Leah Ceccarelli of the University of Washington Department of Communication delivers an STS colloquium talk titled “At the Frontiers of Science: An American Rhetoric of Exploration and Exploitation” on Thursday, January 17, 5:00-6:30pm in Buchanan Tower 1197.
Reporting highlights from her forthcoming book, Leah Ceccarelli examines a pervasive metaphor, from its first appearance in the public address of American intellectuals and politicians in the early 20th century, to its most recent uses in the speeches of various scientists arguing for increased research funding today. She asks what is selected and what is deflected when the “frontier of science” metaphor is deployed, what effects this terministic screen has on those who use it, and what rhetorical moves are made by those who try to counter its mythic appeal. She finds that scientists are constituted through this metaphor as stereotypically male, as risk-taking, adventurous loners, separated from a public that both envies and distrusts them, with a manifest destiny to penetrate the unknown, and a competitive desire to claim the riches of new territory before others can do the same. When it comes to the biological sciences, ownership rights to the territory being explored are refracted through the frontier’s Doctrine of Discovery, eliding the interests of those who have long lived with a particular organism or gene sequence. Specific cases to be discussed include the biodiversity arguments of Edward O. Wilson, the promotion of genomics research by Francis Collins, and speeches on stem cell research by George W. Bush. Through a close reading of the public address of scientists and politicians and the reception of their audiences, we come to see how the frontier of science metaphor guides scientific research in particular ways and sometimes blocks scientists from achieving the goals they set out to achieve.