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  • Science in the Writing ClassroomInterdisciplinary Rhetorical Explorations
  • Paula Comeau (bio)
Composition and the Rhetoric of Science: Engaging the Dominant Discourse. By Michael J. Zerbe. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007.

Although several rhetoricians have outlined numerous reasons why science writing needs to be addressed within the humanities, few have described how instructors can incorporate science writing into their classrooms. In Composition and the Rhetoric of Science: Engaging the Dominant Discourse, Michael Zerbe effectively argues that teaching science literacy and the rhetoric of science is the responsibility of the entire university, and, moreover, he offers pedagogical approaches for meeting this responsibility. A key event that triggered this call for improved science literacy was Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994), which attempted to illustrate the differences in intellectual capacity among different people and how the plight of a few people directly influences the paths of the majority. Zerbe describes the response to the book's research and statistics as both "immediate and heated," as it implied that people of certain races were somehow intellectually inferior (1). The public's inability to refute the questionable science presented in The Bell Curve made the state of science literacy a front and center academic concern.

Earlier, Jeanne Fahnestock (1986) addressed concerns with the public's ability to decipher science rhetoric. Fahnestock observed that even [End Page 233] though interest in the sciences has steadily grown over the years, there has been a lack of knowledge transference from the expert (the scientist) to the everyday person, creating a knowledge deficit between the two groups. Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch began to "accommodate" science in The Golem: What Everyone Should Know about Science (1993), a book written for "the citizen living in a technological society" (xv). The purpose of both Fahnestock's and Collin and Pinch's texts was to illustrate the need for science literacy for all people, not just scientists.

Fahnestock and Collins and Pinch are just a few rhetoricians who have joined the call for interdisciplinary science education. Jack Selzer in Understanding Scientific Prose (1993), Jane Gregory and Steve Miller in Science in Public: Communication, Culture, and Credibility (1998), and M. A. K. Halliday and J. R. Martin in Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power (1993) have all theorized the importance of including science rhetoric in the writing classroom; however, these books contain little information about how specifically to transfer science rhetoric to a writing classroom setting.

In contrast, Zerbe's book continues the work of Collins and Pinch not only by introducing science into rhetoric conversations, but also by providing pedagogical tools to create a smooth entrance into the composition classroom. He does this in three ways: calling for understanding and appreciation of "scientific rhetoric," or the "discourse in which science is actually performed" (3) within the English field; providing the how to incorporate "scientific rhetoric" into English classrooms; and offering connections to English and cultural studies to help readers understand today's "dominant discourse." The primary focus of this review is to call attention to connections between composition studies and science and, in doing so, illustrate that the two fields can be connected effectively in the college composition classroom.

In describing how to make these connections, Zerbe suggests using "empirical and rhetorical means" and peer-reviewed literature to illustrate how science discourse has come to claim its place as the dominant discourse of the twenty-first century. He follows with an examination of science within composition and rhetoric in chapter 2. Chapters 3 and 4 show how cultural and literacy studies can be used as a lens to examine science discourse and demonstrates how science fits into composition and rhetoric studies. Chapter 5 expands on the definition of science discourse in order to include popularizations and sets up a context in which science literacy could be established. The remainder of the book is dedicated to the introduction of pedagogical scenarios; the first illustrates how classic scientific texts can be used to "demystify" science, and the second provides students with a look at their [End Page 234] own statistical characterizations through the use of scientific discourse. This approach provides a clear...


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pp. 233-240
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