Everybody Stands Ready for eXcetera: Rhetoric of Science Meets the Pickwick Papers; or A Humble Reply to Morales (and Gruber and Pietrucci), Installment I, Randy Allen Harris

Installment I

Many thanks to Alexander William Morales for continuing this dialogue, and to SERRC for this wonderful venue. I’m happy to reply to Morales and answer a few of his questions, but Jim Collier, our illustrious editor, suggested that this might also be a good opportunity to talk more generally about the future of Rhetoric of Science (RoS) studies, when—Lo! Behold! And Holy Good Timing, Batman!—another review, or rather, a tandem of two review articles, came out which focusses largely on that future, as well as the perceived successes and failures of the Landmark Essays volumes to properly ground that future (Pietrucci and Gruber 2022) … [please read below the rest of the article].

Image credit: Sue Clark via Flickr / Creative Commons

Article Citation:

Harris, Randy Allen. 2022. “Everybody Stands Ready for eXcetera: Rhetoric of Science meets the Pickwick Papers; or A Humble Reply to Morales (and Gruber and Pietrucci).” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (4): 26-50. https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-6H0.

🔹 The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers.

Selected Articles in this dialogue:

❦ Morales, Alexander William. 2021. “An X Too Far: A Review of Randy Allen Harris’s Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science: Case Studies and Issues and Methods.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 10 (5): 20-24.

❦ Harris, Randy Allen. 2021. “X Marks the Spot: An Appreciative Response to Morales’s Review of Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science: Case Studies and Issues and Methods. Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 10 (9): 61-67.

❦ Pietrucci, Pamela and Leah Ceccarelli. 2020. “What Did We Learn From L’Aquila? Scientist Citizens and Public Communication.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 9 (7): 22-28.

❦ DeVasto, Danielle. 2020. “Exigency and Overflow in the L’Aquila Case.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 9 (1): 8-11.

❦ Feldbacher-Escamilla, Christian J. 2020. “Overflow, Expertise, and the L’Aquila Case.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 9 (3): 25-33.

I couldn’t be more delighted that early-career scholars are using the two Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science volumes as a platform to meditate about the field, to militate about missed representations, and to agitate for particular futures. In an extraordinarily precise sense, that is exactly what the anthologies are meant to do: support and encourage, if not provoke, RoS scholarship about RoS. So, rather than rattle on in isolation about these issues, I’ll engage David R. Gruber and Pamela Pietrucci ‘s review article(s) here as well, alongside Morales’s.[1] They use my volumes as an opportunity to develop their positions; using their essays, I will reciprocate.

But, I confess Dear Reader, that once I started reciprocating my keyboard heated up and when I subsequently dropped my thousands and thousands of words on our Good Editor’s desk, Jim was aghast. He professed to be aghast in a good way. “Great Googly Moogly!” he decried, or something like that. “It’s a serial novel!” So, these reciprocations, speculations, and mediations will appear in three Installments.[2]


Morales and Pietrucci and Gruber use the time-honoured scholarly strategy of hypophora—the title asks a question, the body provides their answer—but to very different ends. Morales asks “Why didn’t I decide to pick a fight with Harris?” Pietrucci and Gruber ask “Where did the rhetoric of science go?” You’ll notice right off the bat that the first question is largely introspective and centripetal, the second appraisive and centrifugal, and also that the second question has a big, honking thumb on the scale: the presupposition that rhetoric of science is gone.

Morales’s question (“Why didn’t I decide to pick a fight with Harris?”) has nothing to do with your Humble Narrator’s internationally famous congeniality (I’m too nice a guy to pick on); nor on the converse, my rumoured pugnacity (I’m too redoubtable a battler to take a swipe at); nor even with Morales’s very evident good will (he’s too pleasant a guy to go looking for a scrap). Rather, it is abstract and methodological, concerning the epistemic wholesomeness of disputes. It’s not about me, it’s about the role of contention in scholarship and how to make one’s way as a young scholar.

Enter Gruber and Pietrucci, stage left. Their question is a poke in the nose. They hold up two volumes entitled Landmark Essays on Rhetoric of Science and ask “Where did the rhetoric of science go?” Don’t get me wrong. Pietrucci and Gruber are highly collegial, whose reviews are absolutely written in the service of the discipline and in kindness to me. They aren’t out for blood. But they are arguing for a vision of the future that starts with the assumption that these volumes are obsolete. So, perhaps my response to them can help to illustrate an answer to Morales’s guiding question, why fight?

Gruber and Pietrucci are scholars, excellent ones, so they don’t drop their presupposition on my books and walk away. They offer solid arguments, mostly around the instability of science as a signifier of the domain it purports to represent in RoS, the frailty of the rhetorical tradition as a foundation for studying science, the false sense of stability my two volumes assert, and the necessity of (what I would call) exogenous frameworks for buttressing rhetoric when it studies science.

Alan G. Gross comes up yet again, of course. The familiar cry of “Where’s the rhetoric?” will echo through some passages, alongside the various existential crises that interrogative may or may not signal, the future will always be on our minds, the role of controversy in scholarship will get discussed and performed, we will hear more about the trials and tribulations of anthologizing, and—batten the hatches!—there will be a wealth of reading suggestions.

I assume naturally that you have read the previous contributions to this dialogue—Morales’s review, my response, and Morales’s further commentary—or you probably wouldn’t even be here. Now, I know you’re busy and we really appreciate the time that you have spared for us here (me and all the proxies I implicate), but I’m going to ask you, Dear and Sagacious Reader, to inform your sagacity a little further yet: please read Pietrucci and Gruber (2022) before proceeding. I’ll be here when you get back. There’s always the chance that you’ll find their articles utterly crushing and won’t see the need to come back. I’ll take that risk, firstly because it is an excellent probing of the field by our best and brightest which anyone interested in RoS in particular and Science Studies more generally should read anyways, but secondly because it will help to hold me accountable, so you can tell if I am representing their claims reasonably and judge my responses accordingly. It’s never good to get only one side of an argument.

First, however, about those landmarks …

Landmarks Galore!

As one would expect from probing reviews of these anthologies, Gruber and Pietrucci engage extensively in that wonderful sport of Armchair Anthologizing. As the relevant Behind-the-Bench Anthologizer, it is hard not to take some umbrage, but I will put most of the umbrage where it belongs, in a footnote,[3] and content myself in the body here with giving an extra shout out to the excellent essays they admonish me for omitting.

• Valeria Fabj and Matthew J. Sobnosky (1995), AIDS activism and the rejuvenation of the public sphere;
• Jeanne D. Fahnestock (1998), Accommodating science: The rhetorical life of scientific facts;
• S. Scott Graham and Carl Herndl (2013), Multiple ontologies in pain management: Toward a postplural rhetoric of science;
• Debra Hawhee (2015), Rhetoric’s sensorium;
• Leo R Chavez, Belinda Campos, Karina Corona, Daina Sanchez, and Catherine Belyeu Ruiz (2019), Words hurt: Political rhetoric, emotions/affect, and psychological well-being among Mexican-origin youth;
• S. Scott Graham and Lynda Walsh (2019), There’s no such thing as a scientific controversy;
• Pamela Pietrucci and Leah Ceccarelli (2019), Scientist citizens: Rhetoric and responsibility in L’Aquila;[4]
• Diane Marie Keeling, Patricia Garza, Charisse Michelle Nartey, and Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis (2020) The recalcitrance and resilience of scientific function;
• Pamela Pietrucci (2020), Blasting for science.

I don’t endorse each and every one of these suggestions with the same enthusiasm as do Pietrucci and Gruber, though not for reasons of quality (they are all quite wonderful), but I do endorse them and I considered several of them seriously for inclusion, leaving them aside with some regret. I especially rue not being able to find room for Graham and Herndl (2013), because it is very good, because it implicates important issues in a way I am happy to hereby designate landmark, and because it would have given me the opportunity to pick a bone with them about their misrepresentation of Harris (2005), Rhetoric and Incommensurability.[5] Pietrucci and Gruber’s suggested additions were published too late for either volume, of course, but all of them are absolutely worth your attention and several of them are stellar.

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind sitting in that armchair for a spell myself, budgets and page-counts and quasi-arbitrary selection criteria be damned. So here are a few essays I would have liked to see in one or the other of the Landmark volumes:

• Don Geiger (1958), Rhetoric and science: Notes for a distinction;
• James A. Kelso (1980), Science and the rhetoric of reality;
• Wilda Anderson (1989), Scientific nomenclature and revolutionary rhetoric;
• Lynette Hunter (1991), Rhetoric and Artificial Intelligence;
• Dale L. Sullivan (1991), The epideictic rhetoric of science;
• Marouf Hasian, Jr. and Earl Croasmun (1992), The legitimizing function of judicial rhetoric in the eugenics controversy;
• Heather Brodie Graves (1995), Rhetoric and reality in the process of scientific inquiry;
• Celeste M. Condit (1996), How bad science stays that way: Brain sex, demarcation, and the status of truth in the rhetoric of science;
• Elinor Ochs and Sally Jacoby (1997), Down to the wire: The cultural clock of physicists and the discourse of consensus;
• Catherine F. Schryer (1999), Genre time/space: Chronotopic strategies in the experimental article;
• Philip C. Wander and Dennis Jaehne (2000), Prospects for ‘a rhetoric of science’;
• Nathan Crick (2004). Conquering our imagination: Thought experiments and enthymemes in scientific argument;
• Marie Secor and Lynda Walsh. (2004), A rhetorical perspective on the Sokal hoax: Genre, style, and context;
• Marouf Hasian, Jr. (2004), Transnational genome debates and the return of eugenics;
• John Angus Campbell (2005), The “anxiety of influence”—hermeneutic rhetoric and the triumph of Darwin’s invention over incommensurability;
• Jeanne D. Fahnestock (2005), Cell and membrane: The rhetorical strategies of a marginalized view;
• Jeanne D. Fahnestock (2005), Rhetoric of science: Enriching the discipline
• Judy Z. Segal (2007), lIlness as argumentation: A prolegomenon to the rhetorical study of contestable complaints;
• Celeste M. Condit (2008), Feminist biologies: Revising feminist strategies and biological science;
• Colleen Derkatch (2008), Method as argument: Boundary work in evidence‐based medicine;
• Jordynn Jack (2009), A pedagogy of sight: Microscopic vision in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia;
• Carolyn Skinner (2009), “She will have science”: Ethos and audience in Mary Gove’s Lectures to ladies;
• Carol Reeves (2011), Scientific visuals, language, and the commercialization of a scientific idea: The strange case of the prion;
• Kathryn M. Northcut (2011), Insights from illustrators: The Rhetorical invention of paleontology representations;
• Simon Locke. (2013), Colouring in the “black-box”: Alternative renderings of scientific visualisations in two comic book cosmologies;
• Celeste M. Condit (2013) “Mind the gaps”: Hidden purposes and missing internationalism in scholarship on the rhetoric of science and technology in public discourse;
• Blake Scott, Judy Z. Segal, and Lisa Keränen (2013), Rhetoric of health and medicine: Inventional possibilities for scholarship and engaged practice;
• Jennifer Clary-Lemon (2019), Persuasive movement: The rhetoricity of things.

All of these essays were considered for the books (as were, again, a few from Gruber and Pietrucci’s list(s)), with some of them very near misses indeed. We can rehearse the reasons I wanted to include them quickly enough—they are very good, each with significant contributions to the development of the field—but we can’t revisit each of my individual decisions for why I eventually decided to leave them out in favour of one or another of the essays that did end up in the volumes (though some of pressures behind that reasoning are no doubt rather obvious, such as the second-edition strategy of Case Studies, which only allowed for four new essays).

It is worth commenting on a few choices however, particularly on my exclusion of Segal (2007), Derkatch (2008), Graham and Herndl (2013), and Scott et al (2013), all of which implicate the rhetoric(s) of health, wellness, and medicine, a very significant domain of contemporary science. The omission of this domain is one of the most prominent ways in which Gruber points out how the “present [in rhetorical scholarship] is not always very harmonious with the history showcased in [the Landmark volumes]”. The lack of essays concerning the rhetoric(s) of health, wellness, and medicine is part of a broader pattern of exclusions for which Gruber indicts the Issues and Methods volume in particular.

We will get to that broader argument shortly, but I do want to plead for an independent Landmark volume that would compensate for health and medicine exclusions here (as I suggest in the Issues and Methods preface; Harris 2020a, x). In fact, I have encouraged the series editors to solicit such a volume, and even lobbied a couple rhetoricians of health and medicine to propose such a volume, but it has not yet come about. So, I turn to you, Dear Reader. There are some good collections of such work, including Heifferon and Brown (2008), Melonçon and Scott (2017), and Melonçon et al (2020), as well as important monographs, including Keränen (2010), Graham (2015), Derkatch (2016), and the groundbreaking Segal (2005); there is even a dedicated journal, The Rhetoric of Health and Medicine. But there still is no Landmark Essays volume yet. There are lots of arguments to be had over canon formation and maintenance, but my own view is that canons are absolutely essential for grad students and junior scholars, so that they can get a steady foothold on the field and make their way in part by contesting and reconfiguring that canon as their scholarship develops (Pietrucci and Gruber 2022 is, as it should be, partially in the business of canon contestation.) A Landmark Essays of Health, Wellness, and Medicine would start that process very effectively.

If you feel this oversight, the lack of landmark curation for rhetoric of health and medicine as keenly as Gruber and I feel it, please propose a volume to the folks at Routledge/Taylor and Francis. Pietrucci and Gruber also lament the lack of diversity and inclusiveness among the voices in my two anthologies (2022, 5), lamentation I feel keenly myself. Gruber and Pietrucci are not only right to express their dissatisfaction and disappointment on this front, but, like all of us, obligated to do so. The more this issue is raised, the more scholars like me are held accountable, the people assembling collections like these, the healthier it is for the discipline and the stronger our chances of achieving the greater diversity of voices we all desire. My generation is certainly responsible for the current (but finally, slowly reversing) lack of diversity in the academy overall and rhetoric specifically.[6] Some of us, I know, have made efforts, as departmental officers, as referees, in the classroom, on hiring committees, and so on, to attract, support, and nurture diversity. But we have been notably unsuccessful.

As an index of just how unsuccessful we have been, one might look not just at the relatively narrow range of scholars included in the Landmark Essays volumes (texts drawn largely from the past), but even at Pietrucci and Gruber’s citations. To the best of my knowledge there are only two Persons of Colour among the authors and co-authors they cite, and one of them is the scholar whose arguments they directly leverage in their call for inclusion (Darrel Wanzer-Serrano’s important 2019b arguments in “Rhetoric’s rac(e/ist) problems,” to which we can add the other pieces in the special number it introduces, Wanzer-Serrano 2019a). On the brighter side of this question, however, we have Alexander William Morales. We can all hope that he becomes a leading voice in the field, and support that hope in whatever ways we can. Equally, we have Jim Collier, who, as the SERRC editor, is a gatekeeper making a point of holding it open to promote diverse voices like Morales’s.

By the way, speaking mostly to the Youngling Dear Readers, if you’re looking for sites for your own RoS work, you could do worse than Social Epistemology and SERRC, home not only to this bracing discussion but to exemplary work by venerables like Alan G. Gross (1994), James Zappen (1994), Philip C. Wander [and Dennis Jaehne] (2000), Carl Herndl (2016), and Leah Ceccarelli (1995) ([Pietrucci and] 2020), venerables-in-the-making like Colleen Derkatch (2008), Rob Danisch and Jessica Mudry (2008), and Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher ([Moriarty and] 2019),and venerables-on-the-horizon, like Devon Moriarty (2019, [and Mehlenbacher] 2019), Pamela Pietrucci ([and Ceccelli 2019), and of course Alex William Morales (2021, 2022).

And now for that broader argument, …

Oh, wait, the word count is up. See you in the next installment.

Installment II and Installment III: “Everybody Stands Ready for eXcetera: Rhetoric of Science Meets the Pickwick Papers; or A Humble Reply to Morales (and Gruber and Pietrucci).”

Author Information:

Randy Allen Harris, raha@uwaterloo.ca, University of Waterloo.


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[1] The format of Pietrucci and Gruber (2022) is a little unusual. Poroi treats it in all ways as a single article. But Gruber and Pietrucci ostensibly divide the volumes between them, Gruber focussing on Case Studies, Pietrucci on Issues and Methods, writing independently attributed but thematically interpenetrating articles (sometimes self-referring with singular pronouns, sometimes plural), and both of them refer to the set. The collaboration is close. I will generally cite them collectively, as Pietrucci and Gruber (2022), but there are also a few occasions where it seems to make more sense to site them individually, as Gruber (2022) and Pietrucci (2022).

[2] All the works cited in the three installments are listed immediately after Instalment III.

[3] As the following list indicates, they are mostly concerned with omissions, Gruber predominantly with the omission of articles on medical science in Issues and Methods (“[the] Rhetoric of Health and Medicine is largely absent;” Gruber 2022, 8), Pietrucci with the omission in Case Studies of what she calls “the external approach to RoS,” which she associates most fully with the Public Understanding of Science; Pietrucci 2022, 14). Gruber is certainly right. In fact, even that largely can be removed. Aside from some very peripheral mentions throughout, as I note in the introduction, “the entire domain of medical science is absent;” Harris 2020a, x). But Pietrucci, in my construal of the terms, is quite wrong. Waddell’s (2020/1990) study of the Cambridge Experimentation Review Board hearings on recombinant DNA research is the landmark in this area, alongside which certainly belong Weaver (2018/1953), for historical provenance, Reeves (2018/1992), for its focus on the major public health crisis of the latter 20th century, HIV/AIDS, and Mehlenbacher and Miller (2018/2017) for its extension to emerging internet genres—as do all of them for their outright excellence. They make up the section entitled “Public Science.” Leah Ceccarelli’s (2018/2011) “Manufactured scientific controversy: Science, rhetoric, and public debate” is also included in another section. (By the way, Pietrucci rightly chides me for including it in that section—”Conflict in Science”—noting that Ceccarelli’s whole point is that the conflicts she examines do not occur at all in science; that the appearance of conflict among scientists is manufactured for anti-scientific purposes (Pietrucci 2022, 16-17). Here we see another how-the-sausages-are-made aspect of anthologizing of the sort that I mention in my first response to Morales, “X marks the spot” (Harris 2021). The fact is that Ceccarelli’s article was too good and too influential to leave out, but I couldn’t justify bumping Mehlenbacher and Miller’s piece from “Public Science,” which was too recent to really qualify as a landmark but which dealt which the influence of the internet on science, a landmark shift in terms of genre theory, a landmark methodology, and which I trust time and citations will ratify as ‘true’ landmark; too, Pietrucci commends me for including it (Pietrucci 2022, 16). Thus, I manufactured a rationale for including Ceccarelli’s article in “Conflicts.”) Again, while Gruber is certainly right about the absence of Health and Medicine, and absolutely right to bring it up in a discussion of Landmark Essays and the future of RoS, I am a bit disappointed he didn’t acknowledge my explicitly presented reasoning about the omission, leaving the impression the lack of health and medicine articles was through negligence, or perhaps my out-of-touchness with contemporary RoS, rather than a principled choice of my anthology strategy. What I say in the preface is that I have omitted Rhetoric of Health and Medicine articles in Issues and Methods, “because it has effectively become its own brilliant subfield, one that deserves a Landmark Essays offering of its own” (2020a, x). One can disagree with that reasoning. I am frankly a bit uneasy about it myself, but I had to make hard decisions on selection criteria, with only a few hundred pages to work with, and I bit the bullet. So, Gruber can disagree with my rationale, as he does, but not mentioning the rationale at all borders on the discourteous. Similarly, Pietrucci seems to overlook my selection criteria for the second edition of Case Studies, which was to keep every section intact from the first edition but to add a single post-1997 article to each. Again, the reasoning can be rejected, or an argument for a different addition to “Public Science” than Mehlenbacher and Miller (2018/2017) might be offered, but ignoring my rationale is bad form. Oh, and one more piece of the sausage: Pietrucci identifies Jeanne D. Fahnestock’s wonderful (1987) “Accommodating science: The rhetorical life of scientific facts,” as a landmark that should not have been overlooked. She’s right, but I opted for Fahnestock’s (2020/1989) “Arguing in different forums: The Bering crossover controversy” in the first edition, which contains many of the same arguments and observations, in large part because it more fully fits the case study genre.

[4] If you really want to have some fun, check out Feldbacher-Escamilla (2019, 2020), DeVasto (2020), and Pietrucci and Ceccarelli (2020) as well.

[5] OK, while we’re on the subject, I’ll pick that bone here. Graham and Herndl are largely accurate and respectful in the way they describe my apparatus, but they seem to misconstrue my claims about it—perhaps willfully, since it gives them a useful foil, though perhaps I am just unclear in the essay they invoke (the introduction to Harris 2005). Maybe it isn’t sufficiently apparent there what I regard as the ‘true’ situation with incommensurability in science with respect to how the historical, sociological, philosophical, and sometimes rhetorical literature (at least prior to 2005) treats incommensurability in science. The elaborate taxonomy I offer and the incommensurometer (the first concerned with categories, the second with degrees) are ways of diagnosing scientific misalignments that are called incommensurable in that literature, and ways of diagnosing slippages of scientific communication, not mechanisms supporting the claim that scientific practices are incommensurable. The apparatus identifies zones where compatibilities, adjustments, and mutual benign neglect can be investigated and even remediated, not ways of diagnosing scientific practice. The apparatus identifies zones where compatibilities, adjustments, and mutual benign neglect can be pursued, not where irresolvable blockages lie. My stance, and the stance of all the contributors to that volume except Gross, is that incommensurability is artifactual—a product not of symbolic constructs (such as theories), still less of methods and practices, but of the unwillingness of (some) scientists; “not of theories (things), but of theorists (people)” (Harris 2005, 92). Graham and Herndl, though, offer a multiple-ontologies model as an “alternative to incommensurability” (Graham and Herndl 2013, 104). In effect, they argue that incommensurability does not (or perhaps need not) really exist. They argue that point convincingly and empirically by noting how in both the RoS and the STS literature there are numerous examples of cross-disciplinary collaboration that could not happen if incommensurability was a thing, and by their own rich case study of the Midwest Pain Group (MPG). They find that “practical strategies of alignment, incorporation, coordination, and calibration describe a flexible repertoire of rhetorical processes … [that] provide the members of the MPG with professional and rhetorical resources to develop alliances across disciplines, to work together toward a new language to describe pain (Graham and Herndl, 2011), and to integrate different forms of practical pain management” (Graham and Herndl 2013, 122). Bingo, bango, boingo! That is precisely the argument of Harris (2005). Graham and Herndl identify exactly the sorts of tools and techniques that are deployed when scientists and practitioners are willing to work together, which is what I call for there (and what several of its essays demonstrate). ‘Incommensurability’ in the terms of Harris (2005) is a family of rhetorical moves to dismiss and undermine rival positions, strategically or instinctively, not a theory of scientific practice that precludes calibration, coordination, alignment, or other methods of scientific cooperation.

[6] Sticking this in a note so as not to skew the discussion away from equity-seeking racialized groups: I will point out that my generation inherited not only a white supremacist, but also a classist, patriarchal, and heteronormative profession as well, and that significant inroads have been made in the latter three categories. This is not to claim any credit for the profession in some abstract way or for the white cis males who predominantly populated it three decades back—the inroads were overwhelmingly made by working-class, female, and LGBTQ+ scholars themselves, finding or making space in the academy—just to observe that equity and diversity has not been wholly stalled over the last several decades, and also to be acknowledge that RoS has its share of pathbreakers in this regard, including Mount Rushmore RoSers, Carolyn R. Miller, Jeanne D. Fahnestock, and Celeste M. Condit.

[7] Reprinted in Humanistic Aspects of Technical Communication (Paul Dombrowski, editor; Baywood, 1994), and in Teaching Argument in the Composition Course: Background Readings (Timothy Barnett, editor; Bedford/St.Martin’s Press, 2002).

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