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Composition and the Rhetoric of Science

Engaging the Dominant Discourse

Michael J. Zerbe

Publication Year: 2007

Composition and the Rhetoric of Science: Engaging the Dominant Discourse calls for instructors of first-year writing courses to employ primary scientific discourse in their teaching and for rhetoricians of science to think about teaching scientific discourse as a literacy skill. Author Michael J. Zerbe argues that inclusion of scientific discourse is crucial because of this rhetoric’s status as the dominant discourse in western culture. 
The volume draws on Lyotard, Žižek, Foucault, and Althusser to argue that while important theorists such as these have recognized the dominance of scientific discourse, rhetoric and composition has not—to its detriment. The text illustrates that scientific discourse remains a miniscule part of the enterprise of rhetoric and composition and thus the field is not fulfilling its mission of providing students with the writing and reading skills they need to live and work in a science- and technology-dependent society.  
Zerbe provides an analysis of science popularizations and demonstrates how these works can be used to contextualize primary scientific research. He also presents three pedagogical scenarios, each built around a carefully chosen, accessible example of scientific discourse, that demonstrate how articles from scientific journals can be used in writing courses.
Only by gaining a meaningful fluency in this discourse—one that is not offered by science textbooks—can a more sophisticated scientific literacy be assured. Composition and the Rhetoric of Science effectively explores the relatively limited amount of work done in rhetoric and composition on scientific discourse and questions this state of affairs. Zerbe presents for the first time cultural studies and science literacy as gateways for incorporating scientific discourse into first-year writing courses.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Scientific discourse is a ‘power rhetoric.’ Rhetoric must attend to discourses that matter.” So stated Jack Selzer when he introduced a session on scientific discourse at the 2005 Conference on College Composition and Communication in San Francisco. ...

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pp. xi-xii

A multiplicity of voices inhabits this book. Friends, colleagues, and mentors who have read and commented on drafts of parts of this work are Michelle Comstock, Bill Hart-Davidson, Tom Moriarty, Tim Peeples, Ed Nagelhout, Graham Smart, Bud Weiser, Janice Lauer, Patricia Harkin, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, ...

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pp. 1-16

The publication of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in 1994 ignited a firestorm of controversy and, as one might expect, generated a tidal wave of reviews. Essentially, the book’s authors, after extensive study of decades worth of IQ data, concluded that intelligence is determined more by heredity than by environment; ...

Part 1: Contexts and Gateways

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1. The Dominance of Scientific Discourse: Theoretical Contexts

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pp. 19-34

Generally, scientific discourse can be understood to be the language used (a) to ascertain, describe, and explain the workings of our bodies and our surroundings and (b) to validate the methods used to accomplish these objectives (Kinneavy 78). Scientific discourse is a culturally contingent rhetoric, ...

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2. The State of Scientific Discourse in Rhetoric and Composition

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pp. 35-69

As they progressed from primary school to more advanced study, students of rhetoric in ancient Greece and Rome de-emphasized other types of texts—most notably works of literature—and began to spend a great deal of time analyzing and composing texts about law. ...

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3. Scientific Discourse as a Cultural Studies Issue

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pp. 70-83

In the “Truth and Power” interview, Foucault almost off-handedly remarks that a study of scientific dissidence since 1945 needs to be undertaken (69). Offhand or not, Foucault pinpoints a large problem— that dissidence in science is rarely noticed. ...

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4. Scientific Discourse as a Literacy Issue

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pp. 84-102

We live in a scientific culture; to be scientifically illiterate is simply to be illiterate,” says Harding (Whose Science? 55). The association of science and literacy is well recognized. Contextualizing the study of scientific discourse in terms of literacy focuses attention on its public-ness or lack thereof; ...

Part 2: Texts and Scenarios

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5. Popularizations of Science

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pp. 105-129

Science popularizations have only recently begun to gain widespread critical attention and to be recognized as important components of the perception and practice of the contemporary cultural institution of science. Their importance is undeniable, even if popularizations are still not universally acclaimed by scientists themselves. ...

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6. Scientific Discourse of Another Culture

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pp. 130-149

In some of my technical and scientific communication courses, I ask my students to compare Western and non-Western medical discourses in an effort to illuminate Western assumptions about science and medicine. This strategy has proven to be successful, especially when students compared U.S. National Cancer Institute information ...

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7. Classics

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pp. 150-168

A strategy that can contribute a great deal to a more sophisticated understanding of scientific discourse as a cultural phenomenon and promote an ideological scientific literacy is to study some of the scientific research article genre’s classics and attempt to determine why these texts command such wide respect. ...

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8. You Are What Science Says You Are

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pp. 169-180

One of the most effective and immediate ways for students to learn how science constructs individual identity is for them to study what science says about them in particular. For this purpose, social science studies of college students can demonstrate what kinds of questions are being asked ...

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pp. 181-184

Some 2,500 years ago, an anonymous Sophist wisely observed that “It belongs to the same man to be politician, speaker, scientist” (Freeman 162). I didn’t know that until I was in my mid twenties. Earlier, when I was an undergraduate chemistry major, I took English classes for fun—a break, I thought, ...


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pp. 185-194

Works Cited

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pp. 195-208


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pp. 209-216

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Author Bio, Back Cover

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pp. 232-233

Michael J. Zerbe teaches rhetoric, composition, and professional writing and editing courses at York College of Pennsylvania, where he is an assistant professor of English and humanities. He is the recipient of a Health Communications Fellowship from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780809387441
E-ISBN-10: 0809387441
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809327409
Print-ISBN-10: 0809387441

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 2
Publication Year: 2007