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Science and Its Publics

Leaders: James Wynn, Carnegie Mellon University; Lisa Keranen, University of Colorado

  Science and Its Publics

James Wynn (Carnegie Mellon University)
Lisa Keranen (University of Colorado)

A biogeneticist scanning an article in Genetics on the emergence of a new penicillin resistant strain of bacteria, a geophysicist reading about the same findings in the journal Nature, an office worker skimming an online article on the discovery, and a politician hearing testimony about it on Capitol Hill all have different experiences with scientific information. In part these differences are due to their degree of expertise and motives for reading about the discovery. In part they are due to the different communicative and argumentative tasks that each genre of writing demands of the professionals creating the texts. For the rhetorician of science, various questions arise from this scenario: What are the needs and expectations of these various audiences? In what way do these needs and expectations affect the form, content, and communicative goals of scientific information? In what ways do communicators of scientific information shape their audiences?

The goal of this workshop is to examine how different audiences and rhetorical situations influence communication of and about science. Towards this end, we will be investigating the characteristics of argument and communication between scientists and their peers, scientists and non-specialist audiences, and scientists and political audiences. These investigations will focus on how shifting audiences and speakers affect the choices of language, organization, and content of "scientific" communications as well as how the conventions of genre can create barriers for audiences with unconventional motives.

Workshop activities will be divided into two parts. The first part will feature roundtable discussions on readings distributed before the workshop. The readings will include scholarly articles on the influence of audience on scientific communication and argument as well as a series of examples to test the articles' theoretical assumptions.

The second part will focus on individual project presentations. Each participant will share a conference-style working paper (8-10 pages circulated prior to the workshop) on some aspect of "science and its publics." We encourage papers that examine texts dealing with current issues in science, medicine, and technology and their publics.


James Wynn is an Assistant Professor of English and Rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University where he teaches courses in rhetoric of science, rhetoric and public policy, and professional and technical writing. His research focuses on the use of mathematical argument in science. He is currently working on a book Arguing with Numbers which examines the mores of mathematical argument in nineteenth-century science and how these mores affect the choices made by scientist-arguers and the response of the scientific audiences.  

Lisa Keränen is Assistant Professor of Communication and Faculty Affiliate of the Center for Science, Technology, and Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research concerning rhetorics of medicine appears in places such as Academic Medicine, Argumentation & Advocacy, Journal of Medical Humanities, and the Quarterly Journal of Speech. Her book project is entitled, Science and Self Defense: Rhetoric, Politics, and the Dilemmas of Contesting Character in Breast Cancer Research and she is beginning work on a rhetorical history of biological weapons. Keränen is a core member of the clinical ethics committee at Boulder Community Hospital and directs the National Communication Association-Forum (NCA-F).  

For questions, please contact James Wynn at    

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