles that are available to Drexel students via Hagerty Library's on-line resources. See bibliography. In addition to readings, this course requires the exploration of primary scientific texts.

Grading: Your final grade will be computed on the basis of the following components:

Assignments: Each class meeting will require you to prepare a reading, speaking, or writing assignment. All readings are on-line. Click on the author names in the Reading Due column of the Assignment Schedule for study guide questions to help you focus on key terms and concepts. Expect in-class oral questions on the assigned readings to show your understanding of their content. Most speaking and writing assignments are opportunities to apply the perspectives and principles described in the readings to your own examples of communication. Click on the items in the Writing Due column of the Assignment Schedule for specific details. Late assignments will be penalized one letter grade increment for each class day late. In addition to the ongoing reading and writing assignments, each of you will give two formal presentations and one lecture at some point in the course.

Attendance: You are expected to attend all classes. Attendance is important to your progress and your classmates'. Much of what you learn will come from discussions and interactions with your fellow students. A formal presentation for which you are absent will be graded as an F. If an emergency prevents you from attending class (such as a personal illness or family emergency), please contact me in advance of your absence. You may miss three classes without penalty; any additional absences will reduce your final grade.

Punctuality: You are expected to be on time for all classes. Late arrivals are disruptive to the instructor and your fellow students.

Classroom Comportment: Many of the classroom activities for this course will revolve around face-to-face dialogue between student and teacher and between student and student. For that reason your attention to the conversations during class time must be undistracted. Moreover, as students of communication you must be sensitive to importance of non-verbal cues. If you text or attend to your laptop during class, you will give the impression that you are not interested in what is being said. Please do not use any personal electronic devices while you are in class. If a personal emergency requires you to attend to your cellphone, please discreetly excuse yourself from the room.

Assignment Schedule



Reading Due

Speaking Due

Writing Due

Grad Present

1 Introduction Wander      


Rhetorical Criticism Gross      


Epideictic Casper Present 1    


Topoi Sovacool Present 1    


Genre Jordan Present 1 Project 1  
6 Narrative Jorgensen Present 1    


Informal Logic Jackson Present 2    


Feminist Critique Lippincott Present 2    


Metaphor Jack Present 2    


Ideal Speech Koerber Present 2    


      Project 2