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Let the Facts Speak

Most of the time in science writing, the author is actively trying to prove and persuade their point, whatever that may be. When doing this, it is typical for a writer to use a multitude of facts and then state why these facts are important. This, however, may not always be the best way to write about science. Sometimes it is best to let the facts speak for themselves. For example, in “The Really Big One” by Kathryn Schulz, facts are presented, and it is up to the audience to determine how relevant or irrelevant that information is. This article pertains to an earthquake that will devastate a large portion of the northeastern United States. Simple facts and information about this earthquake are riddled throughout. For example, in “The Really Big One,” Schulz says, “FEMA calculates that, across the region, something on the order of a million buildings—more than three thousand of them schools—will collapse or be compromised in the earthquake.” Kathryn Schulz’s matter-of-fact way of presenting her information allows the facts in her piece to really be exemplified throughout the article. The audience has an opportunity to see all of the facts in an “unbiased” manner because Schulz does not waste time by trying to convince her readers that what is going to happen is bad; she just says it. The way that “The Really Big One” keeps the active persuasion element (mostly) out of its rhetoric makes this article even more persuasive than it would have been if Kathryn Schulz actually tried to “prove” her article. Though the facts stand alone, they make an impact larger than any explanation could have.

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“Project Nim”

In the film, Project Nim, an experiment is conducted in which a chimp is raised from birth as if it is a human child, and then the chimp is taught sign language. The purpose of this experiment was intended to see if the language barrier between human and animals could be broken. The premise of the film was originally to see if an animal raised in a human environment could develop human-like characteristics to replace certain animal-like characteristics, so that the development of language can happen. The film focuses on a certain Chimp, named Nim, and the progress he makes with his sign language and the development of his relationships with other humans. However, as the film continues on, the argument of this experiment makes a dramatic shift towards ethical values, rather than scientific ones. In the beginning of the movie, Nim is removed from the custody of his mother and placed with a human family in hopes that he could be raised like a human child. This creates a problem in which there is already emotional damage created from the separation of mother and child. Another problem arises as Nim grows older and larger. He becomes more like the strong, domineering chimp that he was born to be. He becomes too much for his adoptive family to handle, so he is moved to a house that is secluded away with his new care takers. Once the biting and violent fits start to happen, the team realize that this experiment is not worth the damage it is creating and that Nim is not actually learning how to communicate, rather just learning to manipulate his caretakers. The attempt of Project Nim to take the natural born instincts of an animal out created emotional damage to all involved. Nim ends up going to an experimental lab and then a “safe haven” in which he is cut off from almost all contact. After being raised in such a human-like way, Nim is thrown back into the animal world without any pre-conditioning to help him with this transition. He is also cut off his “human” life and from the only people he viewed as his “parents” and other caretakers. This ultimately creates a sense of sadness and anger in Nim towards the experimental team. Project Nim’s argument becomes more focused on the ethical values of choosing whether or not to partake in the removal from an animal from its natural habitat to prevent the severe emotional damage it will create in the animal. This film shifts from a question of “can we?” to “should we?” – a question which all involved will surely answer “no.”

Fly Me to Mars

The Martian,  directed by Ridley Scott, is a science fiction movie that took the world by storm. The plot portrays an astronaut, Mark Watney, stranded on Mars with limited food and supplies. While the crew that left him and NASA work tirelessly to get Watney home, he is left to his wits and his phenomenal sense of humor to survive. The Martian brought immense popularity and attention to the world of science- probably because of Matt Damon being the main actor, but that’s beside the point. This movie does an amazing job portraying actual science throughout the story, all the while proving that it is legitimately interesting.

In The Martian, science saturates the plot, so it is of immense importance that the information displayed is accurate. The director, Ridley Scott, knew this, so he made sure that the information given was up to standard. From the complex aspects of space travel to the minute details of Mars’ soil, The Martian gives off a solid representation of how the same situation would go in real-life. The geography of Mars in the movie features all the highlights –  the Valles Marineris, the bulging Olympus Mons, and the moons Phobos and Diemos. The actual practice of science in the movie is also very accurate. Watney’s job as a botanist shows him taking different soil samples for research, and his space-gardening skills actually play a large roll in keeping him alive throughout the movie ( favorite quote: “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”). The details of space travel are even represented well. Towards the end of the movie, Watney takes a 12g launch into space and (again, accurately) blacks out because of the force. Even the explanation of jet propulsion is accurate enough to please the most criticizing nerds.

The accurate way science is portrayed in the movie brings positive attention to the field of science overall. The Martian took over the science-fiction genre by making it science-fact. Ridley Scott gave great attention to the details of this movie to make it one that could proudly champion the world of science. Because of the science frenzy that this movie creates, more and more people are pushing towards the research and funding of more space travel. So, who knows? Maybe one day in the future, Mars might become the next vacation spot.

Georgia Tech vs. Popular Science

By transforming a work’s rhetorical situation, many things can change. By just catering to something as simple as a new audience, the transformed work can be utterly different- even if the actual wording and information of the original piece does not change. Authors have figured out a way to manipulate other people’s writings in such a way that it can be used to benefit their own rhetorical situation (that is more than likely very different from the original author’s).

For example, let’s take into consideration two articles about robotics replicating the movement of the first land animals. The first one, “Robot Replicates How Our Ancestors First Walked on Land,” was written by the website Popular Science. The purpose behind this article was to give the readers something short, sweet, and just plain cute (“Muddybot” is everyone’s favorite robot now). The article is made to link its readers to other articles from Popular Science and advertisements on/ALL OVER the page. The other article, however, is very different. Georgia Tech has the article “Robot Helps Study How First Animals Moved 360 Million Years Ago.” This article produces the information that is the basis of the Popular Science article, but in a very, very different way. Because Georgia Tech actually conducted the “Muddybot” experiment, the information is presented very differently. The Tech article uses much more technical words and goes into the entire process of making the robot, testing it, and ultimately producing the final product. Compared to the nineteen paragraph Georgia Tech article, the Popular Science article only contains five (again, short and sweet). Though the information in both the articles is the same, the two vary greatly. The difference comes from the rhetorical agenda of the author’s of the two works. Popular Science’s article was very simple and to the point because its targeted audience is the “average joe,” who is bored and surfing the internet. However, Georgia Tech’s audience is composed of those who enjoy the complex research and discoveries of the school. Therefore, it makes sense how the details of one are much greater than the other.

By simply having varying target audiences, two articles about the same topic can be greatly different. Georgia Tech’s large, scholarly article is worlds away from the Popular Science article. Though the information remains the same, it is written based on the audiences. Therefore, the two articles vary such that there would be no way that people could think that they would ever correlate. This goes to show that no matter if two authors use the same information, it is all up to the writer’s intended audience and rhetorical situation as to how the work will turn out.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Everyone has heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but how does one image actually impact a person, their feelings, and their actions? How can one single picture elicit so many different thoughts? By just targeting one of the five senses, a picture can spark an entire array of emotions, which can in-turn create a train of thought, and then those thoughts can inspire a set of actions. A simple picture can make the connection between being familiar with a concept to actually knowing and understanding that same concept. Visual learners comprise of over half of the world’s population (according to the Social Science Research Network, at least), so it would make sense that images are employed to successfully present different ideas, theories, and stories that might be easily confused or misunderstood with an explanation consisting solely of text. Another aspect of utilizing images into a rhetorical text includes something slightly less innocent; pictures can be manipulated and distorted into anything the author wishes it to be, and this also is a reason that rhetorical writers rely on photographs.

Let’s take Eros Hoagland’s “Life in the Googleplex” for example. Hoagland uses a photo essay to describe what it is like to work at Google. Many people, or maybe just myself, think of Google as a high and mighty place where all information is stored, and the world is ruled there by a collection of some of the smartest people in the world. That doesn’t exactly sound like a playground to me. Google has a such a prominent connotation of  intelligence that it is hard to relate it to fun. This problem is exactly what Eros Hoagland addresses in his photo essay. The collection of pictures along with quirky comments and captions shows how laid-back and fun Google can actually be. He doesn’t rely just on words for his rhetoric; he utilizes pictures, so that everyone can understand and see what it is actually like working for Google. Hoagland’s pictures explain more to the public in just one glance than he ever could in words.

On the other hand, though everyone would love to believe Hoagland’s description in “Life in the Googleplex,” it is very possible that the pictures he uses in his photo essay do not actually represent what reality is. Eros Hoagland’s purpose behind his piece is to convince his audience that Google is a fun, innovative, and happy place to be. He uses a collection of pictures to prove this, as described in the previous paragraph. Though these pictures are supposedly candid, there is a chance that Hoagland stages these pictures to really emphasize what he wants the audience to see. Whether choosing not to photograph some scenes or choosing a certain perspective that looks “happier,” photo essays are easily manipulated by their authors. Though somewhat immoral, this emphasizes how the photos are very valuable tools to have for rhetorical writer.

In photo essays, rhetoric thrives. A strategically placed photo can derive ethos, logos, and pathos from almost anyone. Whether using it for something argumentative, informative, or strictly for fun, an image can immediately draw its audience in. Pictures share a universal language, even if the actual captions are not in someone’s native tongue. This is why Eros Hoagland, along with countless others, choose to provide their information (whether accurate or not) through images. They are easy to understand and a potent tool for whatever the author’s purpose. An involuntary chain reaction (described in the first paragraph, third sentence) starts whenever an image is processed and knowing how to harness this power creates rhetoric so powerful that it is almost impossible to resist. After all, seeing is believing, right?

The UCS and Me

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is an organization that was founded on the basis of fighting prominent social and environmental issues. The UCS continually does research to strive towards a “healthy planet and a safer world.” With this research however, funding is an absolute necessity; that’s where the rest of us “regular joes” come in. Their website, http://www.ucsusa.org, is carefully crafted with rhetoric, both obviously and minutely, to gain the funding that they need to continue their research. When first visiting the website, the first thing anyone notices is the donation box (that conveniently is located on every page). The UCS has no government funding for their research, so they rely on their supporters to keep their dream alive. The rhetoric that comes in collaboration with this is quite clever. When a visitor is reading the website, they’re prompted by an orange box in the corner to join or renew their membership. The Union of Concerned Scientists is making a call to action for regular people, not just scientists, to join them. This creates a sense of accomplishment and community in those who are wanting to join this organization, but here’s the catch: a donation has to be made to join. The website gives tons of information on how we, the common people, can make an impact on the world that can create major changes to better everyone’s life- so basically telling us we can save the world and all who inhabit it. The rhetoric makes an ordinary person feel extraordinary, therefore creating a drive to want to join the UCS. This declaration of unity only comes with one simple rule: a heartfelt donation to everyone’s favorite scientists. While one would have to do their own research to determine whether or not the Union of Concerned Scientists is genuine or not, no one can argue that their use of rhetoric on their website is skillfully made to engage its audience and prompt donations.