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On the Frontier of Science

An American Rhetoric of Exploration and Exploitation

Leah Ceccarelli

Publication Year: 2013

“The frontier of science” is a metaphor that has become ubiquitous in American rhetoric, from its first appearance in the public address of early twentieth-century American intellectuals and politicians who aligned a mythic national identity with scientific research, to its more recent use in scientists’ arguments in favor of increased research funding. Here, Leah Ceccarelli explores what is selected and what is deflected when this metaphor is deployed, its effects on those who use it, and what rhetorical moves are made by those who try to counter its appeal. In her research, Ceccarelli discovers that “the frontier of science” evokes a scientist who is typically male, a risk taker, an adventurous loner—someone separated from a public that both envies and distrusts him, with a manifest destiny to penetrate the unknown. It conjures a competitive desire to claim the riches of a new territory before others can do the same. Closely reading the public address of scientists and politicians and the reception of their audiences, this book shows how the frontier of science metaphor constrains American speakers, helping to guide the ends of scientific research in particular ways and sometimes blocking scientists from attaining the very goals they set out to achieve.

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book has benefitted, as all my scholarship has, from the encouragement and thoughtful commentary of many colleagues in the fields of communication, rhetoric, and science studies. To reduce the feeling of déjà vu for my readers, I chose not to seek journal publication for any of the work that would go into this book. ...

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pp. 1-28

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan campaigned for reelection by appealing to a mythic vision of America as “a shining city on a hill.”1 Democratic National Convention keynote speaker Mario Cuomo responded by evoking another powerful American myth. ...

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Chapter One. History of the Frontier of Science Metaphor

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pp. 29-52

To begin a scholarly conversation about the “frontier of science” in American public address, a historical study of the metaphor is a logical starting point. As the rhetorical critic James Jasinski reminds us, “the words employed by any author are always already part of a performative tradition ...

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Chapter Two. The Frontier Metaphor in Public Speeches by American Scientists

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pp. 53-70

At the beginning of the twentieth century in America, when the western frontier had disappeared because the citizenry had sufficiently spread out to fill the empty places on the nation’s maps, Americans came to believe that it was a pioneering spirit that most distinguished their national character. ...

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Chapter Three. The Dangers of Bioprospecting on the Frontier: The Rhetoric of Edward O. Wilson's Biodiversity Appeals

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pp. 71-90

One scientist whose use of the “frontier of science” metaphor has resulted in some unintended consequences for his own work is biologist Edward O. Wilson. For example, his 1998 national best seller, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, drew on the metaphor while arguing for the construction of a bridge between the natural sciences and the social sciences and humanities. ...

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Chapter Four. Biocolonialism and Human Genomics Research: The Frontier Mapping Expedition of Francis Collins

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pp. 91-110

Edward O. Wilson’s appeal to the frontier spirit of American readers backfired on him when Brazilian readers encountered his arguments; it also was counterproductive with American readers insofar as his celebration of frontier attitudes contradicted his central argument that we should preserve biodiversity by halting our advance across frontier lands. ...

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Chapter Five. Reframing the Frontier of Science: George W. Bush's Stem Cell Rhetoric

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pp. 111-138

Like Francis Collins, President George W. Bush tried to pull away from the rhetorical force of the “frontier of science” metaphor when addressing an American audience about new and promising scientific research. But unlike Collins, Bush chose not to offer an explicit critique of the troubling implications of the metaphor. ...

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pp. 139-156

Patricia Nelson Limerick pointed out that “the relation between the frontier and the American mind is not a simple one.”1 This book demonstrates the truth of that statement when it comes to the “frontier of science” metaphor. The metaphor guides American thinking about science so that the prospect of halting research in a particular area becomes unimaginable. ...


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pp. 157-184


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pp. 185-204


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pp. 205-210

E-ISBN-13: 9781609173913
E-ISBN-10: 1609173910
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611861006
Print-ISBN-10: 1611861004

Page Count: 218
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1st

OCLC Number: 863593986
MUSE Marc Record: Download for On the Frontier of Science

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Research -- United States.
  • Communication in science.
  • Rhetoric.
  • Scientists -- United States.
  • Research -- Social aspects -- United States.
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