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  • Communicating science: The scientific article from the 17th century to the present by Allan G. Gross, Joseph E. Harmon, and Michael Reidy
  • Scott J. Baxter
Communicating science: The scientific article from the 17th century to the present. By Allan G. Gross, Joseph E. Harmon, and Michael Reidy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. 267. ISBN 0195134540. $65 (Hb).

This book is a study of the scientific article in English, French, and German from 1665 to the present. It focuses on the disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics and addresses how the style and presentation as well as argumentation have changed from articles written by and for a very small group of people who were members of scientific societies in England and France to the incredibly specialized prose written for a large and highly specialized international audience today.

Ch. 1 and the appendix outline the purpose and methodology used in the study. Ch. 2 focuses on style and presentation, and Ch. 3 discusses argument in seventeenth-century England and France (much of the writing in Germany was still done in Latin at this time). During this period tables and graphs as well as citations began to be used, although the latter are rare and not consistent.

In Ch. 4, the authors state that in the eighteenth century the style of writing becomes increasingly less personal; complex noun phrases as subjects begin to be used, and a number of reader-friendly features become more standard, such as headings, captions for visuals, and introductions and conclusions that help to place the study in a context. In Ch. 5 the authors point out that the style of argument in this [End Page 527] century was very similar to that of the previous one; however, the last twenty-five years of the century brought about dramatic changes, including a rise in standards for reporting and arguing for experimental results.

Chs. 6 and 7 focus on the nineteenth century. During this period the style of writing becomes less personal and more formal with changes in headings, citations, and equations (which are separated from the text). The arguments become more complex, with observations and experiments being used to build theory, and texts and visuals coming to be increasingly integrated into arguments.

In Chs. 8 and 9, the authors demonstrate how scientific communication evolved in the twentieth century into a highly specialized register designed to succinctly communicate technical messages to small groups of highly trained readers. The greatest change in style is the use of highly complex nominals; in addition, the length of sentences and number of clauses per sentence decreased. Arguments are now made through the use of numerous citations, rigorous descriptions of methodology and results, and visuals such as graphs and photographs.

Ch. 10 concludes by arguing that scientific prose now appears to be objective largely because of its move from descriptions of people to descriptions of objects. In addition, the authors propose an evolutionary model to account for the changes in scientific prose over the last three centuries.

This book will appeal to those interested in the historical development of scientific discourse, especially those interested in style, presentation, and argument.

Scott J. Baxter
Purdue University


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pp. 527-528
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