Scientific and Technical Communication in Context
Part 1; Part 2; Part 3
Reading Scientific and Technical Texts
Writing Scientific and Technical Texts
Part 1; Part 2; Part 3
Part 1; Part 2
Part 1; →Part 2
Persuasion and Critical Thinking
Part 1; Part 2
Participation and Policy
Part 1; Part 2
Definitions, Descriptions, and Instructions
Part 1; Part 2
Part 1; Part 2
Scientific Articles and Abstracts
Formatting, Designing, and Using Graphics
Part 1; Part 2
Steve Fuller: "Putting People Back Into the Business of Science"
Part 1; Part 2
William Keith: "Science and Communication"
Sujatha Raman: "Challenging High-Tech War"
Dale L. Sullivan: "Migrating Across Disciplinary Boundaries"
Tobias, Chubin, Aylesworth: "Restructuring Demand for Scientific Expertise"
Part 1; Part 2
Recent calls for interdisciplinarity (or disciplinary integration) have been pegged by many scholars, among them Stephen Toulmin and Gerald Holton, as part of the constant swing between "unity and diversity in Western civilization." But the growth in interdisciplinary scholarship over the last three decades, inspired by an economic conceptions of information and knowledge, indicates the emergence of a social movement as opposed to simple intellectual fashion. Recent proclamations of either the end of inquiry, the end of history, the end of knowledge, or the rise of grand unifying theories (physics, genetics, sociobiology) signal the desire to reconfigure traditional methods and forms of knowledge. As a result, disciplinary practitioners have taken a "reflexive turn", examining the methodological and moral assumptions folded into their conceptions of disciplinary practice.
Put broadly, interdisciplinarity is defined along a sliding rhetorical scale. On one end interdisciplinarity acknowledges the need for collaborative research on narrowly defined set of questions; but the research itself does not entail rethinking the disciplinary status quo. On the other end interdisciplinarity refers to eliminating the traditional disciplinary order and asserting a meta- or supradisciplinarity position, a science of science for example.
In a May 1991 issue of Scientific American, John Horgan estimated that the three editions of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions had sold over one million copies worldwide, including translations into sixteen languages, an extraordinary feat for an academic book written for a positivist compendium. Structure remains one of the five most cited works in the humanities and social sciences.
The expression "paradigm shift" is considered such a common insider the beltway expression that it merited an entry in the latest edition of William Safire's Dictionary of American Politics. Given its diverse readership and consistent citation, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions likely will be remembered as one of the most influential academic books of the twentieth century.
Kuhn observed that science is a communally structured activity in which similarly trained researchers possessing a common world view attempt to solve a defined set of problems. Scientific progress begins with a commitment to a shared set of concepts or paradigm, within which researchers work until they find questions they cannot answer. Eventually researchers come to a point where they must abandon the old paradigm and adopt a new one. The moment of change makes for a scientific revolution. The clearest illustration of Kuhn's notion comes in the procession of paradigms asserted in physical theories of the universe, (regarding the structure of the solar system) from geocentric theory to heliocentric theory, and (regarding laws governing the physical universe) from Newtonian theory to relativity theory.
There is a profound sense in the way the word revolution is employed by Kuhn. Science progresses well, according to Kuhn under normal, paradigm governed, circumstances. Faced with the breakdown of a paradigm scientists have no rational basis for a choice among competing theories. Only then do outside considerations intervene in scientific practices. According to Kuhn it is best if scientists have an "Orwellian" sense of their own history, one which erases a trace of the revolution from science's institutional memory, or which offers a rational reconstruction of how science should have happened. Kuhn wanted to downplay an residual effects a revolution would have on the process of normal science. The historian Stephen Brush provocatively asked in the title of a paper if the history of science should be rated 'X' for scientists. Kuhn undoubtedly would answer yes.
Received in the 1960's social context of anti-scientism and Luddism, Structure inspired a wave of interdisciplinary conversion experiences. The sins of closet historicists were absolved. The inquisition of the logical positivists began in earnest. The true believers, a bit grudgingly perhaps, admitted social scientists into the congregation. Excited talk began of paradigms and paradigm shifts. Even the liberal arts disciplines got religion. Structure promised not only a new era of disciplinary cooperation but the elimination of traditional disciplinary boundaries. Contextual approaches to problem solving and questions of political economy were hailed as more sensitive and comprehensive to given issues. "Studies" fields formed, area studies, American studies, women's studies, black studies. and science and technology studies.
Since the 1960's, two opposing but related trends affect the structure of academic disciplines. The first trend is increasing public interest in how their money is spent. Since the public supports academic institutions with taxes, corporate sponsorship, tuition payments and contributions, they want to know the relevance of programs receiving money. Academics must explain and legitimate their practices to students, parents and funding sources. In some instances, esoteric or irrelevant research programs hide behind the label of "progress." As disciplinary practitioners are finding, however, the issues of public concern are not adequately addressed by any one discipline's resources. For example, many of the problems that scientists and engineers tackle, treating diseases, finding new sources of energy, developing environmentally friendly ("green") technologies, require input from members of different disciplines as well as the lay public. As a result a new audience for academic discourse has arisen, the interdisciplinary audience.
The second trend is increasing specialization. Something strange happened on the way to the Kuhnian revolution. Many academics and professionals took Structure as a blueprint for turning their fields into a "science." To achieve scientific status academics took up, and encouraged a demand for, ever narrowly defined areas of research. Increased specialization was taken as a sign of a highly developed (scientific) research tradition. Readers focused on Kuhn's apparent historical determinism which indicated that a measure of a field's success was proportionate to a research community's commitment to a single paradigm. Academics and professionals speculated that if they could reach a unified theory or get practitioners to apply a uniform set of methods or standards, their fields would gain tangible success, display evolutionary progress, and acquire influence. The paradox of increased specialization was that many practitioners in the subdisciplines began to call for the elimination of traditional disciplinary boundaries - while trying to prove that their own fields had matured into unique, organized research fields.
So how do you script an interdisciplinary classic? As Steve Fuller (1992) describes:
There is Kuhn's audience's peculiar reaction to Structure. A common thread that runs through the formal and informal comments that people make about the book is that it is quite thin in their own field of expertise, but truly enlightening in some other field, one in which they have had an interest for a long time, but could not locate a suitable point for scholarly intersection. We might say then, roughly speaking, that Structure has a philosopher's sense of sociology, a historian's sense of philosophy, and a sociologist's' sense of history. A text with these characteristics is assured a good reception just as long as the practitioner's of the different disciplines continue talking only to their own colleagues and not to those of the field Kuhn supposedly represents so well for them. At that point, the day when (if!) inquiry de-specializes, the attraction of Kuhn will fade.
Interdisciplinary audiences are composed of people from different academic disciplines, professions and the lay public. Consequently, interdisciplinary audiences are composed of people with different agendas, training, interests and levels of education. The traditional categories and characteristics of audiences and readers mentioned in this chapter do not hold. As no one method of problem-solving works within an interdisciplinary context, emphasis is placed on joint meetings, presentations, methods and collaborative action. Since the composition of interdisciplinary audiences cannot be determined ahead of time, knowing integrative techniques can help you communicate to these audiences.
The two-fold purpose of scientific and technical communicators in an interdisciplinary context would be to help clarify concepts and skills and to help resolve different perspectives by integrating them. Here is an example of how interdisciplinary method would work. There are many concepts disciplines share. As Klein (1990) points out the concept of "power" is relevant to almost all the social sciences. "Power" is also a concept used in literary analysis, natural sciences and engineering. Technical writers, for example, would highlight the ambiguities and assumptions of the definition of power within disciplines by listing its various definitions and finding the basis for integration. In proposing a composite definition, participants can challenge their conclusions from specific disciplinary perspectives. This process would take the form of the dialectic, an argumentative process in which contradictory propositions are asserted, compared and synthesized. The length of this process depends on the participants' patience, interests and resources. Scientific and technical communicators would act as mediators for members of an interdisciplinary audience.
During scientific controversies, the safe and steady course of research is thrown in into a political context. Audiences shift. People choose sides trying to anticipate who will win a given debate. Dale Sullivan provides a fascinating case study of how scientists recruit believers for their particular beliefs. Specifically, Sullivan looks at the case of David Raup whose work in a variety of scientific disciplines and in a popular book, contributed to the debate concerning mass extinctions of life in prehistoric times. This research spilled over into the popular consciousness by offering an answer to the question: What killed all the dinosaurs? The answer; iridium from an asteroid settled into Earth's atmosphere, cutting off sunlight, killing plants, lowering global temperatures and leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
By appealing in different ways to different audiences of experts and laypersons, Raup is an interesting case study exploring how a controversial view in science gets a hearing. Raup also is ingenious in using the techniques and languages of other disciplines to further his research. Sullivan details the rhetorical spade work required by scientists to gain credibility and consensus. The "facts" about nature, it appears, must be negotiated.
In June of 1980, Science published an article by Luis W. Alvarez, Walter Alvarez, Frank Asaro, and Helen V. Michel, titled, "Extraterrestrial Cause for Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction." Reporting their discovery of unusually high concentrations of iridium in rock strata associated with Cretaceous-Tertiary extinctions, Alvarez, et. al., suggested that the iridium, largely of extraterrestrial origin, settled out of the atmosphere, darkening the earth, cutting off photosynthesis and leading to mass extinctions (1104). Not unlike the hypothesized asteroid, this article impacted the scientific community with such force that its fallout continues to show up in the journals over a decade after its publication.
However, the person most responsible for familiarizing the general public with the issue is David M. Raup, whose book, The Nemesis Affair, was first published in 1986 and in paperback in 1987. Not only did Raup write a very readable account of the way the scientific community reacted to the article; he also contributed to that discussion by publishing several papers in a variety of journals. Because he published in such a wide variety of forums, David Raup's work is an excellent case study for those interested in studying the way different forums and audiences effect the way a writer presents his or her story.
Being part of a discipline is like being in a place, for the writer is expected to talk like a member of the discipline and to accommodate the audience. But an even more powerful kind of placing is time. The development of concepts and the ripening of opportunities control what can be said effectively. The journal as a place or forum also controls what can be said. A specialized journal allows the writer to assume common ground and to be deliberate in the presentation of an argument, but a multi-disciplinary journal requires the writer(s) to adopt a universal language and, sometimes, to migrate across disciplinary boundaries. Finally the ethos of the writer(s) is itself a creation of place. By creating an inscribed author, the writer invites the reader to inhabit a place in relation to the author. The place created by the writer for the reader to inhabit is the inscribed audience, and it is only by coming into that place that the reader is able to hear the message of the writer. Thus, the discipline establishes the journal, time opens the opportunity; the journal provides a forum, but the writer creates the social and cognitive space which enables communication to take place.
The "Cohort Analysis" Paper
Raup's "Cohort Analysis of Generic Survivorship," is an excellent example of science in the puzzle-solving mode (Kuhn 35). It appeared before the Alvarez article mentioned in the opening, and though Alfred G. Fischer and Michael A. Arthur had published a paper suggesting that extinctions were cyclical, their idea had not caught on, and Raup does not cite it in the cohort paper. Fischer's and Arthur's suggestion, if true, would have been revolutionary, but as Raup says in The Nemesis Affair, "many of us (most in fact) did our best to look the other way. Fischer and Arthur were claiming that the major extinctions of the past 250 million years were evenly spaced, coming every 32 million years. This was anathema!" (107). The largest theoretical issue in the field at that time was the theory of punctuated equilibria put forward by Eldredge and Gould in 1972. This is the theory that evolution occurs in spurts followed by long periods of rapid change. By this time, though punctuated equilibria was still an issue, some of the emotional edge had gone off. Thus, Raup was living in a post-revolutionary period (after punctuated equilibria) and a pre-revolutionary period (before the Alvarez article), a comfortable house of orthodox science.
Although Raup inhabited an orthodox house of science, the house was in the process of renovation. Raup explains that, in his opinion, paleontologists suffered from the stereotypical image of a scientist digging around, finding fossils, and writing "Just-So Stories" about them (Nemesis 108). Or, he says later in the book, Paleontology "has a sort of nineteenth-century flavor: naturalists and dedicated amateurs like Louis Leakey devoting their lives to finding new fossil remains" (131). Raup's own goal within the discipline was to add scientific rigor to the work being done: "We had been trying to pull paleontological research into the twentieth century by promoting testable hypotheses and good rigorous science. A testable hypothesis did not have to be mathematical, although that was preferable ... And when conclusions were drawn on the basis of quantitative data, we wanted no-nonsense tests of statistical significance" (Nemesis 108). Within the ethos of normal science, then, Raup wanted to improve the methods of puzzle solving, and so Raup's stated purpose in the cohort article is to demonstrate that a statistical method, cohort analysis, used by insurance actuaries to predict when people born in a particular year are likely to die, is a superior method for determining extinction rates. If we were to select one of the four main points of stasis (fact, definition, quality, procedure) as being a special concern, it would have to be procedure.
The article appears in the fourth volume of Paleobiology, a relatively new journal of the Paleontological Society, having its own ethos. The journal is a specialized forum for a specialized discipline, and, therefore, narrows the choice of topics to those of interest to the community of paleontologists. On the other hand, the author of an article in Paleobiology can assure that most of the readers will share a similar education and similar theoretical views. It would be unusual, for instance, for a creationist to read it or try to publish in it. Also, because it is specialized and because it is published by a society, articles can be longer than in specialized journals, and the reasoning can be more extended and explicit. Finally, because the journal "speaks for" the society, the writer must identify with the society and must signal awareness of which questions are settled and which questions are not yet settled. Declaring a consensus before one has been reached on a particular issue would damage the writer's ethos because it would indicate that he is either unknowledgable or intolerant.
Raup displays his commitment to the group's larger project of creating certified knowledge about evolution, but he also reflects his image of the discipline and of his place within it. Some of the things he says could have been said by opponents of the project. For example, he mentions "vagaries of the geologic time scale" (1); he acknowledges that it is not unreasonable to claim that "our knowledge of the fossil record is not sufficiently mature to allow statistical analysis" (3); he alludes to the "relatively sparse fossil record of radiolarians" (4); and he says, "accepted durations of Phanerozoic series are subject to large errors because they are based on interpolations between widely scattered radiogenic dates" (8). Imagining what a devout creationist could do with such statements, I wondered how Raup could say thing that seem to undermine the fossil record and yet signal his allegiance to evolutionary biology. One answer is that he assumes he is among friends; therefore, he can be honest about data deficiencies without worrying that his reader will use these statements to subvert the project. Second, although he admits weaknesses exist in the fossil record, Raup evidently believes enough in it, because he attempts to find the typical duration of species and genera based on the fossil record.
In spite of these admissions, Raup signals his allegiance openly. This allegiance or solidarity is facilitated by the way Paleobiology formats its articles. On the first page of an article, the title appears in bold face followed by the author's name and a brief abstract. Just below the abstract, in small italics, is the author name and affiliation: "David M. Raup. Department of Geological Sciences and Center for Evolution and Paleobiology, University of Rochester; Rochester, New York 14627." Framing the article at the end is an "Acknowledgments" paragraph in which Raup says that research was conducted at the University of Chicago. He thanks colleagues for their contributions to the research and declares that the research was supported by a grant from the Earth Sciences Section, National Science Foundation. Thus the journal "speaks for" the discipline but also frames the expression of authors within its covers by establishing their right to speak.
Within the text proper, the two most obvious methods of signaling solidarity or allegiance are citing the work of others in the community reassuring the reader of the writer's orthodox opinions concerning evolution. Raup opens the paper with two citations, one of G.G. Simpson in 1953 and one of L. Van Valen in 1973, both of which were early attempts of applying techniques from the fields of population dynamics and demography to "patterns of transspecific evolution" (1). The introductory paragraph thus draws lines of allegiance to earlier researchers and to the overarching theoretical perspective of the field. Near the middle of the article, Raup says that the equations he is using to determine extinction rates "assume a pure branching model (of speciation) and thus are based tacitly on the punctuational model of Eldredge and Gould" (7). As in the introduction, he draws lines of allegiance to evolutionary theory to the theorists within the field, but more that, he signals allegiance to a particular theory of speciation and to the faction of those who believe in punctuated equilibria. He is careful not to offend others, however, for he offers a second equation based on a second theory of speciation, phyletic transformation of lineages and explains that it make no difference to the shape of the curve produced by the data (7).
But perhaps the most extraordinary signaling of allegiance occurs near the end of the article (12-13) in a section that compares his results with those of others (Van Valen, Simpson, Stanley, Valentine, Durham, Rickards and Kennedy) who have attempted to determine the durations of species and genera. After reporting their numbers, he accounts for differences between his and theirs and declares a good fit. For example, in reference to Van Valen's number he says, "In view of the entirely different nature of the data and mode of analysis, the conformity between Van Valen's results and those of the present study is excellent." The fit with Valentine's numbers in "extremely close." He concludes that his own study produces slightly larger durations that most other estimates but that it is a reasonable estimate. To match his results with others', he even makes a table consisting of his data and the data of ten other studies, so that the verbal claim to solidarity is reinforced visually as the names and numbers line up in regimented order.
Thus, Raup signals allegiance to the community which he represents and speaks for, but he projects his image of the community he is speaking to. In particular, he distinguishes between those things which are settled and those things which are not. One can allude to those settled things with confidence or even depend on the reader to supply them if implied. Those things which are not settled are still open to discussion. Both of the above fall within the circle of orthodoxy; however, there are some things that are neither common ground nor open to discussion because they are heretical or untimely.
The cohort paper of 1978 is a puzzle-solving paper, one in which Raup tries to persuade his readers that cohort analysis is a superior or at least promising way to analyze extinction rates. he wrote it in a time of relative calm before the Alvarez paper appeared and published it in a journal of The Paleontological Society. His article thus situated by the state of the discipline and the journal, Raup frames the news of his article, that cohort analysis seems to work, with his own ethos by signaling his allegiance to evolutionary theory, to the theory of punctuated equilibria, to other scientists in the field, and to statistical methodology. In this way he makes space for his message and embeds his news in larger contexts showing it to be compatible with current certified knowledge. In the process of accommodating the audience, he projects his image of the discipline, revealing his understanding of what the group's common ground is and what its issues are. He places his own news within this spectrum of settled to controversial knowledge, qualifying it as "a first attempt." His silence about the cycles of Fischer and Arthur and his pedestrian treatment of his anomolous jogs at the K-T boundary revel his definition of heresy at the time and his limited foreknowledge respectively.
The Periodicity Paper
Six years after Raup's paper on cohort analysis appeared, he co-authored a paper with J. John Sepkowski, Jr., announcing their claim to have found a 26 million-year periodicity in the fossil record data. This is probably Raup's most important contribution to the development of the theory of mass extinctions as the result of extraterrestrial causes. The time was ripe for this paper; many changes has occurred in the previous six years, most notably the Alvarez paper about the iridium anomaly at the K-T boundary had appeared in 1980.
The article appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) in February 1984, just four months after it was submitted. This journal has a distinctive ethos much different from Paleobiology. PNAS is published by the National Academy, which is made up of some 1500 people considered to be top scholars in the sciences. The Academy was created by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters. Members of the Academy can publish in PNAS without going through peer review, and because David Raup was a member the periodicity paper was published without being refereed. Though he claims that only a couple critics have chastised him and Sepkoski for not publishing in a refereed journal, Raup spends three pages in The Nemesis Affair (126-129) explaining their decision to do so. Compensating for its not being refereed, Raup points out that the journal has a quick publication schedule and a large circulation here and abroad. Furthermore, it is a respected journal because it speaks for the Academy, a prestigious "club" of which even Carl Sagan is not a member. Significantly, it is not a discipline-specific journal. Scientists from several disciplines would read it, as Raup and Sepkoski wanted, because the controversy over extinctions was spilling over the boundaries of paleontology into other fields. Raup mentioned one other feature of PNAS that constrained their article: it has strict page limits, so the periodicity paper is only five pages long (Nemesis 127).
Raup and Sepkoski take on different personae as the paper develops and thereby move the audience from one room in the larger house of science to other rooms. In the introduction, data base and measurement sections, they assume the personae of paleontologists. In the statistical analysis section, they assume the role of statisticians. In the conclusions section they combine the two pervious personae, and in the implications section they play the role of speculative generalists or amateur astrophysicists.
In the introduction, they assume the role of paleontologists instructing those outside that discipline. First, they make a bold declaration, "virtually all species of animals and plants that have ever lived are now extinct," a claim that may shock outsiders but is presented as a settled issues within the field. They then instruct the reader about the basic assumptions of the field, namely that the extinction process is usually considered a continuous process. Among the articles cited to demonstrate this traditional orthodox assumption is Raup's article on cohort analysis. By placing that article among the traditionalists' article, Raup and Sepkoski signal their own conservatism. They then inform those outside the field, through most are aware, that there is "increasing evidence" that extinctions are short-lived events, and they cite the Fischer and Arthur 1977 paper which Raup had not cited in the cohort paper. What was unspeakable six years earlier has not found its way into the introductory paragraph of a major paper, but not without qualification. After explaining that Fischer and Arthur used a limited data base and is no statistical testing, Raup and Sepkoski announced their purpose: "The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to test the proposition of periodicity in the record of marine extinctions over the past 250 ma (Late Permian to Recent) by using as rigorous a methodology as present data permit" (801). having opened the possibility of talking about periodicity by citing the Fischer and Arthur study and having shown the deficiencies of that study, Raup and Sepkoski have opened space for their own news. Surprisingly, the 1980 Alvarez paper is not yet cited and isn't cited until the implicaions section of the paper.
In the next two sections (data base and measurement of extinction rates) Raup and Sepkoski maintain the ethos of conservative paleontologists with progressive methodologies and state of the art material, discussing their improved data base, namely the Sepkoski compendium and the Harland time scale. They still sound like paleontologists, however, because the issues address are field specific, the arbitrariness of the definition of "family" (Lewin called it a mysterious unit in his article) and the discrepancies between the Harland scale and the Odin scale. Furthermore the discussion of how to measure extinction rates, though sophisticated, is an in-house sort of topic, a subject best left to paleontologists.
However, in the statistical analysis section of the paper, a section that is really the heart of the paper, they assume the role of statisticians. This change in persona is signaled when they say, "... qualitative impressions may be misleading. For this reason, we have applied a variety of standard of nonstandard tests of periodicity to the time series" (802). It's as though they come out of the provincial quarter of paleontology with its "nineteenth-century" flavor into the cosmopolitan world of the academy forsaking the vernacular and adopting the lingua franca of statistics. In the cohort paper, Raup had used statistics, but his persona in those sections was one of a teacher introducing his students to a new method.
In this paper, conversely, Raup and Sepokoski act as though they are among peers when they talk statistics. They use technical language usually without defining it: "smooth power spectrum," "first harmonic," "random walk," "composite cycle," and "non-unimodal curve." They carefully explain the statistical procedure they followed to get their results, displaying concern that other statisticians will be able to judge the validity of their procedure. They address issues tied primarily to statistics rather than to paleontology. For example they say, "It can be argued that the necessary minimal spacing 12 x 10 6 years between observed extinction peaks can make random (Poisson) data appear periodic to Fourier analysis (802), and "It could be argued that the statistical significance of the results could have been generated by periodic elements in the scale itself" (803). They report their results in terms of levels of statistical significance, shown in that their tests give results P<0.01 for their claimed 26 ma (million year) periodicity (803). Reporting three major statistical tests and seemingly innumerable variations of those tests, Raup and Sepkoski project an image of expert statisticians: they are knowledgeable about programming computers, about statistical procedures, about possible sources of error, and about levels of significance.
Having established their credentials first as paleontologists (conservative in theory, progressive in methods) and second in statisticians, Raup and Sepkoski have made room for three major claims, which appears in the conclusions section of the paper: 'It seems inescapable that the post-Late Periman extinction record contains a 26-ma periodicity, assuming that the Harland time scale ... is a reasonable approximation of reality (804, 805). In this short section of the paper, the two previous roles, paleontologist and statistician, are combined. They once again talk like paleontologists, referring to the "Permian-Miocene interval" and the "Early Triassic" (804); but they also continue to use terms like "autocorrelation" and "nonparametric test" (805). They report one last test in this section, one in which they had attempted to find out if the 26-ma periodicity was some kind of statistical shadow of a 52-ma cycle. They claim that their tests do not support the latter. Without specifying the significance of their test, Raup and Sepkoski have set up the final section of the paper, headed "Implications."
As they have migrated through different personae, Raup and Sepkoski have managed to bring paleontologists and statisticians together in one audience. This last report in the conclusions added geologists to the train, but in the final section of the paper, they anticipate others as well, specifically, astrophysicists. They are moving from what Raup calls his "corner of science" (Nemesis 150) to the common parlor, claiming that if periodicity can be demonstrated, "implication are broad and fundamental" (805).
In order to accommodate the astrophysicists, Raup and Sepkoski take on the personae of generalists and of amateur astrophysicists. First, as generalists, they adopt a form of seductive reasoning easily followed by non-specialists. Their reasoning is in the form of a descending logic tree made up of an "if" clause followed by a question which provides a set of alternatives. The second alternative is always the logical choice. For example, after questioning whether the causes (forcing agent) of this apparent t periodicity are biological or environmental, they then say, "If the forcing agent is in the physical environment, does this reflect an earthbound process of something in space? (105). Thus, by gradual removes down the logic tree, they migrate from the ethos of their own expertise to the field of astrophysics, speculating that perhaps the cause is the solar system's passage through the spiral arms of the galaxy, which would, "increase the comet flux" (805). Not until this point, some twenty lines from the end of the article, do they reference the Alvarez paper of 1980 which initiated the conversation they are participating in. They simply mention that their scenario would follow the "Alvarez hypothesis." In this final section of the paper they reference Shoemaker, Alvarez and Ganapathy, all geologists who can contribute information about meteorite craters and iridium anomalies, but can speak authoritatively about larger issues in astronomy. They leave the door open for experts in astrophysics, saying, "However, much more information is needed before definitive statements about causes can be made (805).
Unlike the cohort analysis paper in which Raup seemed to be content to work at his own pace to improve puzzle solving, this article has some sense of urgency about it. Raup says, "We wanted quick publication, although there was no compelling reason for any hurry" (Nemesis 127). He then explains that he and Sepkoski weren't worried about being scooped, but, he says, we "felt like we had something exciting and we were impatient to get it in print" (Nemesis 127).
Their sense of urgency seems to permeate the text of the periodicity paper a well. In several place the authors refer to the moment or to the rapid process of change. Their tests are"... as rigorous methodology as present data permit (italics added)... in the present state of knowledge ... cannot be confirmed with the present time scale ... length of cycle may shift as time scale data improve (italics added) ... at present ... due to the relatively weak state of the Paleozoic time scale ... nothing can be said unequivocally at this time" (801-805). Finally, we have already noticed that they call on astrophysicists implicitly when they say, "much more information is needed before definitive statement about causes can be made" (805 italics added). The timely nature of their article is also reinforced by pronouncements about the importance of the work. Their conclusion is "inescapable" (804). There is a sense of impnding changes in science because, as they put it, "The implications of periodicity for evolutionary biology are profound" (805).
Changes had been taking place and even greater changes were on the horizon. Unlike Fischer's and Arthur's paper that suggested a 30-ma periodicity and languished uncited in 1977, this paper virtually exploded on the scene. Remarkably, just two months after the paper was published, four papers suggesting astrophysical causes for periodicity and on paper showing periodicity in meteorite craters appeared in the April 19, 1984 issue of Nature. The first four articles, all by astrophysicists, cited periodicity paper by Raup and Sepkoski as their first reference, and the fifth paper by a geologist, cites it as a fifth reference. These papers, printed under the title "Letters to Nature," came in to Nature even before the periodicity paper appeared in publication. All of the author's were working off of preprints, a development which caused John Maddox, editor of nature to reprimand Raup and Sepkoski for their unorthodox behavior. he say, "the most obvious complaint against the system (of circulating preprints) is that it is discriminatory, excluding from the circle of those in the know people who happen to be on the authors "mailing list" (685). There would have been no call for John Maddox' reprimand in time of normal science, but in that season of rapid change and opportunity, Maddox was forced to say something in order to protect a system that is supposed to give voice to science but which in extraordinary times is too slow to keep pace with changes.
Karin Mårdsjö provides a study of how technical manuals are written in Sweden. She illustrates how assumptions about the audience by technical writers are based on the kind of technology being used. Typically, the purpose of a manuals was seen as purely instructing the user. Leading writers to assume an authoritative stance and imperative voice in giving commands. Dr. Mårdsjö suggests that manuals are only part of the technologies' interaction with the user. However, technical writers in the assumptions they make about the user, (smart, ignorant, capable, incapable), and the tone expressing those assumptions actually help create the audience for a technology. The relationship established between the writer and reader of technical manuals shapes what it means to live in a "technological society."
Technical Writers' Image of Their Audience
We are living is what is sometimes described as a "technological society." Technical devices and technological systems surround us and are a substantial part both of our surroundings and the objects we interact with. Living in this kind of society demands from the citizens an understanding of technology and knowing how to use it . The devices, or the systems, need instruction and additional information in order to be comprehensible: they are rarely self-explanatory.
In my analysis I have focused on the communication process between writers of microwave oven and computer word processing manuals and their users. The three microwave manuals I analyzed were produced in major Swedish test kitchens. Two of the word processing manuals were produced in Swedish computer software industries, and the third in the USA, translated into Swedish.
The Image of the User
The English sociologist Steve Woolgar has made a long-term field study at a computer software industry. He noticed then how the system developers and the technical writers created their image of their users, by speaking of them as ignorant and strange persons, and not by having any personal contact with them.
I believe that this image of the users, which can of course be created in other ways than in the Woolgar example, is one important factor that determines how the technology development and technical writing are performed and adjusted to the presumed users. Steve Woolgar call this process of thus shaping the user "configuring the user."
There are of course other important factors in the production process. As far as the manuals are concerned, there are implicit and explicit rules for writing, company standards, 'organization climate', etc. It is reasonable to presume, and I have found support for this in a pilot study and dissertation research, that the context for writing is as important for the writers as their awareness of the audience.
Ways of Addressing Users
Very roughly, in the word processing texts, the users are addressed in a rather direct (or authoritarian way) way: Do this, do that. This of course could be viewed as threatening, and the uses might feel that they are addressed as ignorants, as it somewhat threatens their personal freedom of choice. But it could just as well, possible preferably, be regarded as a perfectly natural style and tone in this kind of genre. Or it could be interpreted as the tone of the high status engineer towards the ignorant commoners. The microwave oven manuals were quite different. The tone is less direct in order not to offend the cook:
As always in the art of cooking, you and your ingredients are the most important factors in achieving good results. The microwave oven is an excellent and practical help for cooking good meals quickly, and saving time and energy. (Original text in Swedish, my translation)
In the example, the user has the main role, not the technology itself. That is another general difference between the two types of manuals. In computer software manuals expressions like "the program can:" or "the program will" occur now and then, which never happens in the microwave oven manuals.
The purely instructional parts of the manuals are fairly similar, with a direct way of addressing the users. The differences lie mostly in the introductory parts, where the 'polite' way of addressing is more usual in the microwave manuals.
Changing Attitudes, Creating Conviction
There is also a difference in how the writers explicitly, or implicitly, help the users think in new ways and try to help them adapt to the new technology.
On the whole, the writers of the word processing manuals seem to regard their readers as generally adjusted to the new technology and do not put much effort into convincing them. (Which is done quite a lot in older word processing manuals, with for examples analogies to cars: "The cars were also regard as dangerous in the beginning, but see how familiar they have become"). In the microwave oven manuals, verbal and pictorial means are used to convince the readers that the technology is useful and not dangerous.
The stylistic methods used are mainly analogies to and metaphors of well-known technologies, as well as straight-forward explanations of the differences between the old and the new. In both cases there are natural things to compare with:
Word processing, typewriting and traditional editorial work Microwave oven use, traditional cooking with stove and oven
You can think of a word processing system (program and computer) as a typewriter with a built-in pair of scissors, tape and copying machine ... A word processing program mainly function like a type writer, but with many extra possibilities built in.
The same message is conveyed also in the microwave oven manuals, where the advantages of the new technology are expressed with the help of analogies to ordinary cooking. But there is an interesting difference as well: The writer of the microwave oven manuals seem to have the image of the users as potentially afraid. There was a discussion of "the radiation danger" when the technology was newly introduced, and the awareness seems to linger on. It can be found in texts like these (from the introductory part of a manual):
Microwaves are a type of electromagnetic energy. Ordinary day light and radio waves are two others. The only difference between these two types of energy is the length of the waves ... Just as the ray of light goes through glass, clear plastic and air, the microwaves can go right through materials like paper, glass, china, plastic and air ... The microwaves are reflected by metal in the same way as a ray of light is reflected by a mirror surface.
These three short examples come from the same part of the text, altogether less than half a page. In this short space, the writer has found it necessary to make analogies to well-known and "safe" phenomena like day light, radio waves and mirror reflections several times.
Interviewing Technical Writers
In my study I interviewed the authors of the manuals I had analyzed and some of their close colleagues. The companies involved in the study were different kinds, and thus, the conditions for text production varied to a great extent. Throughout the interviews, three major types of manual-production became apparent: There was the negotiation type, where the technical writers openly negotiated with other actors. Another kind was the evolutionary type, where the manuals has been developed over a long period of time. The industrial type of manual production and were made in a company with a very large manual production and clear aims of giving the products a profile through the manuals.
Those three major types of manuals created an overall patterns for the text production, a kind of general frame. During the interviews, I also confronted the interviewed persons with my text analysis. It became obvious that the text writers regarded the motivational aspect as primary. Instruction is of course vital, but it does not only have a value in its own right, it is also regarded as part of the motivational aim. "If the users get started quickly and correctly, they will feel happier about the technology in general ..." was one expression voiced on that issue.
As far as the descriptive approach was concerned, the company's strategies differ. One of the word processing companies found it unimportant; the audience is regarded as already having reached that level of understanding. Another of the two word processing companies had, however, devoted a major part of their manual to that purpose. The ambition behind that decision was described as more than just managing a certain word processing program; they wanted to raise the general "technology level," and the deficiency of school teaching was mentioned as a driving force for that aim.
In the microwave companies, descriptive elements were mentioned as a part of the introduction of a new technology. The users were regarded as needing information for correct and flexible usage.
Emphasized by almost all of the interviewees was a personal interest in the technology and its development and a cultural concern, for preservation "the Swedishness," which contained both of language and traditional Swedish cooking. Two aspects of their answers were particularly interesting. The first was that most of the text writers spoke with greater emphasis and more details about their interest in the technology, its function and improvement than about the use of language as a technique applied (instructional technology) toward the users. This may have to do with the aim of further stressing their professional situation. The other interesting aspect, the cultural concern, can be interpreted as another professional strategy or as part of the Swedish ideal of comprehensibility and equality ("everyone should have a chance at understanding"). Legal factors were mentioned as relevant, but not as restrictive.
The two main results of this study are that manuals can and should be regarded as text with multiple aims, and that they should be analyzed in their communicational setting. As technical manuals are multiply aimed, it is, in practice as well as in research, no longer advisable to regard them as purely instructional artefacts. The writers of manuals must have this in mind, in order to avoid confusing the aims and in order to clarify his or her intentions towards the users. For the production of manuals, it also important to have in mind that the manual is one important aspect of the technologies' interaction with the user. manuals must be created in order to cooperate with other aspects of the relationships: the technology design and other information sources. If they support each other, the users will have a better chance of comfortably using and managing technology in a "technological society."
1. Argue for or against the following claim, providing examples: Natural science is the most powerful, authoritative and applicable source of knowledge human possess. Given your position on this claim how would you describe the relationship between the lay audience and the scientist? What are the benefits or dangers of this relationship?
2. In answering the following questions begin to put together a general profile of practitioners in your discipline and profession: What type degree does one need to be a practitioner? What type of special licensing does a practitioner require? Is there an emphasis on collaboration or individual work? Does the profession or discipline have a well-defined or loose "pecking order"? Are the tasks which you perform handed to you by an authority, or are you free to pursue your own ideas and initiatives? What type of resources do you need, equipment, space, money, to accomplish tasks?
3. Given your academic training and work experience, who, generally, will be the primary audience for your scientific and technical communication? Who will be the secondary audience?
4. A recent focal point of many universities and colleges is helping to resolve society's problems through, for example, economic, planning and continuing education programs. Does your university or college see community outreach as an important part of its mission? Why should community concerns be a consideration of your college or university? In what outreach programs does your discipline participate? How do you participate in outreach programs? Who is the audience for these programs? How will the needs and demands of these audiences have an effect on scientific and technical communication?
5. Karin Mårdsjö's case study offer some telling insights of how Swedish technical writers consider their audience. From Mårdsjö's study, what is the relationship between the type of technology being used and the writers' conception of audience? Which assumptions are justified? What problems do you see with the tone of the instruction manuals? Why is the explanation of microwaves, for instance, necessary? What kind of relationship should writers of manual develop with their audience? What cultural differences do you see between how Swedish and American technical writers relate to audiences?
6. Dale Sullivan's case study points out that during a scientific controversy, traditional disciplines and audiences change, sometimes radically. What is the definition of ethos? Why is the concept of ethos important in understanding how David Raup connects with different audiences? What is the definition of kairos? Why is the concept of kairos important in understanding how Raup connects with different audiences? What happens to the relationship between writer and reader during a scientific controversy? How does David Raup convince readers of intra- and inter-disciplinary journals that his claims are true? In what ways are the significance of a scientific claim, and responses to it, primarily rhetorical? How does proper timing to lend credibility to an idea?
1. Dale Sullivan presents an analysis of how scientists appeal to various audiences. Choose two articles on the same subject from a general-audience periodical such as Time or Newsweek and a somewhat more technical journal like Scientific American or Popular Mechanics. In a brief response paper, compare and contrast the two articles consider the audience for the piece and its purpose. Consider the structural aspects of the writing, sentence length, paragraph length, vocabulary, amount of white space, the number of graphic and formulas and the references s within and at the end of the article. After making these determinations draw a profile of the audience. What is their general educational background and expertise?
2. Find a copy of an advertisement for a product which tries to deal directly with new scientific evidence or a technological controversy. For example, many different types of foods are touted as being better for one's heart, or reducing cholesterol based on the latest scientific evidence. Remember bran? Certain technologies are advertised as safer or more efficient in response to a news story. In a short paper consider how science or technology is used to persuade the audience. How is scientific and technical evidence presented? Who is the audience for these scientific and technological breakthroughs? Do you think mentioning science is effective in convincing the audience to buy the product?
3. Consider the following scenario:
Now that Johnson Engineering is winning contracts outside the United States, the company is experiencing first-hand the contingencies of hosting foreign guests and preparing staff engineers and their families to live abroad. As training manager, you know that many large corporations like Boeing Aircraft maintain a division that trains and houses foreign pilots, teaches languages, and helps sales staff and engineers to understand the social conventions and business practices of other cultures.
Johnson cannot invest in a major corporate educational center right now, and with engineers and their families leaving for foreign cities on an unpredictable schedule, hiring an expensive outside training firm to offer seminars is not possible.
You have been asked, therefore, to write several short manuals that will be given to employees who are going with their families to specific countries. The manual must be short, fewer than five pages of copy (single-spaced, doubled-spaced between subheadings), and carefully organized (by using subheadings, for example) to emphasize the main points. Johnson has tried giving away histories of nations and semischolarly studies of other cultures and other religious traditions, but people who are moving 10,000 miles don't generally make time to read long books.
Your boss wants you to start by producing one manual, choosing any one of the following nations:
People's Republic of China
Your boss asks you to keep two goals in mind while writing the manual.
The first goal is to inform the reader of cultural practices and to show strategies, through illustration and example, for successful communication based on those practices. One way to provide illustration is to compare and contrast American and "other cultural" communications practices.
The second goal is to assess the current state of scientific and technological development in the country. Various agencies of the U.S. government perform these assessments which are found in the government documents section of the library. Additionally, many journals present "cultural updates" on specific countries. The Hungarian Quarterly is an example of this kind of journal. Foreign press newspapers, and their English counterparts, are also available in the library.
As a starting place you are given this list of areas to consider:
living conditions: water, food, marketing, health conditions
eating meals: styles and rituals
social customs: greetings, men and women's dress, exchanging gifts, tipping
Your boss asks you to place special emphasis in the manual on communications practices:
patterns of greeting
any aspects of business, scientific or technical communication you feel are important to know.
Exceptionally kind, your boss gives you a partial list of other sources that might help you on your way:
Engholm, Christopher. When Business East Meets Business West: The Guide to Practice and Protocol in the Pacific Rim. New York: Wiley, 1991.
Garcia, Ofelia and Otheguy, Ricardo. English Across Cultures, Cultures Across English: A Reader in Cross-Cultural Communication. New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1989.
Gudykunst, William B., Stewart, Lea P. and Ting-Toomey, Stella. Communication, Culture, and Organizational Processes. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1985.
Hall, Edward Twitchell and Hall, Mildred Reed. Hidden Differences: Doing Business With the Japanese. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1987.
Kohl, John R. et al. "The Impact of Language and Culture on Technical Communication in Japan." Technical Communication, First Quarter, 1993.
Morris, Desmond. Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior (1977).
Raymonde, Carroll. Cultural Misunderstandings: The French-American Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Stephenson, Dwight W. "Audience Analysis Across Cultures," Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 13:4 (1983). 319-30.
Thiederman, Sondra. Bridging Cultural Barriers for Corporate Success: How to Manage the Multicultural Work Force. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, D.C. Heath, 1991.
Ukpabi, Chudi. Doing Business in Africa: Myths and Realities. Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute: 1990.
Just as you turn to leave your boss offers a few reminders:
what holds true for one Arab nation, for example, is not necessarily true for others, just as there are differences between the U.S. and Britain or any other nations that share the same general cultural or historical traditions;
information on both the customs and the current state of scientific and technological development may be, for given countries, limited. Different issues will require different emphasis in any given manual. The reasons for emphasis on, or lack of information about, the requirements of the manual need to be explained to the reader; and
interviews with people from, or familiar with, the country are often quite helpful.
1 The categories applied here and the characterizations and comparisons of professions is taken from Stephan Fuchs' analysis in The Professional Quest for Truth: A Social Theory of Science and Knowledge. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992.
2 G.W.F. Hegel's (1770-1831) famous quote about the task of philosophy: "When philosophy paints its gray in gray, a form of life has become old, and this gray in gray cannot rejuvenate it, only understand it. The owl of Minerva begins its flight when dusk is falling ...", from the Preface to The Philosophy of Right and Law.