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Scientists as Prophets: A Rhetorical Genealogy (Paperback)
  • Scientists as Prophets: A Rhetorical Genealogy (Paperback)
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Scientists as Prophets: A Rhetorical Genealogy (Paperback)

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£29.49
Paperback 276 Pages / Published: 01/08/2013
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Why did an atheist like Carl Sagan talk so much about God? Why does NASA climatologist James Hansen plead with us in his recent book not to waste "Our Last Chance to Save Humanity"? Because science advisors are our new prophets, Lynda Walsh argues in Scientists as Prophets: A Rhetorical Genealogy. She does not claim, as some scholars have, that these public scientists push scientism as a replacement for religion. Rather, she puts forth the provocative argument that prophetic ethos is a flexible type of charismatic authority whose function is to manufacture certainty. Scientists aren't our only prophets, Walsh contents, but science advisors predictably perform prophetic ethos whenever they need to persuade their publics to take action or fund basic research. Walsh first charts the genealogy of this hybrid scientific-prophetic ethos back to its roots in ancient oracles before exploring its flourishing in 17th century Europe. She then tracks its performances and mutations through several important late-modern events in America: Robert Oppenheimer's role in the opening of the atomic age; Rachel Carson's interventions in pesticide use; the mass-media polemics of science popularizers such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Stephen Jay Gould; and finally the UN's climate change panel and their role in Climategate. Along the way, Walsh highlights the special ethical and political defects embedded in the genealogy of the scientist-prophet, and she finishes by evaluating proposed remedies. She concludes that without a radical shift in our style of deliberative policy-making, there is little chance of remedying the dysfunctions in our current science-advising system. A cogent rhetorical analysis of over 1,000 archival documents from 10 historic cases, Scientists as Prophets engages scholars of scientific rhetoric, history, and literacy, but is also accessible to readers interested in the roots of current political debates about the environment, nuclear energy, and science education.

Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
ISBN: 9780199857111
Number of pages: 276
Weight: 410 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 17 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
On contentious issues like climate change and the teaching of evolution in schools, public officials seek out scientific advisers for guidance, oftentimes pulling scientists into the spotlight away from their comfort zones. Some win widespread acclaim for their efforts to shape public policy, while others are denounced as subverters of traditional values. In Scientists as Prophets, Lynda Walsh shows that across history-Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Rachel Carson, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Steven Jay Gould, Carl Sagan-scientists who venture into public policy arenas are immersed in the discourse of prophecy. In this ambitious and insightful book, Walsh raises our appreciation of prophecy as a pragmatic and rational genre for experts doing their best to interpret the unknowable. * Davida Charney, Professor of Rhetoric and Writing, The University of Texas at Austin *
Walsh shows that the prophetic function of the science adviser is as old as science itself, not a contemporary add-on. She uses an ingenious adaptation of Kenneth Burke's Pentad to trace its history and to show how the prophetic ethos has shaped contemporary controversies over nuclear security, pesticides, and global warming. The work is deeply informed, engagingly written, and convincingly argued; it enriches our understanding of the rhetoric of science and of the relations between science and the polity. * Carolyn R. Miller, SAS Institute Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Technical Communication, North Carolina State University *
This book is interesting, nuanced and stimulating. * Jaume Navarro, British Journal for the History of Science *

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