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Shaping Science with Rhetoric

The Cases of Dobzhansky, Schrodinger, and Wilson

How do scientists persuade colleagues from diverse fields to cross the disciplinary divide, risking their careers in new interdisciplinary research programs? Why do some attempts to inspire such research win widespread acclaim and support, while others do not?

In Shaping Science with Rhetoric, Leah Ceccarelli addresses such questions through close readings of three scientific monographs in their historical contexts—Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), which inspired the "modern synthesis" of evolutionary biology; Erwin Schrödinger’s What Is Life? (1944), which catalyzed the field of molecular biology; and Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience (1998), a so far not entirely successful attempt to unite the social and biological sciences. She examines the rhetorical strategies used in each book and evaluates which worked best, based on the reviews and scientific papers that followed in their wake.

Ceccarelli’s work will be important for anyone interested in how interdisciplinary fields are formed, from historians and rhetoricians of science to scientists themselves.

192 pages | 1 line drawing, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2001

Biological Sciences: Biology--Systematics

History of Science

Philosophy of Science

Rhetoric and Communication

Table of Contents


1. Inspiring Interdisciplinarity
-Texts That Seek to Catalyze Community: An Unexamined Genre of Science
-The Close Textual-Intertextual Analysis: Combining Rhetorical Criticism and Historical Research

I. Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species

2. The Initiator of the Evolutionary Synthesis: Historians and Scientists Weigh In
-Conflict between Disciplines and Theories
-The Evolutionary Synthesis
-What Launched the Synthesis?
-The Influence of Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species
-Prelude to a Rhetorical Reading

3. A Text Rhetorically Designed to Unite Competing Fields
-Simplifying Theory
-Surveying the Results of Research
-Using Language That Promotes Conceptual Change
-Addressing Social Concerns

II. Erwin Schrödinger’s What Is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell

4. The "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" of the Molecular Biology Revolution: Assessing the Place of a Text in History
-The Influence of Schrödinger’s Text
-The Value of Untrue, Unoriginal Science
-Other Laws of Physics
-Prelude to a Rhetorical Reading

5. A Text Rhetorically Designed to Negotiate Different Interests and Beliefs
-Comparison with Other Attempts at Inspiring Interdisciplinary Work
-Negotiating Common Ground: The Value of Precision
-Negotiating Professional Goals: The Appeal to Ambition
-Negotiating Disciplinary Linguistic Practices: Conceptual Chiasmus
-Negotiating Ideological Commitments: Strategic Ambiguity

III. Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

6. The Controversy over Sociobiology: Scholars Offer Competing Explanations
-Wilson’s Purpose
-The Effect of Wilson’s Interdisciplinary Appeals
-Explanation 1: Wilson Is Wrong; the Cultural Divide Should Not Be Bridged
-Explanation 2: Critics Are Unable to See the Truth Because of Political Bias
-Prelude to a Rhetorical Reading

7. A Text Rhetorically Designed to Fuel Interdisciplinary Hostilities
-A Rhetoric of Conquest, Not Negotiation
-An Explicit Commitment to Reductionism
-Equivocation Rather Than Productive Polysemy
-What Wilson’s Consilience Could Have Been

IV. Speaking to Multiple Audiences

8. The Genre
-Comparison of Dobzhansky and Schrödinger
-Wilson’s Participation in the Genre

9. Contributions to Four Ongoing Conversations
-Rhetoric of Science
-Rhetorical Inquiry
-History of Science



Rhetoric Society of America: Rhetoric Society of America Book Award

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