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NONTECHNICAL ARGUMENTS IN BIOMEDICAL SPEECHES BETTY LOU DUBOIS* "Whenever a scientist communicates, even the most mundane and seemingly innocuous descriptions, he is persuading his audience, literally commanding them, to adopt his point of view" [I]. The scientific statement, which is made not by the person but by the scientific persona, is necessarily rhetorical, since facts must be selected for it [2]. Such a view of science, not as immutable, objective truth, but as rhetoric, is now widely accepted [3-6]. The consequence is the opening of a broad field for investigation, that is, for the working out of rhetorical techniques and practices in particular circumstances. Stephens [7] had done so for four Renaissance scientists, Overington [8] for aspects of contemporary sociology. In the course of the latter, he asks for a rhetorical analysis of the production of scientific knowledge in its various phases, including a study of the argumentation of published papers in the differing academic disciplines. Another suggestion of Overington's concerns what he calls "nontechnical argumentation." The present paper addresses the arguments he lists (prestige of affiliation, speaker's reputation, funding agency) and others (speaker ethos, tone, key, style, etc.) too as they are currently made in biomedical speeches at professional meetings. It represents a step in the study of the creation of knowledge, genus scientific, species biomedical, viewed as a rhetorical process. Some of its statements are The research was funded by grants 1-343560 and 1-2-02183, Arts and Sciences Research Center, New Mexico State University; by grant GMO7667-02, National Institute of General Medical Sciences; by the 1979 University of Nebraska Summer Seminar in The Rhetoric of Aristotle, Dudley Bailey, Director, National Endowment for the Humanities; and by a sabbatical leave from New Mexico State University. I want to acknowledge the assistance of my friends, both in the biomedical sciences—especially my first biomedical friend, Marvin Bernstein—and in the NEH seminar, who helped me form and clarify my ideas on rhetoric, but who I do not name for fear ofimputing responsibility to them. I will, however, state my thanks to Dudley Bailey, who taught me to see the immense practicality of Aristode's work while refusing to let me rigidify it. ?Department of Speech, College ofArts and Sciences, New Mexico State University, Box 3W, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88003. O 1981 by The University of Chicago. 0031-5982/81/2403-0224$01.00 Perspectives inBiology and Medicine · Spring 1981 | 399 based on evidence still available to everyone; others are made from situations now past and irrecoverable. Some of the statements result from contacts with biological and physical scientists at various universities and meetings, some from experience as a linguist with other linguists—anything and everything that seems applicable. The corpus for the study consists of the program, the abstracts, and the tape recordings and transcriptions I myself made of 49 papers from five sessions of the Society Grouping II (physiology, pathology, and immunology ) of the Sixty-third Annual Meeting of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB), Dallas, Texas, April 6-10, 1979. I have retained only speakers who exhibit native control of a variety of Canadian, New Zealand, Australian, British, or American English. Speeches and speakers alike are cited by abstract number. Function of Nontechnical Arguments How are nontechnical arguments, including the establishment of speaker ethos, to be regarded? On one hand, they may furnish just another instance of the rich getting richer. Renowned scientists on large grants at prestigious universities secure a hearing more easily than unfunded beginners from obscure colleges, the danger being that the first may be accepted too easily, the last too slowly. On the other hand, nontechnical argumentation has positive value in biomedical speeches. Take the matter of speaker ethos. When a speaker employs phrases like "I believe" and "I'm sure" (3486), projection of proper character persuades the audience to care what he thinks or believes. In a speaker's brief review of literature, credibility is important, too, if the audience is to be convinced that he has adequately searched the work of others, that he is reporting it accurately, that he has not concealed a source of his own work, that he has...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 399-410
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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