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By Sarah Tinker Perrault (auth.)
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Extra info for Communicating Popular Science: From Deficit to Democracy
It includes the specific exigence, the writer’s goals, the writer’s understanding of audience, the constraints (whether material or ideological), and any other factor that influences the choice of particular rhetorical strategies. Analyzing rhetorical situations lets us analyze genres; in fact, all genre study involves an awareness of the rhetorical situation, as genres ‘are shorthand terms for situations’ (Devitt, p. 16). Thus, understanding the rhetorical situations implicit in a genre’s texts lets us understand that genre’s functions, from what problem it addresses or need it meets, to which roles and actions it suggests and which it discourages or elides.
To effect that improvement, we need a framework for understanding popular science texts in terms of PAST and CUSP—a framework this section describes. In creating this framework, I followed the example of Prelli’s A Rhetoric of Science which set out, in the early years of rhetoric of science, to ‘usefully identify the kinds of discursive decisions scientists must make when they seek to render their claims reasonable in the eyes of scientific audiences’ (p. 8). Adapting this goal to popular science writing, I set out to identify the kinds of decisions science communicators make when writing to nonspecialist audiences, to develop an analytic framework that lets us ‘discover the organizing standards of invention and judgment that are already in play’ in this rhetorical arena (Prelli, ‘Empirical’, p.
By aligning itself with public perception rather than trying to amend that perception in some didactic way, popular science writing can praise science when praise is called for, challenge it when challenges are needed, and explain it in terms that situate it in its social, cultural, and material context. Ultimately, all of this matters because science is a god term—perhaps the god term—of our time, and god terms must be subject to critical scrutiny if their rhetorical power is to be kept in proportion to the benefits they actually offer.