Ladies and gentlemen…I think I’ve been enlightened, and it’s only right that I share the wealth. This semester I am enrolled in a 300-level course called Rhetoric in Science and Technology. In this class we discuss the use of rhetorical language as pertains to scientific and technological research (yes…just as the title describes). It may seem vague to you, perhaps even trifling; after all, these were my first impressions of the subject. Ask yourself this though. What if you discover the cure to AIDS? In theory, money, fame, respect, accreditation, and all that other jazz would be yours to boast. Right? Well consider this, what if you discovered that cure to AIDS but couldn’t convince a soul to believe it? That necessary persuasiveness is found in a mastery of the use of rhetorical elements, and that is what our class is studying. In essence, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
I’m saying all of that to say this. It is generally understood the literary arts and the scientific arts are two very distinct disciplines that are relatively unrelated. Collectively, we need to rid ourselves of this incorrect notion; the two are very much intertwined. Scientists would be ineffective if they could not communicate the fruits of their ingenuity to not only their educated peers, but to the uninformed, to the general public, to financial donors. They must demonstrate the ability to make their research compelling to different audiences. Consider that certain scientific journals cater to audiences of varying education. Some cater to professionals; others relatively uninformed students or otherwise. If I scientist cannot make his or her research not only understanding, but also interesting and relevant to all of these audiences, then he or she cannot attract attention from these demographics. While this attention, or the lack thereof, does not necessarily differentiate fact from fiction, it is vital to plausibility. Plausibility is everything to a research scientist.
Environmentalists are at a disadvantage because their science is very much undervalued by a large portion of the population, which happens to be highly concentrated in urban areas. The issues that environmentalists may deem as relevant may be viewed as unimportant to many others. I am theorizing that if environmentalists were more learned in the art of rhetoric, then the issues of the environmental science community would be of more importance to the general population in its entirety. For example, this claim translates directly to the Lights Out Indy initiative, which faces the obstacle of trying to persuade stakeholders that efforts need to be made to combat the issue of bird deaths due to window striking. The general public, and many other stakeholders, view this issue as irrelevant. Support would be garnered much more easily if those involved in the LOI efforts had a thorough understanding of rhetoric, the art of persuasion.
If scientists, primarily environmentalists, would stop regarding literary disciplines as taboo, perhaps support from the “non-scientific” world would come easy. See title of post.